In business and finance, we can’t save lives, but we can protect jobs and thus help to protect the economy

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In a shockingly short amount of time, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has pushed us into a global health, humanitarian and economic crisis.

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14/04/2020 |

It is incredible when we reflect on the impact this has already had on all of us over just a few short weeks.  The virus has already taken a tremendous human toll, as people around the world worry about their health and safety, and the health and safety of their loved ones. In addition, we have seen short-term market impact and are starting to see the real economic fallout from COVID-19, which is threatening the livelihoods of millions.

In Luxembourg—as in many countries—it is inspiring to see many organisations and businesses jump into the fight against the COVID - working with government and NGOs to speed up testing, helping to ensure that food and medical supplies are getting to where they need to go, and deploying money and aid to keep our economy moving.

Having said this, not every business can play a direct role in fighting COVID-19 and its immediate societal impacts. However, there is a place for the leaders of most large companies in addressing the single biggest aspect of the looming economic crisis related to the pandemic: The threat of the financial fallout from significant job-cuts and resulting unemployment. 

I know that this may seem like a daunting challenge right now as we each grapple with the myriad of implications Covid has thrown up for our respective businesses, but I know when I look at the leadership of our government and of other key stakeholders together with the mobilisation of efforts on the world-stage, that we will come out of this crisis.  And, I believe that we, as a business community here in Luxembourg, can emerge from this crisis faster and stronger if we work together in remembering the single key element which differentiates us across the world, our global talent pool. Specifically, I think we will emerge stronger as organisations and as an economy overall if we follow the guiding principle that we will each do what we can to put people first by protecting their jobs and livelihoods. 

Put simply, I believe that the best way for the business community to help is to do what we can to keep our people at work — virtually or otherwise — so they can continue to participate in the economy and support its rebound.  I understand the enormous weight on all of our shoulders. And, I know that many businesses are suddenly grappling with the remarkably difficult situation of trying to keep their business running and the lights on while also taking care of their employees.

My goals for PwC in Luxembourg are simple: To protect our people and continue to serve our clients. As we keep our business going and think ahead to a healthy, productive future on the other side of COVID-19, here are our guiding principles and initial actions:

Doing all that we can to keep people employed. We know our economy is globally-led and we don't want to hamper Luxembourg’s ability to serve its global community as things improve by being blinded by the short-term. At PwC, we have adopted the principle that we will only consider laying off employees as a last resort. We are grateful that our people have adapted quickly to the ‘new normal’ of serving our clients remotely. Ultimately, we recognise that if we attempt to protect our profits this year by sacrificing our people, we may lose out, both in the short and long run. As a nation, the better we invest into our resources and the business ecosystem, the better we will emerge from the crisis. Further, we are very conscious that there are huge demands on Luxembourg  organisations today and what's important is to keep our people active and involved as much as possible. We have taken the decision not to seek “Chomage Technique/Partiel” for the time being. As of today, we have implemented measures to ensure we are proactively managing our holiday balances to make sure we can be ready as a firm when this crisis passes. Overall, my message is to keep our people paid and working to the maximum extent possible. As a leader, I find comfort in knowing that the right thing to do and the sound business thing to do are one and the same in this case — and that is to keep our people at work who are performing, meeting expectations, and upholding our values. 

Remembering that it is understandable to miss our targets this year. The reality—whether we like it or not—is that pre-crisis targets have been overtaken by events that none of us could reasonably have anticipated.  At PwC, we have prioritised people over profits for 2020 and our Board and our partners agree that it is better to err on the side of keeping our people at work rather than trying to achieve short-term targets. Our feeling is that if this is going to be a hard year for people, it shouldn’t be a good year for profits, whether that ownership structure is one of a public or private company or a partnership.

Support the humanitarian response by supporting communities. This pandemic is exacerbating existing societal problems from hunger to homelessness to access to quality healthcare and education. Now, more than ever, we must commit to helping those who are most vulnerable in our communities. Throughout history, companies have been a critical part of the communities they serve and stepped up when communities have been hit by devastation. The COVID-19 crisis has only underscored the important role that business has in supporting communities economically and philanthropically. Companies can work to fill the gaps and address needs by leveraging our people, resources and expertise. At PwC, as our people become progressively available, we've encouraged them to assist government initiatives aimed at alleviating the COVID impact on companies and individuals.  In a nutshell, we are aligning what we do best to what is needed, and we are hoping to maximise the difference we can make as an organisation to Luxembourg’s response.

This is undoubtedly one of the most challenging situations we will ever face as leaders. What we are doing at PwC may not be what all business leaders are able to do, but I hope that during this troubled and uncertain time, my fellow business leaders will take into account and assess these guiding principles. If we can come together to put people first, we help thousands of families, build trust in the Luxembourg business community, and ultimately make our economy stronger and more resilient. Simply put, we will do better when we choose to navigate this together. And, having had the privilege of working with many of the business leaders across our country, I am very confident that, together, we will rise to the occasion.

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