U.S. financial firms must be deemed 'essential' as more people stay home: trade group

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. financial services firms and their staff must be designated as “essential” to keep markets functioning as more Americans stay home to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, a leading financial industry trade group said on Friday.

“It is imperative that financial services firms and personnel that are critical to maintaining financial market operations and that service institutional and/or retail clients be deemed essential,” Ken Bentsen, chief executive of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) wrote in a letter to the country’s governors.

The need was especially pressing “during a time when access to people’s savings and investments are so important,” he wrote.

New York followed California on Friday in announcing tough measures to combat the fast-spreading virus, requiring all non-essential workers to stay home and all non-essential businesses to close. California has asked nearly 40 million people to stay home under the so-called “shelter in place” order.

While businesses like nail salons, tattoo shops and indoor shopping malls must close, banks and related financial institutions are considered essential businesses and exempt from the New York and California closure orders.

Beyond New York, other key financial market components like exchanges, clearing houses, asset managers and supporting data centers, are scattered across the country, including in New Jersey, Atlanta, Chicago, Boston and elsewhere.

SIFMA has been leading the industry’s business continuity efforts, which have seen thousands of traders moved to remote back-up locations and sent to work from home.

Even so, the group said in the letter addressed to the National Governors Association it was still vital for some personnel to be able to work onsite. Failing to provide an exemption for staff at banks, broker-dealers and asset managers would “negatively impair market operations,” the group said.

Reporting by Michelle Price; Editing by Tom Brown