Case study: How Dragon Capital has adapted to cope with coronavirus

Ailsa Cuthbert, Associate Director, Marketing & Investor Relations at Dragon Capital explains how the company has adapted its people, processes and technology to manage the new operating environment created by Covid-19

Sara Benwell POSTED ON 5/21/2020 4:11:53 PM

Sara Benwell: How has coronavirus changed the way your firm operates? What changes have you had to make as a result?

Ailsa Cuthbert: The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges globally, and this was no different for Dragon Capital Group (Dragon) in Vietnam.

Dragon, the largest, independent offshore asset manager in Vietnam, immediately implemented its Business Continuity Plan (BCP), which includes preventative measures to mitigate any negative impact on its investments, operations, vendors, investors and, last but not least, its employees.

In terms of changes, Dragon established a Crisis Management Team (the CMT) with responsibility for taking specific measures to protect its ability to operate during the pandemic.

The CMT closely monitors updates from local Government sources, the WHO, and global health officials, and is adapting measures as necessary to ensure that it continues to comply with Government guidance.

Sara: How did your teams cope with recent market volatility and adapting to remote working amidst considerations for health and safety?

Ailsa: Dragon’s BCP is designed to be sufficiently flexible to accommodate a range of situations that are sudden, unforeseen, or occur with varying levels of warnings from relevant authorities.

Once activated, half of all employees, across all functions, started Working-From-Home (WFH), and as the pandemic developed, following Vietnamese Government directives and guidance on 15 days of nationwide social distancing, all of Dragon’s employees, in all locations, started WFH.

All internal meetings now take place via teleconference, video conference, MS Teams or Webinar.

"On 15 days of nationwide social distancing, all of Dragon’s employees, in all locations, started working from home"

The front-to-back operating system allows all staff access from outside of the office. All operational processes remain unchanged across all functions, including execution, portfolio management, research, operations, risk, and compliance.

Despite the market volatility, Dragon continued to deliver an uninterrupted reporting service to its funds’ boards of directors, investors, regulators, and distributors on the normal cycle.

To keep employees informed and engaged during CODIV-19, the CMT held “town hall” webinars to provide employees with information about Dragon’s latest measures to cope with COVID-19 and its economic impact, developments in Vietnam in general, and to give everyone an opportunity to share and ask questions related to the pandemic and operations.

"To keep employees informed and engaged during CODIV-19, the CMT held “town hall” webinars"

WFH is not unusual for Dragon which, as a good employer, is considerate of work-life balance. The international members of the Marketing and Investor Relations team frequently WFH when not directly meeting clients.

Acknowledging that markets were moving fast, Dragon hosted a live webinar for the first time to provide investors with important updates on the immediate impact of COVID-19 on the Vietnamese economy, markets, and portfolios. The forum attracted more than 200 attendees.

Sara: In times of market disruption, what are some of the biggest operational challenges faced by institutional investors, and what is the role of people, processes, and technology in overcoming these challenges?

Access to timely, accurate data is key for investors in terms of their own internal reporting and valuation processes.

Under its BCP procedures Dragon has sought, and obtained, assurances from fund administrators, custodians, auditors, system providers, brokers, and other providers that their services would continue uninterrupted. This helped maintain the timely distribution of regular communication.

"Operationally, access to data is a key concern "

Delays from investee companies on the business impact from the pandemic was obtained as soon as possible. This was then fed into models which helped our analysts understand the broader market impact.

Operationally, access to data is a key concern and all employees working from home will have access to the internal system through a proper VPN setup, alongside a dual authorisation process and with a full audit trail being generated and maintained.

Increased usage brings concerns about phishing or other scams, so Dragon’s IT team monitors electronic traffic on a continuous basis to detect any abnormal activity and simultaneously all external email traffic is being scanned for attempted malicious access.

Sara: What are 2-3 key lessons learnt from the pandemic that will help you strengthen the resilience of your operating environment?

Ailsa: • Despite its 25-year history, Dragon has never experienced anything like this pandemic.

Having all systems in place, Dragon did not need to implement any new systems and by operating an existing high-trust model for its staff, business continued as usual from home.

Vietnam is a country with a long history of women’s participation in senior leadership positions in business, politics, and the armed services.

"Understanding the strain the pandemic has put on individuals has led to a kinder, more flexible working environment"

As such, support for women WFH was evident in terms of flexibility of work hours due to child-care and wider family responsibilities.

Globally understanding the strain the pandemic has put on individuals’ mental health, family relationships, and for those essential workers continuing to face the pandemic on a daily basis, has led to a kinder, more flexible working environment, with wellbeing at the forefront, and hopefully this will continue.

• The investment teams have commented that the biggest change for them is that all companies do their analyst meetings online, which saves time travelling through HCMC’s notoriously bad traffic.

They can attend more meetings than before and, as with internal meetings, can participate from anywhere.

The investment processes did not change, but as an organization Dragon now understands how mobile employees can be without affecting work output.

• COVID-19 has brought the world to a standstill in many ways, causing death, as well as destruction of international capital markets.

Wildlife has been acknowledged as one of the biggest winners in the pandemic, free from pollution, traffic and noise. However, it is assumed that the virus originated in wildlife and zoonotically found its way to humans via unregulated trade.

"Dragon will help coordinate a renewed pledge to all Vietnamese businesses and NGOs to support the ban of trade in exotic wildlife"

Vietnam is not free from wet markets with caged exotic animals. Wildlife trafficking and breeding are related causes of biodiversity loss, the elimination of which Dragon supports through its Chair of Biodiversity at the University of Exeter.

Soon Dragon will help coordinate a renewed pledge to all Vietnamese businesses and NGOs to support the ban of trade in exotic wildlife. We hope that this will consolidate the lessons from COVID-19 of the link between human wellbeing and a resilient ecosystem.


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