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How should financial services respond to coronavirus

In 2002 the then US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld claimed that when he looked to the future he saw two kinds of unforeseen event: the “known unknown” and the “unknown unknown”. Rumsfeld was lampooned for his statement at the time, but with the rise of COVID-19 and its knock on effects on IT systems across the world, many are coming face to face with the stark reality of this infamous truism.

While the threats posed by outbreaks of this kind have been discussed before, the scale and speed of COVID-19’s impact on the world economy, and all our everyday lives, clearly marks it out as an “unknown unknown”. Across the world governments are putting restrictive measures in place never before seen in peacetime – in India 1.3 billion people are now in lockdown and in the UK the situation is no less precarious. As the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, recently stated, our government has been forced to adopt “unprecedented measures for unprecedented times”.  

The picture changes when we examine the pressure COVID-19 has put on the country’s IT systems. Few could have predicted that a virus would trigger the biggest single rise in home working in history, but the vulnerability of digital infrastructure has long been understood. The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (a branch of GCHQ) made this point clear in its 2019 annual report, “interruption to any of these critical [IT] services” would cause “serious disruption to our lives and potentially damage the economy”.