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U.K. financial services can cope with flu pandemic


LONDON—Financial services in the United Kingdom can cope with a serious flu pandemic, a study has revealed.

A market-wide business continuity exercise taught some valuable lessons and concluded that the system will stand up to the test.

Around 70 firms took part including major players in the financial services sector, the providers of key financial infrastructure such as payments, clearing and settlement and the main exchanges.

Over six weeks the scenario simulated the first five months of a flu pandemic. Participants assessed how they would cope as the pandemic worsened.

"Early indications are that despite the extensive disruption and rising levels of absenteeism that would result from a pandemic, the financial sector would be able to sustain its core financial services," according to the U.K. Financial Services Authority, which conducted the exercise on behalf of the Bank of England, HM Treasury and FSA.

The FSA said that some of the high-level issues that emerged for further consideration were the impact of a pandemic on consumers—such as access to cash, ability to make mortgage payments, continuing insurance cover, the practicality of relying on home-working for key staff, and the challenges involved in returning to business as usual.

FSA Chairman Callum McCarthy said: "All who took part have learnt valuable lessons which both individual participants and the sector as a whole will build on. The work we are doing now, in a benign period, will help the financial services sector prepare for a pandemic or other threats to its stability which we will face in more difficult times."

The FSA recently produced a guide for companies "The Business Continuity Management Practice Guide" to assist their business continuity planning. It builds on the Resilience Benchmarking project carried out by the Bank of England, HM Treasury and FSA last year.

In conjunction with the guide the FSA has launched a computer-based tool that will help firms to self-assess the effectiveness of their business continuity planning.