Consultancies defy reputation by restricting travel in coronavirus response

31 January 2020 3 min. read

A notoriously mobile industry is being grounded by the lethal coronavirus epidemic in China, with the accounting and consulting Big Four among those forced to restrict travel.

The rapidly growing threat from China’s novel coronavirus outbreak has grounded a number of the world’s leading consultancies operating in the region. According to a patchwork of reports and other sources, various international branches of the Big Four of Deloitte, PwC, Ernst & Young and KPMG are among those which have introduced immediate measures – including by extending holidays, instituting remote working, and limiting non-essential travel.

With the number of confirmed coronavirus cases escalating toward the 8,000-mark worldwide, albeit concentrated to date in the viral epicenter of Wuhan China’s Hubei province, the consulting and accounting giants have joined a range of other international businesses in attempting to curtail the spread of the virus both in China and abroad, including big names in the financial services, aviation, automotive, retail and manufacturing sectors among others.

In Hong Kong – where the Big Four are already being wedged on the issue of ongoing anti-government protests – KPMG, Deloitte, and PwC have all been cited as having taken precautions such as extending leave for employees, bringing in remote working, ensuring customer-facing staff wear masks, and asking employees who have visited the mainland not to come to work. Deloitte employees on the mainland have also had their Lunar New Year holidays extended.

Consultancies defy reputation by restricting travel in coronavirus response

Further abroad, Business Insider has reported that PwC in the US and Mexico has canned business travel to China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, with staff who have returned from China in the past two weeks asked to stay at home for the next three and others required to use virtual meetings for clients who have recently been to China. Similar measures are being taken in Australia among the Big Four, including a quarantine period for potentially-exposed staff.

“We are asking employees that have returned from the Hubei province or have come in contact with people from these areas, to work flexibly from home for 14 days after returning to their home town,” said PwC’s people and culture managing partner Helen Fazzino. Alongside PwC, competitors Ernst & Young and Deloitte have also ruled out or restricted employee travel into Greater China, while KPMG was earlier reported to be closely monitoring the situation.

“Client-related travel into Greater China at this time is still permitted, however, we are encouraging staff to reduce non-essential travel and find alternative ways to connect,” EY’s area managing partner Patrick Winter told local media outlets, while Deloitte chief transformation officer Clare Harding stated the firm has taken an extra cautious approach; “At this stage, we have told our Australian teams to defer business travel to all parts of China until further notice.”

The consulting realm has also been quick to react as to providing commentary on the likely economic impact of the virus, as well as in other areas. While the Chinese authorities set to work on building a large-scale treatment facility in just six days, Deloitte China had within two days canvassed over 1,200 business managers and executives on their HR policies and intentions for workforce management during the outbreak, with four out of five pointing to flexible working.