The man behind the mask: banker spies opportunity
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The man behind the mask: banker spies opportunity

These are troubling times. Covid-19 case numbers are jumping every day, more countries are being added to travel ban lists, and the virus outbreak is now officially a pandemic. But some bankers are still finding the positives in all the chaos.

Take one friend in Shanghai, a debt syndicate banker who has spent much of his time recently doing very little debt syndication.

He could be forgiven for cracking open a new book, over-indulging in Korean soap operas or getting into a lengthy flame war on Weibo about a certain, honey-loving cartoon bear. Instead, this banker is trying to figure out how to make the coronavirus work for him.

On a recent conference call about a mooted deal, he and a few rivals had a semi-serious discussion about turning toilet rolls into a new global currency (forget SDRs, try SPRs!). Given toilet roll robberies in Hong Kong, and a toilet roll-inspired brawl in Australia, they might be on to something.

But why share all the good ideas? After he got off the phone, he wondered: what could his own firm do to spin the coronavirus into an opportunity? Perhaps offer free face masks to issuers?

That would certainly make sense in the case of a roadshow ─ remember those? ─ but even if any deal marketing was done over the phone, it still wouldn’t cost his bank much to offer a generous supply of face masks to their most favoured issuer clients. Worst case: a first-year analyst has to spend a few weeks with paper towels sellotaped to his face. Call that an acceptable cost.

Although neither the toilet roll currency idea, nor the pitch book mask offer, have yet come to pass, hearing about them did at least brighten our week. I was almost tempted to give my banker friend a high five.

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