Reflections on Resilience: How the Bank of England’s lawyers have weathered the pressures of the pandemic

As we approach the anniversary of the implementation of the first national lockdown, the General Counsel of the Bank of England reflects on 2020, what she learnt about resilience in the process and the lessons that will guide her in the future.

                                                                                                           Sonya Branch

Sonya Branch, General Counsel.                                                       

We can never truly predict - in any comprehensive way - the external events and challenges we may face. 

A truism which was brought home to us all in a profound way in 2020. 

The Bank of England has always been an intellectually stretching place to work.  Only a few legal teams can say that much of the work they do is without precedent and for the good of the economy. Fewer still have a hand in drafting the legislation which they uphold and only a handful wake up quite so often to have their work reported on in the morning’s news.  

In 2020, the Bank found itself truly at the forefront of the international economic response to the Covid-19 pandemic.  In the first wave alone, the Monetary Policy Committee cut interest rates to 0.1% and injected £200 billion into the economy and the Bank launched a series of new, targeted schemes, including a revised Term Funding Scheme and the Covid Corporate Financing Facility. The legal team at the Bank was closely engaged in every aspect of the Bank’s response.

Indeed, the pace throughout 2020 was relentlessly intense and required us to deliver novel legal solutions, whilst working from home en masse and grappling with the impacts of the pandemic on their home and personal lives.

Such a pace and intensity can sustain teams through a crisis, particularly when they share an acutely important public mission. However, it is not a sustainable model, and one which we guard against within the Bank’s Legal Directorate (LD). Now more than ever, we need to preserve and indeed take time to invest in our own well-being.  The concept of working harder and longer to meet demands needs to be firmly put aside.

I have taken away a number of other lessons from 2020 – including the power of planning, whilst retaining the capacity still to pivot with agility. However, perhaps one of the most significant is the importance of constant investment in relationships and colleagues.

The capacity to pivot to address unexpected challenges with tenacity and creativity is possible only when we are energised and resilient.  We will be less able to deal positively with the unexpected when our energy levels are depleted or in circumstances in which we are not able to prioritise our well-being.

Within LD, we have invested heavily in our colleagues throughout the year: seeking to ensure we remain a cohesive and ‘in touch’ team, despite working from home. This has involved a concerted and collective effort by all members of our legal teams and compassionate and attentive management.  Thankfully, we had a good foundation of support to draw on as the Bank has a wealth of well-being resources, including an employee assistance scheme, staff networks and well-being champions, and trained mental health first aiders and peer supporters.  .

As a result, and notwithstanding the pandemic, LD has not only managed to be at the forefront of the international economic response to the pandemic but also progress other important policy priorities, looking to the emerging risks which may arise this year or indeed well beyond 2021.  Prime examples include our work on LIBOR transition, climate change – including the introduction of a climate change stress test - and our work on effective regulation and supervision of crypto-currencies and considering the case for a central bank digital currency.  In many cases, we work on such key policy areas alongside our counterparts internationally and at the FCA and within HMT. Good collaboration enables us to be more impactful, particularly when stretched and facing into the unseen; and it saw us through 2020.

2020 has also reinforced for me the criticality of nurturing alert, informed curiosity across teams Creating a legal team that is diverse and characterised by alert, informed curiosity is not onerous when we find ourselves in a wider organisation at the Bank made up of expert colleagues drawn from various different disciplines and experiences, including world-class economic researchers, working alongside expert analysts, cyber-risk specialists, lawyers and actuaries. With these bedrocks, the Bank is a captivating, stimulating and fertile environment for a curious mind. 

We want to build up our team of alert, expert and curious colleagues to meet the expanding demand for our valued services within the Bank and so we are currently recruiting for a number of new legal roles.  If you are interested in taking the next steps in your career or interested about a career at the Bank of England please do consider applying.

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