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How the pandemic has changed regional outlook to greater balance

Northern Trust and Pramerica are two companies capitalising on remote working

Balanced regional development is the cornerstone of a sustainable economy. US-headquartered companies have long contributed to this, choosing all four corners of Ireland and everywhere in-between to either build Irish bases or expand their operations.

But has the pace and direction of balanced regional development changed in the face of the pandemic and the economic uncertainty it has wrought? On the contrary, the advent of remote working means that organisations now have a presence in almost every town and village in the country.

Northern Trust is long-established in Ireland. Having been here two decades and counting, its presence has expanded significantly over the years. Today, it employs about 450 in its Dublin office and a further 1,400 at its administration centre in Limerick.

Northern Trust's offices in Dublin and Limerick are key fund administration centres of excellence in its Global Funds Services business, which helps administer the full spectrum of investment strategies for investment manager clients around the globe, says Catherine Duffy, head of Northern Trust in Limerick and American Chamber of Commerce Ireland Mid-West Chair.


“With a 20-year track record of years of service excellence, expertise and integrity in Ireland, Northern Trust continues to evolve and invest in technology to ensure it is well-placed to support the future requirements of our clients,” she explains.

“We are embracing the power of digitalisation to drive new efficiencies for our clients and their investors – including the replacement of manual processes and paper-based communications digital methods with new types of experiences – and Ireland is at the heart of this.”

Transformational propulsion

According to Duffy, Covid-19 accelerated a number of changes that were under way before the pandemic. “It has created changes in the ways we all function – from fund administrators to asset managers, institutional and retail investors,” she says, adding that more than 90 per cent of Northern Trust’s staff are now working from home.

“The pandemic has been transformational in propelling everyone in the industry forward to embrace new ways of working. It has accelerated the take-up of digital technologies and further digitisation across asset management – for example postal volumes have been significantly reduced – and we expect many of these solutions for electronic delivery of investor information to be our ‘new normal’.”

The story is a similar one for financial services company Pramerica. Headquartered in a state-of-the-art campus in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, Pramerica has a significant presence across the whole of the northwest region.

While the majority of the 1,600-plus employee population are based in Donegal and its surrounding counties both in the Republic and the North, there are also a number of employees from further afield who availed of one of the company's satellite premises or chose to work remotely, explains Ciaran Harvey, senior managing director and chief information officer for Pramerica Systems Ireland.

Broadband infrastructure

“When the pandemic hit, we were very fortunate that the nature of our work – a suite of medium-to-high skilled operations and technology services – as well as a strong broadband infrastructure in the region made the transition to remote working very seamless,” he says.

At the height of the original lockdown, Pramerica had fewer than 2 per cent of its employees working from the Letterkenny campus. Fast forward to Lockdown 2.0 and 97 per cent of the employee population continue to telework from across 24 counties in Ireland.

“Employee surveys indicate that the experience has been largely positive for the vast majority and certainly gives us food for thought as regards what our future plans will look like,” he notes.

Harvey believes that the broader shift to remote working will only enhance regional development, for a plethora of reasons.

“We are extremely positive about the impact of any shift to remote working for rural areas like Donegal, where housing and cost of living compares very favourably with urban areas. It is also worth noting that any type of ‘location-agnostic’ model offers us the opportunity to expand our talent pipeline beyond our traditional catchment regions.”

Barry McCall

Barry McCall is a contributor to The Irish Times