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G20 summit forces Bay Street to move house Add to ...

The heart of Canadian finance will shift from the gleaming towers of downtown Toronto to a series of non-descript buildings around the city's fringes to keep markets pumping during the G20 summit.

Banks and law firms that negotiate and broker deals are concerned less with G20 protesters causing violence during the June 26-27 leaders' summit, and more with the troubles that crowds and security would cause for employees getting to work.

The people that can are being told to work from home, or to take time off. But for many traders and other key deal makers enmeshed in non-stop global transactions, it's not that simple.

Law firms headquartered downtown are making plans such as booking hotel rooms for crucial "deal teams" who are working on time-sensitive negotiations that can't stop for protests. Financial behemoths such as Royal Bank of Canada and Bank of Montreal are prepared to move hundreds of their traders to secret backup locations scattered around Toronto, where full trading floors are ready and waiting for just such an evacuation.

Alpha Group, which runs the country's second-largest stock market from offices just outside the inner G20 security perimeter, is also shifting to its full business-continuity plan and will move much of its 40-person operation to a backup site about 40 kilometres from downtown, said Chief Executive Officer Jos Schmitt. The facility, at a location Alpha won't disclose, offers all the equipment necessary to continue trading, he said.

"This is an interesting opportunity to test the entire process," said Mr. Schmitt, who said that Alpha usually runs through its contingency plan once a year anyway.

TMX Group Inc., operator of the Toronto Stock Exchange, also has a full facility located at a secret address in the city's suburbs. Most market operations staff already work there, so there should be no disruption, said spokeswoman Carolyn Quick.

The trading floors at the big banks, where thousands of deals a day are done in everything from pork bellies to government bonds, are also replicated in areas far from the core.

Trading floors are immensely complicated and expensive setups, with each trader facing a bank of computers with customized software and specialized phones, all linked by miles of ultra-fast wiring to markets.

Despite the expense, the major banks maintain backup locations in case their main Toronto floors become inaccessible. Everything a trader needs is there, though the accommodations can sometimes be spartan, lacking the large windows and pieces of art that decorate many of the main floors downtown, say those who have visited them.

The remote trading floors are rarely used, but are a crucial part of keeping markets humming should the G20 security measures or protesters make working from the city core untenable. It's such preparations that enabled Wall Street to get up and running almost immediately in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, even though some firms' offices had been totally lost.

In addition to BMO and RBC, which are preparing to move as many as half their traders, sources say, Toronto-Dominion Bank's securities arm is said to be readying plans to move trading staff to the bank's remote location. Banks and securities firms will also utilize other offices in cities such as Montreal.

Publicly, since banks have already been targets for protests in Toronto, the banks are loathe to give specifics of their plans other than to say that they will do everything they can to keep employees safe and provide uninterrupted service.

"We're not really getting into any details around what we're doing," said TD spokesman Mohammed Nakhooda.

Similarly, RSM Richter, the big accounting firm, is moving staff to a remote site so it can process client tax returns as the June 30 deadline for corporations looms.

Bay Street's major law firms, located either inside or within a brick's throw of the three-metre high security fence being erected around the centre of downtown, are also making contingency plans. Some are closing on Friday, June 25. Some lawyers say they expect many to take holidays or work from home in the week leading up to the summit.

Ruth Woods, the chief operating officer of Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, said her firm has not yet decided whether to switch to skeletal staffing and tell its 700 employees to work from home. But the firm has booked space in hotels outside the downtown security zone for "deal teams" working on time-sensitive transactions such as mergers and acquisitions."You plan for the worst, but hope for the best," Ms. Woods said.

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