- JPMorgan is the first bank to say it wants US employees to return to the office.
- But they and other big banks are much softer on their London offices.
- Insider speaks to workers from across the industry about their year of working from home that’s not over yet.
Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon has called working from home a “deviation,” and JPMorgan just announced that all US employees plan to be back in the office on a rotating basis by July.
But London – one of the world’s largest financial centers – is not following Wall Street’s lead.
Big financial firms are taking a softer approach to reopening their major London offices, even though the UK has vaccinated more than half its population and England is less than two months away from lifting social distancing restrictions.
Insider spoke to finance workers, who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly, about the challenges of connecting and training juniors online, working on nearly empty floors and how their employers’ views on the working from home in an industry where personal contact is crucial.
Even at the height of the UK’s first nationwide lockdown last year, Goldman Sachs had at least 200 of its 6,500 London employees in office.
However, there remains no obligation to return, and employees who spoke to Insider estimated that just 30% of the total workforce entered each day, with staffing decisions made on the spot, team by team, week by week.
Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon called working from home a “deviation,” but softened his tone on the issue during a recent conference call.
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After his comments drew attention, Solomon said on the bank’s recent conference call that the return to the office “is not inconsistent with a desire to provide our employees with the flexibility they need to manage their personal and professional lives.”
But he added that employees “work best when they form strong bonds with colleagues and encourage the learning culture that has shaped us.”
“It’s impossible to train people from a distance.”
A Goldman employee who worked in London sales said working from home had been frustrating in his role.
“I train a lot with our younger kids,” he said. “It’s impossible to train people remotely — what took 10 minutes in person takes 2 hours on Zoom.” Effectively sharing ideas, he added, “takes 100 times the effort it used to.”
He and other Goldman employees who go to the hospital up to three days a week must have a rapid lateral flow test every seven days. If you commute four or more days, you must have two.
Tests must be booked in advance, workers must reassure themselves that they are symptom-free upon entering the building, and temperatures are also taken on arrival.
“Of all industries, banking is one that has made it work,” said the sales rep. “We get free food, people even at the junior level get free taxis, so you avoid public transport.”
Citi has also rolled out testing at its Canary Wharf headquarters. In a statement shared with Insider, UK Country Officer James Bardrick stressed that returning to the office was “voluntary”.
The company has expanded those efforts since it launched as a pilot last month, but Bardrick said that “fitness to work in the office will be assessed based on business needs and situations in which individuals cannot reasonably work from home.”
None of the banks contacted by the insider had any plans to require their London employees to return to the office.
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The constant challenge for all big banks is to follow the UK government’s guidelines, but – as one Citi employee pointed out – “they have changed several times”.
The country has been in lockdown three times, and a recent report found that COVID-19 regulations had changed 65 times since last March.
In March, Citi CEO Jane Fraser told Citi’s global workforce that “a return to any sort of new normal is several months away” as she announced “Zoom-free Fridays” and a company-wide extra day of vacation in late May .
She wrote the bank would provide “additional flexibility” with most global roles becoming “hybrid” – three days a week in the office, two at home. But it’s rare, she confirmed, that roles are permanently called “removed.”
But one Citi dealer who has worked in both New York and London and expects to be classified as a hybrid worker said what would happen between “where we are now and where we hope to be in a couple of months.” , be less clear.
“There certainly wasn’t any pressure to come back,” he told Insider, even though he does lateral flow tests at home every Monday, Wednesday and Friday so he can work on his trading floor at least four days a week.
“I’ve never been the only person, we’ve always had a decent number,” he said of the past year, but on quieter days it was surreal, he recalled with a laugh, “to realize I’m the oldest person on the.” Boden, considering there are usually 50 or 100 older people more than me.”
“There was a suspicion that someone working from home was skiving, but that’s gone now.”
A middle executive at Deutsche Bank, who recently returned to the office for just the second time in 13 months, said she counted just six people on her “eerily empty and quiet” floor.
She said her face-to-face interactions were so minimal that: “I don’t think I’ve bought a pair of shoes in the last year.” However, she acknowledged that building personal relationships – which are so important in banking – online ” almost impossible”.
“There was a suspicion that someone working from home was skiving, but that’s gone now,” she added. She said management questioned employees about regularly working from home in the wake of the pandemic. She said, “You can no longer pretend that people are going to abuse that.”
Shortly after speaking to Insider, Frankfurt-headquartered Deutsche Bank announced it could allow employees to work from home three days a week.
CFO James von Moltke told Bloomberg on Tuesday it’s difficult to say how staff might return to offices “because it’s so site-specific.”
But he named London among the places he expected to “start in the next few months”.
Noel Quinn, CEO of HSBC, which has its global headquarters in London, wrote on LinkedIn this month that the bank should not “go back to our old ways of working” as employees have asked for more flexibility. Most roles, he wrote, “could be played in a hybrid way,” including his own.
An HSBC spokesperson told Insider it has “no tentative date set for returns” and will “continue to follow government guidelines on working from home and social distancing.”
Morgan Stanley has not released specific goals for its Canary Wharf office. A spokesman declined to comment on a timeline for the return to work.
JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon. The bank has told US staff they will be back in the office part-time by July, but has not asked staff in London to do so.
Got Betancur//AFP via Getty Images
JPMorgan will reopen its US offices with an occupancy cap of 50% on May 17, coincidentally the day England lifts a ban on indoor mixing, making it more practical to return to offices.
Citing the success of the US vaccination drive, it said in a company memo on Tuesday that it expects everyone to be back in the office on a rotating basis by July to close the occupancy gap.
Despite the UK’s success with vaccines, differing vaccination rates elsewhere have made it a challenge for the bank to formulate global policy on the issue. A JPMorgan spokesman declined to comment on plans for British employees to return to work.
The bank estimates that around 20-25% of its UK workforce have been in the office at least once a week since the government on the 29th “as needed basis.”
A source at the bank added that the lifting of restrictions could see JPMorgan’s UK offices approach 50% occupancy, but added that there are currently no “targets or guidelines to insist that people come back”, and this is “still very optional”.
Meanwhile, smaller financial firms have given more discretion to their employees, especially in senior positions.
A partner at a smaller firm in Mayfair traveled to the office as often as possible during the lockdown. A US hedge fund partner worked out of the Caribbean for months and continued to work from home after returning to the UK.
Before pubs and restaurants reopened this month, one fund manager described returning to his office for an important meeting: in his firm’s boardroom, he opened a few bottles of wine and spent the afternoon discussing stock picks with a friendly colleague from another firm .