- JPMorgan becomes the first bank to declare US employees should return to the office.
- But IT and other big banks are taking a much gentler approach to their London offices.
- Insider speaks to workers across the industry about their homework year that is not over.
- You can find more articles on Insider’s business page.
Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon has called working from home an “aberration,” and JPMorgan has just announced that all US employees will take turns back to the office by July.
But London – one of the largest financial centers in the world – is not following Wall Street’s lead.
Big financial firms are gentler on reopening their big London offices, even though the UK has vaccinated more than half of its population and England is less than two months away from lifting restrictions on social contact.
Insider spoke to financial workers, who asked for anonymity because they are not allowed to speak publicly, about the challenges of online networking and training for juniors, working on almost empty floors, and how their employers think about work have changed from home in an industry where personal connection is crucial.
Even at the height of the UK’s first national lockdown last year, Goldman Sachs had at least 200 of its 6,500 London employees in the office.
However, there is still no obligation to return, and staff speaking with Insider estimated that only 30% of the total workforce was employed per day. On-site staffing decisions were made team by team and week by week.
Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon called working from home an “aberration” but softened his tone on the matter during a recent earnings call.
Alex Wroblewski / Getty Images
After his comments caused a stir, Solomon said on the bank’s latest earnings call that returning to the office “is not incompatible with wanting to give our employees the flexibility they need to manage their personal and professional lives.”
But he added that employees “work best when they develop close relationships with colleagues and nurture the training culture that has defined us”.
“It is impossible to train people from a great distance.”
A Goldman employee who worked in London sales said working from home was frustrating in his role.
“I train a lot with our younger children,” he said. “It is impossible to train people from a distance – what took ten minutes personally takes two hours
“Exchanging ideas effectively,” he added, “requires 100 times more effort than before.”
He and other Goldman employees who work up to three days a week are required to have a quick cross-flow test every seven days. Anyone who commutes for four days or more must have two.
Tests must be booked in advance, staff must ensure they will have no symptoms when entering the building, and temperatures are also taken upon arrival.
“Of all industries, banking has made it work,” said the sales representative. “We get free food, people even at junior level get free taxis so they avoid public transport.”
Citi has also introduced testing at 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 that effort since it started as a pilot last month. However, Bardrick said that “eligibility to work in the office is assessed based on business needs and situations in which individuals cannot reasonably work from home.”
None of the banks contacted by Insider had any plans to require their London employees to return to the office.
TOLGA AKMEN / AFP via Getty Images
The ongoing challenge for all major banks is to follow the UK government’s guidelines, but – as one Citi official pointed out – “they have changed several times”.
The country has been under lockdown three times, and a recent report found that COVID-19 regulations have changed 65 times since last March.
In March, Jane Fraser, Citi CEO, told Citi’s global workforce that “the return to normalcy is still a few months away,” as she announced “Zoom-Free Fridays” and an additional company-wide vacation day in late May.
She wrote that the bank would provide “additional flexibility” with most global roles becoming “hybrid” – three days a week in the office, two at home. However, it was rare, she confirmed, for roles to be permanently labeled “removed”.
However, a Citi dealer who has worked in both New York and London and expects to be classified as a hybrid worker said it was less clear what between “where are we now, where we will hopefully be in a few months “would happen.
“There was certainly no pressure to come back,” he told Insider, although he did cross-flow tests at home every Monday, Wednesday and Friday so that he could work at his trading post at least four days a week.
“I was never the only person, we always had a decent number,” he said about the past year, but on quieter days it was surreal, he remembered with a laughing person on the floor as there are usually 50 or 100 elderly people than me there. “
“There was a suspicion that someone who works from home is skiing, but that’s gone now.”
A middle manager at Deutsche Bank who recently returned to the office for the second time in 13 months said she only counted six people on her “eerily empty and quiet” floor.
She said her personal interactions were so little that, “I don’t think I bought a pair of shoes in the last year.” However, she admitted that building personal relationships – so important in banking – was “almost impossible” online.
“There was a suspicion that someone who worked from home was doing skiving, but that’s gone now,” she added. She said management asked employees about regular chores after the pandemic. She said, “You can no longer pretend that people are going to abuse this.”
Shortly after speaking to Insider, Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank announced that its employees could work from home three days a week.
CFO James von Moltke told Bloomberg Tuesday that it was difficult to say how employees might return to offices “because it’s so location-specific”.
But he cited London among the places he expected “to begin in the next few months”.
Noel Quinn, CEO of HSBC, headquartered in London, wrote on LinkedIn this month that the bank should not “revert to the way we work” as employees have asked for more flexibility. Most of the roles, he wrote, “could be played in a hybrid fashion,” including his own.
An HSBC spokesman told Insider it “has not set a tentative deadline for returns” and will “continue to follow government guidelines on work from home and social distancing.”
Morgan Stanley has not published any specific targets for its Canary Wharf office. A spokesperson would not comment on a return to the work schedule.
JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon. The bank has announced US employees that they will be back in the office part-time by July, but has not asked employees in London to do so.
Kena Betancur // AFP via Getty Images
JPMorgan will reopen its US offices on May 17th with a 50% occupancy rate. Coincidentally, on that day England will lift a ban on indoor mixing to make getting back to the offices more convenient.
A corporate memo on Tuesday cited the success of the US vaccination campaign, as all employees are expected to take turns being back in the office in July to fill the occupancy gap.
Despite the UK’s success with vaccines, different vaccination rates elsewhere have made it a challenge for the bank to formulate global policies on the matter. A JPMorgan spokesperson would not comment on plans for UK employees to get back to work.
The bank estimates that at least 20 to 25% of its UK workforce has gone to the office at least once a week since the government lifted the stay at home policy on March 29 when the bank allowed non-essential employees into one Office to return “as needed base.”
A source at the bank added that the lifting of restrictions could cause JPMorgan’s UK offices to reach 50% occupancy, but added that at the time there were no “targets or guidelines in place to insist that people are coming back “and this was” still very optional “.
Meanwhile, smaller financial firms have given their employees more discretion, especially those in higher positions.
A partner at a smaller Mayfair company traveled to the office as often as possible during the lockdown. A US hedge fund partner worked in the Caribbean for months and continued to work from home after returning to the UK.
Before pubs and restaurants reopened this month, a fund manager described returning to his office for an important meeting: he opened a few bottles of wine in his company’s boardroom and spent the afternoon discussing stock picking with a friendly colleague from another company to discuss .