US and Europe parted ways over return of bankers to office

A transatlantic rift has opened in the banking industry over the merits of quickly getting workers back to the office, with some U.S. executives calling for a swift return to pre-pandemic normalcy while many of their European counterparts are taking a more cautious approach.

JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs have summoned all U.S. staff to their offices as early as next month. In contrast, European banks, from London-based HSBC to French Societe Generale, are returning to the office with more caution and with a more relaxed attitude to flexible working.

“Some banks are very traditional in their perspective on the workplace and really want people to go back to their offices,” said Darin Buelow, head of global localization strategy at Deloitte. “Then you have the other end of the spectrum where you have financial services companies. . . by taking a very thoughtful and careful approach to knowing where and how people can work. “

Last week, Jamie Dimon, managing director of JPMorgan, made a passionate defense of his return to the office, saying he was canceling all future Zoom meetings because he was “done with it.”

“We want people to go back to work, and I think in September, October, it will look exactly like it was before,” Dimon added.

Dimon said clients told him that in cases where JPMorgan lost business to his peers, it was because “other guys’ bankers visited him, and ours didn’t. – well, that’s a lesson ”.

The managing director of French lender Société Générale, Frédéric Oudéa, takes a different point of view. Last week he said that “the idea that winning is just spending 22 hours a day in the office” was outdated. He dismissed Dimon’s concern that bankers could lose contracts by not meeting clients in person.

SocGen also announced an agreement with the unions to allow all French staff to work from home three days a week after the end of the crisis. Oudéa plans to roll out this policy globally and said it would give it an advantage in recruiting “young talent” who “don’t see the world the way they did just two years ago” .

Likewise, HSBC CEO Noel Quinn abolished the entire executive floor of his London skyscraper. Non-officer C-suite managers now have an open-plan office on an open-plan floor. It is part of a radical plan to cut costs at its global headquarters by 40%. Quinn says he will set an example by frequently working remotely himself and cutting his Business trip A half.

There are even splits with the same bank, with some investment bankers based in Europe resisting dictates to return to their full-time office. At Credit Suisse’s Canary Wharf office, around 30 percent of staff are present on any given day, with a full return unlikely before September compared to July for colleagues in New York.

“There is a strong office culture in most investment banks, [but] there is a bit of resistance from the staff, ”said a Credit Suisse banker. “There is value in having face to face, but does it take another five days a week? No.”

Proponents of a return to the prepandemic norm say remote working dampens corporate culture, makes young employees harder to train, and hurts competitiveness when it comes to winning business from customers.

However, supporters of the hybrid approach claim that Covid has proven that remote working has no impact on productivity, with investment banks reporting record revenues in 2020.

At the same time, flexible policies could help attract young talent who might be discouraged by a return to rigid work patterns. Google said that a fifth of staff can work from home all the time, while the rest are able to come three days a week and spend two days “where they work best.”

“There is data that supports both ends of the spectrum,” said Buelow of Deloitte, noting that a weak company culture could increase revenue, but giving employees more freedom could increase both. worker satisfaction and productivity.

Banks are also paying more attention to employee morale after pandemic revived criticism on the relentless culture of work to the point of abandonment which is endemic in the industry.

Last month, a regulatory program manager at HSBC in London has gone viral on LinkedIn when he described his decision to prioritize work over his health during a heart attack.

And in February, a group of first-year investment banking analysts at Goldman Sachs presented management with a slide show outlining the tough working conditions, highlighting the tensions faced by young people working in the banking industry. investment. Based on a survey of 13 analysts, the slide set reported an average 95-hour work week, with five hours of sleep per night starting at 3 a.m.

A managing director at a UK bank said the transition to flexible working would be more difficult than the move to universal home working a year ago. They said early experiences with partly video and in-person meetings left attendees confused and less engaged.

“We know how to run a business with people in the office, we know how to run it with people at home,” the person said. “But this hybrid model with large numbers and large numbers at home. . . is going to prove more difficult than all-in-one or all-in-one. “

Additional reporting by Michael O’Dwyer and Nicholas Megaw

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