A view of the exterior of the JP Morgan Chase corporate headquarters in New York City, New York, US. Picture: REUTERS/MIKE SEGAR
A view of the exterior of the JP Morgan Chase corporate headquarters in New York City, New York, US. Picture: REUTERS/MIKE SEGAR

A new divide is emerging in finance as bankers around the world return to their desks after months of lockdowns during the pandemic.

In one corner, firms such as JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs Group are making clear their determination for staff to return to the office. Other banks, including Nomura, Citigroup and a variety of European lenders, have sketched out more flexible policies. This chart shows how firms are dividing.

This snapshot of what some banks have communicated so far is expected to evolve as the pandemic does. Group-level announcements may also obscure differing approaches in local offices, as well as in the variety of teams at each firm that can realistically switch to remote work permanently.

But a divide is getting clearer. JPMorgan’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, repeated his desire for busy offices at a recent conference, saying that remote work doesn’t work “for those who want to hustle”. The bank has followed through on his comments with plans for the entire US workforce to return to offices, on a rotational basis, starting from July

But one bank’s aberration is another’s chance to upend long-running practices — and perhaps give it a competitive edge in recruiting and retaining top staff.

Standard Chartered is wasting no time rolling out formal hybrid working agreements to its 85,000 staff globally, with 80% of staff now on flexible contracts, according to a spokesperson. It’s also slashing about a third of its office space.

Others are less exacting on where and when staff will be back. Citigroup has laid out a philosophy of flexible working, saying it will promote inclusion and retention — yet CEO Jane Fraser said at an online event last week that almost everyone would be expected to maintain some sort of presence in the workplace.

Choosing a time for these moves is also dividing firms. In the US, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley have written off the summer for major changes, saying instead that desks should be occupied by September. They are counting on the value of office culture for staff, particularly younger employees looking to build their networks and skills.

Continental drift

Banks have long grappled with imposing corporate culture across time zones, which is now complicated by the gulfs between Covid-19 caseloads and restrictions globally. London-based staff at Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan aren’t all following their US colleagues into the offices yet, after the U.K.’s “freedom day” from restrictions was postponed until at least July 19.

“Every region is experiencing things differently and at a variety of paces,” said Allison English, deputy CEO of workplace research firm Leesman.

Firms with headquarters in Europe are generally further along the spectrum than their US rivals in favour of flexible policies. UBS Group, UniCredit and Deutsche Bank have already unveiled hybrid working models, though the latter is letting each team set their balance of home and office time.

Shanghai scenes

Asia, too, offers a variety of models.

In Shanghai, the world’s first major financial hub to grapple with and later tame the virus, nearly all of the 360,000 finance professionals have been working from the office for more than a year, even though they continue to face temperature scans and contact tracing. Similar scenes are playing out across China and there are no flexible work plans at domestic banks, insurers and brokerages.

In Japan, Nomura CEO Kentaro Okuda has unveiled plans for employees to work a minimum of 40% of hours in the office each month, with departments to have discretion within that limit.

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com


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