A staff member cleans the lobby inside Wells Fargo bank in New York City, the US, on March 17 2020. REUTERS/JEENAH MOON
A staff member cleans the lobby inside Wells Fargo bank in New York City, the US, on March 17 2020. REUTERS/JEENAH MOON

New York — With New York City poised to follow San Francisco with a “shelter in place” order over fears of the coronavirus spreading, anxiety is rising inside major US banks about differing work-from-home policies.

On Tuesday, Wells Fargo became the latest to implement such a stay at home declaration in response to the quickly spreading coronavirus outbreak, but only for employees who don’t interact with customers and can effectively work remotely.

Branch, call centre, and operations centre employees and their managers are among those considered essential and will continue reporting to their offices, according to a Wells Fargo memo seen by Reuters.

But that is not sitting well with some of its employees. “I can’t believe they aren’t letting us work from home all week yet,” a Wells Fargo mortgage banker said.

Wells Fargo spokesperson Beth Richek said some employees who support critical operations, including contact centres, “must be on site to serve our customers. As the situation evolves quickly, we continue to explore alternatives, and are taking significant actions to ensure the safety of our team while ensuring customers are provided the services they need.”

Corporate America is under mounting pressure to allow employees to work from home from federal and local governments to help contain the spread of the virus. Cities across the country, including New York City and San Francisco, where Wells Fargo is headquartered, and have shut down bars and other public gathering spaces as the pandemic spreads.

However, since financial services is considered a critical infrastructure industry by the US department of homeland security, many bankers are still reporting to the office. That has caused unease among bank employees from investment bankers to tellers, as they watch cities shut down around them.

Some have ignored guidance from managers to report to the office completely, claiming they can do everything they need to get done from home. “There’s no reason for me to be there,” said an investment banker at Evercore. The New York-based firm told employees informally they could work from home if they felt uncomfortable last week, a second source said.

Confirmed cases in the industry have so far caused disruptions everywhere from trading floors to bank branches, but banks have been quick to return to business as usual after deep cleaning and directing select staff to work from home.

Most Wall Street firms, including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup have opted for a partial work-from-home structure in which teams are split into groups who rotate working from home and coming into the office.

Banks, including JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, have said their policies are precautionary and meant to keep employees safe without compromising the quality of service for clients and customers. But tempers are flaring among some employees who are still tethered to their work stations, and some banks quickly abandoned the structure as the outbreak became more severe.

On a Sunday morning call, the Barclays global head of corporate banking faced pushback as urged bankers to continue coming into the office to best serve clients. One employee on the call asked why staff had to come into the office as governments around the world called on people to stay home, according to a source with knowledge of the call.

A Barclays spokesperson declined to comment. The European-based bank told its corporate banking staff on Tuesday that everyone apart from critical staff will begin working from home effective from Wednesday, the source said.

JPMorgan Chase switched from a split structure to allowing most employees to work from home on Monday after reporting two confirmed cases in its Manhattan headquarters on Friday. The move was cheered by employees, but some felt it was overdue.

Technology hurdles such as not having enough laptops also caused some strain, preventing some employees from working remotely, according to sources inside Wells Fargo. The bank, which has roughly 260,000 employees making it the largest workforce of the big US banks, is also trying to increase its network bandwidth to accommodate more employees working from home, according to a second memo signed by COO Scott Powell.

“We are working diligently to deliver secure technology solutions to enable more of our employees to work from home,” a spokesperson said.

Banks have taken a number of measures to make their employees feel safer coming into the office, including increasing cleaning supplies available to workers. For this week, Wells Fargo ordered more than 30,000 hand sanitiser pumps, 30,000 disinfectant wipes and 2,000 hand sanitiser stands, according to a memo.

Still, at least one worker felt that supply was scarce. The Wells Fargo banker who was still in the office said hand sanitiser and Clorox wipes are still missing — “And no coffee creamer.” 


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