End-of-year celebrations by London bankers are being scaled down because of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19.
End-of-year celebrations by London bankers are being scaled down because of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19.
Image: Picture: Bloomberg

Bankers in London hoping to mark the end of a hectic year in the financial markets with a blowout party are set to be disappointed. The Omicron variant is prompting firms to cancel or scale back their end-of-year celebrations.

JPMorgan Chase this week called off its festive carols, while the London Bullion Market Association abandoned plans for a black-tie dinner at the Natural History Museum. Accounting firm KPMG has told staff to keep guest lists short and be prepared to cancel plans at short notice.

Omicron has given employees a stark reminder of the risk of infection. Few want to pass the virus on to elderly relatives they may see over Christmas, or be required to self-isolate over the festive period. 

“People are a bit more anxious about non-family gatherings — Christmas parties, that sort of thing,” said Steven Fine, CEO of broker Peel Hunt.  “They want to make sure that everyone in the family is together over that festive period so, maybe, they might not go to that Christmas party.”

Companies, too, are reluctant to plan costly, large-scale events only to be forced to cancel them at the last minute by the government. That’s helped to accelerate a trend toward more intimate events.

At Deloitte, team events are still being planned this year but will be smaller than before the pandemic. Like NatWest Group and Peel Hunt, the accounting firm stresses that attendance in person will be optional.

The increasingly wary atmosphere is a blow to the City’s bars and restaurants, which had been hoping for a festive fillip after the last Christmas season was wiped out by the lockdown.

The Ivy chain of restaurants has seen a string of cancellations over worries about the variant. Tables for four at the Canary Wharf branch are available every evening this week.

But some pockets of London are still seeing a roaring trade. It’s difficult to secure a booking at members’ clubs like 5 Hertford Street and Oswald’s in Mayfair, a popular spot for hedge fund managers.

For much of the Square Mile, the prevailing theme is one of uncertainty, according to Anne Boden, CEO of Starling Bank. “We’re all sitting here at the moment deciding if Christmas is going ahead,” she said.

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com