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Financial sector mulls September comeback plans

Global banks take different approaches to bring staff back to the office

20 September 2021

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With many schools returning to in-person learning across the US, social distancing restrictions being lifted in the UK and parts of Europe, and governments in Asia ramping up efforts to boost inoculation rates, financial firms had marked September as the month their return-to-office plans would begin in earnest.

The reality, however, is somewhat different due to increasing infection rates and varying government guidelines as well as cultural and contextual considerations.

Some of the biggest banks have made clear their determination for trading staff to return to the office. Others have sketched out more flexible policies, with some announcing permanent hybrid working agreements and others planning to reduce their office space. Some banks are requiring employees to be vaccinated in order to come back to the office; others are not.

In the UK, the City of London's return to the office is at last gathering pace. While the Square Mile and Canary Wharf might not be as they were 18 months ago, some of the biggest investment banks are expecting a wave of employees to return for at least a few days a week, buoyed by government messaging and the start of the school term.

In the US, many firms, encouraged by aggressive vaccination drives and falling COVID-19 cases, had originally set 7 September – the day after the Labor Day holiday – as the first day to bring employees back to the office. However, as infection rates of the Delta variant of the coronavirus rose, several firms revised their return-to-office plans.

Wells Fargo, for instance, scrapped its plan to have its workers back in the office after 6 September, pushing the return date to 1 November.  BlackRock, Credit Suisse, Bank of Montreal, Jefferies, Perella Weinberg Partners and others have reportedly postponed plans to bring workers back to their US offices by at least a month.

By comparison, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan were among the most aggressive firms to urge staff to return to the office in the US. The banks had made it compulsory this summer for most trading employees to work from the office at least part-time.

In Europe, banks have indicated they want more staff returning after the summer vacation but are taking a more flexible approach. In Asia, governments are easing restrictions, giving firms the green light to bring more staff back to the office. In Singapore, for example, the multi-ministerial task force tackling the health crisis recently announced that work from home will no longer be the default requirement.

Overall, most firms are adopting some form of hybrid or flexible working, though approaches vary widely between banks and across regions. Here’s how some of the world's major financial firms are addressing return-to-office requirements in different regions:

United States

Bank of America: The bank is only allowing vaccinated staff to return to its offices. Its goal is to have most employees back by September.

Citi: The bank expects vaccinated employees in New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. to start working from the office for at least two days a week starting in September. For other regions it will continue to monitor data.

CME Group:  CME Group said in May that it was permanently closing most of its open-outcry trading pits in Chicago. On its trading floor, all individuals must wear face masks and face shields.

Goldman Sachs: Goldman Sachs has made it compulsory for staff to be fully vaccinated in order to work in its US offices. In the summer, US staff were asked to be ready to report to the office by 14 June, albeit with some flexibility.

JP Morgan: The bank brought back employees in the US to the office on a rotational basis from July with some flexibility. JP Morgan is encouraging employees to get vaccinated but has not announced a mandate.

Morgan Stanley: US-based employees who have attested that they are fully vaccinated will be required to show proof of vaccination beginning 1 October to enter the company's buildings, while those who are non-vaccinated will continue to work from home. 

Wells Fargo: Wells Fargo is encouraging employees to get vaccinated but has not announced a mandate. Employees who are working from home will be called back to the office starting 1 November, instead of 6 September as previously planned.

In addition, many of the biggest hedge funds, including Millennium Management, Bridgewater Associates and Point72 Asset Management, have said they are requiring US staff to be vaccinated before they can return to the office. 

United Kingdom

Barclays: CEO Jes Staley has indicated he wants the eventual return of staff to the office. Barclays staff based in the UK are not required to get the jab to return to the offices.

Credit Suisse: In the UK all employees will be expected to spend at least some of their working week in the office from early September.

Goldman Sachs: Goldman Sachs has scrapped social distancing in its London office as part of its drive to get more staff to return. With the “vast majority” of staff in the UK fully vaccinated, Goldman is already seeing about half of its London workers in the office each day.

HSBC: HSBC has adopted a new hybrid working model and said it plans to cut its global office footprint by around 40%. It is expected that staff who are vaccinated would be allowed to work about three days of the week in the office. Recent reports say traders not currently in the office have been told to return.

London Metal Exchange: The London Metal Exchange reopened its Ring trading floor in September after an 18-month hiatus. Traders must be fully vaccinated or take rapid COVID tests twice a week.

NatWest: NatWest is adopting a hybrid working model but has stressed offices will remain important for collaboration.

Standard Chartered: The bank said it will make permanent the flexible working arrangements introduced during the pandemic, and that it could cut a third of its office space in the next three to four years. 

Europe

Credit Suisse: In Switzerland, the bank is giving employees “maximum flexibility", although it has not specified the number of days employees must work in the office.

Deutsche Bank: Company-wide, the bank has pledged to implement a hybrid model for staff.

Société Générale: The bank has set long term work-from-home plans, allowing some bankers to work part of the week outside the office. 

UBS: UBS will permanently allow as many as two-thirds of its employees to mix working at home and the office. The move is being led by CEO Ralph Hamers.

Unicredit: The bank is giving headquarters staff the option to work from home approximately two days a week.

Singapore

DBS Group Holdings: The bank is allowing all staff to work up to 40% of their time remotely.

United Overseas Bank: The bank will allow about 65% of its 26,000-strong workforce to work remotely two days a week.

Hong Kong

Citi: Citi plans to raise the capacity in its Hong Kong office to the highest level since the pandemic began, boosting in-person staffing in its offices to 90% from 75%.

Morgan Stanley: The bank has more than 70% of its staff back at their desks in Hong Kong.

UBS: The bank said up to 60% of its Hong Kong workforce were back in the office, 

 

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