In banker hiring frenzy, bosses who offer flexible working have an advantage

The competition for top banking talent has rarely been fiercer, and employers are quickly learning that offering flexible working gives them an advantage.

And bankers and headhunters say Financial News that companies willing to return to pre-pandemic work patterns risk losing out.

“We are hiring in a very competitive market and at all levels, in every department – whether customer facing or operational – people are asking what our approach to flexible working is,” said James Bardrick, who leads the Citigroup’s UK operations. “Interest in company policy regarding the number of days in the office is one of them.”

Banks quickly called workers back to the office after Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifted restrictions on January 19.

READ Citi, HSBC and Goldman among banks pushing to return offices as UK Covid restrictions lift

Citigroup has told its UK employees to return to work at least three days in the office. Staff numbers rose again to levels last seen before the December restrictions, when around 5,000 staff arrived each day, Bardrick said.

Goldman Sachs has also asked staff at its Plumtree Court UK headquarters to return, while Wall Street rival JPMorgan has told employees in England they should “switch to a more permanent mindset” to be in the office when they return from February 1.

HSBC, Barclays and Deutsche Bank have also encouraged more staff in the UK to return to the office, but have maintained “hybrid” working arrangements which allow employees to continue working from home two or three days a week.

Bank executives including Goldman boss David Solomon, Morgan Stanley chief executive James Gorman and JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon have been preaching for a return to the office to increase collaboration, restore culture and train young employees.

After a number of false starts wiped out by new waves of Covid, this return to the office is expected to finally be a more permanent move, with workers returning despite nearly 100,000 new infections in the UK every day. But bankers are demanding the maintenance of flexible work options.

This attitude has been in place for some time. A Financial News A July survey of 110 senior financial services professionals found that 50% would consider quitting if their employer didn’t offer flexible working hours. Only 10% wanted to return to the office full time.

A senior trader said he was able to poach a rival bank employee, not with more money or better benefits, but with a more flexible work-from-home option.

The pandemic has prompted some bankers to change their way of life, which would not have been possible before. Reverting to a culture of face-to-face time, where working from home is seen as a soft option, is not appealing, those contacted by FN said.

A mid-tier banker at a UK lender has said she and her young family moved from London to Oxfordshire during the pandemic to be closer to good schools and escape the hectic pace of the capital. Coming to Canary Wharf every day is not something she is willing to do, she said, even if her managers demand it.

Meanwhile, a vice president at a US investment bank said there had been a baby boom among those in the middle ranks during the lockdown. “Now we’re going back to the office just as the kids are entering daycare, which with the ongoing infection rate means that’s often disrupted – we need some ad hoc flexibility.”

A senior banker at a UK lender said questions about hybrid or flexible working “came up at every interview”, but requests were particularly increasing from new junior hires.

Logan Naidu, managing director of recruiters Dartmouth Partners, said: “We’re seeing flexible work requests popping up more in interviews,” particularly in support function roles.

A growing divide between those who would prefer to keep part of their week away from the office and a contingent that wants to return to pre-pandemic working arrangements threatens to create inequalities in a sector that has traditionally relied on internal networking, long hours and take the time to progress.

“There is a real risk that we will develop a ‘crowd’ and an ‘outside crowd’ – literally the ‘crowd’ is the one inside and the ‘outside crowd’ is the one home or not in the office. Georgina Philippou, senior adviser to UK regulator the Financial Conduct Authority, said at a City and Finance Diversity and Inclusion Summit on January 26.

READ Get ready for a return to office life – Here’s a list of companies doing what

Adrian Crawford, a financial services partner at labor lawyers Kingsley Napley, said he expects more cases alleging discrimination from those spending more time at home.

“There is a growing danger that those who want to be perceived as ambitious are coming into the office and employees who are spending more time at home becoming invisible and falling behind,” he said.

Citigroup is spending more than £100m to redesign its UK headquarters in Canary Wharf over the next three years. The new office will include conservatories, huge mall-style spaces with fitness centers and food courts, and more open spaces to encourage collaboration. Bardrick said the design was a “practical manifestation” of how the pandemic has spurred a need for workspaces to evolve as people work more flexibly.

“The pandemic has been an accelerator for more flexible working and has made us more confident that the business can run efficiently if people spend some of their time at home,” he said. “But we’ve also become even more convinced of the benefits of working together and the collaboration that comes from being in the office.”

Beyond formal back-to-office policies, negotiators contacted by FN said decisions are made at the team level.

“We don’t need to put these things in writing,” said a managing director of a UK lender. “If a junior wants to work from home if he has a delivery, I don’t care, as long as the job is done.”

And when it comes to the biggest fish in the office? “Nobody checks the movements of the main traders.”

Bérengère Sim contributed to this article.

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