Bank CEOs expect returning to the office will become the norm
Bank leaders aren’t sure what the next three years will look like, but many are certain about where their companies’ work will happen: the office.
Almost 70% of U.S. bank CEOs surveyed by KPMG said they envision fully in-office working environments within the next three years. That is close to double the average of other white-collar industries. Just 6% of bank executives predicted remote-only work environments.
The predictions highlight the degree to which bank leaders see their work as a relationship business and provide a glimpse of how executives think the industry’s workforce will operate in the coming years.
“Banks talk about creating a culture a lot,” said Nathan Stovall, principal banking analyst with S&P Global Market Intelligence. “They firmly believe that that is very hard to establish on a remote basis.”
In addition to fostering more communication with co-workers, coming to work in an office may encourage bankers to meet face-to-face with clients, which can help to build stronger relationships.
“Remote work eliminates much spontaneous learning and creativity because you don’t run into people at the coffee machine, talk with clients in unplanned scenarios or travel to meet with customers,” JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon wrote in his annual letter to shareholders this spring.
Dimon said that about half of the company’s more than 278,000 employees are required to be on-site five days a week. Close to 40% are in-office part of the time, and about 10% of staffers, who work in “very specific” roles, are eligible for fully remote work.
At Goldman Sachs, about 65% of employees are in the office on a given weekday, CEO David Solomon told CNBC earlier this month. That figure stood at about 75% before the pandemic, according to Solomon. “I don’t want rules. I want a culture where we show up, serve our clients,” he said.
Both JPMorgan and Goldman track employees’ attendance by monitoring how often their identification badges are used to enter offices.
Kristin Lemkau, chief executive of JPMorgan’s wealth management business, said some employees in her business who started working remotely full-time during the pandemic have asked to come back into the office.
“It’s going to be really hard to deliver a strategy … and build a culture with everybody remote,” Lemkau said during an interview Wednesday at American Banker’s Most Powerful Women in Banking conference. “A lot of employees are finding in year three or year four, it feels a little isolated.”
Some bank leaders are concerned that the high levels of productivity seen after many employees started working from home won’t last.
“They’re worried over the long term that employees won’t be able to keep it up,” Stovall said.
Even compared with executives in other parts of the financial services industry, bankers were more likely to predict full returns to the office, according to KPMG. About 48% of asset-management CEOs said they expected employees to work in the office full-time in the next three years.
Bank branches were some of the only businesses deemed essential during the pandemic’s early lockdowns, and many financial institutions began bringing office workers back in 2020.
“Banking executives are at the forefront of the return-to-office and future-of-work conversation,” said Peter Torrente, KPMG’s U.S. national leader for banking and capital markets. “The focus will only grow as new and evolving models are tested and evaluated in the coming months.”
The attitudes of U.S. bank executives stand in contrast with those of European bank leaders.
Banks headquartered across the Atlantic see American banks’ return-to-office rigidity as an opportunity to lure talent by offering more generous work-from-home benefits, according to a Bloomberg report. The 12 largest European banks allow employees to work remotely for part of the week, a benefit not afforded at some of America’s biggest banks.
Not all U.S. banks are in line with the rest of the industry. WaFd CEO Brent Beardall said the Seattle-based bank would not be a leader in return-to-office.
“We’re not going to push anything,” Beardall said in an interview earlier this month. “We want to create an environment where people want to come to work to be alongside their colleagues so they can be productive and build relationships, but we’re not going to mandate anything.”
At MainStreet Bank in Fairfax, Va., employees started coming back to the office on a voluntary basis in late 2020. More recently, a team of employees came with a return-to-office policy implemented earlier this year. Most of the bank’s 160 employees have the option to work remotely two days per week, which their manager can increase to as many as four days after six months. The policy doesn’t cover frontline employees such as branch workers.
Trish Smith, MainStreet’s director of human resources, said one of the first things job candidates ask about is the bank’s flexible work policy.
“It definitely is a hot topic and something that applicants are looking for,” Smith said.
Victoria Zhuang contributed to this report.
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