If you're working in finance and are based in Europe, you are probably either on your Christmas break already, or are preparing for two weeks off starting from Christmas Eve. 'Tis the season, and the season is one of eating and drinking rather than sitting in the office and working. For U.S. finance professionals, who typically have less time off, it can all seem rather - well - 'indulgent.'
However, one category of person in the London banking world gets even more time off than others at Christmas. If you're a contractor, you have probably been absolved from toil since the start of December and you won't be going back until the New Year is well underway.
Contractors' month off at Christmas is known as the 'furlough' and is enforced by most banks. "There are a few reasons for it," says one seasoned contractor, speaking off the record. " - The financial year end for most banks is in December, so it's a way of saving money. It's also unnecessary to have contractors in the office because there's usually a change freeze, which means no new IT releases are made over the Christmas period in case things screw up. Plus the permanent staff all have backlogged holiday, so there's no need for us to be around."
The upshot is a mandatory four weeks out of the office. At most banks it's been going on for at least five years. At others it's a newer innovation - Standard Chartered CFO Andy Halford suggested mandating that Standard Chartered's contractors take December off in the cost cutting email he sent in October, for example.
While a full month without work might sound like a boon, it's also unpaid. This can cause issues for contractors that haven't budgeted carefully. "Too many contractors in banking only have cash in the bank to cover three months," says one contractor. " - This isn't enough nowadays."
He says the most diligent contractors spend December, 'building up their skills to stay current.' Another long term contractor says this isn't really necessary: "Personally I love the furlough because it gives me an excuse to stop work for a whole month at Christmas."
In theory, banking contractors in London should be working harder this year because of Brexit. In reality this doesn't seem to be the case. "The furlough was raised as a risk with Brexit preparations," says one. "But Brexit doesn't seem to have made much difference."
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