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The back to the office battles still happening in banking

If you're working in a client facing (front office) job at many banks and buy-side firms now, it's a given that you're in the office more often than not. CEOs like Jamie Dimon at JPMorgan and James Gorman at Morgan Stanley have been vocal about the need for people to get back to their desks. But beyond the front office, malingerers are still hanging out in their own environments. In 2023, it's the turn of back and middle office staff to be summoned back. 

"They want us in three days a week and are pointing out that this is what we signed up for," says one senior technologist at JPMorgan's investment bank in London. "But we're only averaging two, and upper management are getting very grumpy about it."

"Senior management want us back in," agrees a technologist at UBS. "I was hoping to increase the amount of time I work from home, but we're being told that everyone is wanted back in the office more frequently."

For the moment, some people say they're resisting the push by interpreting the rules creatively. "They want us in twice a week, but once seems to be fine in reality," a finance professional at Bank of America in London informs us. 

At JPMorgan, the developer says the push to return to the office is ironically meeting its stiffest resistance from executive directors and managing directors. At this level, he says that people are more likely to have families and spend most of their time in video meetings anyway. 

The push back to the office extends to private equity. Glen Roberts, a partner at Eames Consulting in London who recruits accounting professionals into PE firms, says there's a push to get everyone back into the office and that it's not always popular. "Over the past 12 months, a lot of PE firms have started cranking up the amount of face time they want from their non-investment professionals," he says. "They want to flick the switch and get people who've adjusted their lifestyles back into the office full time." Because of this, Roberts says people are coming to him on a weekly basis and asking for jobs where they can work from home. 

In banking, some firms are more open to working from home than others. HSBC is looking to exit its London office at Canary Wharf as it doubles down on homeworking, for example. At Standard Chartered, one product controller says flexible working was embedded in employment contracts after lockdowns and remains in place: "We're being asked to stick to those agreements."

As the pandemic fades into memory, many people are happiest with hybrid work. One Credit Suisse accountant says he's working three days a week in the office, earning between £40 and £50 an hour, and is cool with this. "There's a level of autonomy - people are able to decide whether they want to be in the office," he says.   

A Bank of America risk professional says he spends most of his time in the office, despite having young children, and that it's his choice. "There's a general trend to come back, but it's more than just a pull from employers," he says. "Most people are entirely happy to be coming back to them office. The ability to have in person meetings saves a huge amount of time in certain roles."

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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