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European banks aim to lure Wall Street employees with WFH benefits

September 14, 2022, 12:35 PM UTC
Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon has been out in front trying to corral his highly paid staff to resume full-time office work.
PATRICK T. FALLON—AFP/Getty Images

At Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and other U.S. banks, staffers know that their bosses want them back in the office. Yet many of their colleagues at European firms are working about half the time from home. Their employers say that flexibility is a competitive advantage. 

Every one of 12 top European banks surveyed by Bloomberg is continuing to allow employees to work remotely for part of the week. UBS Group AG even sees its embrace of hybrid working as a chance to hire talented staff from from U.S. competitors, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The Swiss bank is committed to offering employees the option of hybrid working and about 75% of employees have roles that offer the necessary flexibility, a spokesman said. Similarly, France’s Societe Generale SA, Spain’s Banco Santander SA and ING Groep NV of the Netherlands cited workplace flexibility as helping them attract and retain the best talent.

Contrast those approaches with Goldman Sachs, which led Wall Street’s return to its Manhattan towers last year. The firm, and competitor Morgan Stanley, began removing some of their remaining COVID-19 mitigation efforts after this month’s U.S. Labor Day holiday.

Earlier this year, Goldman executives emphasized their expectation that staff meeting Covid-protocol requirements will work from the office. The firm — and Chief Executive Officer David Solomon — has been out in front trying to corral its highly paid staff to resume full-time office work.

A Goldman Sachs spokesman declined to comment on the bank’s policy. Solomon said on an earnings call last year that achieving the goal of bringing staff back to the office “is not inconsistent with the desire to provide our people with the flexibility they need.”

The level of flexibility in Europe varies depending on roles, with traders more bound to offices than IT staff. Yet Deutsche Bank AG’s policy appears to be the norm, with staff allowed to work remotely up to 40% of the time (rising to 60% in “exceptional circumstances.”) SocGen agreed a similar approach for its France-based staff in 2021.

U.S.-based banks may be trying to push staff in U.K. and European offices back to their desks, but they are meeting resistance, according to Christine Armstrong, who researches the world of work. “We’re hearing that in some cases they are getting less than 50% compliance and people are just not turning up,” Armstrong said.

The impact of insisting people return to offices is being felt in increased pay demands and a higher risk of staff attrition, Armstrong said. 

“Every time you encourage more people to go back to the office or mandate it, you’re increasing your cost of hiring and increasing the chance that people will leave to go somewhere with more flexibility.”

European banks do see the value of bringing staff back to physical meetings during part of the week. Credit Suisse Group AG wants to ensure employees “continue to be connected to an office and spend valuable time collaborating and team building,” according to a spokesman.

Still, several European banks are also supplying staff with the equipment to make working from home easier. Spain’s Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA is providing phones, laptops and, if requested, a chair, screen, mouse and keyboard.

While some tasks are done best in a physical team setting, others “are better done in a more calm space,” whether that is at home or in the office, according to ABN Amro Bank NV of the Netherlands. 

Staff are returning to offices, but “not yet at the rate that we had anticipated,” said Jarco de Swart, an ABN Amro spokesman. 

“Apparently, part of our staff is well capable to work mainly from home.”

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