UPDATE: Sept. 29, 2020: Thousands of office workers in JPMorgan Chase's consumer unit can continue to work remotely until next year, the bank said in several memos Monday.
The directive — which excludes branch workers and some in operations, a source told Bloomberg — marks a break from the company policy that mandated Wall Street senior traders return to the office last week. JPMorgan's consumer and community banking unit comprises more than 122,000 employees, the wire service reported.
"Generally, anyone working remotely today will continue to do so through the end of the year, assuming we can maintain productivity levels," reads one of the memos, seen by Bloomberg. "Our overall productivity levels have remained high. That’s remarkable and something that should make us all proud."
- JPMorgan Chase told its sales and trading teams' managing directors and some executive directors they and their teams must return to the office by Sept. 21, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed sources.
- The bank is making remote work exceptions for employees with child-care issues and those with preexisting medical conditions, Troy Rohrbaugh, JPMorgan's head of global markets, and Marc Badrichani, the bank's global head of sales and research, told staff on a conference call Wednesday, according to the Journal.
- The directive appears to be the most fervent line in the sand drawn in a segment struggling for consensus on how long to continue remote-work policies amid the coronavirus pandemic.
JPMorgan Chase isn't the only big U.S. bank to lay out a potential office-return agenda this week.
"Over the coming days and weeks, colleagues ... will hear from their divisional, business and/or local leadership about what to expect for the months ahead, including team rotations in the office where possible, with the goal of giving everyone who can do so an opportunity to come in to their office," CEO David Solomon and two other Goldman executives wrote. "For each location, as we further open and scale to capacity, we continue to closely manage the number of people in our buildings on any given day on a cross-divisional basis."
The bank told its traders Thursday that, although rotations would begin next month, "we remain supportive of a collaborative and flexible environment, and encourage you to discuss the arrangements that work for you with your manager," the Financial Times reported.
Citi circulated a survey Wednesday to its employees in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, gauging staff members' interest in coming back Oct. 5. The bank would initially cap daily office presence at 30%, Bloomberg reported. However, the questionnaire also asked employees who opt to stay home to give a general reason, allowing for Citi to offer potential solutions. For example, workers who are ill at ease with taking mass transit are being asked if a bank-provided shuttle from hubs such as Grand Central Terminal would make them more comfortable.
Other finance companies have embraced flexibility. Although American Express opened its New York headquarters this week to nonessential employees — capping office capacity at 10% — the card network also said in a statement it is extending its optional remote-work policy through June 30, 2021.
"We're taking this step to offer colleagues more flexibility to balance work and family obligations, particularly as many of you must plan for an uncertain academic year that may involve remote learning or have elderly relatives to care for," American Express CEO Stephen Squeri said. "In addition, many of you rely on public transportation to commute to work and may not feel comfortable using mass transit for the time being."
Camaraderie, junior staffers
At JPMorgan Chase, Rohrbaugh and Badrichani told employees Wednesday that camaraderie would suffer and junior staffers wouldn't get necessary training if traders worked from home full time, people familiar with the matter told the Journal.
The executives said the bank would be monitoring the virus carefully and would reverse course if the spread worsened. Employees entering the bank's building fill out a daily health questionnaire, and the bank operates temperature screening, has spacing between desks and provides hand sanitizer. JPMorgan also recently launched a mandatory training program explaining new office rules.
"It's important to set the tone from the top, and with a new class of analysts coming in, we cannot not have a senior presence on the floor," a source told the Financial Times. "It was a message for the leaders, not the troops," the person said, adding it affected "a few hundred managers" and "a few thousand employees."
President Donald Trump praised the move Thursday in a tweet that mistakenly characterized it as an order to the bank's entire workforce.
Sales and trading staff aren't the only employees JPMorgan Chase has coaxed into returning. The bank requested that, beginning this week in London and New York, 50% of its investment bankers be in the office on a given workday, according to Bloomberg. That's double the previous 25%. Bankers will work from home or the office on alternating weeks, a source told the wire service.
Nonetheless, traders seem to be the coal mine canaries of choice for several banks. Morgan Stanley returned some traders to downtown locations as early as mid-June, although it's unclear whether a major U.S. bank has mandated a return on such a scale yet. JPMorgan has instituted some incentives to persuade traders below the managing director level to return, reimbursing Uber and taxi rides to the office. (Update: The bank ended Uber reimbursements for junior traders, Bloomberg reported Sept. 16, citing anonymous sources.)
But if the motivation for return stems from a belief that business could improve through a trading-floor presence, there's also an argument that business — particularly in trading — is already booming. Trading revenue from JPMorgan's investment bank jumped 86% in the second quarter, compared with last year's same three-month span. The bank's fixed-income traders generated a record $7.3 billion during the quarter.
It remains to be seen whether JPMorgan's banking brethren will follow in the message that returning to the office is safe. Wells Fargo, for one, announced last week it was extending its remote-work option until Nov. 1 for 70% of its workforce. TD delayed returns until the new year. Truist went even further — through Jan. 31, 2021.
Deutsche Bank sales and trading staffers are arranging to work from home two or three days a week even after the pandemic ends, people familiar with the matter told the Journal.
And UBS Group's investment bank co-presidents told employees Tuesday in a memo that "flexibility and remote working" will continue. "We expect you to return at your own pace and when you feel comfortable," Piero Novelli and Robert Karofsky wrote, according to the Journal.