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As the Financial Titans begin to outline how they’ll function in the ‘new world?’ Is change inevitable?

The workplace creates camaraderie and in an office of brokers, bankers, HR and other functions, the interaction in regular discussions and idea sharing is vital to the success of a business. But what happens when people are physically separated from one another? As the Financial Titans across the City and Regions begin to outline how they’ll function in the ‘new world’, change is most definitely certain.

Pre COVID-19, the traditional view across banking was that office spaces are critical for maintaining productiveness, driving talent and building culture. Fast forward to today where working from home has quickly become the ‘new norm’ many leaders are feeling the pressure. UBS Group Chief Executive Officer said “it’s especially difficult for banks to create and sustain cohesiveness and a culture when employees stay at home. A normal level of people working from home should be about 20% to 30%.” However, in today’s market and from conversations had within the market, banks are likely to see at best 20% of their workforce in the office and this could be the case until Q1 2021.

A recent HR survey by KPMG in July, found that leaders recognised the need to rethink how they keep their people connected, engaged and productive from home with “safeguarding the experience and well-being of employees” at the top of their priority lists. For many WFH can be a real benefit; cost saving, more time with loved ones and more flexible schedules but for some can increase job stress, as the line between work and personal life becomes blurred.

Here are some examples of what some of the leading banks are doing to aid their people:

  • Lloyds have said they are committed to prioritising employee experience and wellbeing to further support their corporate culture. They have appointed 800 trained health advocates, providing weekly wellness updates, and partnering with Health UK to provide services to all employees.
  • Bank of America Merrill Lynch have offered financial support for childcare arrangements and offer access to free therapists.
  • Citigroup & Credit Suisse are offering paid leave and financial support to those employees who are also carers.

Extending support to employee’s families, mindfulness apps, pulse surveys, online activities like social evenings and exercise classes are just a few examples of how businesses have tried to aid wellbeing throughout this time. Over the years, banks and other financial institutions have tried to change their cultural stigma which is often labelled as “stressful”, by implementing initiatives and enhanced mental health services , with Covid-19 now showing how effective some of these can really be.

Like most, WFH has meant banks have had to change how they operate very quickly. From cost cutting, hiring freezes and reorganised workloads, many have been forced to reshape and therefore retrain their workforces to accommodate this ‘new norm’. Many managers are now leading remote teams for the first time, therefore reimagined management and leadership training is essential.

New starter/junior development is a real focus, as these individuals tend to rely on on-the-job training. A Senior Banker may bring a new recruit into a client meeting during “normal” times in the office however will they invite a silent spectator onto a video call? Perhaps not. These individuals learn from social interactions and not necessarily from what is outlined in the employee handbook. Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan have said they are trying to keep colleagues engaged via a range of virtual initiatives and training programmes ran by senior leaders. From virtual 1-1s to town halls, cocktail parties, exercise programmes and themed evenings businesses have kept communication lines open but also exposed employees to more varied groups of people and in some cases showcased sides of senior leaders that employees may never before exposed to in the office. Luckily online learning programs were already on the rise before the pandemic struck, which many younger employees have embraced.

Developing talent through upskilling and reskilling will also shape the banks future workforces. Digital transformation has already accelerated and will come to define the way banks operate moving forward. As processes continue to be automated and new technology comes into play, this could allow time to reskill workers.

“HR should look at how it can harness talent strategy, reskilling, leadership development and process redesign to help the organisation drive optimal results” (Shaping the adaptive financial services organisations of the future, KMPG)

In the interim, remote working seems to be working so far. Enhancements in technology have made it possible for virtual meetings, traders have improvised home offices and deals are still happening. The pandemic seems to have highlighted that not everyone needs to be physically present in the office at all times, however it is too soon to say what the real or long-term impacts may be.

 “HR must swiftly transition from putting out the fires of the immediate impact of COVID-19 and its aftermath and switch to playing the long game of shaping the workforce of the future for their enterprises” (Robert Bolton, Head of Global People and Change, KPMG International).

As the banks consider how to accommodate working remotely to a greater extent; culture, wellbeing and training should be considered just as seriously as those of technical capability. This could be a fantastic time for the banks to reoutline their reputation in the market.

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