Back to the office? Not so fast

Efma feature

17 June 2020

With enforced remote work the past three months, Efma member institutions have realized that old working paradigms might not be as necessary, or effective, as previously thought.


Bank employees around the world are slowly but surely returning to their offices. While the past three months have been a period of significant disruption, many banks and companies are using this period as a glide ramp into a new, more remote way of working. In fact, that seems to be the broad consensus among Efma member institutions.

Mastercard has told their employees that they can work from home until they feel comfortable returning to the office. Standard Chartered’s transition has gone pretty smoothly. The London-based bank’s chair, José Vinals, said in an interview, “One thing is for sure — after this crisis is over we may have to rethink our work-from-home practices. The experience so far has been rather good. It may be that you don’t need to have 100% of the people in the office, 100% of the time.”

ING is offering its employees in Spain the option to work from home permanently. Crédit Agricole was able to implement remote work on a massive scale to over 50,000 employees while maintaining the operation of over 90% of its bank branches and growing the number of monthly unique users of its banking apps by 20% over last year’s first quarter. BNP Paribas is planning for remote work until at least September. In demonstrating their resilience in the face of a global pandemic, these Efma member institutions are realizing that prior working arrangements might not be as crucial as previously thought.

Not everyone, however, is fully onboard with the idea of permanent remote work. There are some who are anxious to have their employees back in the office as soon as possible. “Our goal is to get our employees back,” said Citigroup Chief Executive Michael Corbat said at the end of last month. That point of view is surely held by many across the industry, but given the continued uncertainty surrounding the virus, it is difficult to make definitive statements about a return to the office.  

Beyond the question of whether employees need to be in the office or not, this pandemic has caused many to radically rethink how their institutions organize their work. While many banks have suffered drops in performance, others have used this opportunity to implement new, agile ways of working. Hierarchical, rigid organizational structures have proven to be a hindrance to operating in an environment that currently requires significant flexibility. At ANZ bank, they are speeding up their implementation of agile in order to respond to this moment. Their CEO, Shayne Elliott, said, "The use of agile will mean a much less hierarchical ANZ, one built around small, collaborative, self-directed teams focused on delivering continuous improvement in the customer experience."

Banks are also demonstrating their priorities through their hiring plans. At major banks such as Santander, DBS, and OCBC, there is a major focus on hiring for tech roles. This emphasis is a recognition of how typical bank jobs are shifting in type and form. Banks all over the globe are undergoing digital transformations as they update legacy systems and seek to deliver optimal experiences for clients that are leading digitally-focused lives. Top financial institutions need employees with expertise in spaces like cloud, cyber, data management, and DevOps. In addition to hiring people to fill these tech and digital positions, banks are retraining and upskilling their employees. The more digital skills employees have, the more dynamic and collaborative a workplace becomes.

Decisions regarding workers in offices are taken with a large degree of dependency and are certainly not final. As the virus continues to spread in various parts of the world, financial institutions are making workforce decisions based on the situation in their respective countries. But the major trends are clear to anyone who looks. Many banks have been able to maintain their full suite services with their workforces at home. As a result, organizations are in a period of meaningful reassessment. Furthermore, in a climate that is in flux, financial institutions recognize how important an adaptable and technically skilled workforce is to success. These big decisions require investment, creative thinking, and no shortage of audacity. They will also determine who remains at the forefront of the financial services industry.

Keywords : Covid-19 , Workforce management

Geography : International