Banks Eye Ditching Real Estate With Workers Wanting to Stay Home

U.S. bankers are planning to cut back on real estate to prepare for a world in which fewer workers make a daily commute to the office.

Roughly 61% of bank executives surveyed by Accenture Plc said they don’t expect all of their employees to be called back to the office, and more than 40% said they plan to reduce their real estate footprint as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and their new workforce strategies.

Many financial-services firms are considering a hybrid model in which employees come to the office three days a week and work from home the other two, according to Laurie McGraw, head of Accenture’s capital-markets practice in North America.

“One of the things the traders have said they miss is that informal dialogue and idea sharing that happens,” McGraw said in a telephone interview. “All of that is gone now. You talk with the people that are on your meeting schedule for the day for the most part. And the fluidity of idea exchange is missing in a lot of cases.”

The country’s biggest banks have slowly begun returning some workers to offices in recent weeks after sending them home in March to slow the spread of the virus. Still, some have had to pull back on their efforts as states around the U.S. see a spike in cases.

Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s chief executive officer, said last week that he sees “huge benefits” to people working from offices. But earlier this month the company had to pull back on plans to return workers to Columbus, Ohio, as Covid-19 cases in the state jumped. And Citigroup Inc. has said it probably won’t bring even half its employees back until a vaccine is available.

Many of McGraw’s clients aren’t able to ditch real estate right away because they need space to ensure social-distancing guidelines are followed as staff start to return.

“They’re having to shut down every other desk, and the traders on the trading floor are all spread out,” McGraw said. “You almost need the same amount of space to bring half your staff back in a socially distant way.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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