Daniel Alpert attended his first business lunch in October in over six months. An incongruity for this investment banker used to dinners and other banquets, but which reveals the “new life” of the office of brokers and financiers in New York since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring.
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It was “outside of course,” insists Mr. Alpert, partner at investment bank Westwood Capital.
He has been back to the office since the end of June and often finds himself there alone. Usually about fifteen people work in the premises, located on the famous 5th Avenue in Manhattan, but now everyone works from home.
Productivity has not suffered, however, assures the financier. However, the firm recently had to bring several people back to the office to conclude an important deal. They had lunch in the meeting room.
“In certain circumstances, we need to be able to communicate very quickly,” explains Daniel Alpert, adding that the lunch with the team took place internally because “we felt at ease because we all knew each other well; we all know that we are careful ”.
For the few Wall Street financiers who have turned their backs, office life has taken on a new turn.
Some brokers returned to the famous New York Stock Exchange floor at the end of May, while others were encouraged by their employer to reoccupy the offices towards the end of the summer.
JPMorgan Chase has asked heads of its brokerage and sales divisions still teleworking to return to the office in mid-September, with exceptions for medical or childcare reasons. But only 20% of employees on average travel every day, often on a rotational basis.
At Goldman Sachs, nearly a third of employees have returned.
The streets around major financial institutions, near Grand Central Station or in the Wall Street neighborhood, are no longer teeming with brokers wearing a quilted sleeveless jacket – a popular item among New York financiers.
In one of the trading rooms of the French bank BNP Paribas a few minutes walk from Times Square, calm reigns on this sunny day in October. Sitting in front of their computer or standing, a handful of employees are discussing in the middle of a row; the others are scattered over long lines of offices, all separated by plexiglass partitions.
Markings on the ground recall the distances to be respected, observed an AFP journalist by interposed video – visitors being prohibited in the building. The company faced a few cases of Covid as early as March. She tries to take every precaution.
The bank receives only 10% to 15% of staff on average each day in these premises, and in particular those whose presence is considered necessary. The watchword here is flexibility.
“In the longer term, we are trying to establish a new corporate culture in which working from home will be present,” Kevin Abraszek, from the human resources department, told AFP. “The question remains to know to what extent.”
If brokers continue to converse with their clients by phone, email or through secure internal messaging systems, in this case the specialized terminals of the financial information agency Bloomberg, the primer for trading rooms, travel has almost disappeared. .
The financiers who help companies raise money from the markets, via bond issues, or to carry out mergers or acquisitions of other companies no longer come to court their clients.
“They used to travel a lot to meet clients who only granted them a mandate if they came in person,” says Karl Haeling, himself a financier at LBBW bank.
According to Mr. Haeling, who teleworks, customers have adapted and are no longer reluctant to engage the services of a banker without having met him physically.
New exchanges have developed, explains Karl Haeling. He says he shares a lot more information with his colleagues because telework has forced them to set up two daily meetings in which different types of topics are discussed ranging from markets to politics to the virus.
The financial sector, one of the main economic lungs of the never-sleeping-city, employed 460,000 people directly in New York before the pandemic, according to the organization NYCEDC.