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When sharp-suited bankers are happy to work from home in sweatpants

Flexible working: it isn't easy

Flexible working: it isn't easy

Investment bankers have a reputation for sharp suits and international travel, not sitting at home working in their underpants. However, despite the need for ‘face time’ – particularly among junior M&A bankers – financial services organisations should embrace flexible working more.

Many banks espouse the flexible working arrangements they have in place, which allow their employees to work from home, or tap into trading platforms on the road. However, much like the in-house crèches within the City, they’re under-utilised. The fear, suggest the bankers we spoke to, is that being not being in the office enough means the potential to be portrayed as slacking off.

The reality, according to Kato Mukuru, a former FIG banker at Salomon Brothers and Citigroup who now heads up equity research for boutique investment bank Exotix, is that employees will be more productive. He has a working arrangement that most bankers could only dream of. Exotix is headquarted in Dubai, but Mukuru’s wife is Spanish and lives with his family in Madrid, so he simply splits his time between the two locations, working from home in Spain.

“I actually get twice as much done when I’m working from home – there are no long meetings, no talking to colleagues drinking coffee. It’s just me, talking to myself and talking to clients,” he says.

There’s clearly a demand for flexible working among front office investment bankers. In a survey of over 700 financial services professionals by eFinancialCareers, the option of working from home was cited as a key non-compensation benefit people wanted from their employer behind only more holiday time, better healthcare arrangements and a bigger pension pot.

“If you’re a trader, it’s impractical to work outside of the office, but just about every other front office role lends itself to flexible working. You essentially need a phone and an internet connection, as well as access to internal systems, and a Bloomberg portal if you’re in sales and research,” says Mukuru. “I think banks will need to embrace flexible working or they risk losing some good people.”

This may be a stretch, however – it’s only recently that banks have allowed juniors weekends to themselves. The logic is that as employees get older – and more experienced and senior – they’ll need more flexibility around their working hours, particularly to fit in the demands of childcare arrangements and more complex family commitments.

Currently, however, most investment banks have arrangements that simply make it easier to carry on working when at home, rather than staying away from the office during business hours. JPMorgan, for instance, has a series of internal apps that allow employees to access everything from trading systems to research documents from devices outside of the office. At Deutsche Bank, 62% of employees said that they wanted some ability to determine their own hours and it says that “agreements on flexible working hours or mobile workspace are possible”.

Encouraging employees to be more productive is one argument for flexible working, but it’s also a method to keep more women in front office roles. Women who take time out to have children tend to fall out of revenue-generating positions, particularly if long working hours are required – despite numerous reintegration programmes at banks like Citi and Goldman Sachs.

Generally, though, it’s still not widespread in financial services, according to Louisa Symington-Mills, founder of Citymothers, a network for women juggling a family and a career in the City of London with over 2,000 members.

“Some firms are unlikely to actively encourage flexible working, and the onus therefore falls very much on the employee to push a request through and make sure it works in practice,” she told us previously. “In general, flexible working arrangements are still too rarely seen in front office roles – this could be for straightforward practical reasons, such as the barriers to working at home in terms of remote access technology if you are a trader or fund manager – and so acceptance is also not as widespread as in other professions.”

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