Once you get past the imposing foyers staffed by attractive receptionists and beyond the large stock tickers on the front of the building, most financial services offices are somewhat plain affairs, made up of large, open-plan floor spaces with banks of impersonal desk tops.
Some bank offices, however, have more in common with champagne and caviar than Diet Coke and supermarket sandwiches. Borrowing perhaps from the world of Google, Facebook and other technology powerhouses, finance firms are upgrading their workspaces to attract and retain talent.
“Companies have focused on making space more conducive to creativity,” says Andy Bugg, a partner in charge of workplace and project management at commercial real estate agent Knight Frank in London. “Even something as simple as office restaurants – which died out years ago – are back en vogue, along with more natural light, break out areas and spaces to match the type of work being carried out, whether that’s collaborative or individual.”
Goldman Sachs, which recently denied reports of a rat being spotted around its credit sales desk at Fleet Street in London, has embarked on ‘Project Armada’ – a plan to develop 1.2m square feet for its new London headquarters. UBS, despite its 10,000 job cuts, is due to complete the redevelopment of its 1980s-style offices in Broadgate, London by 2016. KPMG in Hong Kong has just moved 1,000 client-facing staff into a new high-tech office, which also includes bonuses like “massage, skincare demonstrations, team lunches, after work Wii and xBox,” according to Maggie Lee, a KPMG partner and head of human resources for China.
But which offices inspire envy among financial services professionals around the world, or go an extra mile to try and encourage employee engagement or well-being? Here’s our list, compiled by our correspondents around the globe:
Nomura embarked on an ambitious project to revamp its London office at 1 Angel Lane after the acquisition of Lehman Brothers’ European and Asian arms in 2008, including a 220-seat auditorium and a small TV studio. More interestingly, it also houses over 150,000 bees on its roof and has a vegetable garden maintained by staff volunteers. [Picture: Nomura staff acquaint themselves with the roof residents]
Dave Crowley, Nomura’s health, safety & environmental manager, says that because the office is so large, these are ways of reducing the bank’s carbon footprint, while also increasing employee engagement. “All employees are invited to volunteer and participation rates show that people are keen to get stuck in and help,” he says. “We have had staff from all business divisions and management levels.” The honey is harvested by a firm called The Golden Company, which also set up beehives on the roof of the London Stock Exchange last year. They then sell it back to Nomura, which serves it at breakfast meetings and other events.
Bank of Moscow employed designer Alexey Kuzmin to convert a 7,000 square metre windowless attic on Kuznetsky Most Street 13 into one of its many offices in the Russian capital.
With hanging chandeliers, white leather furniture, oak panelling and liberal use of mirrors, it’s the sort of classy understatement many associate with well-heeled financiers. [Pics via The Cool Hunter]
Employees at the European arm of hedge fund Tudor Capital no doubt expect the finer things in life. The firm employs just 20 people at Tudor Capital Europe, who shared a compensation pot of $62.2 million for the 12 months to March 31, according to a recent Companies House filing. They work out of a converted mansion called Great Burgh House in Epsom, Surrey in the U.K., replete with 25 acres of grounds, a pool, tennis courts, a gym and a bar.
The firm didn’t respond to requests for information on the office, although these photos from Cowley Timberwork of the work being carried to tailor the building to the firm’s needs give a rough idea of its grandeur.
Macquarie employed the services of Los Angeles-based Clive Wilkinson Architects and designers Fitzpatrick & Partners in Sydney, first for its Australian headquarters and then for its London office, which was completed in early 2011.
The results were pretty spectacular – not only is the design something to be admired, but the firm attempted to make the working environment more collaborative (using Activity-Based Working techniques). Its employees gather in ‘meeting pods’, rather than rooms, and the staircase in the London headquarters is both intimidating and attractive.
Recruiting private bankers in Singapore is no easy task; in 2009 firms were looking to hairdressers and car salesman, such was the shortage of talent. UBS has taken to training them itself, and has housed its private banking ‘university’ in a 1930s British army command house on Kheam Hock Road. It’s surrounded by landscaped gardens including ‘heritage trees’, which are protected by National Parks Singapore. Moira Roberts, head of UBS Business University Asia-Pacific, says it “provides a perfect ambience which is conducive to learning and development”.
PwC’s 7 More London won the British Council for Office Awards this year (yes, that’s a thing) and is all about ‘corporate sustainability’, which includes recycling 45,000 litres of cooking oil every week to power the new headquarters. It also has a ‘well-being’ centre for its staff, which offers a doctor and dentist as well as a space for meditation and prayer.
“Over the last few years, one of the most requested items has been the provision of prayer and meditation rooms,” says Anne Muirhead, senior manager, PwC. “They can be used as quiet space where staff can be alone and have the opportunity to gather their thoughts and refresh themselves before tackling the next task.” In France, the firm also offers ‘PWCool’ – a spa room for staff to chill out between meetings.
The plan's for Bridgewater Associate's new office via Stamford Advocate Bridgewater Associates isn’t just any hedge fund, it’s the world’s largest hedge fund (according to the latest Bloomberg rankings) and needs an office to befit this status. Currently, the site for its proposed new 850,000 square foot headquarters in Stamford, Conn.’s South End in the U.S. is recovering from ‘Superstorm’ Sandy, but once it’s completed, expect a display of opulence. Bridgewater is planning a helipad, a floating recreational barge, a restored estuary and a marina, according to a zoning application filed earlier this month. The aim, says the application, is to “house a corporation in an environment that fosters personal interaction and a strong connection to the living world”. This is assuming it overcomes the campaign from Save Our Boatyard, which are opposing the Bridgewater’s plans, of course.
Credit Agricole houses over 9,000 employees in its ‘Evergreen’ French headquarters, while BNP Paribas’ ‘Paris Cardif’ office employs 3,300. The more cynical may suggest that building such mini-towns, complete with plush restaurants, hair salons, communal gardens, duck ponds and games lounges, make it so that staff never have to leave the office. [Picture: The lounge at Credit Agricole's Evergreen headquarters]
The idea, however, is to create a more “collaborative” work environment, with plenty of open spaces to share ideas and interact in a “convivial” manner, suggest the banks.
Are you looking for a change of pace? Then why not fire off a speculative application to Germany’s smallest bank, Raiffeisenbank Gammesfeld? It’s unlikely you’ll be successful, however, since it employs just one person, general manager Peter Breiter, whose predecessor Fritz Vogt ran the bank for 40 years. Until 2009, the bank didn’t own a computer. Yes, the office resembles more of a shack than cutting edge financial services organisation, but at least you’d be getting away from it all.
Fancy spending your lunchtimes smoking a cigar, nursing a glass of port and burying yourself in a copy of the Times? This is the office for you. The photos below are of Manchester House, a project carried out for an ‘investment firm’ in London’s West End by architects and designers SHH who are keeping quiet about the client’s identity.
The idea, says SHH, was to convert a grade II listed Georgian house into a “21st century office interior” designed around the theme of an old gentleman’s club. By ‘West End’ read ‘Mayfair’ and, judging by the high spec of these offices, by ‘investment firm’, read ‘hedge fund’.
Have we got this right? If you think there are more impressive or interesting financial services offices, let us know (and send pics) to firstname.lastname@example.org
Additional reporting by Simon Mortlock in Singapore, Julia Lemarchand in Paris and Florian Hamann.