The worst thing about UBS's new office in Singapore

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Bankers fear hot-desking as UBS plans Singapore office move

UBS’s potential shift away from Singapore’s financial district would be reluctantly accepted by most of its bankers, although any efforts to enforce hot-desking on front-office staff might not go down so well. UBS is likely to move out of its One Raffles Quay and Suntec City offices and into 9 Penang Road, a new building opposite Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station, which is slated for completion at the end of this year. Terms of a lease have almost been finalised and the deal is pending approval by UBS management, reports the Business Times. UBS declined to comment for this article.

The relocation to the Orchard Road area is likely to lead to widespread use of hot-desking, including for private bankers and investment bankers, says a source with knowledge of UBS. The Swiss bank has history here. When it moved into a newly-built office in London in 2016 UBS eliminated fixed desks and introduced personal headsets and virtual desktops.

While banks in Asia – notably HSBC in Hong Kong – have recently introduced hot-desking for technology staff, it’s still rare for bankers in the region to abandon their own work stations. “I think UBS will implement the hot-desk concept, but bankers won’t like it and it’s failed in the UK office,” says the source. “Although there’s officially hot-desking in London, bankers more or less use the same desks. There’s no personal stuff left on desks overnight – it's put away in lockers – but the next day bankers just return to the same desks.”

“Hot-desking is normally associated with low-ranking or temp staff. So bankers may well perceive it as a threat to their status – even if it’s not – and will therefore react negatively and try to find ways to avoid or minimise its impact,” Henry Chamberlain, an industrial psychologist and former head of selection at Standard Chartered, told us previously.

Even if UBS decides against hot-desking at 9 Penang Road, its Singapore bankers will still face the prospect of working outside the city’s financial centre, albeit just a 10-minute cab ride away. While several banks have moved operations and tech staff to Changi Business Park, almost all front-office employees in Singapore are centrally located. UBS reportedly wants to move into a larger campus-style building, of which there are few in the downtown area.

“The financial district is always perceived as a premium location for a bank, even versus a high-end shopping area like Orchard – and many bankers would perceive a relocation as a dilution of prestige,” says Liu San Li, a former private banker, now a business partner at wealth management firm Avallis in Singapore. “But will UBS lose bankers or clients because of this move? A second or third-tier bank might, but UBS is too strong a brand,” he adds.

Moreover, some bankers may enjoy an easier commute, while relationship managers working for UBS’s private bank – the unit which contributes most of the firm’s income in Asia – may find that their rich clients prefer the new location, which is near to some of Singapore’s most exclusive neighborhoods.  “Being in the shopping district of Orchard is convenient for bankers, many of whom live in the River Valley, Orchard Road, Grange Road, Novena, and Bukit Timah areas. A lot of their clients live around there, too,” says former Merrill Lynch private banker Rahul Sen, now a global leader in private wealth management at search firm Boyden.

Keen cyclists among UBS’s Singapore staff will also find it easier to ride to work. The S$800m Penang Road building, built on the site of the old Park Mall, will feature “comprehensive facilities for pedestrians and cyclists such as walking and cycling paths around the building, bicycle parking facilities, shower rooms and lockers”, according to the developers.

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Image credit: davidf, Getty

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