JPMorgan Chase has summoned the leaders of its trading teams back to the office by September 21 as the world’s biggest investment bank tries to restore normality after the unprecedented work-from-home experiment triggered by the Covid-19 crisis.

The call to return to JPMorgan’s tower blocks in Canary Wharf in London and midtown Manhattan in New York was detailed by two of the bank’s most senior trading executives on internal calls on Wednesday.

The new policy comes against a backdrop of falling Covid-19 cases in the two cities which were once the pandemic’s global epicentres.

Other banks across the world have also been steadily refilling the massive buildings that were almost emptied out at the height of the pandemic.

They have typically been treading softly despite growing concern from political leaders including UK prime minister Boris Johnson, about the fate of the cafés, shops, restaurants, bars and other businesses that rely on office workers for their livelihoods.

On Wednesday JPMorgan’s trading boss Troy Rohrbaugh and sales and research head Marc Badrichani told dozens of managing directors and executive directors that they were expected to be back at their desks by September 21, a person familiar with the situation told the Financial Times, confirming an earlier report by the Wall Street Journal.

The call to the office, which the duo framed in the context of falling Covid-19 rates and a new crop of analysts starting work, does not apply to those who are medically vulnerable themselves or have medically vulnerable people in their households, or to those with childcare obligations at home. 

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Mr Rohrbaugh and Mr Badrichani also stressed that the bank would be monitoring the virus carefully and would reverse course if the situation deteriorated.

“It’s important to set the tone from the top, and with a new class of analysts coming in, we cannot not have a senior presence on the floor,” said a person familiar with the matter. “It was a message for the leaders, not the troops.” The edict relates to “a few hundred managers for a few thousand employees”, the person added.

Chief executive Jamie Dimon, who had emergency heart surgery in March, and most members of the firm’s operating committee have been in the office all summer, the person added.

Those entering the bank’s building fill out a daily health questionnaire, as is common practice across Wall Street. JPMorgan also operates temperature screening, has spacing between desks and provides hand sanitisers.

Banks have generally been impressed with how smoothly their trading rooms migrated to home offices, kitchens and spare bedrooms, though some executives have stressed that the energy and collaboration of the trading room is impossible to replicate virtually.

Those concerns, and the desire to use established systems for compliance and monitoring staff, have made traders the highest priority for banks as they plan how many staff they can get into their buildings while keeping everyone physically separate — particularly when a small number of lifts must be used by thousands of staff.

Banks and other financial services firms are generally planning a more permanent switch to higher levels of remote working even after the pandemic passes.

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Via Financial Times