Goldman, Citi, HSBC hit pause on UK office return after Johnson plea

Topics Goldman Sachs | HSBC | Citibank

A sign is displayed in the reception of Goldman Sachs | Photo: Reuters
Banks from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to Citigroup Inc., and HSBC Holdings Plc have hit pause on plans to return workers in London after Prime Minister Boris Johnson appealed to Britons to work from home to help tame a resurgent coronavirus.

Goldman Sachs is encouraging its London employees to go back to working remotely if possible, though its Plumtree Court office will remain open for those who need it. Deutsche Bank AG, HSBC and Citigroup will pause the return of some teams to its UK offices.

Barclays Plc, Societe Generale SA and insurance marketplace Lloyd’s of London have told some UK staff to return home, according to the BBC.

“The UK government is now asking people who can work from home to do so,” Richard Gnodde, Goldman’s international head, said in a memo to staff. “Plumtree Court will remain open and we will continue to take steps to sustain a safe, ‘Covid-compliant’ working environment.”

Goldman’s reversal came just as the bank was preparing to welcome more staff back into London and New York offices after months of lockdowns left its central hubs largely empty. 

Goldman had returned about 20 per cent of staff to Plumtree Court, its new European headquarters that opened just over a year ago.

“If you have concerns about where you should be working, please discuss with your manager,” Gnodde said in the memo.

Earlier this month, Goldman sent some traders home from its Manhattan headquarters when at least one employee tested positive for Covid-19. The bank is moving forward with plans to start bringing back staffers across most divisions in New York, telling them to prepare for week-in, week-out rotational shifts starting in October.

Citigroup told London workers to “exercise their own judgment” in deciding whether they need to work in the office, according to an internal memo sent late Tuesday by David Livingstone, chief executive officer of the firm’s franchise in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and seen by Bloomberg News. The US bank, which employs 5,000 people in the British capital, said that its London building remains open and is Covid-secure for those that have a “personal or business need” to be in the office.

Deutsche Bank said Wednesday it was suspending plans to return more employees to the office, but its London headquarters will stay open for those that need to attend.

HSBC outlined several updates in a memo to UK staff Tuesday:

Critical workers in branches and a small number of open offices will continue to do so while plans for phase one teams returning to the office will be paused

Requests to enter the office for one-time reasons like picking up equipment will not be allowed except in exceptional circumstances

Pilot programs to determine how to hold events like strategy sessions and planning days will be paused until conditions improve

There’s a real risk of “many more deaths” if people fail to do their part, the UK premier warned in a televised address on Tuesday evening. Johnson’s top scientific adviser has warned that the country needs urgent action to slow the spread of the virus.

The chief medical officers for the four UK nations recommended the coronavirus alert status should rise by one rank to Level 4, meaning cases are “now rising rapidly and probably exponentially.”

Johnson said the latest measures could last for six months.

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