Is flexible working changing the finance industry for good?

Once upon a time…

The architect of convention and regulation, the financial sector has long been been synonymous with excess, crazy hours and blurred boundaries between home and work life. In the early 2000’s however, when a new business model was presented, the industry took note of the ‘new’ flexible working trend. 

Globalisation and mobility of its systems and employees allowed a shift in management philosophy. However, while the majority of financial institutions put flexible working policies in place, only a small number actually went so far as to implement the requisite frameworks. Issues such as technical problems and negative attitudes became a barrier. Without senior level buy-in, institutions initially found it hard to become more agile organisations, regardless of the needs and desires of their staff, which had a knock-on effect. Unwillingness to commit to making flexible working a reality and invest in the necessary technology sent out mixed messages, inducing fear among their workforce and prevented uptake.

And then came…

Suddenly the banking crisis caused the once untouchable banking world came crashing down and  previously loyal employees became flighty as jobs and career progression became uncertain. When the media shone a light on the tragic consequences of all-nighters and the ironically called ‘magic roundabout’, calls for change were heard far and wide.

The penny also dropped when it came to recruiting and retaining talent. Affected by a high-end skills shortage firms realised that they had to put their money where their mouth is – if they wanted to retain talented and skilled people, they had to listen to the requests for a greater work/life balance because younger workers favoured work/life balance over compensation. And with salaries in the financial sector substantially lower than they were pre-crisis, the lure of big money is no longer there making the reward for 100+ hour weeks quite simply, not worth it.

Despite its corporate world dominance and ability to dictate working conditions rather than be dictated to, banks and insurance companies’ post-recession vulnerability meant they could no longer rebuff the advances of the flexible working revolution.

Happy ever after?

A recent survey by Office of National Statistics found that from 2008 to 2015, the proportion of self-employed people – both full and part-time – in finance and business services grew from from 3.8 million to 4.6 million. And unlike in other industries such a retail and construction, the concentration of part-time flexible workers is at executive level meaning a greater allowance for those returning after a career break.

While the nature of the work often requires at least double the normal working hours to meet strict deadlines, the schedule fluctuates due to the financial calendar making it a good fit for flexible workers. Mergers and acquisitions for example, can create irregular work pattern due to involvement of international teams and clients, regulatory audits and continuous negotiations resulting in through-the-night shifts. But this is where flexible working – including working reduced hours after a period of extended shifts – can be offered to by companies who really do care about the well-being and work/life balance of their staff.

In fact, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Credit Suisse moved to ‘protect’ weekends for junior bankers, JP Morgan Chase implemented a policy that weekends are not to be worked unless working on a major deal, and UBS promotes flexible working and gives staff two hours per week ‘personal time’ without stigma or judgement.

Intercity Technology also confirmed that the much-needed transformation is happening with financial services companies encouraging more flexible ways of working. The average employee spending 39% of their time working remotely and view that this will increase in the next two years to 41%. The survey also revealed that personnel in the financial services sector are enthusiastic to making better use of technology; 84% believed that it had the scope to make them more productive and was therefore a priority for investment.

With new communication channels, greater awareness of work/life balance and more progressive attitudes from those at the top, has flexible working changed the financial industry for the better? We’d bank on it.

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Juggle Jobs is a digital platform that connects businesses with high-quality vetted professionals looking to work flexibly. If you want more information about how we can help you, please email us at info@jugglejobs.co.uk.

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