Dive Brief:

  • Morgan Stanley plans to begin returning its trading personnel to the bank’s Times Square headquarters in mid- to late June, sources told CNBC. The timeline comes shortly after Citi CEO Michael Corbat publicized that he intends to return 5% of that bank’s 12,000 Manhattan employees to the office in July or August.
  • By contrast, all six of Canada’s biggest banks pledged to keep their downtown Toronto employees working remotely through at least September to contain the spread of coronavirus, the city’s mayor, John Tory, said Friday.
  • Morgan Stanley’s aggressive return date may be somewhat of a surprise considering the bank’s perceived sensitivity to the pandemic. The investment bank’s chief, James Gorman, was the first of many finance CEOs to proclaim he wouldn’t make any staff cuts this year. His memo to that effect came while Gorman himself was recovering from the virus.

Dive Insight:

Most systemically important financial institutions have remained tight-lipped regarding the time frame attached to their office return strategies. Those that have made public comments generally have erred on the lenient side.

BNY Mellon CEO Todd Gibbons told an investor conference Friday the bank may encourage some of its staff to work from home more often after the pandemic.

Capital One CEO Richard Fairbank wrote in an internal memo last month that its U.S., U.K. and Canada offices would remain closed to non-essential personnel at least through the Labor Day holiday Sept. 7.

Morgan Stanley’s strategy came to light Friday — the same day New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, both Democrats, said they were confident the city would meet metrics this week to have commerce restrictions lifted June 8.

When they return, Morgan Stanley employees can expect to have their temperatures checked before entering the building, sources told CNBC. Employees will get welcome kits with masks and hand sanitizer, and will be required to wear masks in most situations except when sitting at desks.

Signs will direct people where to walk to avoid contact with one another. Two or three people will be allowed in the elevator at a time, people familiar with the bank’s plans told CNBC.

Most meeting rooms will be off-limits, and the cafeteria will likely only offer boxed meals that can be ordered via app, the people said. Guidance from local authorities or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could dictate changes in the plans, the sources said. Workers who don’t feel comfortable returning won’t be forced to, they told CNBC.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Canada’s largest city said he was setting a more cautious tone to avoid a stricter lockdown over future flare-ups.

“We want to do whatever we can to minimize any second or third wave of this virus,” Tory said Friday. “We do not want the sacrifices that all of you have made out there to be in vain.”

Tory secured buy-in from not only the country’s biggest banks but at least 18 other businesses — including PricewaterhouseCoopers, Rogers Communications and Ryerson University — that agreed to keep their employees home until at least September.

“By staggering the flow of people back into city centers, this will help maintain physical distancing and reduce pressure on public transit as more businesses resume operations,” Scotiabank’s chief human resources officer, Barb Mason, wrote in a memo to employees Friday, according to Bloomberg. “As such, for those employees in head office and regional offices currently working remotely, you will continue to do so until September at the earliest.”

TD Bank’s executive vice president of human resources, Kenn Lalonde, struck a similar tone in a memo Friday.

“Given the fluid situation, the majority of you who currently work from home will continue to for some time — at least until September, and possibly longer,” he wrote.

Back at Morgan Stanley, Gorman said last month he expected no more than half of the bank’s workers to return to the office by the end of the year, according to Reuters. However, the CEO said he was surprised by the results he’s seen, considering such a sizable proportion of employees are remote.

“If you told me three months ago we could have 90% of employees out of the office and be functioning with the volumes we have had, I would’ve said the probability of that being pulled off is close to zero, but it happened,” he told CNBC.

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