Jamie Dimon’s Zoom fatigue is a sign home-working backlash is coming

Jamie Dimon has had enough of Zoom, and he’s not the only one.

The JPMorgan boss said he’s keen to cancel all his Zoom meetings. “I’m done with it,” he told a virtual Wall Street Journal conference, adding that a recent in-person meeting in California left him “brimming with ideas” he would never get virtually.

JPMorgan has laid its cards on the table — bankers are largely expected back in the office from July. Goldman Sachs also told employees that they should prepare for an office return from mid-June.

At this point in the pandemic, even the chief executive of Zoom has Zoom fatigue. Banks cite the need for collaboration and the apprenticeship model for younger employees as reasons to get back. But it’s not just banks. The lobby group Institute of Directors’ survey of nearly 600 UK business leaders found one in five are not planning to introduce any form of remote working once lockdowns ease. 

Investment banking is the vanguard for what may become a backlash against the hybrid working trend. Dealmakers are a relationship-driven bunch, used to jet-setting across the world and back for hour-long pitches. The millions in fees are worth it. These competitive pressures mean many are desperate to get back on the road — Dimon recalled that some of his bankers once lost out on a deal because “bankers from the other guys visited and ours didn’t. Well, that’s a lesson.”

READ Goldman Sachs to ramp up UK staff at Plumtree Court HQ from 21 June

Dealmakers have grudgingly accepted that parts of the process will remain online — due diligence, investor roadshows, for example — but clinching a deal over the competition and schmoozing clients means travel will come back after the pandemic.

“The real relationship-building travel, I think, will be pretty intense and might even be elevated, maybe in the back half of next year, when everybody tries to catch up and go see somebody they haven’t seen in two years,” said Ken Moelis, chief executive of Moelis & Co during its first quarter earnings call.

READ HSBC investment bank boss on Asia push: ‘We’re not deprioritising the UK’

European banks have been quick to jump on post-Covid cost-savings, with Barclays, Deutsche Bank and HSBC all cutting back on real estate costs as staff move to a so-called hybrid way of working.

Within its investment bank, however, HSBC’s co-head of global banking and markets, Greg Guyett, told Financial News that investment bankers need to be together to “engage and collaborate and also go to see clients”.

“I’m not a big believer that we’re going to be pitching by Zoom all the time,” he said. “There will be more of that, but it’s very important to go out and meet with clients.”

Investment banking fees surged to a record $32.9bn in the first quarter, with most dealmakers still working from their spare bedroom. While much of the focus has been on alleviating junior burnout, senior bankers say remote working and the flurry of deals has led to increased stress across the board.

READ Pandemic saves Goldman, HSBC more than $1bn on bankers’ travel and entertainment

“My meeting count is up 100%,” said one head of investment banking at a US firm. “People don’t understand how stressful it is. Before the pandemic, I would have been in the office two or three days within two weeks and the rest of the time I was on the road. Yes, it’s right to keep those silly meetings where we travelled for two days for a half an hour gathering online. But the current rate is neither healthy nor sustainable.”

While banks have rolled out headline grabbing salary hikes and bonuses for juniors, there’s also been a push for senior dealmakers to be more organised with how they allocate work to analysts and associates.

“I think this will be the biggest challenge — I’ve seen their diaries and they’re back to back,” said one mid-level banker at a US firm. “They barely have time to pee.”

To contact the author of this story with feedback or news, email Paul Clarke