Remote work in investment banking will damage your career

You might work on Wall Street in various capacities. Regardless of your position, even a developer, people need to be around decision-makers in person. Remote work doesn’t work especially if you are in:

  • Banking
  • IT
  • Marketing
  • Capital Markets
  • Risk
  • Other

Furthermore, you might kid yourself you can work from the Bahamas for an undetermined period.  Trying to negotiate 3 days in and 2 days out to enjoy your house in the burbs? Who wants to go back to the ridiculous commute?

Having no choice in the pandemic, you now think of ways to keep the good times rolling. However, no matter how comfortable you are working from home, you need to return to the office.

The bottom line is that from my years of experience working remotely at Merrill Lynch, trust me, you want and need to go back to the office. Remote work in banking harms your climb up the corporate ladder. It is worse than not working, it will leave a scar.

Today’s state of the state

Reading about conflicting signals from public announcements?  Goldman, JPM, and Wells have made public statements ordering their employees back in person, albeit at different points in time this year.  Bravo, good for them, since it takes your choice out of the equation. Not everyone is clear though, and some employers might give options.

Many hedge funds are migrating south and promoting remote work.  Many of the European banks in the US are shrinking NYC office space. Shrinking space doesn’t necessarily mean remote work; it means a smaller workforce. Open your eyes, people. Wall Street is shrinking, with the Europeans shrinking the most.

My journey to remote work at Merrill Lynch Canada sounded fantastic

In 1998 my department head promoted me from the main NYC office at World Financial Center to Toronto to head up the Structured Finance Group in Canada. The grand idea was I was going to search for the business north of the border, then bring my US colleagues in as experts to bring US firepower to Canada, a nascent structured finance market.

I was effectively remote since all my calls with my US counterparts were over the phone (Zoom, in 1998?). Traveling anywhere in Canada, searching for any deal, and tapping my US colleagues for subject matter expertise on paper was grand.  I had been in the US group since 1993 so I knew all the people.

Exploring a new country with the best subject matter experts in the business backing me up? Dream do come true.  Yes, we were #1 in the rankings, so we had the best of the best in NYC.

My Journey fell apart quickly

Quickly I became out of sight, out of mind.  First, I joined our weekly meetings via phone. Then they started to forget to loop me in (back then the host needed to call out). I reminded my team how I represented them, and they needed to keep me involved. They forgot me.

I found fantastic potential transactions across Canada where I needed my US colleagues to come to pitches.  They bitched and moaned that although they would get credit for Canadian deals, why break out of their US comfort zone.  Can you blame them since they had enough of a territory to cover.

I reported to the head of US Structured Finance and the Canadian head of Capital Markets. Neither one really took responsibility for me and nurtured me.

My relationships with so many other departments in NYC weakened. Maybe I could have made more of an effort, but when you are no longer “in the building” you are nowhere.

No more sharing of ideas nor communal dinners. Communal dinners were the glue that held us together. Crappy Chinese and Italian food every night, picked up by Paul in the lobby.  At the age of 28, that was heaven.

In NYC I sat right outside of my boss’s office and could hear all his conversations. He would pull me in for anything interesting. I was immersed in everything going on. In Toronto, I sat outside my boss’s office who kept his door closed and really couldn’t care.

Please learn from my mistake

I had to leave Canada when management changed. I had spent 2 years running around all the provinces and had very little to show for it. When a banker has few closed deals, a banker ceases to be a banker.

I regretted going to Canada. Never did I imagine that a promotion would have the opposite effect, mostly because I lacked physical NYC presence.

Learn from my mistake. Get back to your office if you have the choice!

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