Asset management execs back four-day week

Senior executives from some of the UK’s largest fund houses are keen to move to a four-day work week, as financial services firms continue tearing up the rulebook following the Covid pandemic.

A survey of 200 senior asset management executives by professional services firm Accenture found 76% would support working fewer days a week, as evidence begins to emerge on improved employee mental health, morale and productivity.

“Four-day weeks could work for a lot of organizations. There are different parts of the asset management operating model where it will work better,” Chris Lowe, UK asset management lead at Accenture, told Financial News.

“The challenge comes where there are areas of support or operations that need to be on permanently. There is a lot of positive evidence around the value of a four-day working week … but asset management is a highly regulated industry, so there is a balance to making sure customers are protected and treated in the way they are today. ”

Most asset managers have introduced flexible working policies as part of their post-Covid return to work plans.

Columbia Threadneedle, which is owned by US-based Ameriprise Financial, has asked around 1,100 staff to be back for a minimum of three days a week across its offices in Cannon Street and Exchange House near Liverpool Street. Teams are expected to be in the office on the same day at least once a week.

Jupiter, the FTSE 250 fund manager, has a “2-2-1 policy” in place, meaning staff can work two days in the office, two days at home, and choose which location to work from for the remaining day.

Meanwhile, BlackRock has requested employees come to its London office at least three days a week as part of its Future of Work pilot. BlackRock’s London office is the “primary” work location for staff, but they can choose to work from home for two days a week, depending on their role.

The Accenture survey findings, based on responses from nine of the top 10large asset managers in the UK and seven of the top 10 globally, come as some companies trial four-day weeks as part of a pilot that began last month.

READ ‘FOMO’ pushes staff back to office as asset manager settles on hybrid working

The six-month trial, which involves 70 UK companies from a range of sectors including hospitality, education and skincare, is being organized by the not-for-profit group, 4 Day Week Global. It is working in partnership with think-tank Autonomy , the 4 Day Week Campaign, and researchers from Cambridge and Oxford Universities and Boston College.

Researchers will examine the impact a shorter working week has on employee well-being and productivity, as well as any changes to gender equality and the environment.

Almost two-thirds of asset management executives surveyed by Accenture said they do not believe they have lost talent due to their firm’s return to work policies, with 60% stating their firm will move to a permanent flexible working model.

READ Schroders gave me Fridays off — here’s what it’s like for me, my wife and my boss

“Asset managers have their finger on the pulse in terms of how their employees feel. It is a people-driven business. There will be a lot of talent they can hoover up from those organisations that have a less flexible approach,” said Lowe.

Some financial services firms are already ahead of the curve on implementing a shorter working week.

Atom, the challenger bank, announced in November it had introduced a four-day week for its 430 staff without reducing their salaries.

The bank said it was implementing the change, which had been taken up by the majority of its staff, “to support improved employee mental and physical well-being together with improved business productivity”.

Atom said Mondays or Fridays are expected to be the default days off for the majority of employees, except for those working in operational and services roles whose day off may vary to ensure uninterrupted service for Atom’s customers.

Accenture’s survey also revealed asset managers are grappling to keep hold of staff interested in moving to other sectors, with 71% saying that they have noticed a “significant uptick” in the number of employees leaving for tech firms over the past 12 months.

Meanwhile, 62% said employee departures over the same period had been to non-traditional financial services firms, such as fintechs and start-ups.

“Covid has really opened people’s eyes to what they want to achieve and what they want to know,” said Lowe.

“People think they might have a great base in asset management, but a lot of fintechs and newer firms love people with an asset management pedigree — they bring some business context and credibility when it comes to developing technology capabilities.”

However, Lowe said some of those professionals exiting the fund management sector may become “boomerang” employees in the future, returning when they have picked up valuable new skills.

“You will see some of those people leaving the asset management industry to obtain those new skills coming back, as those skills will be key for asset managers in future,” he said.

To contact the author of this story with feedback or news, email David Ricketts

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