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The cafe generation: How tech culture is spreading to financial services



A massage between meetings, a table tennis break in the atrium before the three-day weekend. The war for talent is raging with tech companies competing to offer staff the most extravagant workplace perks. This new work culture is now spreading to financial services firms, which are focusing more than ever on their employees’ welfare and personal development. Just plain altruism? No: to attract – and retain – the best talent.

Working anytime, anywhere

Working remotely from home, a co-working space downtown or a café next door is becoming increasingly common for financial services’ employees thanks to mobile technology.

This is not just about being more flexible: recent research by Stanford University has found that remote working led to a performance increase, fewer sick days and an improvement in overall job satisfaction. At GE Capital, the financial services branch of American conglomerate General Electric, flexible working is one of the reasons, with an open and inclusive culture, why the company took the top spot among all other financial services groups in the FT/Glassdoor ranking.

Amazing office perks

“I believe that we are currently witnessing a cultural shift in the workplace. Technology has enabled us to work from anywhere. This has blurred the lines between home and office. Instead of our offices being a place we have to go, they are becoming a place we want to go. More progressive companies are recognising this shift. They are introducing more flexible working arrangements and creating more compelling work places,” says Paul Boag, a digital user experience consultant, author and speaker.

Indeed working at the world’s largest tech companies does not feel like work. The dress code is relaxed, the food and drinks are free and recreation opportunities abound. It will take a while until bank employees bring their dogs to the office like AirBnB employees, or staff get up to US$20,000 worth of family planning benefits like those of Facebook. It may take even longer for insurance employees get to travel between floors with a slide, Google-style.

However, Paul Bennett, Associate Director for London occupiers at global real estate services provider Savills, told me he has seen things changing a lot since the credit crisis hit. There is a movement away from the more corporate way of working – with suspended ceilings, raised floors, and blue carpets. A lot more design is now going into offices.

In a context of “war for talent” financial services are now adopting the methods of tech and creative companies and providing better working conditions. At investment firm Citadel, ranked 10th in the best places to work in financial services by Great Rated!, perks include free breakfast, lunch and dinner, beverages and snacks throughout the day, onsite fitness centres, concierge services, and ‘Citadel After Hours‘ social events.

Death of the cubicle

Financial services companies are also getting out of cubicles to make more space for collaboration and innovation. As Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs, famously said: “Ideas don’t happen in the boardroom, they happen in corridors.”

Paul Bennet explains that he has seen a big movement in the City towards loft-style space, with exposed ceilings and flexible, open-plan co-working environments which provide more opportunities to interact. There are also more informal meeting areas and cafeterias to reflect the café culture of the Millennials.

To win the war for talent, new weapons have to be used. Competition for quality staff is high, forcing employers to look for novel ways to attract employees beyond just salary. Paul Bennett sums it up: “And how do you attract bright staff? You pay them well but you also create a creative and stimulating environment. So you need a building with great facilities – gyms, showers, big communal facilities where people can have meetings, cafes, bars – spaces that give back to staff.”

If you are looking to further your career in financial services, please get in touch with your local recruitment expert.

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