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#WFH: Wall Street Never Really Closed


Finance is probably one of the most tightly regulated industries in the United States. The SEC (The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission) controls access, interactions and sharing information: No cell phones at your desk and no doing business from your friend’s house in the Hamptons. I spoke with Brad in early April 2020. He is a Vice President at a Wall Street firm that is considered a broker dealer that trades securities, bonds, loans, and equities, and they buy and sell to investors. It is all about market exposure, visibility, and perceived value. Brad did not go home right away. He held off because he really likes being on the trading floor. He likes the little conversations and the informal interactions that make Wall Street what it is. It is an old-school atmosphere where people still shout about deals and the energy is intense and continuous.

Working from home, he misses his connections. He has a phone turret that they call the “hoot” which connects everyone. It is constant information; he can hear what the traders are trading, and it is a lifeline to everyone in the firm. From a technology and equipment standpoint, the firm has a remote portal interface that works well. Once he signs onto the system, it is just like being in the office, but he could be anywhere. Brad was a little concerned about the systems, accessibility, and communications, but in his opinion that is all working out well. Remote access is a little slower, about 10%. Everything takes just a little bit longer than in the office.
Before COVID-19, he had rarely worked from home. It is just not what Wall Street executives do. His firm did not provide any equipment—no laptop, no internet, no monitors. Setting up the home environment was his responsibility. Several firms he refers to did not close their offices because they just did not have enough laptops to go around. For him, no one offered anything and no one checked to see if he was functioning online. The firm has been sending out regulatory information—because of the extremely strict regulations in the industry, there is a huge regulatory burden working from home. He really feels like the firms that did send people home waited too long. They did not act responsibly.

The good news is that his firm’s systems and security are set up so that once he logs into the portal, it is just like being at the office. He is working on the same interface, systems, and drives. He logs in the same way and feels like he is on his work computer. He has dual encryption and two factor authentications. He goes to a website, logs in and then it rings his phone and asks him “Is this you?” He approves the connection, and then logs in again. Communication is still a challenge. The physical space is challenging, and the lack of equipment is difficult. At home he has one monitor; in the office he had four. He feels he is less efficient.

Communications is conducted using a program call Bloomberg Chat. It is how Wall Street communicates. It’s like Slack or Microsoft Teams but it is for the Street. Brad has a personal cell phone, but the firm did not supply one. Typically, in the office, he is not allowed to be on his cell phone at his desk. Because of compliance regulations, they actively monitor this. They put in strict regulations about it and many other things. Since going remote, they have created a whole new level of protocol because everyone is using their cell phones. The regulation says if you talk to anyone on your cell phone, you need to write down what you said and who you talked to.

The SEC has never had to deal with working from home before. Most of these guidelines were written for a face-to-face office environment. In the office, they monitor every link very closely, even access to social media like LinkedIn, but at home things are different. The compliance team at the firm sends out a lot of emails to avoid liability issues, but in reality it is only so effective. They really cannot monitor location and client connections the way they do face-to-face. The SEC requires that his communications be monitored and logged. The fact that he is on a home computer and his personal cell phone is unique to this situation and a regulatory challenge. Navigating the regulatory issues and making decisions out of the office puts the responsibility on the individual.

Daily, other than the commute, Brad’s schedule is about the same. He starts the day with a group call at 7:30 AM. The rest of the day, he is stuck in front of a computer. In the office he would be going out to lunch or going to a meeting. Now he stays connected because if someone needs to connect with Brad, he needs to be there. The day winds down around 5 PM and he no longer feels like he is glued to the screen. He feels his days are longer and everyone he knows feels the same way. They are working more and spending more time doing it. Everyone is glued to their computers all day, every day. The only saving grace is that they are market-based and the market closes at 4, so things can wind down by around 5 PM.

In its own way, he feels like Wall Street was ready for the remote workplace. Because they were already so strictly regulated by the SEC, the security and protocol for remote work was in place. Because a lot of people work between branch offices and the main office in New York, people working from different locations was not new to them. They use Bloomberg Anywhere which has its own two factor identification and is fingerprint verified, and email is also verified with a thumbprint. He logs into Microsoft Teams and the company email, but nothing lives on his phone. No Zoom, no video chats, no synchronous connections.

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