Banks eye layoffs as long-term costs emerge

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic last spring, the heads of U.S. banks including Morgan Stanley, Bank of America Corp and others pledged not to cut any jobs in 2020 because it was the wrong thing to do. However, as executives prepare for an extended recession and loan losses that come with it, layoffs are back on the table,


Reuters reported consultants, industry insiders and compensation analysts as saying at the weekend. Compared with April projections, bank economists and executives expect the U.S. economy to take longer to recover, with high unemployment into 2021 and interest rates staying near zero for the foreseeable future.


On top of that, working from home has shown some managers that they need fewer employees to do the same amount of work. “No question, layoffs (will) come across the board for all the banks,” said Barry Schwartz, chief investment officer at Toronto-based Baskin Wealth Management, which invests in JPMorgan Chase and other large Canadian banks.


Banks have to cut costs because of expected credit issues, as well as low interest rates and regulatory pressure to trim dividends, he said. Bank staff could shrink by an average of 5-10%, mainly at mid- and lower levels in technology, human resources and finance departments, according to Alan Johnson, head of the compensation consultancy Johnson Associates, Inc.


JPMorgan Chase & Co already cut around 100 jobs in mid-July, according to comments on social media. People who said they worked in three divisions – the community and consumer bank, the commercial bank and the corporate and investment bank – said they were let go. JPMorgan representatives declined to comment.


Wells Fargo & Co resumed cutting jobs in August after putting layoffs on hold in March. The affected staff have so far been in technology and retail banking, and management is planning thousands more layoffs this year and next, sources said.


“We didn’t see a lot of restructuring or layoffs with the banks (earlier in the pandemic). We’re starting to see it now,” said Dennis Baden, partner- in-charge at executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles.


Among global banks, Standard Chartered PLC and HSBC Holdings PLC have let go of several hundred employees this year. Standard Chartered plans to lay off a few hundred more this year and early next year, according to bank sources.


A Standard Chartered spokesman said the job cuts are not due to the pandemic, but are part of a more than 4-year-old strategic plan.


Any Standard Chartered employees let go in 2020 will be paid their salary for the rest of the year and will receive severance pay, according to a bank statement. HSBC announced this month it was restarting a plan to cut 35,000 jobs.


The Bank of Nova Scotia also let go of some U.S. investment bank staff, according to several sources familiar with the development.

The bank declined to comment. Reuters reported in May that large Wall Street banks were widely expected to cut budgets, including areas in technology and operations, like third-party consultants, business analytics, process management and call centers.




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