Citi’s Corbat Concerned Working-From-Home Could Harm ‘Long-Term Productivity’ As Bankers Pull 7-Day Weeks

As Wall Street deal flow continues to rage and top JPM executives inform M&A analysts that they won’t be getting much of a Christmas break, outgoing Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat has just become the second top banker to express doubts about the shift to working from home vs. the office – at least, as far as Wall Street is concerned.

As bankers wonder what the future might hold as far as when they’ll be returning to the office for good (if they haven’t already), Bloomberg has published a wide-ranging interview with Corbat on Friday as he prepares to hand over the reins to Jane Fraser, set to become the first woman to ever lead an American megabank.

During the interview, Corbat addressed reports that WFH has – counterintuitively – led to a surge in productivity as the bank’s workers pull long hours and 7-day weeks. He added that productivity like this could come with serious long-term drawbacks.

“People talk about the productivity that comes with working remotely,” Corbat said in a televised interview for a Bloomberg Invest Talks event that aired Friday. “Well, if I worked seven days a week, 15 to 16 hours a day and I don’t take any holidays, at least for a period of time I’m going to be more productive.”

Although he’s concerned about the “hollowing out” of workers’ skill sets, Corbat says Citi should take its time to assess how WFH impacts productivity over the long term, arguing that a final decision about WFH policies shouldn’t be made in hast.

“I don’t want to wake up as an industry and have hollowed out our skill sets,” Corbat said. “We’ll absolutely continue to accelerate the move toward digital and, where appropriate, more remote. But I certainly wouldn’t want to see us move too quickly.”

While Citi “absolutely” prefers its workers in the office, Corbat insisted the bank wouldn’t ask workers to come in if there safety might be in jeopardy.

“We absolutely like to have our people in when we can have them in, but we’re not going to put them at risk,” Corbat said. “We’ve got to stay flexible and obviously we’re going through a bit of resurgence in parts of the world right now. We’ve been in the phase of tapering back.”

But if Corbat’s comments about the long hours Citi’s bankers are pulling at home, then that would suggest that the bank has stumbled on what could be a major productivity breakthrough: how to get all of its bankers to work 1st year analyst hours.

If what Corbat says is true, maybe JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon should rethink his rejection of Work From Home. In actuality, it might afford his bank even more opportunities to cut costs – not only space, but head count – wringing out even greater profits.