COVID-19 Is Reminding Traders That They're Not So Tough After All

The virus doesn’t care who you are, what firm you work for, how close you are to closing a big deal or what your P/L looks like. At many Wall Street firms, where being the alpha male can help you bludgeon your way through problems, the virus has humbled many former Wall Street “tough guys”.

For instance, Bloomberg shares the story of a trader at Goldman Sachs who worried his entire floor after trying to fight off a fever. He apparently wound up going home and then coming back to the office, only to then leave again due to chest pains. Bankers and traders are caught in a catch 22, walking a thin line between “public health and private profit,” the article notes. 

Jim Toes, who runs the Security Traders Association said: “People do come in when they have a cold. Sometimes you have that old boss where you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t: If you stay home, you get that snickering response. If you come in, you get in trouble.”

And with the market still open, it’s that simple to tell traders to simply not come in to work. One trader said he is expected to be at work if there’s money to be made, despite what the company’s PR machine is saying about the steps the firm is taking. Some bankers have even called for a market shut down. 

Goldman is telling its employees (publicly, at least): “If you are not feeling well, you must stay home even if your symptoms are mild. Take sick time or work from home until your symptoms have subsided.”

And while many executives can easily work from home, the rank and file – like operators – don’t find it as easy to make the decision. 

Banks like J.P. Morgan are making some workers com in despite announcements to stay home. “After a senior mortgage executive told employees on a call that underwriters with remote access should start working from home, a subordinate stopped many of them from telecommuting in Milwaukee,” the article says.

Next door, in the Wells Fargo building, workers were hauling computer monitors and keyboards home with them. 

At least 100 people in JPM’s home lending group were told they couldn’t work from home until they showed they could access the company’s systems remotely. This forced some workers to use PTO or sick leave if they couldn’t come into the office. 

A JPM spokesperson said: “We have moved very quickly to enable work-from-home capabilities for our mortgage underwriters, and today the majority are. The remaining groups will be work from home by the end of the week.”

At Citigroup and Bank of America, call center workers have continued to report to work, but have been told to keep their distance from one another. 

Paul Sorbera, president of Wall Street executive search firm Alliance Consulting, concluded: “There are managers who will say, ‘We’re all in this together, if you want to take care of your kids and families, stay home. And then there are others who will say, ‘We have a business to run, and there are clients to take care of.’”