Citi’s Savvy Slow-Roll of the Return to Office

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Even though people on Wall Street aren’t the type to brag about getting a Fauci ouchie, they’re the kind of people who are going to get a vaccine if for no other reason than it will allow them to do more business. As the pandemic has ebbed and flowed in severity during the last few years, at least in New York, some of the CEOs who run the largest banks — JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, Goldman Sachs’s David Solomon, Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman — have pressured their employees to go back into the office, requiring on-site testing for those who haven’t gotten a jab or otherwise making people wear masks at their desks. It’s a position that’s caused at least one of them to issue a mea culpa.

But one bank, Citigroup, led by CEO Jane Fraser, has taken the opposite tack, building a reputation early on as the best bank to work at if you don’t want to work in an office. Think of it in terms of risk management — Wall Street’s bread and butter — and it all makes sense: The bank made a market for financiers who wanted to work from home, and hired one big-deal banker after another. The rest of the Street, of course, noticed. “Jamie and Gorman and Solomon were like, ‘Get back to work.’ Guess what? People didn’t like that,” one managing director at a rival bank told me. “This is people’s health and safety. People don’t want to hear some CEO who flies private, who has a driver, pounding the fists on getting into the office.”

So the news today that Citigroup will start axing unvaccinated employees by next month makes it clear that the difference between Fraser and the rest of her peers is that she just has better timing. “Having a vaccinated workforce enables us to ensure the health and safety of our colleagues as we return to the office in the U.S.,” the bank’s HR head said in a public LinkedIn in October. (There are a few exemptions, including for religious reasons, a spokeswoman told me). It’s even inspired grousing on — where else? — YouTube, the internet equivalent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for vaccine deniers. A spokeswoman for the bank confirmed the vaccination plans.

The thing is, this was probably always going to be the endgame. Fraser cast a wide net and got to hire some talent that she might not have otherwise been able to. And what are these bankers going to do? Go back to their old jobs? Unlikely. Wall Street has been chill about Omicron since its early days, betting that this variant would essentially lead to the end of the pandemic as we know it. Now, it looks like they’re substantially all going to head back to the office, no matter where they work.

Update: This post was updated to include a spokeswoman confirmed the vaccine plans, and to note that there will be exemptions for some employees.

Citi’s Savvy Slow-Roll of the Return to Office