The CEO of Refinitiv says flexible working has boosted productivity and is here to stay at the $27 billion data giant: 'It's not going back to normal because I think attitudes have been changed.'

  • Refinitiv CEO David Craig said the data giant will maintain flexible working options for employees regardless of how things shake out with the coronavirus. 
  • Craig said Refinitiv has enjoyed a 20-30% increase in productivity on core operational areas since remote work began in the spring. 
  • Refinitiv has roughly 18,500 employees that serve clients across 190 countries. 
  • Financial firms are grappling with when, and how, they can return to the office. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Things will never be the same.

It's a common refrain frequently used over the past six months, as the world grapples with which changes made during the coronavirus pandemic are likely to stay in place for the long haul.

And while many financial firms are still sorting out what their long-term plans are, one of the largest data providers to the Street is fully embracing flexible working.

David Craig, CEO of Refinitiv, told Business Insider the data giant has no plans to shift away from a hybrid working model. Even if a vaccine is created and widely distributed, Craig doesn't see a future where employees are always required to be in the office. 

Refinitiv has roughly 18,500 employees that serve more than 40,000 companies spread across 190 countries. 

"It's not going back to normal because attitudes have changed," Craig said. "Our people are basically saying to us, 'Please, don't ask us to go back full time in the office. We don't want to do that. But also please make an environment available for us where we can meet and collaborate, because we need that too.'"

Wall Street is wondering when to go back to the office

The question of when, and how, to return to the office has been top-of-mind for financial executives. As the number of new coronavirus cases in New York has continued to decrease in recent months, some firms have looked to push for a return to office. 

While speaking at a virtual conference this month, Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan's chief executive, said there are risks to having employees work from home for extended periods of time. Dimon also highlighted a dip in productivity from remote employees in a recent conversation with analysts from Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.

Read more: Wall Street is getting back to work. Here are the latest return-to-office plans for 5 firms, including JPMorgan and Bank of America.

And while Daniel Pinto, head of JPMorgan's corporate and investment bank, told CNBC the firm would embrace a rotational approach to employees coming into the office, The Wall Street Journal had reported the bank's sales and trading teams were expected back in the office by September 21.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported on September 15 a JPMorgan employee tested positive for COVID-19.

However, Refinitiv has seen the opposite ring true, according to Craig. Since the shift to remote work, productivity on core operational areas is up 20-30%, he added.

"When it comes to technology development, we've had the biggest year, that I can remember, of new product releases and enhancements by our tech team. We've had the highest throughput quality metrics on our content enhancements and content," Craig said. "There has been a sharp increase in productivity. Maybe it is down to avoiding the three-hour commute from Connecticut to Manhattan, or into Bangalore or through London."

It's not just productivity that has seen a boost. While many have cited collaboration as something that has been negatively impacted from people working from home, Craig sees it differently. 

By connecting digitally, everyone is on the same level, whether you have a corner office or a cubicle. 

"It's less hierarchical. You can access all levels of people more easily. It is also more equitable," Craig said. "Everyone has more or less the same bandwidth. The idea that you've got a bigger office now has gone."

See more: The CRO of $27 billion data giant Refinitiv says the coronavirus could permanently alter how it employs staff and serves clients

Refinitiv executives have previously hinted at flexible working becoming a part of the company's long-term plans. In March, at the height of the pandemic, Debra Walton, chief revenue officer for Refinitiv, told Business Insider that changes made as a result of coronavirus — such as digitally engaging with clients and having more employees work remotely — might remain in place after the fact.  

To be clear, Craig isn't calling for the death of the office. Refinitiv, which agreed to be acquired by the London Stock Exchange in 2019 for $27 billion, has opened 30% of its offices to a max capacity of 30%.

A key part of the strategy, Craig added, is finding the correct balance between those who are at the office and those who are still at home. 

"Not making people who video-in feel like aliens, and actually having a higher tolerance to the fact that the digital platform experience is better," he said. 

Client interactions remain a question mark

And while Craig has fully embraced flexible work, he acknowledged that some questions remain.

One of the biggest ones for all of Wall Street is around client interaction in a virtual environment.

Refinitiv was able to work with clients remotely throughout the pandemic. Increased adoption of cloud-based technologies, coupled with travel limitations, led to more clients accepting Refinitiv's remote implementation and support of their products, Craig said. 

That process has proved to be largely more efficient, he added.

However, it's one thing to maintain a relationship digitally. It's another to actually start one from scratch that way. 

Craig cited the fact that virtual collaboration technology is pretty good at this point, and will continue to get better. He also mentioned the fact some in the industry have experimented with virtual-reality headsets and holograph projection, trends that have gained momentum on Wall Street in recent years. 

"How many new relationships can you forge in this environment? We don't really know the answer over the long-term. I think it'd be wrong to say, 'It's really hard and you can't do it.' It is definitely possible, but it's going to be different," Craig said.

Read more:

Blackstone is encouraging US workers to return to the office after Labor Day, and that's putting some employees on edge

Wells Fargo is ditching a 750-person WeWork space, while Citi inked a deal with the flex-office giant far from a big city. Here's a look at how financial firms are retooling their real estate.

Virtual and augmented reality could be game-changing for how Wall Street tackles data in the coming decade

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