Metro Bank will not urge staff to return to the office until the winter flu season is over but it is ramping up hiring to handle a surge in defaults linked to the Covid-19 crisis.
The chief executive, Daniel Frumkin, said he would not ask its 1,400 head office and back-office employees to return to their desks before 2021, given the potential for a rise in coronavirus cases during the winter months.
“Everybody tells me, you know, flu season will be difficult and it doesn’t seem prudent to let people back in the office in October, staring into a winter that could be very difficult. It seems much more prudent to revisit the topic once we see what the winter unfolds like,” he said.
However, the banking boss said the success of homeworking meant staff were unlikely to return to a permanent desk and would only be in the office two to three days a week. An internal survey found that only 4% of Metro’s head and back-office staff wanted to return to the office five days a week.
The homeworking trend also meant the bank was able to close its Old Bailey back-office site more than a year earlier than expected. It has scrapped plans to rent office space for those 900 staff in lower-cost areas such as the north of England and the Midlands.
“We were always going to exit the Old Bailey building and we were always going to move colleagues to a lower-cost jurisdiction. That might have been outside of London, it might have been in the Midlands, it might have been up north; who knows where that was going to be … what has changed is we won’t be doing that. We actually found office space for all our colleagues – and it just looks a lot like their sitting room.”
Metro will be kitting out the basements and first floors of existing branches – such as those in Piccadilly, Fulham, Holborn and Wimbledon – with office space to allow staff to use hot-desking areas when they are not working from home.
However, the lender is preparing for a surge in defaults by creating debt-handling teams for the first time in its 10-year history, involving hiring dozens of staff.
“We’ve never really had a significant number of distressed borrowers … so we’re really having to build them from scratch,” Frumkin said.
Metro has put aside £112m for potential loan losses in the first half of the year, with about £97m directly linked to the Covid-19 crisis. It pushed the high street lender to a £241m loss for the first six months of 2020, up from a £3.4m loss a year earlier.
Metro Bank shares were down 7.2% in morning trading at 105p. Its shares were changing hands at about 217p before the pandemic took hold in February.