Close Close
Businesswoman on a video conference

Practice Management > Building Your Business > Leadership

Days-in-Office Quotas May Backfire: MyVest CEO

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.

What You Need to Know

  • One industry executive says the focus should be on mentorship and connection, not just days in the office.
  • Firms that fail to evolve with the times may have trouble recruiting and keeping top talent, he says.
  • Other firms, including Morgan Stanley, are cracking down on remote work.

Leaders in the financial services industry are grappling with remote work policies and seeking ways to allow their workers to continue to enjoy greater work-life balance without jeopardizing a healthy and connected corporate culture.

While the industry’s “normal” challenges, such as helping clients solve increasingly complex financial problems and ensuring firms are embracing emerging technologies, are hard in their own right, the workforce management issue is perhaps even more challenging, experts agree, because there is no playbook when it comes to the new normal of hybrid work.

Resolving the remote work question is among the most important strategic priorities for firms in this space, MyVest CEO Anton Honikman recently told ThinkAdvisor. Honikman disagrees with putting too much focus on setting a specific number of days in the office.

From the biggest wirehouses to the smallest niche advisory shops, policies are being developed and tested in real time, and it’s possible those with the right approach will glean a competitive edge over their peers. Those who fail to evolve with the times, Honikman and others warn, may find it harder to source and keep top talent.

A New World of Work

As the CEO of MyVest, a TIAA subsidiary focused on building and supporting enterprise wealth management technology, Honikman spends much of his time thinking about the technical side of the investment management industry.

The firm rolled out a big new software release in June that brought key enhancements for advisor workflows and client onboarding processes, and it’s already at work developing its next release, focused in part on new proposal generation capabilities.

Alongside that focus, however, is the need to manage the human side of MyVest, Honikman says, and this is no easy task in the summer of 2023. Simply put, the world of work in many professional industries was completely remade by the COVID-19 pandemic, and though the emergency situation has mostly abated, the old office life has not fully returned.

This reality is affecting different industries in different ways, but given the nature of advisory work and the success of the industry during the remote-first pandemic era, fundamental questions are being raised about the role of office space moving forward.

“I think a lot of my fellow executives in the financial services space will understand the challenge I’m talking about,” Honikman says. “Summer is here, and the job market remains really tight, and so we are all just trying to figure out how, in this new virtual world, we can best keep productivity up and ensure we are staying connected.”

Remote Work Policies: UBS vs. Morgan Stanley

The remote-working policies in place across the U.S. financial services industry remain a mixed bag nearly four years after the emergence of the pandemic, with some firms allowing essentially full-time remote work for many positions and others requiring an “old school” approach of five days per week in the office. Many others stand in the middle.

UBS, for example, has announced a new virtual worker framework that will allow at least some roles at the firm to be 100% remote for the foreseeable future, though many advisors and broker-dealer representatives will likely continue to work on a hybrid basis.

Public statements made by the leadership of UBS suggest the new approach to flexible working was designed to appeal to a diverse talent pool and increase retention, while enhancing client service. Currently, UBS is conducting a phased implementation of the framework to “select current and prospective employees across the country.”

The wirehouse’s strategy, at least as described by UBS executives, appears far more flexible than that of its rival Morgan Stanley. In stark contrast, on July 1, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management started limiting most of its sales force to 90 days of remote work each year.

In statements to ThinkAdvisor, Morgan Stanley’s leadership says it developed its long-term approach in consultation with advisors, and the firm emphasizes that it will continue offering options to enable staff to maintain flexibility and balance their needs with those the clients and the business.

Experts say it is still too early to know what impact such policies will have on the recruiting efforts of firms. It is likely that policies will continue to shift and evolve over time, and new models could emerge.

CNO Financial is taking another approach, moving its Carmel, Indiana headquarters to nearby offices designed for employees who spend much of their time working remotely. According to the firm, the building designers will include a café, conference facilities and other features to support employees who combine remote work with time at headquarters.

The View From San Francisco

Asked to comment on these broader remote-work trends, Honikman says his firm is somewhat unique, given its relatively short history as a technology startup in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Right now we are at about 130 people, of whom 60% are in San Francisco, while the rest are spread out across the country,” Honikman explains. “We are generally requiring one day per week in the office, which is somewhat more liberal than where some other financial services companies are right now.”

While he says he understands the positions of those leading larger and more legacy-oriented organizations like a UBS or Morgan Stanley, Honikman does not see much of a reason to focus so closely on setting a specific number of days in the office. The reason why is that he sees the real importance of in-office work as a means of facilitating mentorship and learning, not to somehow force the creation of corporate culture or to affect productivity.

“For me, I am less focused on metrics like productivity in this discussion, because people have shown they can be very productive while working remotely,” Honikman says. “What matters more for me is for people, especially those who are early in their careers or new to this space, to get that mentorship and a sense of connection to the work.

“It’s about that relationship-building that happens earlier in your career that benefits you later. That’s an intangible thing that is hard to measure and hard to recreate online.”

When it comes to the firm’s rote product development and client service operations, Honikman says, he is confident that his team could get it all done 100% remote.

“The point of keeping the office is that we want to retain some human connection,” Honikman says. “I find myself thinking about what would happen if we did get rid of our office policy but instead required the team to meet up occasionally in some other setting, perhaps traveling to outside learning events or hosting our own gatherings.”

Honikman says he expects this conversation to evolve for years to come, and as a technologist, he is humble enough to admit that the future could look a lot different than today’s leaders expect.

“I mean, it’s possible that the office really is going away for this type of profession, and that in 10 or 15 years, you and I will be looking back at this conversation and see that we were thinking like a bunch of dinosaurs,” Honikman says.

Credit: Shutterstock 


© 2023 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.