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ECONOMY | 07-04-2021 17:07

Buenos Aires bankers’ return to office imperiled by Covid surge

Several of Argentina’s largest banks succeeded at getting more employees back to headquarters as the virus toll abated in South America’s second-biggest economy. A rising case count now puts that path into question.

Several of Argentina’s largest banks succeeded at getting more employees back to headquarters as the virus toll abated in South America’s second-biggest economy. A rising case count now puts that path into question.

About 50 percent of BBVA Argentina’s bankers are coming in twice a week, though the office is mostly shut Wednesdays for deep cleanings. Banco Santander Rio, the country’s largest private financial institution by assets, reached a goal of having as many as 40 percent of its employees in the office for at least half of the week last month, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter who asked not to be identified discussing company policy.

While tellers and other workers who face retail clients returned to their workplaces in the middle of last year, investment bankers, analysts and back-office employees have had a slower comeback amid some 2.4 million coronavirus cases and more than 56,000 deaths. Less than 10 percent of Argentines have had a first vaccine dose, and the government is warning that cases could flare up again as South America’s winter takes hold.

The country reported a record 20,870 daily cases on Tuesday evening, boosting speculation that authorities will ramp up stay-at-home measures.

Globally, banks have had mixed results trying to cajole employees back into the office. Wall Street firms had to roll back plans after a sharp increase in Covid cases in December and January, and have now leaned toward embracing some form of permanent remote working for many employees even as vaccine rollouts make it less risky to return to the office. In neighbouring Brazil, Itau Unibanco Holding SA is weighing allowing a third of its staff alternate between remote work and going to the office.

Argentina has been hard hit by the pandemic despite an initial lockdown that was one of the strictest in the Americas. Now, following a partial reopening, the government is once again reducing flights from neighbouring countries and last month published a list of guidelines that would allow provincial authorities to curb certain activities if the need arises. Additional regulations could upend the banks’ current plans.

Here’s how Argentine banks have organised their return to office in recent months:

BBVA Argentina, a unit of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA
The bank has had 50 percent of its employees working in its offices since mid-March, divided into two groups that attend two days a week, BBVA’s manager of people and securities in Argentina, Rosana Rueda, said.
“In April we plan to reach the maximum possible amount,” Rueda said.

Banco Santander Rio, a unit of Banco Santander SA
Santander Rio in February started a plan to allow up to 40 percent of its workers to return to the office for half the week, but it only gained traction by mid-March, as the bank struggled to persuade employees, according to the person familiar with the matter. The bank has also cut office space. A recent real-estate swap reduced capacity in some areas by a third, the person said. If all workers wanted to return to the office, some would not find space to do so. The plans will be adjusted according to the health situation, with the aim of taking care of employees, customers and suppliers, a Santander spokesman said.

Banco de Galicia y Buenos Aires SA
Galicia is also bringing employees back, but at a much slower pace than some of its rivals. About 10 to 15 percent of central-office workers are back to bank buildings, according to a spokesman, while branches have about half their employees back. The bank isn’t pushing for a faster return because it expects a wave of cases in the winter, according to a spokesman

Grupo Supervielle
Supervielle is keeping its in-person employees to the treasury, clearing and mailroom departments, according to person with direct knowledge. Only three percent of employees are back at the bank’s headquarters, compared with 100 percent of employees who work in bank branches

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by Ignacio Olivera Doll, Bloomberg

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