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Traders return to Wall Street after pandemic imprisonment

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The life of a Wall Street trader was once one of business trips and working dinners, but now it’s anything but.

The culprit, as with so many economic and financial disruptions the United States has faced in recent months, is the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed the lives of the brokers, bankers and businessmen who fuel the the world’s largest economy much more lonely.

People working on high-priced transactions like IPOs, bond trades, or mergers and acquisitions “used to travel a lot to meet clients” who usually only signed deals in person, recalls Karl. Haeling from LBBW bank.

“Now they would gladly give a warrant without seeing you,” Haeling said.

Wall Street sits in the heart of New York City, one of the earliest epicenter as the Covid-19 outbreak in the United States has become the world’s worst, with more than 218,000 deaths and eight million cases nationwide this week.

The intensification of the pandemic in March temporarily freed market makers from the noisy New York Stock Exchange floor and forced Wall Street traders to retreat indoors, relying on their phones, their e -mails and their instant messaging systems to talk to their customers.

“People are brainstorming on these different video platforms and they come up with product ideas from a distance,” said Daniel Alpert, founding managing partner of investment bank Westwood Capital.

But that hasn’t held back the indices: The Nasdaq and the S&P 500 both recovered from their massive falls in March, while the Dow has also regained most of its strength, though millions of people remain without employment and unemployment is at a high level of 7.9%.

Aided by a secure internet connection, Haeling holds 30-minute meetings twice a day to keep up with colleagues in markets, politics and the pervasive coronavirus threat, a work-from-home routine that he says suits him well.

“I went back (to the office) for three days in the summer because of a storm that cut the power to the house, and I realized how inefficient it was because I spent three hours in the train, ”Haeling said.

But even with the virus still a threat across the United States, traders are slowly coming back to Wall Street.

The New York City Economic Development Corporation estimates that 460,000 people are employed by the city’s financial sector and that their work is considered an essential service under state law.

The New York Stock Exchange reopened in May with traders wearing masks and separated by plexiglass, while Alpert returned to work from his office in late June.

But rather than the fifteen or so people who usually show up at his desk, it’s just Alpert and sometimes another partner.

Earlier this month, he attended his first in-person business lunch since the coronavirus arrived, ‘outside, of course’, and struck a recent deal with about eight people in the same room .

“There are just times when you really need high speed interaction,” he said.

BNP Paribas, which has had a few cases of employees testing positive for the virus or suspecting they have it, has let around 10 to 15 percent of its staff return.

Visitors are prohibited in the office, but during a visit given to an AFP journalist via live video, traders could be seen scattered in a long line of offices and separated by plexiglass, with markings on the soil encouraging people to move away socially.

“Everything is on the table to give flexibility to our employees,” said Kevin Abraszek, head of change and transformation of human resources at the bank.

Staff from other banks have also returned. JPMorgan Chase has asked all of its heads of brokerage and sales divisions who were still telecommuting to return to the office by mid-September, except for health issues or childcare needs.

But only about 20 percent of its employees show up, and those who report to the office often differ from day to day.

At Goldman Sachs investment bank, about 30 percent of the staff are in the office.

Outside of the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan, there is no doubt that the neighborhoods have not returned to their original state.

Traders dressed in their sleeveless fleece uniforms no longer flock to Wall Street every morning, and industry officials recognize that normalcy can take some time.

“We’re trying to instill a new … long-term work culture in which working from home will remain a part of what we do,” Abraszek said.

“It’s just a matter of how much it will be.”

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