Zoom meetings may never go away, but in the fiercely competitive world of high finance, visits to faraway clients are starting to stage a rapid comeback.
JPMorgan Chase & Co., the largest US lender, already has about 30 to 40 investment bankers traveling daily, according to Jim Casey, the firm’s co-head of global investment banking. It’s another sign that big Wall Street firms are returning to their pre-pandemic ways as vaccination rates climb.
Across the industry, dealmakers have a strong motivation to hit the road: Nobody wants to cede an edge in winning lucrative and, at the moment, unusually abundant investment banking mandates, as corporate leaders prepare for Covid-19 to subside. JPMorgan’s bankers are traveling within the US, which is ahead of major European and Asian countries in vaccinating the public. Its dealmakers aren’t yet clocking as many trips as before the pandemic, but the numbers have been climbing, Casey said.
“Business travel has picked up as people become more comfortable,” Casey said. “You’re not winning new business without in-person connectivity.”
A year ago, when all but the most essential travel stopped, many financial executives praised the potential of video conferencing to make pitching deals faster and cheaper than flying. But executives on both sides of the calls have since expressed fatigue with virtual meetings. At a conference last week, JPMorgan Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon lamented business his firm lost by not visiting clients when competitors did.
“There are a bunch of clients who gave business to somebody else because the bankers from the other guys visited and ours didn’t. OK, well, that’s a lesson,” Dimon said. “It’s got to work for the clients — it’s not about whether it works for me. And I have to compete.”
It’s not the only way that Dimon and his peers are spurring their industry’s return to normal. Late last month, JPMorgan became the first major US bank to mandate a return for its entire US workforce with a memo saying that by early July all U.S.-based employees will work from offices on a “rotational basis.” Rival Goldman Sachs Group Inc. later told staff to prepare to return by June 14.