Goldman Sachs to open office in Birmingham in UK

LONDON (Reuters) – Goldman Sachs said on Tuesday it would open a new office in the English city of Birmingham, expanding its office footprint in Britain at a time when many rivals are reducing space due to the pandemic.

The bank said the first staff would begin working in the new office in the third quarter of this year, with headcount growing to several hundred over time.

Goldman said its engineering division would be the first to base staff in Birmingham through a mix of hiring and transfers.

The U.S. banking giant’s CEO David Solomon has been among the most vocal company executives wanting to get staff back to the office as soon as local virus restrictions allow, calling remote working an “aberration” in February.

But other banks – including HSBC – have been quick to target deep office cuts particularly in retail banking and even move some staff to permanent home working.

“We see tremendous opportunity to enhance our UK presence and continue delivering for our global clients,” said Richard Gnodde, chief executive officer for Goldman Sachs International.

Reporting by Iain Withers, Editing by Tommy Wilkes

Amazon defeats historic Alabama union effort

man with RWDSU sign outside warehouse in Alabama

Amazon has defeated activists hoping to establish the company’s first unionised warehouse in the US.

Workers at the Bessemer, Alabama warehouse voted 1,798 to 738 against the effort, labour officials said. 

That represents a majority of votes cast, though some ballots have been challenged and have yet to be counted.

The contest was seen as a key test for the e-commerce giant, which has faced global criticism for its treatment of workers during the pandemic.

The union said it would challenge the results.

It accused Amazon of interfering with the right of employees to vote in a “free and fair election”, including by lying to staff about the implications of the vote in mandatory staff meetings and pushing the postal service to install a mailbox for the vote in an effort to intimidate workers.

“Amazon has left no stone unturned in its efforts to gaslight its own employees,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which organised the effort.

“We won’t let Amazon’s lies, deception and illegal activities go unchallenged, which is why we are formally filing charges against all of the egregious and blatantly illegal actions taken by Amazon during the union vote.”

Canadian banks reduce workforces: Investment in technology

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada’s top banks are shedding workers for the second straight year, moving toward leaner operations to satisfy investors demanding returns on tens of billions of dollars that lenders have poured into new technologies.

Five of Canada’s six biggest banks cut their workforces 4.4% from a year earlier to a combined total of 291,409 full-time equivalent employees as of Jan. 31. That is down 5.2% from a peak in the third quarter of 2019.

Despite growing optimism about a robust economic recovery, loan growth outside of mortgages has been stagnant due to the relatively slow pace of COVID-19 vaccinations in Canada and renewed lockdowns in some major cities.

“It’s very difficult to grow” revenues, said Todd Johnson, chief investment officer at BCV Asset Management, which owns shares of all the big banks.

Banks are likely to continue investing in technology at similar levels as the past few years, which will be “welcomed by investors as long as earnings and dividends continue to grow, and especially if tech investment displaces some labor costs,” he said.

The pullback in headcounts follows combined quarterly year-on-year growth of 4% to 5% in 2018 and 2019 across the six big banks. The cuts have reduced efficiency ratios, or non-interest expenses as a proportion of revenues, by about 2 percentage points from a year ago at most banks, disclosures show.

The phenomenon isn’t unique to Canada. U.S. and European banks last year joined Bank of Montreal and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in announcing or resuming layoffs, with the former expected to shrink headcounts by an average of 5-10%.

While job cuts at banks in other countries have included technology roles, Canadian lenders are still growing in this area because their digital shift has lagged.

MORE CUTS TO COME

Toronto-Dominion Bank has been expanding its technology teams while redeploying employees from temporarily closed branches to other areas, Chief Executive Bharat Masrani said in an interview.

TD’s workforce has shrunk by about 0.7% from its peak in the fourth quarter of 2019, following quarterly growth of 4-6% over the prior year.

“You should view this as the bank constantly adapting to evolving expectations,” Masrani said. TD declined to comment on its technology spending plans.

Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank), which has been divesting some international operations, and BMO, which has been working on improving efficiencies, have had the biggest year-on-year headcount reductions, 9.5% and 5.3% respectively.

Royal Bank of Canada, the country’s biggest lender, has been the only one to grow its workforce, by 1.9% from a year earlier, as it expands its wealth management divisions in the U.S. and Canada.

A spokeswoman said RBC continues to hire “selectively.”

In February, CIBC executives said the bank had saved C$800 million ($633.91 million) over the past five years by streamlining operations. It reinvested the funds in high-growth areas, and accelerated technology spending.

The other banks declined to comment.

Much of the technology investment so far has gone into automating manual processes such as enabling online mortgage applications and e-signing documents. Future investments will likely focus on beefing up cybersecurity, upgrading systems, and data and analytics, said Robert Colangelo, senior vice president for credit ratings at DBRS Morningstar.

Headcounts are unlikely to “grind lower for years and years,” but they are expected to lag revenue growth, said Brian Madden, portfolio manager at Goodreid Investment Counsel, who estimates that lenders have invested a combined C$10 billion annually in technology in the last few years.

With labour the biggest part of non-interest expenses, and the pandemic’s “unexpected turbo boost” to customer adoption of online banking, “most of the return on investment in tech spend is going to have to come from efficiency gains/headcount reductions,” he said.

($1 = 1.2620 Canadian dollars)

Google AI scientist Bengio resigns: Colleagues’ firings

(Reuters) – Google research manager Samy Bengio is resigning in the wake of the firings of two colleagues who had questioned paper review and diversity practices at the Alphabet Inc unit, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, citing an internal memo.

Though at least two Google engineers had earlier resigned in protest of Gebru’s firing, Bengio is the highest-profile departure yet.

Google and Bengio did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A distinguished scientist at Google, Bengio spent about 14 years at the company and was among its first employees involved in a decade-old project known as Google Brain that advanced algorithms crucial to the functioning of various modern artificial intelligence systems.

Google fired staff scientist Margaret Mitchell in February after alleging she transferred electronic files out of the company, and also fired fellow researcher Timnit Gebru in December after she threatened to quit rather than retract a paper.

Mitchell has said she tried “to raise concerns about race and gender inequity, and speak up about Google’s problematic firing of Dr. Gebru.” Gebru has said the company wanted to suppress her criticism of its products and its efforts to increase workforce diversity.

Bengio had defended the pair, who co-led a team of about a dozen researching ethical issues related to AI software. In December, Bengio said on Facebook that he was stunned that Gebru, whom he was managing, was removed from the company without his being consulted prior.

Goldman Sachs London staff return to office: The Guardian

(Reuters) – Goldman Sachs Group Inc is preparing to have hundreds of staff return to its London office this week as companies eye a return to normal working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report by The Guardian.

Nearly 200 of Goldman’s 6,000 London employees could return to the office after the Easter break, the report said. bit.ly/3dwxVfw

Goldman declined to comment on the matter.

Labor board finds Amazon illegally fired activist workers: NYT

(Reuters) – The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has determined Amazon.com Inc illegally retaliated against two of its most prominent internal critics when it fired them last year, the New York Times reported on Monday.

Last year, Amazon fired two user experience designers, Maren Costa and Emily Cunningham, for what it called repeated violations of internal policies. (nyti.ms/39J25Lw)

Amazon and NLRB did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

Amazon drivers urinating in bottles: Apology to Rep – Pocan

(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc has apologized to U.S. Representative Mark Pocan, admitting to scoring an “own goal” in its initial denial of his suggestion that its drivers were sometimes forced to urinate in bottles during their delivery rounds.

“We know that drivers can and do have trouble finding restrooms because of traffic or sometimes rural routes, and this has been especially the case during Covid when many public restrooms have been closed,” the company said in a blog post bit.ly/2PnoLKr.

Its admission came a week after the Democrat criticised Amazon’s working conditions, saying in a tweet: “Paying workers $15/hr doesn’t make you a ‘progressive workplace’ when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles.”

Amazon initially issued a denial, saying in a tweet: “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.” But it subsequently walked back those comments.

“This was an own goal, we’re unhappy about it, and we owe an apology to Representative Pocan,” Amazon said in its blog post, adding that its previous response only referred to staff at its warehouses or fulfillment centers.

The company said the issue was industry-wide and it would look for solutions, without specifying what these might be.

Amazon’s apology comes at a time when workers at an Alabama warehouse are waiting for a vote count that could result in the online retailer’s first unionized facility in the United States and mark a watershed moment for organized labor.

Amazon has long discouraged attempts among its more than 800,000 U.S. employees to organize. Allegations by many workers of a grueling or unsafe workplace have turned unionizing the company into a key goal for the U.S. labor movement.

Google to reopen offices

Google has said staff can start returning to its US offices over the next month, as its prepares for post-pandemic life.

The company said the initial return period will be voluntary as offices slowly reopen with limited capacity.

Google has an official 1 September deadline for staff to return to its offices.

The tech giant was one of the first companies to offer working from home when the pandemic struck last year.

“It’s now been a year since many of us have been working from home, and the thought of returning to the office might inspire different emotions,” Fiona Cicconi, Google’s head of people operations, wrote in a company email on Wednesday. 

When staff are required to officially return to Google’s offices in September, they “won’t look exactly the way you remember them” but “will include meals, snacks and amenities where possible,” she added.

“We will even be welcoming our Dooglers back,” Ms Cicconi said, referring to Google’s bring-your-dog-to-work group. There is now a dog park at its Mountain View campus called The Doogleplex.

The company is advising workers to get vaccinated against Covid-19, but is not making it mandatory for returning to the workplace.

Google dog
image captionOso the Doogler

Different approach

Google is taking a different approach from its tech rivals who have said most staff can continue remote work indefinitely. Twitter has said it will allow most employees to work from home permanently.

A number of big companies have said they will test so-called hybrid work arrangements, where employees split their time between home and office.

“None of us have this all figured out,” said Carolyn Everson, vice president of Facebook’s global business group when talking about current work-from-home arrangements.

“We are making this up on the fly. The reality is we are all trying to figure it out together,” the senior executive told a panel hosted by Bloomberg.

Facebook will start to reopen its Silicon Valley offices at the beginning in May, after more than a year of working from home during the global pandemic.

Its largest offices won’t reach 50% capacity until early September, it said.

Facebook’s chief revenue officer to leave later this year

(Reuters) – Facebook Chief Revenue Officer David Fischer said Tuesday he will leave the social media company toward the end of this year, in a post on his verified Facebook profile.

“I am immensely proud of all that we have accomplished over the past eleven years, and am optimistic about the path the company is on,” he wrote in the post.

Fischer oversees Facebook’s advertising business and manages its sales and marketing teams worldwide.