Spare bedrooms and living rooms could soon become part of a vibrant trading space as one of the world's largest investment banks is considering making augmented reality headsets available to employees.
UBS has experimented with issuing Microsoft HoloLenses to its London-based dealers, which enables employees to relive the experience of working in a crowded trading floor without leaving their homes.
The banks were desperate to get their employees back into the office, especially because of regulatory sensitive tasks like trading. However, due to rising coronavirus infection rates, many employees are cautious about using public transport.
"If people really can't come into the office, can we create a virtual presence?" Beatriz Martin, executive director of UBS UK, told the Financial Times. "We're thinking about experimenting with the tools that are out there."
UBS has set up a working group to deal with the “redesign of the trading floor”. She has also considered putting screens on dealers' desks with camera feeds from their employees to encourage collaboration.
This month, JPMorgan Chase called senior traders back to the bank's skyscrapers in Canary Wharf and Midtown Manhattan in a move praised by US President Donald Trump. However, according to Bloomberg, the bank was already forced to send employees home from its New York trading post after an employee tested positive for COVID-19.
JPMorgan was hit by an outbreak on the same trading floor in April when 16 people tested positive.
Barclays also sent employees home from its London trading post this month after two employees tested positive.
Citigroup's augmented reality workstation combines 3D holograms and real-time financial data. The bank developed the system four years ago but never implemented it.
As with most global investment banks, UBS has taken a cautious approach to encouraging employees to return to the office and works mostly on a voluntary basis. For example, Deutsche Bank announced this week to its employees in New York that they would not have to return to the office until mid-2021 if they plan to open a new headquarters on Columbus Circle.
This week, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink said he expected only two-thirds of the fund manager's staff will return to the office in the long term.
"I don't think BlackRock will ever be 100 percent in the office again," he told the Morningstar Investment Conference.
HoloLens, introduced by Microsoft in 2015, was originally thought of primarily as a gaming device. The headsets cost more than $ 3,000 each. More recently, however, companies have viewed them as a communication tool.
Citigroup was one of the first banks to consider using HoloLens headsets for merchants. Four years ago, an augmented reality workstation was developed that combines 3D holograms and real-time financial data.
The Citi system is designed for investor clients who can interact with the bank's dealers and project huge graphics into their offices. A piece of thought on the time prognosis: "Further development could reach the final state of teleexistence in which there are hardly any differences to actual physical existence in space."
However, the US bank never implemented the headsets. According to one person who was briefed on the plans, the technology was too limited in terms of screen size, processing power, and battery life.
Additional coverage from Stephen Morris.
© 2020 The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved. No redistribution, reproduction or modification in any way.