Shorter City trading day would ‘boost diversity and work-life balance’

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Equity market opening hours should be shortened by 90 minutes to allow the trading sector to attract and retain a more diverse workforce – particularly those with family or caring commitments, it has been urged.

The Association for Financial Markets in Europe (AFME), which represents wholesale financial markets, and the investor representative body the Investment Association (IA) are calling on the London Stock Exchange and other European trading venues to consider shortening opening hours from 8:00am–4.30pm to 9:00am–4:00pm.

The bodies say many staff are working a 12-hour day as they are expected to work before markets open and continue working after they close.

“The addition of commuting time only exacerbates this problem. Anyone with family commitments is less likely to be willing or able to spend such long hours in the office,” they say in their Proposal for a review of market hours in Europe report.

Galina Dimitrova, director of capital markets at the Investment Association, said: “From boardrooms to trading floors, we need to improve the ways our businesses work to create more inclusive environments where all employees can thrive.

“Shortening trading hours, enabling a better work-life balance could bring significant benefits to City workers and firms, who will be able to attract a broader diversity of talent.

“We have heard many deeply moving stories of traders’ mental health and personal life being impacted by their working hours. Whilst it is no silver bullet, we hope this European-wide review could start to lead to a step change in more efficient markets to the benefit of savers and those who operate them.”

The report claims staff are habitually spending 10 hours at their desk, while taking a lunch hour is “frowned upon” by many in the industry.

Although the bodies say they are not aware of any firm that prevents employees from leaving their desk, it claims there is a “prevailing and pervasive culture” where traders are at their desk for the entire trading day.

AFME’s head of equities and managing director, April Day, said: “Equities trading risks lagging behind a wider financial services industry push for more diversity and inclusion unless the long trading day is tackled by an industry-wide approach.”

In their proposal paper, which has been sent to trading organisations, the bodies also state that the industry’s predominantly white male image is a deterrent for people from other groups who might otherwise be interested in working in the sector. It can also affect the “conscious and unconscious bias” of individuals on the trading floor, they say.

“Traders coming into the industry are increasingly required to have highly tuned coding skills as well as the traditional mathematical and technical requirements. Such disciplines are dominated by men in academic institutions,” the report states.

“This means new people coming into the industry are drawn from a narrow pool. Therefore unless something is done to tackle this problem now, trading will continue to lag behind a wider asset management and financial services industry that is moving to a new and better approach.”

Commenting on the proposals, Matt Weston, managing director of recruitment consultancy Robert Half UK, said the technology available to trading firms should make it easier for staff to work outside the office and on schedules that suit their commitments outside of work.

“Greater flexibility is a key consideration for many candidates that we speak to when they deciding on their next role. This is especially important for working parents who need to balance their jobs with childcare duties in the mornings and evenings. It is encouraging to see that firms are taking steps to encourage greater diversity in financial services,” he said.

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