For all of Wall Street's focus on measured results, its extreme weather policy is fairly flexible: do what you have to do.
As almost two feet of snow blanketed Manhattan this week, big banks and brokerages left the decision to come to work to managers or the employees themselves. Some of those who had to execute trades on behalf of clients Monday made sure to get to the office on Sunday before much of the snow accumulated. Others extended holiday breaks without a guilty conscience.
"It depends on what job they're doing and what their clients need and those types of things," said a New York-based spokesman from one of the world's largest investment banks. "It's also different now than it was 10 years ago in terms of people's productivity from home. I remember coming to work on a Sunday afternoon before Blackberrys, just to make sure I was up on anything coming in from Asia."
Both NASDAQ and the New York Stock Exchange kept normal hours Monday, but many of New York City's 391,100 finance workers did not have the option of showing up. Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad shut down Monday morning, New Jersey Transit was running 40% fewer trains than normal and large swaths of city subway tracks lay idle.
Extended shutdowns at New York airports kept legions of others from getting back home. John F. Kennedy International Airport didn't reopen until Monday evening, several hours after LaGuardia Airport started landing planes again.
The timing of the storm coincided with one of the slowest periods of the year and what for many was a four-day work-week between Christmas and New Year's. Monday was the slowest full trading day of the year on the New York Stock Exchange, as the volume of shares trading hands hit only 44% of the month's daily average.
At least four Wall Street companies, including two bulge bracket banks and a major private-equity firm, did not bother sending memos or instructions to workers regarding the weather.
"Most people were off anyway," said a spokesman for a New York-based private-equity firm. "I could fire a cannon down the hall and it wouldn't hit anyone."
A New York-based analyst for a British financial institution wrote in an e-mail: "Ordinarily they'd say something about how the dress code is business-casual due to the weather, but maybe the people who do that are on vacation."
Workers in more harsh climates, however, are held to higher standards in braving extreme weather. Buffalo-based M&T Bank, which has 14,000 employees between Baltimore and its snow-pounded headquarters, seldom tells employees to stay home, according to spokesman Michael Zabel. Several of its key workers even have special passes to get to the office when citizens are banned from driving.
"Because it's just a normal part of our existence, we're much more equipped to deal with it," Zabel said. An average of 94 inches of snow falls on Buffalo every year, according to the National Climate Data Center. Manhattan gets an average of 28 inches a year.
M&T employees even stayed plugged in to some extent during "the October surprise," a massive wet snowstorm that cut electricity and crippled Upstate New York in the fall of 2006.
"I remember conference calls going on several times throughout the day," Zabel said. "We were all sitting in our cars in our driveways, charging our cell phones from our running cars."
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