How technology is shaping banks’ office strategies

Artificial intelligence and the war for talent are driving new real estate priorities

October 04, 2023

The competition for tech talent is prompting banks to restructure their real estate portfolios.

Dallas now houses the second highest number of financial services jobs as new business objectives and technology drive the location strategies of banks, including Bank of Montreal, Comerica Bank, and PNC.

ANZ, one of Australia’s ‘big four’ banks, has promised to build a hub for 700 technology workers in a city with a fifth of the country’s information-technology (IT) students.

In Singapore, United Overseas Bank is the largest investor in the city-state’s first smart and sustainable business district.

“While a majority of the largest financial services organizations have contracted their real estate footprint since the onset of the pandemic, leading firms have been selectively expanding in markets that offer scalability and affordability of diverse tech talent,” says Sarah Bouzarouata, JLL’s financial services research lead and author of the report, Driving innovation and resilience in banking: The critical role of real estate strategy.

Hybrid work, cost pressures, changing regulatory requirements and a heightened awareness of privacy and fraud are sweeping through traditional banking, affecting everything from hiring to property and determining how banks design their future offices for the new face of their workforce.

“Deepening and differentiating talent pools while being close to customers is a key agenda,” Bouzarouata says.

Bold moves

Banking deals don’t traditionally include promises to build a technology hub. But that’s what ANZ Banking Group offered the Australian state of Queensland, better known for its beach holidays than its tech or financial infrastructure, to sweeten its bid for state-controlled Suncorp Bank. The takeover bid was rejected by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in August, but the two parties have appealed. If the deal is approved, it’ll be the biggest in Australian banking since 2008.

It’s also a sign of how technology is shaping bank office strategies, in that they are selectively expanding in markets where they want to grow their tech operations and can maintain robust talent pipelines, says David Purves, executive director, finance, resources and infrastructure, JLL.

“Digitalization is becoming a source of resiliency and innovation for banks that are operating in an environment of economic uncertainty, changing work preferences and increased regulatory pressures,” Purves says. “Tech transformation is critical to their long-term business growth.” 

The competition for talent now includes tech, fin-tech and a range of other disruptors, says Jackson King, director of tenant representation at JLL Australia. A younger talent pool has also heightened the requirement for organizations to have ambitious ESG goals and led many banks and financial institutions to review their workplace objectives. 

“While this often results in a reduced overall footprint, we’ve seen a real trend towards improved office environments – both through relocation to better quality and better located assets, but also through major fit-out works and investments in workplace technology,” he says.

Embedding artificial intelligence

JLL's research notes that the banking industry will deliver the largest investments in artificial intelligence as generative AI and machine learning is increasingly used to reduce costs.

Banks worldwide are expected to spend an additional $31 billion on AI embedded in existing systems by 2025 and will deliver the largest AI investments in 2023 across industries.

Meanwhile, the largest banks have increased hiring for software developers and data scientists by 90% since 2018. One example: Morgan Stanley using OpenAI’s GPT4 platform as a financial advisor solution to better serve clients and tap into the firm’s large repository of research and data.

“As banks accelerate towards AI and machine learning, corporate real estate portfolios have a critical role in enabling them to attract and retain top tech talent, provide the necessary infrastructure to support these technologies, and create a flexible and agile workplace that can adapt to changing business needs,” Bouzarouata says. “They have to remain competitive in this digital age.”

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