Fintech/Interview/

Can a four-day week work for fintech?

Critics have said it's a working pattern that's not compatible with financial markets. But is it time for fintech to break the mould?

By Amy O'Brien

In June this year, 70 companies in the UK began a massive trial involving 3,300 employees to test out the four-day working week. Challenger bank Atom Bank is the largest business among them — and the only bank. It’s a working pattern that critics have warned isn’t compatible with financial market hours. But last week, Atom released its first set of data on the trial, claiming productivity was up 92%. At the same time, it’s on track for its first annual profit this year.

This made us wonder what Atom’s secret is: if it can do it, can all other fintechs too? To learn more about the trial, we sat down with the neobank’s chief people officer, Anne-Marie Lister, for the latest edition of our weekly Fintech newsletter.

How do you make sure your customers can always access help with their money?

We’ve altered staff shift patterns to ensure we provide the same level of service as before the trial. As a true digital bank, we had the flexibility to do this — it just required planning to ensure that we always had the resources to keep up the level of service our customers expect.

If all UK retail banks were to convert to a four-day working week, do you think the UK would lose its crown as a global financial hub?

The high street banks, many of which have made huge profits in the last year, could almost certainly afford to introduce a four-day week for their staff. UK high street banks have been steadily closing physical branches for years, so this should theoretically make it easier to introduce more flexible working patterns.

However, they likely have a reliance on a huge amount of older legacy tech, which makes it more difficult to make these bigger changes quickly and smoothly.

People have predicted the loss of the UK’s status as a centre of global finance since Brexit, and it hasn’t happened yet. It’s unlikely a four-day week, as long as it’s introduced sensibly and with the right amount of planning, would jeopardise this. Indeed, it may even strengthen it, by attracting much-needed talent to the sector.

Do employees report feeling stressed by having to fit five days of work into four?

Our staff survey showed that only 15% of employees felt stressed at work in March 2022, compared to 33% at the start of the trial in November, revealing the positive impact of a shorter working week on employees’ wellbeing.

Employees are clearly more motivated working a four-day week too. Almost all (92%) report that they look forward to work, and there has been a significant (13%) year-on-year increase in people engagement in February 2022 compared to February 2021 when staff were last surveyed.

Are people paid the same for a four-day week?

We wanted to ensure our people are fairly remunerated, particularly during the current cost of living crisis — and there has therefore been no impact on salary levels. Employees have continued to be paid for full-time working hours (37.5 hours or the equivalent shift/part-time salary).

What are the main challenges that Atom has come across when operating as a bank on this model?

Moving to a four-day week has meant a fundamental shift in our operating model and working practice. We didn’t expect that it would be easy. Small teams and ensuring adequate cover and resource in the early days of the trial was crucial, as well as planning across the whole organisation and not just within departments.

It’s key that teams talk to other teams to ensure continuity of internal services to each other and shift patterns/internal service windows are aligned or revised accordingly. It’s also vital that everyone in the business is brought into the trial. We’re unwinding almost 100 years of traditional working practices and this isn’t an overnight success. It has taken planning, measurement and constant review to get to where we are now.

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