(Bloomberg) -- It’s an open secret that many Wall Street denizens have been taking a certain forbidden liberty while working from home: Tapping text messages to colleagues and clients on smartphones untethered to workplace surveillance systems. Now some of them are panicking.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. -- often a standard-setter for the industry -- is ordering traders, bankers, financial advisers and even some branch employees to sift through years of text messages on personal devices and set aside any related to work, according to people with knowledge of the situation.
One recent internal notice seen by Bloomberg directed recipients to not only root through their standard messages, but also platforms such as WeChat and WhatsApp, back to the start of 2018, and then save those related to work until the company’s legal department tells them otherwise. It notes that failure to comply could lead to “consequences” for violating the company’s code of conduct.
JPMorgan declined to comment.
From the moment the pandemic forced most Wall Streeters to start working outside the office walls in 2020, questions have swirled around how securities firms would meet strict U.S. regulations to keep recordings of employee calls and written communications for years. The Securities and Exchange Commission’s inspections unit even issued an industrywide alert, urging firms to consider enhancing procedures with so many employees off site.
A number of big banks sent equipment home with key personnel to monitor their work. Some firms have also invested heavily in enhancing surveillance systems. JPMorgan’s recent step is another part of that broader push.
There have been myriad warnings for its workforce. Early last year, JPMorgan put a senior credit trader on leave as it reviewed whether he broke policies by using WhatsApp group chats with colleagues, Bloomberg reported at the time. The bank later fired him and cut bonuses for more than a dozen others. Looking back now, some JPMorgan employees privately acknowledge that the bank reminded them as the pandemic set in that they should refrain from using personal devices for business messages.
But if they did so anyway, they were in good company. Many on Wall Street quickly slipped into the habit of communicating on personal phones, either because of the convenience or the temptation to comment more candidly on private channels while outside the office. For some employees, texting became a substitute for the normal back-and-forth that would’ve occurred in-person at offices, especially when someone needed a quick way to reach colleagues about an urgent matter.
One bright side for those now worried: JPMorgan doesn’t typically take the more cumbersome step of reading the messages unless there’s a reason to, according to a person with knowledge of the process.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.