(Bloomberg) -- Morgan Stanley has begun looking for a major new London headquarters, countering fears the coronavirus crisis will crush demand for office space in the world’s financial capitals.
The U.S. lender has contacted a handful of developers as it assesses options for a potential move from its current premises in Canary Wharf, people with knowledge of the process said. The bank wants at least 600,000 square feet (about 55,740 square meters) of space and will likely focus on options in the east London financial district as well as developments in the City of London, the people said, asking not to be identified as the process is private.
The search is at an early stage and is unlikely to result in a deal until late next year at the earliest, with no certainty a move will take place at all, the people added. A spokesman for Morgan Stanley declined to comment.
Morgan Stanley would become the latest in a series of major investment banks to move to new premises in London as firms seek modern, efficient buildings that can help attract and retain staff, and keep a lid on costs. While the search for a potential new building comes several years before the bank’s current leases expire, there’s a scarcity of large new development plots in the capital, and putting up a building on such a scale would take years.
The lender currently occupies about 800,000 square feet of space across two buildings in Canary Wharf. One option being considered is to move into a single large new premises, bringing all of its London staff together. The bank could also look to take a smaller premises in the pricier City of London district, as well as a larger building near its current Canary Wharf base, the people said.
Modern office buildings are designed to squeeze more employees into less space, meaning the bank could shift to a smaller premises without reducing headcount.
The onset of the pandemic and the smooth transition to home working for millions of office-based employees prompted questions about the outlook for commercial workspace even after the health threat passes. But concerns about employee wellbeing, the ability to train younger staff, as well as productivity and oversight, have led many financial firms to conclude the office remains vital.
“Morgan Stanley will remain a major player in the commercial real estate market globally,” Chief Executive Officer James Gorman said on a call with analysts in July.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.