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The Evolution of the Workplace in China’s Financial Services Sector

Flexibility and transparency characterize the new office of Real Power Capital at the Evergo Tower in Shanghai. Image © Gensler

Editor's Note: This post is part of a series on the state of the financial services industry.

In today’s volatile global economy, China's financial services companies are facing a number of challenges. China's market reforms in the financial sector have put forward higher requirements for financial services firms to innovate their service and product offerings. As Chinese financial services firms must become more agile and resilient to adapt to the fast-changing market, they have recognized the need to create more effective and efficient working environments.

After more than a decade of servicing Chinese clients, Gensler has developed a nuanced understanding of financial services companies’ needs and has witnessed a stronger appreciation for design when defining and improving their workspaces. Companies are increasingly looking to project a more forward-thinking image through the creation of open and transparent working environments that encourage employee communication, collaboration, and efficiency. Below are some key factors driving the changes in workplace design for Chinese financial services firms:

From Closed to Community

Developing a strong sense of purpose and community is of greater importance to Chinese financial companies and their employees. Our research has shown employees feel a sense of belonging and ownership with the entire office, and not just with their individual workstations. As workers transition from process-driven to creative problem solvers, firms are seeking a place that encourages communication and collaboration. They are trading from traditional closed cubicles for an open, transparent layout with more informal meeting areas, such as telephone booths, pantries, restaurants, and training areas, that allow employees to socialize and bounce ideas off each other in a relaxed environment.

An open-plan layout fosters collaboration and learning for Real Power Capital’s staff in Shanghai. Image © Gensler

From Customer-Driven to Employee-Driven

The ability to win and keep customers faster than competitors has become part of Chinese financial companies’ brand statement. To maintain this, firms rely on talented, high-performing staff to provide the ideas that lead to successful business strategies and the expertise to implement them to maximum effect. As a result, Chinese financial services firms are focusing more on the wellbeing of their employees, placing their staff on the same level of importance.

Shanghai Trust employees can enjoy a hospitality-infused staff dining room on the top floor, with uninterrupted views of the Bund. Image © Gensler

While Chinese financial services firms sought to design customer experience centers in the past, today companies are more willing to invest in their office environment as a means to attract and retain talent. A well-designed office can be an important asset in this respect: a tool to motivate employees and boost customer relationships.

Traditional Financial Institutions to FinTech Companies

FinTech—a term used to describe financial services firms whose product or service is based on technology—is shaping the industry. As the lines between traditional finance, technology firms, and e-commerce companies are blurring, financial firms are seeking unique offices that allow their workers to respond effectively to the evolving needs of their customers. Their sector is beginning to emulate the tech industry in its efforts to provide a flexible space with high-end amenities to compete for the very best talent.

For many traditional financial firms in China, this approach requires a fundamental shift in identity and purpose. Such companies are focusing on creating an open, flexible office environment that appeals to a skilled and tech-savvy workforce. Although FinTech and traditional financial enterprises offer different products and services, both types of organizations are impacted by the same trends. As a result, we are noticing significant changes in the office environments of Chinese financial services firms as they look to stay ahead in a rapidly changing industry.

Ant Financial’s new Hangzhou location offers a bright, energetic hub to enhance collaboration and unlock creative potential. Image © Gensler

From Attention to Style to the Importance of Brand

Chinese financial services firms are shifting their focus from stylish offices to cohesive, branded environments. They are recognizing the importance of building brand identity to gain market share, differentiate themselves, win and keep customers. Beyond the logo and letterhead, a well-designed office space can be a powerful tool in communicating a brand’s set of values to clients and employees.

Shanghai Trust's new wealth management center boasts a bold design to reflect the company’s market positioning, express the brand’s entrepreneurial spirit, and appeal to a high-end clientele. Image © Gensler

Whether through historic renovation or the design of a contemporary headquarters, Chinese financial companies are looking to create an immersive experience that ultimately enhances the experience for employees and clients. As China’s financial services market continues to evolve and mature, companies are reshaping their office environments and work attitudes to remain competitive.

Flora has built an extensive portfolio of interior design projects in over 10 years of professional experience. She applies her critical thinking skills and creative insight to solve complex problems. Flora brings a unique perspective to every project, and is recognized for her leadership skills, directing teams to ensure design solutions are well-executed. Her passion for design and unparalleled attention to detail have earned the trust and recognition of clients. Contact her at flora_li@gensler.com.