It’s only a couple of years old, but at JPMorgan Chase’s office at Five Manhattan West the walls have already been defaced. And it’s not just the walls. Chairs and other surfaces have been scribbled all over as well.
At the headquarters for JPMorgan’s digital ambitions, this is all by design – writable surfaces are part of the effort to foment the collaboration, serendipity, and free-form thinking that run amok at Silicon Valley’s most agile workplaces.
JPMorgan developers and designers have embraced the wall-and-furniture-as-medium ethos. So much so that, after some early misunderstandings – not every white surface can be written on, it turns out – helpful signage has been added to guide spontaneous bursts of code, formulas, and workflow mapping to areas that can more readily be cleaned up, when necessary.
It’s a stark contrast from other big bank offices that Business Insider has visited in Manhattan, where writing is typically confined to paper or whiteboard, and the overall vibe errs on the side of rarefied stuffiness. Being at front and center of the financial universe tends to come with a drabness and solemnity that telegraphs focus and regard for the important work at hand.
Not so at Chase’s tech hub, which with its bright, colourful walls, modern floor plan, and dedicated space for table tennis, billiards, and foosball, makes you question whether you’re actually in a bank at all.
Nonetheless, it’s ground zero for some of the most vital work underway at America’s largest bank. The firm, which recently told Business Insider it has a $US10.8 billion tech budget and 50,000 technologists on its payroll, courts comparisons to Amazon and has gone all in on a bet that a “Digital Everywhere” strategy will help win the future of banking.
“Digital capabilities will really differentiate players in our industry in the coming years. And in a digital world, we are always open for our customers, continuously, 24/7,” CFO Marianne Lake said during the company’s investor day presentation in February.
Whether it’s opening and maintaining an API store, mining internal data and analytics, implementing updates to Venmo rival QuickPay with Zelle, or building Finn, an all digital bank that’s being trialed in St. Louis, Five Manhattan West is home base to some of the bank’s most innovative new features.
And as banks increasingly compete for the same talent as the Google, Amazon, Facebook and other tech giants, the lively tech hub and its casual ambiance also serves as a recruiting tool for young talent that may instinctively view the “Midtown Uniform” with suspicion.
“This is the mothership,” Jason Alexander, head of digital platforms at Chase, told us on a recent tour of the office space.
Take a look inside the headquarters for JPMorgan Chase’s $US10.8 billion digital tech blitz.
Behold: Five Manhattan West, headquarters for JPMorgan’s tech ambitions. This stretch of Manhattan real estate is tucked conveniently within Hudson Yards — the largest private real-estate development in US history — and is a short work from the High Line, the Hudson River, Penn Station, and Madison Square Garden.
Chase has other tech offices around the country – in Columbus, Ohio; Plano, Texas; and Wilmington, Delaware; for example – but Manhattan is the mothership, as Jason Alexander puts it.
JPMorgan Chase was an early, anchor tenant at Five Manhattan West, a project from real-estate developer behemoth Brookfield Properties. The bank has 125,000 square feet on the ninth floor, and moved there in December 2015.
Before we look inside, let’s take a step back. What kind of work goes on in here? Primarily the coding, design, maintenance, and updates for JPMorgan Chase products and features that the bank’s 47 million digital customers regularly interact with — whether that’s an eATM, the mobile app, or QuickPay with Zelle. Here’s a quick overview.
JPMorgan Intelligent Solutions (JPMIS) – a separate, big data and data science division focused on mining and leveraging its massive cache of proprietary data – also shares this space, though they’re a much smaller proportion of the more than 800 JPMorgan employees at the tech hub.
Back to the tour. After passing through a security gate, you’re greeted in the foyer by warm lights and colourful furniture. Behind that pillar ahead is the snack room, a convenient stop to stock up on essentials before starting the work day.
The snack room. It’s not free, but it’s all on the honour system. No surprise, there’s a digital check-out kiosk.
There’s also a Chase eATM, which lets you take out cash with your phone — no need for plastic. Our guide, Jason, demonstrated for us.
Chase has the largest ATM network in the country with more than 16,000 ATMs. Roughly 600 of those are the newer eATMs.
Nearby the snack room is the cafeteria, which was bustling when we visited near midday. The dress code is pretty casual — jeans and sneakers and even a plaid button-down or two.
Refrigerators, microwaves, and beverage machines line the wall. Coffee is complimentary.
After stocking up on snacks and coffee, it’s time to get to work. The tech hub has an open floor plan, but there are also ample common spaces and conference rooms. There are very few individual offices.
The office is decorated and organised with a New York theme throughout. The massive space has Manhattan “neighbourhoods” where different teams sit — Murray Hill, Greenwich Village, and Midtown South, for instance.
We didn’t see them in action, but there are scooters to make it easier for employees to get from one side of the vast office to another.
Conference rooms are named after New York landmarks, like Hudson River and Penn Station.
They’re also outfitted with large monitors to facilitate collaboration with other offices around the country.
Most of the common spaces have surfaces that are fair game to write on. Some employees had posted up in these work pods and took advantage of the graffiti friendly walls.
“A lot of the work is visual,” Alexander said. “This space was designed for velocity of development.”
Another wall that fell victim to a brainstorming session. The walls of the conference room next door were covered with dozens of Post-it notes.
We’ve blurred out the writing in some cases to protect proprietary information.
Some of the walls are decorated with NYC scenery — like this mural of the High Line. Best not to write on these.
There are eight “scrum rooms” meant to foster collaboration. These are dedicated work spaces where members of different teams — design, product, technology, and development — come together to hammer out a project over a couple weeks.
When we stopped by, Prashant Gandhi, head of digital payments, had his team give us a demonstration on an update that they’d been working on to the QuickPay with Zelle enrollment process.
“Some customers weren’t coming on to QuickPay because enrollment was clunky,” Gandhi told us.
Because customers found the eight-step onboarding process a bit cumbersome, some would disengage before completing enrollment. So Gandhi’s team streamlined the process to three steps to make life easier and, hopefully, encourage new users to complete the sign-up. The update was released in May.
These turquoise chairs are good for taking phone calls or taking a breather to stare off at the scenery. What was once a view of the Hudson has been mostly replaced by a view of a new Hudson Yards building.
There’s a dedicated room for focus groups, so Chase can bring in customers to test out product prototypes and updates while employees observe from behind a one-way window.
Before and immediately after Chase launched the pilot of its all-mobile bank product Finn in October, it hosted a series of focus groups every three weeks to get feedback.
Melissa Feldsher, head of Finn, gave us a look at the prototype Android app for Finn they’re developing.
“This type of environment fosters much more collaboration,” Feldsher told us. “There’s a lot more informal dialogue. When it’s casual, people are more relaxed. And it’s fun.”