Merrill Offers $200 Payments to Vaccinated Staffers Who Return to Office
Merrill Lynch Wealth Management is offering branch office personnel who have been regularly coming into the office $200 payments in exchange for confirming they are vaccinated against Covid-19, a company spokesman confirmed.
The financial incentives, touted Wednesday in the sixth round of updates of Merrill’s eight-week Project Thunder campaign, are being offered to those in field roles, excluding advisors and office managers. Client associates, administrative support and operations staff at Bank of America-owned Merrill are eligible for the payment, the spokesman said.
“This award is a thank-you for their hard work and dedication,” Merrill had said in its round-up of this week’s tweaks as part of the Project Thunder effort launched in response to broker feedback.
Eligible Merrill employees can voluntarily report their status through Merrill’s “confidential Vaccination Status Tool,” Merrill Wealth President Andy Sieg wrote in a separate Monday memo, a copy of which was reviewed by AdvisorHub. A person familiar with the company’s thinking said that employees are expected to have been in the office at least two days per week and be fully vaccinated by mid-November to receive the bonus.
There is no vaccine mandate across the company, but only vaccinated employees are allowed to return to the office, according to the Merrill spokesman.
Bank of America has been pushing employees to self-disclose their vaccine status for several months, and more than 80% of Merrill’s 25,000 employees, including brokers, have already volunteered their vaccination status, according to the spokesman. Roughly the same percent are also coming into the office regularly, he said.
Major brokerage firms have not taken a hard line in returning brokers to their desks or mandating vaccines, although most have been stricter about ensuring field management and office staff are working from the office. Rival wirehouse UBS Wealth Management USA said in June that it would allow brokers to work remotely but required field leadership and support staff to be in the office most of the week.
A UBS spokesperson did not return a request for comment on whether it would be offering incentives to office staff similar to the Merrill bonus.
A spokeswoman for Wells Fargo Advisors said the firm is not offering financial incentives for its employees to get vaccinated but that all employees are eligible for up to four additional hours of paid time off for each dose.
Morgan Stanley in an August memo had told staff to provide documentation of their shots by Oct. 1 to return to offices. A spokeswoman did not return a request for comment. Almost 90% of U.S.-based employees had confirmed their vaccination status by August, according to a Reuters report.
Other changes touted in the weekly Project Thunder newsletter include lower minimums on alternative investments. Customers can now invest in some products with $10,000, down from $25,000.
Portfolios eligible for the new lower minimum are only available through Merrill’s Investment Advisory Program (IAP), which includes access to some private equity, hedge fund and real asset offerings, according to the update.
Also highlighted in this week’s update was an employee recognition event scheduled for Oct. 28, featuring guest speaker Mariano Rivera, a former New York Yankees relief pitcher and National Baseball Hall of Fame member.
“This event celebrates our critical in-office staff that worked diligently to keep our business running during the pandemic,” the update said.
Merrill again pumped up its branding efforts, boasting more than 500 million marketing impressions in October. “National advertising will be in market through year-end, with a focus on generating leads from prospective clients,” the update said.
Merrill’s Project Thunder campaign so far has introduced a range of tweaks, which it calls “wins.” In launching the program in September, the firm said it would allow some veteran brokers to bring next-of-kin directly onto teams rather than forcing them to go through the bank training program. Other changes included making it easier for brokers to take on customers who had marijuana-related businesses and allowing brokers to send non-branded greeting cards.
The firm last week introduced a new mobile app for brokers called the Mobile Advisor Experience, or “MAX,” that will integrate several broker desktop features, including viewing client information and texting clients.