Merrill Reopens Offices to 10%, Wells Ups Capacity to 40% as Pandemic Restrictions Thaw
Merrill Lynch Wealth Management is reopening offices to at least 10% of employees while Wells Fargo Advisors is doubling capacity to 40% as the firms loosen Covid-19-related restrictions.
“We are allowing advisors in Wealth & Investment Management to voluntarily return to a Wells Fargo Advisors branch or wealth hub location, up to the capacity set by local ordinances but not exceeding 40%,” said spokeswoman Shea Leordeanu.
Merrill, which had in place a flat ban on office returns for much of last year, was one of the more restrictive of the four wirehouses but the firm expects that “far more” than 10% will be going in as it further eases restrictions in coming weeks.
“The company has begun to invite more Merrill employees to return to the office in markets across the U.S. as the environment improves, and expects to have far more people coming in over the next few weeks,” according to a company statement.
At Morgan Stanley and UBS, spokespeople declined to comment on the company’s policies on remote work. But the firms have remained flexible, allowing different practices in different regions, brokers and recruiters said. A Texas broker at Morgan Stanley said his office has been fully open.
None of the firms have yet to mandate a full five-day-a-week return to offices, although some senior executives have been extolling the virtues of in-person interaction.
“This is a work-from-the-office company and culture,” Merrill president Andy Sieg said on Monday, echoing Bank of America Chief Executive Brian Moynihan’s remarks in April that the office will be generally “back to normal” by Labor Day.
Customers’ “physical experiences” are “really, really important,” Wells Fargo Chief Executive Charlie Scharf said last week.
“The reality is when people want to do something serious, they still want to look someone in the eye. They still want to have that physical interaction,” Scharf told an online audience at a bank-sponsored conference, according to a transcript provided by research service Sentieo.
Wells’ and Merrill’s thawing reflects broader easing industry-wide.
Edward Jones, which kept branch offices open for employees during the pandemic because they are mostly staffed by a single broker and office assistant, has fully reopened those to clients in phases over recent months. It is also allowing for 25% occupancy in its home office in the coming weeks, up from only essential staff.
Disparities persist among brokerages also about their face-covering rules, but even those are loosening as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month revised the agency’s mask-wearing guidelines.
At Wells Fargo, all employees and all clients are required to wear masks, the company said. Edward Jones is allowing “fully vaccinated clients and visitors” to go maskless in the branch offices, the spokesman said. In the home office, employees have to sign a document verifying they are fully vaccinated before they can go maskless, he added.
Elsewhere on Wall Street, JPMorgan Chase & Co., told employees they can drop masks, but Citigroup has kept a face-covering requirement, Bloomberg reported this week.
Overall, small- and large-firm compliance officials said last week on a panel at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s annual conference that they are adjusting supervisory procedures in anticipation that much of the virtual environment, including remote work and video calls with clients, will persist after pandemic restrictions subside.
Raymond James Private Client Group head Scott Curtis said in April that the firm is mulling a more permanent flexible work policy, and sources have said it is testing a ‘hot desk’ arrangement where it has combined two branches and made some offices available by reservation.