Advisors Try to Make It Business as Usual Amid Market, Virus Setbacks
(Updates to say that Stifel has closed a New York City branch where an employee has been confirmed with Covid-19.)
Continuing unknowns about the duration and extent of the coronavirus crisis have upended work routines globally, but advisors say they are striving to maintain their composure despite plunging markets, rapidly changing work conditions and fears for families, colleagues and friends.
Stifel Financial on Wednesday afternoon said it is closing a Stifel Nicolaus branch in a midtown Manhattan headquarters where an employee has a confirmed case of Covid-19, the highly contagious virus.
“We ask that associates leave no later than at the market close today,” Paul Striedl, director of business continuity & disaster recovery at Stifel Financial, wrote in a memo to employees on the third and fourth floors of the firm’s quarters in the skyscraper at 3 Bryant Park. “Management will ensure adequate coverage today to ensure proper shutdown procedures are implemented.”
Stifel told about 75 employees on the third floor of the building that they must work from home until April 1, and requested that colleagues on the fourth floor work remotely “at least through the end of week,” pending an additional deep clean of their workspaces.
Earlier this week, a Stifel office manager told employees that the office was remaining open following the discovery that an employee of another company who worked more than 20 floors higher had been infected.
The memos illustrate the challenges firms face as they seek to maintain business operations and client service amid rapidly moving coronavirus developments while meeting the needs of their employees.
A spokesman at St. Louis-based Stifel did not return requests for comment.
Brokers nationwide said their firms have generally given them the option of working from home, with pressures greater in regions where many cases have been reported.
“New York City basically went to remote access yesterday,” said a veteran Merrill Lynch broker, who was nevertheless working out of his Manhattan branch Wednesday morning because of the difficulties he perceived in “working from a laptop at home.” He said about 20 of more than 100 advisors were in the office.
The majority of Merrill’s more than 14,000 brokers are working from home as of this week, said a person familiar with the company’s policies but who was not authorized to speak for the firm. Merrill has recommended, but not mandated, the policy, except in San Francisco and other northern California locations where government shelter-in-place requirements have been imposed.
An employee at a Morgan Stanley Wealth Management branch in Tulsa, Okla. was confirmed as having the virus earlier this week, according to several sources. The employee is “doing real well,” and the office was open Wednesday morning, one person said, but about 75% of employees and the complex manager were working from home.
A Morgan Stanley spokeswoman declined to discuss individual employees or locations. The wirehouse has allowed advisors to work remotely in certain circumstances, and last week issued user-ID tokens to all advisor-team employees that let them access workstations remotely.
Advisors and staffers said they were coping with various degrees of effectiveness to the dislocations.
“A lot of people hadn’t tested them yet so now they’re in a panic,” a Morgan Stanley advisor in Oklahoma said of the tokens. “It’s slow, but working out.”
A veteran Boston-based Morgan Stanley advisor said he showed up at his downtown office on Wednesday because of difficulties in connecting via his home computer, despite recommendations that he work remotely. A tech support number to a subcontractor firm resulted in hours of waiting time, the self-confessed technophobe advisor said, leading him to hang up. He said just about ten other people were at the large branch.
A Morgan Stanley spokesman declined to comment.
J.P. Morgan Securities has initiated a rotating schedule in which half of its employees work at home for two weeks while the others come to the office.
“They are telling us to stay in touch with clients, stay home, stay safe and dial in,” said an adviser in the southern U.S., who participated in a morning call with an alternatives investment specialist from his home on Wednesday. “They’re trying to make it business as usual, but there’s no [new product] calendar right now.”
Edward Jones & Co., the largest brokerage firm as measured by its 18,000 advisors, has directed the brokers to cease in-person meetings with clients in an attempt to control spreading of the highly contagious coronavirus.
—Jed Horowitz contributed to this story.