Morgan Stanley to Reopen About 50 Branches Next Week
Morgan Stanley Wealth Management will reopen around 50 of its more than 590 offices to employees next week in a cautious sign of optimism that the coronavirus pandemic is being controlled in selective regions, according to a person familiar with the company’s plans.
The decision to begin opening offices where local shelter-in-place restrictions have been lifted and Covid-19 outbreaks are low comes amid an international debate over how aggressively economies should reopen before a vaccine is developed. New cases have accelerated in some areas where restrictions have been lifted, and public health officials have expressed concern over the possibility of a resurgence of the virus.
While brokerage firm executives have expressed relief at the relatively smooth transition to work-from-home procedures—despite the pandemic’s effect on operations employees worldwide—some advisors have expressed frustration over their inability to meet with clients and prospects and to replicate the ease of using in-office tools.
A recent internal survey of Morgan Stanley brokers showed “strong interest” in returning to offices from a significant minority of them, the person said.
Brokers at reopened offices will be able to set up in-office meetings with clients by appointment if local government guidelines permit, the person said.
Morgan Stanley Chief Executive James Gorman recently said that only about 50% of employees worldwide are expected to return to their offices by yearend, although it and other large investment banks have already opened some trading floors.
The wealth division plans to reopen branches on a rolling basis throughout the summer, and its headquarters in Purchase, NY, a New York City suburb, will open to staffers after the July 4th holiday, the person said. Some offices that reopen may not be at full capacity if social distancing is not possible.
Other large firms have been indicating to brokers in large cities that they should not expect to return to their offices in large cities until at least next year, but will likely allow employees in less densely populated areas that have not had significant incidents of Covid-19 to return earlier if they wish.
“We’re thinking through a phased approach across the company, which includes following guidance from medical experts, and have not set a timeline for when we may return to offices,” Merrill Lynch Wealth Management spokesman Matthew Card said in an e-mailed statement. “We’ve told employees they will receive 30 days’ notice prior to returning to the office.”
Merrill, like other firms owned by large companies, will make its decision based on guidance from Bank of America, Card said, and has no specific reopening timelines.
St. Louis-based regional Stifel Financial has allowed most of its 2,200 brokers to return to their offices on a voluntary basis, and this week allowed clients who sign waivers and wear masks in public areas to visit with advisors, according to two internal sources.
Wells Fargo, which has around 12,200 advisors in brokerage offices and bank branches, has encouraged brokers to work remotely, a spokeswoman said, and issued “strong guidelines” limiting branches to operate with no more than 50% of staff capacity. The guidelines will remain until at least July 31.
“We do not yet know when our business-as-usual activities will resume,” spokeswoman Shea Leordeanu said in an e-mailed statement. “We are creating a thoughtful, phased plan for returning to the workplace, and we will use guidance from health experts to maintain a safe workplace for all employees, including those who have continued to work from the office and those who will be returning to the office over the course of time.”
Edward Jones & Co., the largest firm as measured by its 19,000 brokers who work largely in rural areas and small cities, had allowed offices to remain open during the pandemic but had banned visits by clients and prospects. It lifted the ban regarding clients in around 30 of its 300 regions last week.