Some JPMorgan advisors to return to the office as coronavirus lockdowns lift

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A sign regarding coronavirus readiness is displayed in the window of a temporarily closed JPMorgan Chase bank branch in New York April 10, 2020.
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A small number of advisors will begin to return to JPMorgan Chase branches in June, a sign of how firms may attempt to revert to normal operations as coronavirus lockdowns lift in some states.

Approximately 15 to 20 advisors in five branches in Texas will participate in the pilot program. That state has eased lockdown restrictions, which were already modest to begin with.

All of the company’s brokerage force has been working remotely since March and doing so effectively, said a person familiar with the developing plans. Additional details are being worked out, the source continued, but says JPMorgan, which has 5,200 advisors in total, “has done a lot of work on what the firm looks like when people come back to work.” The person also noted that some coronavirus protocols may include wearing of masks.

“The question is when,” the source adds. “That’s the big question.”

Clients who wish to visit the branch to see their advisor will be able to do so, but will also retain the option to meet via phone or video conference.

Other wealth managers are moving at different speeds toward restaffing their branch offices — some at a snail’s pace; some not at all. It’s partially a question of how the firms’ operations are structured.

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Edward Jones has permitted its 18,000 advisors to work from the office during the pandemic, which it can do because the firm typically staffs its offices with just one advisor and one administrative assistant. The branches are not open to clients.

“We are thoughtfully planning how we would start physically reopening all our offices with the overriding consideration for everyone's health and well-being,” a spokesman says in an email. “While we will use local guidance in our decision making, we ultimately will make a decision with a timeline that is best for our clients and associates, given our designation as an essential business, and our responsibility to our communities as a corporate citizen.”

Some independent advisors have been working from their offices but, like Edward Jones, these tend to be small firms, sometimes with just a handful of employees and in some cases just a solo advisor.

Wirehouses, banks and large brokerage firms are in a different position, as they often operate branches with dozens, sometimes hundreds, of employees. A wirehouse executive who asked not to be named said their firm’s plans to restaff branches are complicated as the wirehouse is just one of many tenants in some office towers it leases. That raises a unique set of concerns. For example: how will building landlords handle things like sanitizing lobbies and elevators?

At the same time, there isn’t necessarily a pressing need among some firms to rush advisors back to their office desks.

UBS, for example, has nearly all its roughly 6,000 advisors working remotely and without issue. The firm said it had seven times the number of employees logging in remotely on a daily basis in March than it did in February, before the lockdowns began.

The CEO of Raymond James, a firm with about 8,000 advisors, has said the firm will be “slow and deliberate about bringing associates back to the office.”

Like their competitors, JPMorgan’s advisors have been leveraging digital tools such as DocuSign and Zoom to do business and stay in touch with clients.

“It’s one of those times where we’ve really stepped up communication in a big way and clients want to hear from us,” a person familiar with the matter says.

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