Financial advisors surveyed for this year’s Dealers’ Report Card have certain standards they’ve come to expect from their firms when it comes to support for the wealth-management process. In particular, they want their firms to provide competitive product choices for high net-worth (HNW) clients and retirees, helpful in-house experts and further guidance in the form of training and education.

In fact, advisors with Winnipeg-based Investors Group Inc. gave their firm top or second-best ratings in the wealth-management support categories because it offers such a mix of services. “We have an amazing tool kit,” says an Investors Group advisor in Ontario.

The firm was lauded especially for the support it offers advisors in helping older clients, receiving ratings of 9.2 in both the “support for helping clients accumulate assets for retirement” and “support for helping clients plan for post-retirement income” categories.

“[There’s] a big-time focus on [these services],” says an Investors Group advisor in Ontario, who adds that the firm’s retirement planning documents for clients “separate us from our competitors.”

Still, some Investors Group advisors say their firm can upgrade its product mix. They’d like access to wrap accounts for HNW clients, as well as lower management fees on in-house mutual funds. Advisors made this evident by rating their firm at 7.6 in the “products and support services for HNW clients” category vs 8.4 in 2011.

However, Mark Kinzel, executive vice president of financial services at Investors Group, says the firm stands behind its HNW program: “We have a program, High Profile, that is comprehensive and has a number of features in it for HNW clients, such as free investment switching, a quarterly portfolio review, tax summary and detailed [portfolio] activity.”

Products for the HNW client also were a sore spot for advisors with Markham, Ont.-based Worldsource Financial Management Inc., as they rated their firm significantly lower in the category, at 6.9 vs 7.4 last year.

“There’s just a HNW questionnaire that clients can fill out to determine what products would best suit their needs,” says a Worldsource advisor in Ontario, “but there’s no specialized platform or products.”

In turn, Andy Mitchell, Worldsource’s president and chief operating officer, says the firm’s advisors can go to the parent company for those products: “[Toronto-based Guardian Capital Group Ltd.] would be our No. 1 contributor to that because it does spend the face time with advisors in helping them understand the opportunities clients have to look after their wealth.”

On the other hand, advisors with Calgary-based Portfolio Strategies Corp. thought their firm was proactive when it came to bolstering offerings for the HNW clients. Says a Portfolio Strategies advisor in Alberta: “The firm has started to expand its dealings in exempt-market products. This has broadened the offering to advisors.”

This is all part of the firm’s plan to ramp the products and services it makes available to its growing base of advisors licensed by the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada, says Mark Kent, the firm’s president and CEO: “We’re looking at bringing on income-oriented exempt products, as the demand is starting to increase. We do have quite a few referral arrangements with portfolio managers.”

Access to specialists and experts – not just to portfolio managers – matters highly to advisors everywhere. In fact, advisors with Toronto-based Assante Wealth Management (Canada) Ltd. pointed out the availability of support staff regarding wealth management as a highlight at their firm. “[Assante has] regional vice presidents for tax and accounting,” says an Assante advisor in Ontario. “They’re there to answer basic questions but also get involved in complex situations.”

There was similar feedback from Assante advisors regarding support for helping clients accumulate assets for retirement and for post-retirement planning. Says an Assante advisor in Alberta: “There’s a dedicated team [of] specialists. The reports they produce are customized; they’re good at what they do.”

Still, some Assante advisors believe their firm could offer more support in these areas. “I’d like to see more education and information,” says an Assante advisor in Alberta. “We’re more focused on asset accumulation, but more guidance on product allocation would be nice.”

© 2012 Investment Executive. All rights reserved.