Providing wealth-management services has become a significant part of the way financial advisors do business. So, it’s not surprising that those surveyed for the 2012 Brokerage Report Card say their firms need to pay close attention and invest in providing solid support through knowledgeable specialists, up-to-date technology and helpful materials for clients.

“I have been in the industry a long time,” says an advisor in Ontario with Toronto-based RBC Dominion Securities Inc., “and it is all about resources.”

In order to get a closer look at wealth-management support services, Investment Executive grouped many of the related questions together this year in a new section of the survey. Advisors were asked to rate their firms’ support in areas such as tax, wills and estates, and insurance planning as well as in developing a financial plan for clients. A new question was added that focuses on the firms’ “support for developing an investment plan for clients,” while yet another asked advisors to give their firms a rating for the “support for overall wealth-management process.”

Two other categories in this survey focus on the looming mass retirement of baby boomers: “support for helping clients accumulate assets for retirement” and “support for helping clients plan for post-retirement income.”

Says an advisor in Manitoba with Montreal-based National Bank Financial Ltd. : “Firms are starting to realize that there is a real need to help clients who are living longer manage their wealth after they retire.”

Adds a colleague in Quebec: “The over-65 crowd will be the largest client segment of the brokerage business for years to come.”

Two firms saw significant improvement in the two retirement-related categories: Vancouver-based Canaccord Wealth Management and Toronto-based Macquarie Private Wealth Inc. Their advisors spoke approvingly of the staff they could turn to for help.

Says a Macquarie advisor in Ontario: “There is great support in the form of research materials and a Q&A hotline.”

And an advisor with Canaccord in British Columbia says: “The firm is willing to spend its resources to provide great support systems for advisors.”

The support systems at Canaccord, says Tanya Bird McCann, its chief operating officer in Toronto, is in the form of a team that helps advisors prepare “everything from a customized portfolio to a tax-strategic retirement plan, depending on what the client’s needs are.”

Having solid support staff in place is one of the reasons why Toronto-based Richardson GMP Ltd. had the highest ratings in all the wealth-management support services categories. And the firm also saw its rating in the “support for insurance planning” category increase to 9.5 from 8.9 because of that staff.

“We’ve added professional staff in the wealth-planning group to continue to serve the growing needs of serving clients,” says Andrew Marsh, Richardson GMP’s CEO. “So, we think we’ve gotten the formula right.”

By the same token, DS had the highest rating in the “support for wills and estate planning” among the bank-owned firms, at 8.8, with the majority of its advisors pointing out the in-house specialists on staff.

“This is an area our clients and advisors have been asking for,” says David Agnew, DS’s CEO and national director, noting that the firm has “invested very heavily [into putting] top experts together, [including] lawyers, high net-worth specialists, financial planners, insurance specialists and tax planners.”

Another cause for satisfaction among advisors, when rating their firms in the wealth-management support services categories, was the technology involved in providing the support. In fact, advisors say they need solid, reliable software platforms to create financial and investment plans for their clients.

An improvement in the technology that Canaccord offers its advisors in the wealth-management support areas has resulted in numerous improvements to Canaccord’s ratings in these categories. This is most evident in the rating for “support for developing a financial plan for clients” category, which increased by a whopping 1.9 points to 8.7 from 6.8 last year.

In fact, Canaccord’s new financial planning software, dubbed Framework, made its début at the beginning of January. The goal in introducing this software is “to assist advisors in preparing high net-worth plans,” says Bird McCann, “[and to] develop financial plans, portfolio construction and proposals.”

Says a Canaccord advisor in Alberta about Framework: “[The] new software [is] easier to use and more comprehensive.”

Canaccord advisors also approved of the visual resources they can use to make presentations to clients, especially during the creation of retirement and post-retirement plans.

Says a Canaccord advisor in B.C.: “The firm offers great educational materials that help clients assess their options.”

Many advisors – those with Macquarie, Richardson GMP and Vancouver-based Odlum Brown Ltd., in particular – also mentioned the model portfolios their firms have developed to show clients. These client-friendly tools garnered high ratings for these firms in the new Report Card category of “support for developing an investment plan for clients.”IE

© 2012 Investment Executive. All rights reserved.