Financial advisors who ply their trade with Canada’s banks and credit unions say their management’s receptivity toward advisors’ ideas and concerns is decreasing.

In particular, advisors cited insufficient opportunities to provide input, firms not moving quickly enough to implement suggested changes and executives who don’t understand the challenges that advisors face on the front lines.

Advisors surveyed for this year’s Report Card on Banks and Credit Unions rated their firms in two categories concerning internal communication: “firm’s effectiveness in keeping advisors informed” and “firm’s receptiveness to advisor feedback.”

Although the ratings remained relatively stagnant for keeping advisors informed, the results for the receptiveness category were much more telling. All but one firm saw their ratings decrease year-over-year, with four firms in particular suffering declines of half a point or more in their ratings.

One of those firms with a rating decline was Montreal-based National Bank of Canada. Although the bank’s advisors rated the firm’s effectiveness in keeping advisors informed at 8.1, a negligible drop from 8.2 in 2012, they felt National Bank’s management is doing a much worse job in being receptive to advisors and their concerns. This category garnered a rating of 7.3 this year vs 8.3 in 2012.

According to Annamaria Testani, vice president, national sales, intermediary business solutions, with National Bank, the firm tries to find a balance in communicating with advisors without bothering them: “We’ve tried to make sure communication is done in a very structured and systematic way.”

One of the ways National Bank does this is through an internal survey. “We do those; if it’s not every year, it’s every second year,” Testani says. “Again, we don’t want to bother [advisors]. We don’t want to spend all of our time doing surveys, but the right kind of survey in a systematic manner allows people from all levels to provide the information we need to hear.”

However, some National Bank advisors said these surveys don’t provide enough opportunities to have their voices heard.

“More open discussions are needed,” says a National Bank advisor in British Columbia. “They don’t react to any of our complaints.”

Advisors with Edmonton-based Servus Credit Union Ltd. also called upon their firm to improve its receptiveness to advisor feedback. Last year, upper management was lauded for requesting feedback and facilitating “two-way” communication between advisors and executives.

This year, however, the firm received a rating of 7.6, down from 8.5 in 2012, with advisors saying the firm is so focused on its strategy that it’s not paying attention to advisors.

Says a Servus advisor in Alberta: “Our feedback is being put on the back burner because they are still figuring themselves out.”

For advisors with Toronto-based TD Canada Trust – which received the survey-best rating of 8.4 in the feedback category, down from 9.3 in 2012 – the issue was not necessarily whether the firm is paying attention to feedback but whether management will follow through on it.

In fact, many TD advisors said there are plenty of ways to express themselves through surveys, online forums and direct contact with management. However, the problem is management responding to that feedback in a tangible manner.

“We have to express the same concern three times before it gets revisited,” says a TD advisor in Alberta.

Adds a colleague in Ontario: “Anything that needs to be changed takes way too long.”

Another criticism from advisors throughout the Report Card was that their senior management teams lack understanding of what it’s like to be on the front lines.

“I think some of our executives need to go on the show Undercover Boss,” says an advisor on the Prairies with Toronto-based Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), which saw its rating in the receptiveness category decline to 6.5 from 7.3 year-over-year. “They need to understand the real world, not just the spreadsheets.”

Larry Tomei, CIBC’s senior vice president, national sales and service, retail and business banking, says a new initiative asking for advisors’ feedback will do just that: “We’re going to have the front-line [advisors] vote on the top 10 items they want fixed. We’re going to prioritize them, and we’re going to deliver on those top 10 things.”

Some advisors also pointed out that the feeling they’re not being heard is inevitable when working at a firm as large as one of Canada’s Big Six banks.

“This is a big corporation,” says a TD advisor in Ontario, “so there’s some weakness there.”

Adds a CIBC advisor on the Prairies: “They care [about our concerns], but the system is so big.”

In response, executives said that being open to advisor feedback is not only important but it’s also a key part of their jobs. So, they want to deliver for both the advisors and their firms.

“Senior executives,” says John Tracy, senior vice president, retail savings and investment, with TD, “are not only encouraged but expected to spend time in branches with the sales force receiving direct feedback.”

Furthermore, Tomei says, his move from front-line sales leader to a senior vice president role in head office is a direct result of CIBC’s effort in to bring advisors and management closer together.

“We’ve been making changes to bring our front office folks into head office and our head office folks into the front office,” Tomei explains, “to make sure that we are constantly getting a sense for how the front-line [advisors] are feeling.”

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