Five firms whose financial advisors were surveyed in this year’s Insurance Advisors’ Report Card saw major changes to their performance ratings over the past year. In particular, three firms saw their performance ratings increase sharply in several categories while two others struggled, their financial advisors having rated these firms significantly lower in a number of categories.

World Financial Group Insurance Agency of Canada Inc.‘s (WFG) ratings increases were the most notable of any firm’s this year. The Toronto-based managing general agency’s (MGA) ratings increased year-over-year in 27 of the 36 categories in which it was rated by its advisors, with 18 of those ratings rising by half a point or more.

In addition, WFG’s “IE rating” (the average of the ratings the firm received for all the categories in which it was rated, except the “overall rating by advisors”) rose to 8.9 from 8.4 year-over-year. The firm’s overall rating by advisors -the average of the ratings WFG’s advisors gave the firm as a whole – rose to 9.1 from 8.7 in 2012.

WFG advisors lauded their firm’s support services, most notably the “support for developing a financial plan for clients,” which received a rating of 8.9, up remarkably from 8.0 in 2012.

“Doing a financial plan for every client is part of our business model and training,” says a WFG advisor in Alberta. “Our slogan is ‘No family left behind.’ Unless you do a financial needs analysis and a financial plan, you don’t know the big picture; so how are you going to know what clients need [unless you do that analysis]?”

But it’s not only WFG’s focus on financial planning that drew accolades; the tools the firm makes available to its advisors also were praised. Says a WFG advisor in Ontario: “The software is easy to use and includes a financial needs analysis.”

Similarly, WFG advisors praised the “MGA’s help in positioning a product” category, giving their firm a rating of 9.2, up from 8.4 in 2012. Says an advisor in Alberta: “We have ongoing symposia for product rollouts in which they explain how best to bring products to clients.”

Toronto-based PPI Advisory also was a winner in its advisors’ eyes. The MGA saw its ratings rise in 23 of the 31 categories in which it was rated by its advisors, with 11 of those increasing by half a point or more. PPI Advisory also fared well in the support categories, with its rating in the “firm’s marketing support for advisor’s practice” category rising substantially, to 9.5 from 8.3 in 2012.

“The marketing support could be anything that the advisor might request,” says Claude Ménard, PPI Advisory’s senior vice president, marketing. “We offer self-support through our planning services group of experts; we have accountants, actuaries and we also have our new product-development team. We’re trying to see what the market is asking for and trying to answer it.”

In addition, PPI Advisory saw its ratings in the “support for wills and estate planning,” “support for tax planning” and “support for insurance planning” rise over the past year, albeit by less than half a point. Still, the firm’s advisors said their firm is unparalleled in these areas, awarding the firm survey-best ratings of 9.7, 9.5 and 9.5, respectively, in these categories.

Several PPI Advisory advisors commented on the quality of the firm’s support staff, the technical tools it provides and the advice they receive from the firm.

A PPI Advisory advisor in Quebec, when asked about the most positive aspects of working with that firm, says: “The technical expertise on the tax front, as well as the product and underwriting consultants. The level of service is very high.”

“This is one of the reasons I’ve stayed with this MGA,” adds a PPI Advisory advisor on the Prairies. “The quality of advice is first-class, and the accountants and lawyers we have access to are outstanding.”

Mississauga, Ont.-based IDC Worldsource Insurance Network Inc.‘s (IDC WIN) rounded out the list of firms with significantly improved fortunes in this year’s Report Card. The firm’s ratings improved in 20 of the 35 categories for which it received a rating from its advisors, with eight increasing by half a point or more.

One standout among these increases was the rating advisors bestowed on their firm in the “support for mobile technology and the mobile advisor,” which rose to 8.0 from 6.8 in 2012.

IDC WIN advisors say their firm’s increasing support in this area is critical. Says an IDC WIN advisor in Ontario: “It’s becoming more important and growing. We’re spending less and less time in the office, and people want immediate responses. Nobody is patient anymore, including myself.”

Of course, not every firm fared as well as WFG, PPI Advisory and IDC WIN. For instance, London, Ont.-based Freedom 55 Financial saw its ratings drop by half a point or more in 13 of the 41 categories in which it was rated. The firm didn’t fare particularly well on some of the work environment-related questions or in the “firm’s consumer advertising” and “firm’s image with the public” categories.

In particular, Freedom 55 advisors feel that the firm’s name – and, thus, its image – no longer resonates as clients have to work longer in life these days. Says a Freedom 55 advisor in Ontario: “[Our public image is] not great because of the Freedom 55 name. People don’t think it’s attainable anymore.”

“It’s an old image,” adds a colleague in the same province. “It needs to be modernized.”

In addition, several Freedom 55 advisors said the firm’s corporate culture also needs to improve, rating the “firm’s corporate culture” at 7.5 vs 8.1 in 2012.

“[The corporate culture] is not what it used to be,” says a Freedom 55 advisor in Alberta. “Thirty years ago, it was a big family. Now, the firm only recognizes performance.”

Another firm that saw its fortunes tumble was Winnipeg-based Daystar Financial Group Inc., which saw its ratings drop by half a point or more in 12 of the 36 categories in which it was rated by its advisors.

In particular, advisors are quite displeased with the firm’s wealth management-related support services: ratings for five of these categories dropped by half a point or more.

According to a Daystar advisor in Manitoba who would like more services geared toward wealth management: “They are interested in selling products, not financial planning.”

Adds a colleague in Alberta: “I talked to my sales director about [financial planning] software. He said [Daystar is] going to offer us something soon and that the firm will subsidize it. There are a lot of MGAs in which it’s all-inclusive. We give [Daystar] a lot of business, so it should cover those costs.”

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