Financial advisors surveyed for Investment Executive‘s 2017 Report Card on Banks now demand more wealth-management support services from the banks they work for – specifically, more support for tax planning and wills and estate planning.

Advisors’ frustrations were evident in the overall average performance rating for “support for wills and estate planning,” which declined to 7.9 from 8.3 in 2016, and for “support for tax planning,” which dropped to 7.3 from 8.1 year-over-year.

In addition, not only did the overall average performance rating for tax-planning support drop the most of any category in this year’s Report Card – by a substantial 0.8 of a point – but the ratings in the category dropped by half a point or more for five of the six banks in the survey.

Furthermore, the difference between the overall average performance rating and the overall average importance rating (8.7) in this category resulted in the third-highest difference between two ratings – a.k.a. the “satisfaction gap” – in the Report Card.

Many advisors complained that because they’re limited in terms of the advice they can provide in these categories, they’re dependent on in-house experts (who may be available only to high net-worth clients) or on third-party referrals.

“There’s not a lot of training with regard to [tax planning],” says an advisor in Alberta with TD Wealth Financial Planning, a division of Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD). “[We’re directed to] ask [clients] to check with their accountants.”

TD does recommend that planners refer clients to accountants if clients require specific tax planning advice, says Rowena Chan, senior vice president of TD Wealth Financial Planning. However, TD offers more training to its advisors through national training conferences that were introduced last month.

These conferences are meant to educate advisors in how to talk to clients who are dealing with specific life events, such as a divorce or the death of spouse, which often incorporate tax planning.

Such changes may be coming in the nick of time for TD, given that its advisors gave the bank a rating of 6.6 in the tax-planning category, down from 7.3 in 2016.

Advisors with Toronto-based Bank of Nova Scotia expressed similar concerns about their lack of access to support for tax planning and wills and estate planning.

In fact, Scotiabank’s ratings for these two categories not only are among the lowest of any banks in the Report Card, both dropped by half a point or more year-over-year. For example, the bank’s rating for support for wills and estate planning dropped to 7.3 from 7.8 in 2016 and the support for tax planning rating dropped to 6.1 from 7.4 last year.

“We refer [clients] to wealth management [for tax planning], but, same as [for] estate planning, there is [an asset] threshold [for receiving such support],” says a Scotiabank advisor in Ontario. “I would refer [clients with smaller accounts] to their accountants.”

Alice Eastman, senior vice president, customer experience and distribution strategy, with Scotiabank, clarifies that the bank doesn’t use clients’ asset levels to determine access to support. Instead, clients are referred to wealth-management consultants based on the complexity of their financial planning needs.

“The branch network and wealth management, overall, at Scotiabank work very closely together,” she says, “and that’s to ensure that our customers get the right advice from employees with the right knowledge base.”

Meanwhile, advisors with Toronto-based Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) were split about the centralized wealth-management support they receive.

Specifically, some RBC advisors were pleased with the easy access they have to wills and estates specialists at the bank.

“[The support] is unbelievable. We have an entire estate team whom we can connect with via conference call or [online chat] within seconds who can speak with our clients,” says an RBC advisor in British Columbia. “[The estate specialist with the bank] can get answers to [clients’] questions right away. I have yet to come across someone who couldn’t answer a question.”

However, other RBC advisors bemoaned the lack of face-to-face contact with these experts and would like a specialist in their branch.

This dichotomy led to the bank’s rating of 8.3 in the support for wills and estate planning category, down from 8.9 in 2016.

“I just don’t think we have the support we need,” says an RBC advisor in B.C. “We don’t have anyone close to our office; we have to call Vancouver for help.”

That RBC advisors are looking for more direct support also was clear in the ratings they gave the bank for the support for tax planning, which is down to 7.6 this year from 9.0 in 2016.

“We can get help from a team of professionals who are accountants; it’s in-house support, but only via telephone or email,” says an RBC advisor in B.C.

RBC has 25 specialists who can help with more complex financial planning questions, including tax and estate planning. Depending on location and availability, advisors can learn about financial planning topics from these experts either in person or online – or advisors can discuss more specific client scenarios with the experts via telephone or email.

However, in the near future, advisors may not be able to arrange an in-person meeting with those experts, but will be able to speak with someone face-to-face via RBC’s new, interactive MyAdvisor video platform.

“The next evolution of that [access to experts] is by video,” says Michael Walker, vice president, branch investments. “We can extend and broaden our full market coverage, [by] having that person-to-person interaction by using video technology.”

Having a dedicated but accessible group of wealth-management experts is key to advisors feeling supported. Case in point: advisors with Toronto-based Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) gave their bank a survey high rating of 8.8 in the support for wills and estate planning category – even though it was down from 9.3 in 2016 – for the bank’s streamlined support system.

“We’ve improved a lot, in that we’ve centralized our estate process,” says a CIBC advisor in Alberta. “Everything is handled by one office. Now, nothing gets overlooked.”

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