Although brokerages are improving their delivery of back-office services, firms continue to fall short of investment advisors’ expectations. Slow response times or inaccurate work from the back-office staff can quickly undo an advisor’s best efforts, according to the advisors surveyed for this year’s Brokerage Report Card.

“If you can’t get a trade done and settled [correctly], there’s no reason to be in this industry,” says an advisor in Alberta with Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management (Canada). “You have to have a good back office. Firms often lose sight of that.”

Overall, advisors gave their firms an average performance rating of 7.9 in the “back office and administrative support” category this year. However, advisors gave the category an average importance rating of 9.3, resulting in a “satisfaction gap” of 1.4 points. That gap is identical to last year’s – and is tied for the largest such gap in this year’s survey.

Although advisors were not hesitant to say what they’d like to see improved in their back offices, they also were quick to point out what they’re looking for. Specifically, advisors want quick turnaround times, consistent and reliable work, as well as a client- and advisor-focused approach to the delivery of services.

Advisors with Vancouver-based Odlum Brown Ltd. rated their firm’s back office at 9.4 (down from 9.7 last year, but still the top rating in the survey) because they appreciate the back office’s quick response times, accessibility and supportive approach.

“If you need something, they will do their best to do it without immediately saying, ‘No, it can’t be done’,” says an Odlum Brown advisor in British Columbia.

The success of Odlum Brown’s back-office system can be credited to two things, according to Debra Hewson, the firm’s president and CEO: the fact that back-office staff share in the firm’s employee ownership program, along with the advisors; and the overall collegial culture that the firm fosters.

“[Our culture] reflects in the quality of work everyone produces here, whether they are front office or back office,” Hewson says.

Size matters in the back office

Similarly, advisors with Calgary-based Leede Jones Gable Inc. rated their firm’s back office at 9.2, up marginally from 9.1 last year. Leede advisors said that the relatively small size of their firm’s back-office team serves as an advantage because advisors can establish good working relationships with the back-office staff.

“They’re all cross-trained, so if someone’s away, things still get done,” says a Leede advisor in Alberta. “And if you have questions, they’re responsive.”

Meanwhile, advisors with Montreal-based National Bank Financial Ltd. (NBF), Canaccord and Toronto-based CIBC Wood Gundy rated their firms’ back offices significantly higher (by half a point or more) this year relative to last year, even though all three dealers still received performance ratings below the category’s average rating.

NBF advisors gave their firm’s back office a rating of 7.2, up strongly from 6.0 last year. Although several NBF advisors complained about not being able to access back-office support as quickly as they would like, others said that turnaround times and consistency have improved.

“They’ve become more responsive and accountable,” says an NBF advisor on the Prairies.

Having good staff in place is one of the reasons Canaccord advisors rated their firm’s back office at 7.8, up from 6.9 in 2015.

“There’s always stuff you want done faster, but they’re good,” says a Canaccord advisor in B.C.

The firm restructured its back office in January to “ensure greater efficiencies,” says Stuart Raftus, president of Canaccord. “We’re aware of issues that arise from time to time, but we have top-notch individuals working in our department all the time, throughout the back office.”

Meanwhile, Wood Gundy advisors rated their firm’s back office at 7.7, up from 7.1 last year. Advisor reaction to the firm’s back-office support were mixed: some said response times remained slow and the department wasn’t as client-focused as it could be; others believed that back-office support had improved in recent years.

“They’re working hard because advisors and [front-office] administrative staff were complaining over the past few years,” says a Wood Gundy advisor in Alberta.

Struggles continue

Nevertheless, some advisors surveyed for this year’s Report Card said their firms struggle to deliver back-office services.

For example, advisors with Toronto-based BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc. rated their firm’s back office at 6.6, with many advisors saying they’d like to see more resources dedicated to that business unit.

“They don’t have the support staff they need,” says a Nesbitt advisor in Ontario. “Turnaround time is ridiculous.”

Advisors with Toronto-based TD Wealth Private Investment Advice (TD Wealth PIA) gave their firm the worst performance rating for its back office in the survey, at 5.8. Many advisors cited cutbacks to the department as the reason why response times were slow and the work was inconsistent.

“You can only go so lean before it becomes an issue,” says a TD Wealth PIA advisor in Ontario.

As a result, the firm will be funnelling all advisor requests through a priority team that promises to speed up processing times, says Dave Kelly, senior vice president of TD Wealth Private Wealth Management: “Making sure our advisors and their teams are able to help their clients is a key priority.”

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