communication / BRO Vector

Less than six months have passed since brokerage and dealer firms received their 2021 Investment Executive (IE) research results. Yet, despite a tenacious pandemic, some companies that participated in the Report Cards are already improving advisor support.

Bank-owned brokerage TD Wealth Private Investment Advice, which had a relatively middling IE rating (the average of all of a company’s category ratings) of 8.2 for 2021, is one such firm. It was one of only three companies in the Brokerage Report Card (BRC) to see that rating rise significantly (by half a point or more) compared with 2020.

TD Wealth PIA wants to build on momentum by addressing weak areas.

The “Back office & administrative support” category was the firm’s lowest-rated area for 2021, at 6.7, unchanged from 2020. Craig Meeds, head of private investment advice with TD Wealth PIA, said, “We really did double down [regarding] our back-office model. We brought our top advisors to the table so they could help us prioritize what we need to work on.”

For example, Meeds said, “Transferring [a client’s] securities in, seamlessly and quickly, is really important; it’s the first interaction that we have.” Advisors have indicated the process needs work, he added.

TD Wealth PIA received praise for its advisor communication efforts in the 2021 Report Card results, but the firm isn’t relaxing its efforts. By working with advisors, branch managers and advisor support staff who are part of dedicated councils, the firm now hears from more people than just its top advisors, Meeds said. The brokerage plans to invest more in portfolio management, and tax and estate planning tools, he added.

For iA Private Wealth, the lowest-rated firm by IE rating in this year’s BRC (7.4), the 2021 results presented a growth opportunity. This firm was also one of the three BRC firms to see significant year-over-year improvement in its IE rating (which rose from 6.8 in 2020).

Stéphan Bourbonnais, who became president of iA Private Wealth in February, said the progress “was great to see, even though our ratings still have room to improve.”

The 2021 results were based on surveys completed prior to Bourbonnais’ appointment, so he partially credited the firm’s official merging of the iA Securities and HollisWealth platforms in mid-January.

Bourbonnais also reflected on his decision to simplify the firm’s strategy and help the advisor groups come together — a move he hopes will lift its 2022 BRC results. Rather than add to the firm’s strategic plan, Bourbonnais said, “I took away some projects. I wanted to make it easy for [advisor] teams to see where we’re going.”

The firm is boosting client onboarding tools and the advisor/client portal, and is working on its future office model. Mary Helen Morra, vice-president of advisor and client experience with iA Private Wealth, said one reason is 70%–80% of iA Private Wealth’s advisor workforce wants to work remotely, based on recent surveys by the firm.

While Bourbonnais values in-person collaboration highly, he said, “We need to tackle our systems and technology. We’re looking at probably doubling our IT budget.”

Dealers’ Report Card (DRC) firms also are focused on evolving technology. Yet other notable findings from the 2021 DRC results relate more to areas such as advisor succession planning.

For example, Peak Financial Group — which had the second-highest IE rating (8.9) in the DRC this year — said continuing to invest in its advisor succession program will be key. After receiving non-calculable results in the “Succession program” category in 2019, said Robert Frances, founder and CEO of Peak Financial Group, “We launched an internal succession and financing program for advisors. A lot of [them] were asking about this.”

The 2021 results have also prompted fresh one-on-one advisor conversations, Frances said. These have led to “a lot of work on the front office and the tools advisors use,” he added, also noting that the firm has created more communication teams that work closely with advisors.

On the opposite end of the DRC results spectrum, similar themes are getting attention.

Trish Nielsen, head of partnerships and business development with Worldsource Wealth Management — the dealer with the second-lowest IE rating (7.8) in the DRC this year — noted the firm has suffered in recent years from a strategic point of view due to several back-office conversions that have taken up a lot of management’s focus.

“Where we were surprised [for 2021] was there are areas where the firm is strong but where we’re rated poorly or not at all,” Nielsen said, referring to the succession and “Business development support” categories. (The first had non-calculable results and the second was tagged as not applicable.)

Since the Report Card came out, Nielsen said, the dealer has bumped up its communications with advisors. It has offered education about the firm’s succession program, which includes training and a website that helps advisors find potential successors. And Worldsource has improved its business-building support; the firm has developed a new practice management module for advisors.

Other new areas of investment include financial planning tools, which would be a paid add-on to the firm’s basic back-office support, and further digital innovation will come.

“It’s important for advisors to know that our digital roadmap is solid and comprehensive, and it’s being executed now,” Nielsen said.