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This article appears in the Mid-October issue of Investment Executive. Subscribe to the print edition, read the digital edition or read the articles online.

Financial services firms are generally coming up short in meeting advisors’ technology expectations, according to the 2023 Advisors’ Report Card.

The collective performance average for the technology suite was 7.9, but the collective importance average was 8.9. This satisfaction gap of 1.0 indicates that firms are struggling to meet advisors’ needs. (The technology suite is comprised of seven categories, three of which are new this year.)

The brokerage channel rated their tech suite 8.2 for performance, with some advisors praising their firms’ consistent updating of digital tools.

“The technology is powerful,” said a brokerage advisor in Quebec about their client onboarding tools. Those tools are routinely “getting fixes and patches,” to ensure systems remain efficient and advisors are productive, the advisor added. “It’s a game changer for sure.”

A brokerage advisor in Ontario said they and their associate, who handles the lion’s share of onboarding processes, were “absolutely thrilled with how [our firm has] utilized DocuSign and all the digital tools.” They also lauded “massive improvement” across general client relationship tools amid the introduction of platforms such as Salesforce over legacy systems.

The technology category rated highest within the brokerage segment was “support for remote work,” at 9.2.

Firms in the brokerage space were described as flexible and empathetic throughout the pandemic: “There was no ‘OK, hang in there.’ It was just, ‘Go and work from home,’” said a brokerage advisor in Alberta.

Other brokerage advisors said a persistent hurdle for their firms was determining how much and what type of remote-work support was required, as advisors and clients return to offices with varying consistency.

For example, said a brokerage advisor in Quebec, “I’m one who has invested a lot at home [so that I] have more elaborate tools.” Still, this advisor added, their firm had to make “a giant leap in that area as well” to help advisors who hadn’t taken such measures.

Advisors in the dealer space offered mixed reviews of their overall technology experience, rating their technology suite 7.8. Some had concerns about how well new digital tools connect to existing systems, while others simply praised their dealers for offering tools while also allowing independence.

A dealer advisor in Ontario praised their client onboarding and relationship tools, citing regular system updates and a “strong digital experience” for incoming clients.

Friction occurred when firms poorly integrated third-party tools or platforms into existing systems.

“There are multiple data entry [points] with our current systems,” said another dealer advisor in Ontario. Different processes are siloed, this advisor added, but they’re hopeful that incoming system updates will streamline account opening.

Dissatisfaction also came down to advisors’ willingness to adapt. “We can do everything electronically; it’s amazing,” said a third dealer advisor in Ontario. “The younger advisors like it, [but] the older ones all hate it.”

As in the brokerage channel, dealer firms excelled the most in offering remote-work support. The dealer group rated that category the highest among all seven, at 8.6. Many respondents said their firms tried to balance advisors’ preferences with their own strategic goals.

“I’m able to work wherever and whenever I want to. I do all my business at my office,” said a dealer advisor in Alberta.

Advisors with the retail branches of the Big Six banks rated their technology suite the same as the dealer channel did: 7.8. However, the difference between the bank channel’s performance and importance averages for the technology suite exceeded a full point, representing the largest tech-suite satisfaction gap of the three channels.

Many advisors said the banks find it difficult to keep up with digital change.

“[Our technology] could be improved in terms of opening accounts and fee-based transactions,” said a retail bank advisor in Ontario.

“We’ve come a long way from when I joined [my bank], but a lot of stuff we do could be more streamlined,” said another retail bank advisor in Ontario about the client onboarding process.

Client relationship tools still have “quirks” and “bugs,” said a retail bank advisor in Alberta. On a positive note, the same advisor added, “When I first started it was confusing, but now it’s not too bad.”

Overall, advisors seemed to understand the challenges in implementing new technology. Still, technology performance remains paramount for staying competitive.

“[My firm is] taking the right steps, but our software needs to be [better] implemented,” said a brokerage advisor in Ontario. Offering automation and tools that help ease client interactions, they added, is essential for competing with “the Wealthsimples of the world.”