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This article appears in the May 2021 issue of Investment ExecutiveSubscribe to the print edition, read the digital edition or read the articles online.

Despite a challenging year, firms in Investment Executive’s (IE) Brokerage Report Card saw notable improvements in their performance, reflecting their ability to adapt and communicate effectively.

Advisors said brokerages were transparent and proactive. Bank-owned firms such as National Bank Financial Inc. (NBF) and TD Wealth Private Investment Advice (TD Wealth PIA), as well as national independent firm iA Private Wealth (formerly Industrial Alliance Securities Inc.), saw significant improvements (of 0.5 or more) in at least 15 category ratings, excluding their IE rating and Net Promoter Score. (An IE rating is the average of all of a firm’s category ratings.)

Advisors with iA Private Wealth were confident in the brokerage’s ability to provide stability and open communication despite a leadership and name change at the start of 2021. The firm was one of only three brokerages that saw a significant improvement in its IE rating, which increased to 7.4 this year from 6.8 in 2020. The firm’s “Receptiveness to advisor feedback” rating rose to 7.7 from 6.6 last year, and its “Leadership stability” rating increased to 8.1 in 2021 from 8.0 in 2020.

“I think we have the right leadership in place, which is key to moving us forward,” said an iA Private Wealth advisor in Ontario.

John Skain, chairman and CEO of iA Private Wealth, said the firm’s focus “remains on creating an environment for our entrepreneurial investment advisors.” The firm’s rebrand is part of that strategy, he said. “We really wanted to create that common brand as a platform to build from.”

TD Wealth PIA, meanwhile, has “been very supportive and transparent throughout the last year,” said an advisor in the Prairies. TD Wealth PIA’s IE rating rose to 8.2 from 7.7 a year ago, and the firm improved significantly in 16 categories, including “Receptiveness to advisor feedback,” which increased to 7.5 from 6.3 last year. Performance also increased by more than 1.0 for “Mobile technology support” (8.6, up from 7.3), “Social media support” (7.0, up from 5.9) and “Ongoing training” (8.5, up from 7.2).

“Pandemic or no pandemic, you’ve got to make sure you can pivot your engagement model with your advisors,” said Craig Meeds, head of private investment advice with TD Wealth PIA, “and make sure [you] still are listening to feedback and then acting on the feedback.”

NBF advisors also felt their voices were being heard by their firm, which received a rating of 8.9 for the advisor feedback category, up from 8.0 last year. In years past, advisors outside of Quebec expressed dissatisfaction with NBF. While some remained frustrated with their Quebec-based head office, advisors as a whole took notice of NBF’s efforts: ratings for 20 categories increased significantly in 2021.

An NBF advisor in Ontario said the firm “welcomes feedback from the field. I also love their flat corporate structure, so management is accessible and responsive.”

Denis Gauthier, senior vice-president and national manager with NBF, said the brokerage recognizes that each province’s advisors have varying needs. “We’re always communicating one culture coast to coast,” Gauthier said. “I think we’ve come a long way with that over the last few years.”

BMO Private Wealth Canada and Asia struggled in most categories this year, seeing a significant rating increase only for “Receptiveness to advisor feedback” (5.1, up from 4.4 in 2020). The firm’s IE rating was 6.6, down from 6.9 a year ago. For “Strategic focus,” the firm’s rating fell to 4.8 from 5.4. The brokerage has been trying to bring the private bank and brokerage closer together, and advisors expressed concerns with change management. They also perceived top-level action plans as lackluster.

“Bringing BMO together with the private bank was the right thing to do, but they’ve executed it poorly,” said a BMO advisor in Atlantic Canada. “Great idea, with no real plan.” That advisor acknowledged that Covid-19 has derailed some of BMO’s plans.

Following the 2020 Report Card, Andrew Auerbach, head of BMO Private Wealth, said he made a point of connecting more closely with multiple advisory councils. “The whole point of it is to make sure we’re engaging early on programs and initiatives that are going to impact [advisors],” he said.

For the receptiveness to feedback category, advisors noted that the firm is willing to take feedback, but said it doesn’t necessarily act on advisors’ suggestions. “[Management] can be nice, but they’ve already made up their mind the direction they’re going,” said an advisor in B.C.

Auerbach acknowledged the need to include advisors in business conversations going forward. “The power of advice has never been more important. Making sure our advisors are part of this journey is very important to me and their input is so critical to respond to the changing landscape,” he said.