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This article appears in the May 2022 issue of Investment Executive. Subscribe to the print edition, read the digital edition or read the articles online.

Two years into the pandemic, brokerage firms continue to face challenges in their front-and back-office operations.

As a group, financial advisors rated their firms’ “remote work & mobile technology support” 8.8, up from 8.4 a year ago (when the category only assessed mobile support).

For seven firms, their performance ratings in the category improved significantly (by 0.5 or more), while the ratings for two fell significantly. Wellington-Altus Private Wealth Inc. (9.7, down from 9.9 in 2021) and National Bank Financial Inc. (NBF; 9.5, up from 9.0) led the category.

“The tools we have available allow us to perform everything we need to do for clients without any delay or hiccups whatsoever. It’s amazing,” said a Wellington-Altus advisor. Fellow advisors praised the firm’s dedicated IT team.

“They’ve done a really good job. [Remote working] wasn’t important to me before but this year it is,” said an NBF advisor. Other NBF advisors praised features such as easy document sharing.

Remote work category ratings for BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc. (8.5), CIBC Wood Gundy (9.3) and Odlum Brown Ltd. (8.9) all rose more than one full point from a year ago.

Respondents with all three firms appreciated the improvements in their devices and phone apps. As one Nesbitt advisor in Ontario said, “They’ve pivoted since the pandemic and it’s 1,000% better.”

The two firms that lagged year over year were iA Private Wealth (6.9, down from 7.8 in 2021) and TD Wealth Private Investment Advice (8.1, down from 8.6).

While a few advisors with iA Private Wealth said the firm offers cloud-based access to its platforms and advisors’ files, most of their colleagues said each advisor can choose to use any application, including ones provided by third parties.

“There is no app that clients can use,” said an iA Private Wealth advisor in Ontario. “As we work from home, these things are becoming increasingly important.”

Mark Robinson, senior vice-president for operations with iA Private Wealth, acknowledged the firm’s shortcomings at this time but said it was making efforts to improve. “Are we continuing to enhance our offering through more automation, better tools [and] just better communication? Yes, 100%,” he said.

One of TD Wealth PIA’s advisors in Quebec described the firm’s technology setup as “clunky and slow.”

“I’m still able to do my job, but things crash,” the advisor said.

Ryan McNally, senior vice-president, TD Wealth Advice Distribution, said the transformations of the past few years put a strain on both the front and back office: “With remote working, [we’re] asking advisors to do things differently.”

McNally said TD Wealth PIA has “new technologies and new tools that we’ve introduced to provide more guidance to our professionals in the field.” The firm has also added more training to help address technological errors and delays in processing advisor requests.

TD Wealth PIA and iA also received the lowest ratings in the “back office & administrative support” category for 2022 (5.2 for TD, down from 6.7; 6.9 for iA, down from 7.1).

Their struggles were shared by many firms. The category received an average performance rating of 8.0 versus an average importance rating of 9.2 (both unchanged from 2021), resulting in a satisfaction gap of 1.2.

“[The back office is] disjointed, slow, overly complex and [there’s] lack of guidance and direction,” said an advisor in B.C. with TD Wealth PIA.

“There could be better coordination of services and timely responses, and solutions to advisor inquiries,” said an advisor with iA Private Wealth in B.C.

McNally said TD Wealth PIA is “putting a lot of effort right now into working with the leadership of our back office, to look at individual instances and ensure there’s an escalation process that is highly responsive to [an] advisor [with a client request].”

Robinson said iA Private Wealth experienced “close to 20% growth in the amount of accounts in the past two years,” and its new client onboarding system wasn’t fully operational until Q4 2021. Fixes have already been made, he said, and the firm is implementing “a full roadmap” that will include back-office improvements throughout 2022.

The top-rated firms in the back-office support category were Leede Jones Gable Inc. and Wellington-Altus (rated 9.4 and 9.1, compared with 9.3 and 9.4 a year ago).

“[Back-office staff] are very diligent and responsive,” one advisor with Leede said. “They’re proactive in alerting advisors; they’re very thorough.”