client onboarding
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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.

Some firms are trying to rejuvenate the client onboarding process after the pandemic showed the age of their traditional onboarding systems.

The “Client onboarding tools” category was added to Investment Executive’s 2021 Brokerage Report Card to reflect the industry’s move toward onboarding new accounts electronically and serving clients more efficiently. Many advisors surveyed this year noted that their firms have made investments in this area, but there is still work to be done.

The client onboarding category had the second-highest satisfaction gap (the amount by which a category’s importance rating exceeds its performance rating) of 1.2 in this year’s Report Card.

Firms’ ratings varied widely, with Wellington-Altus Private Wealth Inc. (9.9) leading the pack, followed by Edward Jones (8.8) and RBC Dominion Securities Inc. (RBC DS; 8.7). The bottom three firms were CIBC Wood Gundy (6.2), BMO Private Wealth Canada and Asia (6.6) and iA Private Wealth (formerly Industrial Alliance Securities Inc.; 6.7).

The linchpin for advisors in this year’s survey seemed to be e-signature technology. Advisors who were satisfied said their firms already offered e-signatures prior to the 2020 lockdowns, or that they implemented e-signature capabilities quickly during the pandemic.

Wellington-Altus advisors said the firm had already embraced digital client onboarding prior to Covid-19. “We’re digital first; we have been since before the pandemic,” said an advisor in Ontario. Wellington-Altus co-founder and president Shaun Hauser said investments into remote-working capabilities began with the firm’s inception in 2017 as a way to support advisors and clients in any environment.

An Edward Jones advisor in B.C., meanwhile, said there’s been a “tremendous shift” to new technology at the firm. Yet, despite the introduction of new tools such as DocuSign, some advisors wanted the firm to provide better training.

“It was quick on the draw, late on the training for older clients [and] older advisors,” said an Edward Jones advisor in the Prairies. “It’s one thing to roll out the technology, but to not roll out training is not a good thing.”

David Gunn, president of Edward Jones, said the firm has boosted its e-delivery rate to clients to 50% (from 20%–30% before the pandemic) and made enhancements to allow for secure digital interactions with clients. But he acknowledged there’s room for improvement: “There’s still lots of work to do to make it more seamless.”

RBC DS also made significant tech changes in the past year. Several advisors said the onboarding process isn’t entirely seamless and still requires a lot of documents, but one RBC DS advisor in Ontario appreciated the upgrade from the “basic tools” the firm offered previously. Client onboarding has improved “significantly,” said another RBC DS advisor in Ontario. “We’re not doing paper at all. Covid has made vast improvements in what we do.”

David Agnew, CEO of RBC Wealth Management Canada, said the firm is “spending more and more on technology for the benefit of our clients, and it’s really based on efficiency.”

The vast majority of advisors with Wood Gundy said they lacked e-signatures and that the difficulty in onboarding new clients was detrimental to their business. “We’re growing here and [onboarding] is the first thing the client does with us. It’s so clunky and it takes forever — especially without digital signatures,” said a Wood Gundy advisor in the Prairies.

Ed Dodig, managing director and head of CIBC Private Wealth, said Wood Gundy has been focused on improving several areas, including offering training on data security. “We’re investing significantly in enhancing our digital onboarding across all forms,” he said. “That’s going to be happening over the next number of quarters.”

Some advisors at BMO said they experienced difficulty adapting to a new client onboarding process in the midst of a pandemic. “[The] technology isn’t integrated well — everyone has been scrambling,” said a BMO advisor in Quebec. But several respondents offered kudos to the brokerage for making progress.

Advisors at iA had a similar experience with onboarding during the pandemic. Several noted that there have been some improvements, but they continued to experience glitches with their onboarding tools. “The new package is a learning curve, but they’re trying to catch up,” said an iA advisor in Ontario. “It wasn’t a smooth transition.”

Mary Helen Morra, vice-president of advisor and client experience with iA Private Wealth, said online onboarding has been “critically important” as in-person interactions between advisors and clients have been limited. She added that “a tremendous amount of training happened” to bring advisors up to speed on the new tools.