advisor working from home

This article appears in the May 2020 issue of Investment Executive. Subscribe to the print edition, read the digital edition or read the articles online.

In the midst of plummeting markets, financial advisors are looking for reassurance that they’ll have sufficient digital access at all times. Even prior to the Covid-19 crisis, advisors participating in Investment Executive’s (IE) 2020 Brokerage Report Card indicated that “support for mobile technology and the mobile advisor” is increasingly important.

The importance average for the mobile advisor category rose to 8.7 from 8.1 a year ago, hitting a five-year high. The performance average for the category rose 0.3 year-over-year to 8.2, suggesting that firms have been investing in the area. But the satisfaction gap (the amount by which the importance of a category exceeds its performance) grew to 0.5.

While the performance ratings in this category for four firms jumped significantly (by 0.5 or more), other firms did not seem to be meeting the needs of advisors looking to work remotely. Winnipeg-based Wellington-Altus Private Wealth Inc., which joined the Report Card this year, had the highest rating in the mobile advisor category, with a 9.8.

“[The support is] really, really great, even on [the] phone. I’ve never had mobile support before,” says one advisor, while others say they have laptops, a “supportive” IT team and 24/7 contact.

“Everything is cloud-based for us,” says Shaun Hauser, founder and president of Wellington-Altus. “We’ve extended [our technology infrastructure] by building a really robust, interactive, mobile-based intranet that our whole company uses every day.”

Advisors at Calgary-based Leede Jones Gable Inc. also rated their firm highly for mobile support. That category rating rose to 9.6, up by 0.7 from 2019.

“Everyone is now [able] to do things on iPads, which is amazing when you have to travel,” says one Leede Jones advisor. Says another from the same firm: “I could trade on a beach.”

When asked about advisors’ remote working tools, Leede president Bob Harrison said in early March, “We upgraded our remote environment and we’ve gone to the cloud. When you get something like the coronavirus, who knows; maybe everybody will have to be on [the remote network].”

Montreal-based National Bank Financial Inc. (NBF) also performed well in the mobile advisor category, with a rating of 8.6 — 0.8 higher than in 2019.

“Out-of-office technology is very good and helpful to my business,” says an NBF advisor in the Prairies.

Still, an NBF advisor in Atlantic Canada says the technology could improve: “[It] needs to be a little more intuitive and user-friendly.”

Steve Galimi, senior vice president, branch administration, at NBF, says, “Investing into bandwidth [has made us] a lot stronger. We want [advisors] in the office, but they could work all the time outside of the office.” In the past, he notes, work-from-home capacity was more limited and “things would be slow [with] a chance of crashing.”

Advisors with Toronto-based CIBC Wood Gundy, however, mentioned technological issues. They rated their mobile technology 7.0, down from 7.2 a year ago.

“What they have is lean. It’s also cumbersome and difficult to use,” says a Wood Gundy advisor in Ontario. Says a Wood Gundy advisor in Quebec: “I find the remote access interface slow and very dated.”

The bank-owned brokerage is trying to improve. Ed Dodig, managing director and head, CIBC Private Wealth Management and Wood Gundy, says in a statement emailed to IE that “various technology improvements and investments [are] underway to support our advisors. They use Citrix/Virtual Private Network, giving them access to their desktop, trading applications and portfolio management systems.”

Rounding out the bottom in the mobile advisor category were Quebec City-based Industrial Alliance Securities Inc. and Toronto-based BMO Private Wealth Canada and Asia, though advisors at Industrial Alliance rated their mobile technology higher this year, at 6.3 vs 5.9 in 2019.

Conversely, BMO advisors rated the mobile category more than a full point lower than a year ago, at 6.4. BMO told IE in an emailed statement that the bank “invests significant resources” in tools such as virtual private networks, devices and mobile applications.

Some BMO advisors were particularly harsh. “I use my iPad as a paperweight. Honest to God, it’s useless,” says one in Ontario.

“[Planning tool] MyWealth is glitchy and it’s embarrassing when it happens in front of clients. It freezes on the tablet,” says another BMO advisor in Ontario.

Says Stephane Gervais, head of operations and technology at BMO Private Wealth: “We conduct regular updates. To prevent connectivity issues, advisors must also ensure these updates are synchronized with their devices.”