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This article appears in the June 2023 issue of Investment Executive. Subscribe to the print edition, read the digital edition or read the articles online.

The three firms rated highest for “financial planning support & technology” in this year’s Brokerage Report Card all made significant investments in planning software and hired more planning experts within the past few years.

Wellington-Altus Private Wealth Inc., RBC Dominion Securities Inc. (RBC DS) and Richardson Wealth Ltd. received top marks from their advisors in that category. Wellington-Altus was rated 9.7 (up from 9.3 in 2022), while RBC DS and Richardson Wealth tied for second-highest, at 9.3 (down from 9.7 for the former and unchanged for the latter).

Financial advisors with Wellington-Altus lauded the firm’s advanced wealth planning group as well as its adoption of Conquest Planning Inc.’s software this past fall. These resources allow for “client-friendly plans,” said one of the firm’s advisors, noting, “I’ve been wanting [Conquest] for years and it’s finally tested and ready.”

An RBC DS advisor in Ontario said, “We’ve got the resources and the back-office support as well as the proper teams. It’s fantastic.”

David Agnew, CEO of RBC Wealth Management Canada, said there are 11 planning professionals for every RBC DS advisor when counting the bank’s family office services group, which helps with complex financial plans.

Further, the bank’s Wealth Management Canada division (of which RBC DS is a part) spent $200 million on technology in 2022. “We keep on enhancing MyGPS and it gets more sophisticated every year,” he said. (In April, following the Report Card research period, Royal Bank of Canada announced a partnership with Conquest Planning. The bank said in an email that it’s figuring out how to use the software in its wealth management division, among others.)

An advisor in Ontario with Richardson Wealth, which first launched a new financial planning tool called My NextGen Plan in May 2020, said, “The new support and tools are excellent.”

Richardson Wealth consulted with advisors across the country before choosing Voyant, the software underlying the new tool, said Sarah Widmeyer, senior vice-president, wealth strategies with Richardson Wealth.

Adoption of the tool is ongoing, and Widmeyer said the firm created more than double the number of financial plans in 2022 that it had projected creating.

Richardson Wealth also increased its tax and estate planning team to 23 members, including recently hired insurance specialists, up from 16 a year ago, she said.

Among the 14 firms assessed in this year’s Brokerage Report Card, the financial planning support category’s average performance rating remained unchanged from a year ago, at 8.9 out of 10. The category was again one of the 10 best-performing areas in the research.

That’s a welcome result, as financial planning support remained a key service: the category received an importance rating of 9.4, up from 8.9 in 2022.

But advisors with some firms reported their financial planning support wasn’t up to snuff.

“Financial [planning] services are very good and very helpful, but they’re overwhelmed,” said an advisor with Odlum Brown Ltd., which was rated lowest out of all firms at 8.2 in the category, down from 8.4 a year ago. “I don’t know if it’s because the system is old, but it could take five to six weeks to get a plan going. There’s a massive issue in productivity.”

The firm is building out its planning resources, said Kim Abbott, vice-president and director of sales and business development with Odlum Brown. “At the heart of it, we probably had capacity issues as far as the ability to keep up with the demand,” she said, noting that the firm has since hired more experts in areas such as tax planning.

Advisors with Raymond James Ltd., meanwhile, rated their brokerage second-lowest out of all firms this year for financial planning support (8.3, up from 7.9 in 2022). The advisors raised concerns about the capacity of financial planning support staff.

“[Financial planning support] needs improvement. I think we’re understaffed [and] the turnaround time is a little slow,” said a Raymond James advisor in British Columbia. This advisor added, however, that the tools and experts available were “robust” and “high-quality,” even when it came to traditionally tough areas such as cross-border planning.

Other Raymond James advisors requested software upgrades and better use of artificial intelligence, with the goal of making planning tools “easier for us to use and less expensive,” as one of that firm’s advisors in Alberta said.

Sybil Verch, executive vice-president and head of private client solutions with Raymond James, said the firm offers three options for financial planning software and that the firm is reviewing those options. “We have made great strides this year in revising our processes to improve efficiency, expand capacity and greatly reduce turnaround time,” she said. She noted that the firm also is rolling out a national planning, insurance, tax and trust team for high-net-worth investors.

Plans at Raymond James are generally delivered within 10 days of receiving all relevant information from advisors and clients, Verch added.

Results across all firms show that without continuous investment in holistic planning services, firms are at risk. As one advisor with Wellington-Altus said, the offer of quality financial planning tools can be “one of the biggest reasons” advisors choose their firms, with the central questions for all investment professionals being, “Are you getting clients to where they want to be in their life?”

Nearly all advisors interviewed for the 2023 Brokerage Report Card (91.0%) said they do financial planning for clients. Those advisors indicated that 66.3% of their clients have financial plans, up from 63.9% in 2022.