Customer Relationship Management handshake provider and customer flat illustration

Advisors keep asking for stronger support to manage client relationships, even as their firms continue investing in related technology.

Average performance ratings in the 2024 Brokerage Report Card for “client onboarding tools” and “client relationship tools” were 8.1 and 7.9 out of 10, respectively. Those results were similar to last year’s, but well below the average importance ratings from advisors for both categories in both years.

Further, the client onboarding category has remained among the three with the highest satisfaction gaps — the difference between a category’s average importance and performance rating — since it was introduced in 2021.

“There isn’t enough training and support,” said an advisor with Odlum Brown Ltd. The firm offers a “robust application that can do a lot, [but for] most advisors, it’s underutilized,” the advisor added. Odlum Brown was one of four firms that saw their client relationship tools rating change by more than half a point year over year (7.0, down from 7.7).

Other Odlum Brown advisors said the technology was “cumbersome,” “complicated,” and “not entirely seamless.”

“This firm has grown so much, [but] it’s still operating the way it was since [when I] started. It hasn’t caught up,” said another Odlum Brown advisor.

“Investments are being made with [advisors’] input more than ever before,” said Debra Doucette, president and CEO of Odlum Brown, referring to the firm’s set of tools. “They’ve been actively included in the decision of why and who.”

Odlum Brown uses client onboarding tools from Broadridge Financial Solutions Inc. and has offered the enterprise version of Salesforce for many years. The firm works with its providers to make improvements, Doucette said, and advisors have been involved in choosing and testing new tools.

She added that the firm encourages peer-to-peer learning led by advisors who “have really embraced Salesforce and [found] it has really helped their business.”

Another firm that received criticism in this area was BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc. Its rating for client relationship tools dipped to 6.5 from 7.1 in 2023.

Several Nesbitt Burns advisors used the word “cheap” to describe their version of Salesforce.

“Between January and April, we upgraded to the best-in-class version of Salesforce,” the bank said in an emailed statement (advisors were surveyed between January and February). The statement added that advisors and their teams were involved in the platform’s design and training setup.

Nesbitt Burns did receive praise for its onboarding tools. One advisor in Alberta said, “I actually think [onboarding is] really good. Used to be terrible [but] now we have the myWealth system and it’s all done online.” The bank’s statement said upgrades continue here as well.

Another firm that saw year-over-year rating decreases was Richardson Wealth Ltd., due in part to the universal struggle of adapting to new technology. The firm’s client relationship tools rating dropped to 7.9 from last year’s rating of 8.5, while its onboarding rating dropped to 8.0 from 8.3.

Richardson Wealth introduced the Fidelity Clearing Canada platform in 2023. An advisor with the firm in Atlantic Canada said there were “some challenges” in adopting the platform, but acknowledged that “over time, it’s going to be a good solution and an improvement on what we had.”

“As we’ve embarked to improve our systems, there’s a strong learning curve,” said a Richardson Wealth advisor in Alberta, who added that their training could have been more robust.

Richardson Wealth advisors have access to resources from Fidelity and from Richardson, said Jan Sampson, director of operations, in an email: “People can self-select what tools and training are the best fit for them.”

Sampson said Richardson Wealth offers support by phone and email, through training sessions, and via bi-weekly updates on training and platform changes.

CIBC Wood Gundy was the only firm with significant year-over-year improvement in its ratings for client-related technology. Advisors gave the firm 7.8 for onboarding tools, up from 7.0 in 2023, and 8.4 for relationship tools, up from 7.6.

“They are acknowledging that [the technology] is very important. They are [putting] more time and money into it,” said a Wood Gundy advisor in Quebec.

But advisors said onboarding and tech support could improve. In a statement, Wood Gundy said it offers in-person and online assistance, as well as a “fulsome branch escalation guide, organized by topic, that identifies up to four contacts for each [topic].”

At all brokerages, more efficient client service remains a top priority. As one Richardson Wealth advisor in Ontario put it: “There’s always room for improvement. Things can always happen faster.”

10 categories rated most important by advisors

  1. Freedom to make product choices; rated 9.8 out of 10*
  2. Quality of firm’s product shelf; 9.3
  3. Leadership team; 9.3
  4. Compensation structure; 9.3
  5. Client onboarding tools; 9.3
  6. Support for discretionary portfolio management; 9.2
  7. Systems for fee-based advisors; 9.1
  8. Advisor’s experience with back-office tools & services; 9.1
  9. Financial planning support & technology; 9.1
  10. Firm’s receptiveness to advisor feedback; 9.0

*Advisors interviewed for the Brokerage Report Card rate each category first for the performance of their firm, and then based on how important the category is to their business.

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