business woman using tablet / AJ_Watt

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 way brokerage firms integrate technology has always been a contentious topic in Investment Executive’s Brokerage Report Card. Whether firms use third-party vendors, design proprietary platforms or take a mixed approach, the key is ensuring customization that helps advisors serve their clients.

If a firm’s technology is outdated, difficult to use or poorly integrated, advisors are dissatisfied, according to the 2023 Report Card. This year’s survey assessed firms’ digital suites across seven areas, three of which are new.

The two firms that struggled most were TD Wealth Private Investment Advice, which was rated 6.8 out of 10 for its technology suite, and ScotiaMcLeod Inc., rated 7.4 for its technology suite.

“They’ve rolled out Salesforce [and it’s been a] great disaster,” said an advisor with TD Wealth PIA in Ontario. The advisor described their brokerage’s version of the platform as merely a “compliance tool.” (The bank-owned brokerage was rated 6.7 for both “client relationship tools” and “general technology training & IT support,” the lowest of all firms in the Report Card for those categories.)

Other TD Wealth PIA advisors also questioned the usefulness of the version of Salesforce being offered, criticizing the way it was tailored for the firm and introduced to advisors. “When they acquire tech, they go for the lightest, cheapest version possible [and] don’t train their staff well. It’s a long, painful journey,” said a TD Wealth PIA advisor in British Columbia.

“We have customized Salesforce for our needs,” said Craig Meeds, head of investment management practices and insurance, TD Wealth. “Not all of our advisors have adopted Salesforce to [its] full extent.”

He called the vendor “an excellent partner” and explained that the brokerage continues to work on the platform.

“With complexity comes friction [and] challenges,” Meeds said, “and we don’t deny the fact that our advisors have had to bear the brunt of some of those challenges.”

Ryan McNally, senior vice-president, wealth advice distribution, TD Wealth, said that in response to those challenges, Meeds is committed to consulting advisor and manager councils, and both executives are “optimistic” about the future of the brokerage’s client relationship management software.

Advisor sentiment was similar at ScotiaMcLeod, where advisors also use Salesforce.

“I know Salesforce is awesome but we’re not able to use it to its full capacity,” said a ScotiaMcLeod advisor in Ontario. “We’re accessing 20% of what it can do for us, because of the customization. We’re not getting updates because we customized it so precisely.”

Most ScotiaMcLeod advisors were critical of their firm’s version of Salesforce, noting its inflexibility and the absence of an intuitive interface. One of the bank-owned brokerage’s advisors in Ontario called it “currently archaic,” while others used the term “clunky.” (ScotiaMcLeod was rated 7.1 for both “client relationship tools” and “general technology training & IT support” — among the lowest ratings of all firms in those areas).

“The investments we’re making in technology training, software and systems, we’re very excited about,” said Todd Barnes, managing director and head of ScotiaMcLeod. “A robust suite of items [will be] falling on advisor desktops over the course of the next six to 12 months.”

Other firms assessed in the Report Card are implementing Salesforce, including RBC Dominion Securities Inc. (rated 8.5 for its technology suite). One of that firm’s advisors in Atlantic Canada predicted the transition to Salesforce would bring the firm’s digital tools together “in a more cohesive way than before.”

David Agnew, CEO of RBC Wealth Management Canada, concurs. Adapting RBC DS’ version of the platform to make it work with the bank’s current tools and “teams of the future” has involved “extensive” investment, he said.

For the firms that performed comparatively well in the Report Card’s digital categories, significant investment has been a factor.

Most advisors with Wellington-Altus Private Wealth Inc., which was rated 9.5 for its technology suite, said the firm accommodates advisors’ tools of choice but also invests in its current infrastructure. Shaun Hauser, founder and CEO of Wellington-Altus, said projects have included digitizing the client onboarding process and building an electronic data analytics platform over the past two years, as well as partnering with vendors such as Envestnet Inc.

Salesforce, when implemented well, can earn the approval of advisors. One advisor in B.C. with CG Wealth Management (rated second-highest out of all firms for its technology suite overall, at 8.9) called CG Wealth’s configuration of the platform “the best version on the street.” The firm noted in an email that it also uses software from Envestnet and Conquest Planning Inc.

10 areas where firms could most improve

The 10 categories with the largest satisfaction gaps between their performance averages and category importance averages* included six technology suite categories (bolded).

  1. Advisor’s experience with back-office tools & services: gap of 1.4
  2. Client onboarding tools: 1.3
  3. Client relationship tools: 0.8
  4. Products & support for high-net-worth clients: 0.8
  5. General technology training & IT support: 0.7
  6. Client account statements & portals: 0.7
  7. Systems for fee-based advisors: 0.7
  8. Support for discretionary portfolio management: 0.7
  9. Financial planning support & technology**: 0.5
  10. Firm’s receptiveness to advisor feedback: 0.5

*Advisors interviewed for the Brokerage Report Card rate each category twice: first, for the performance of their firm; and second, based on how important the category is to them

**The financial planning category is included under the heading of Wealth Management Tools but also considers digital capabilities