Investment advisors surveyed for Investment Executive‘s 2018 Brokerage Report Card have become more and more dissatisfied with their firms’ “online account access for clients” because of issues that make these web portals difficult to use.

In particular, advisors with five of the 12 firms in the survey rated their brokerage firm lower by half a point or more in the category compared with last year because of login issues, lack of user intuitiveness and inconsistent information.

A combination of these factors has prompted advisors with two Toronto-based bank-owned brokerages, ScotiaMcLeod Inc. and BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc., to give their firms not only lower ratings in the category year-over-year – but the lowest ratings for clients’ online account access among all the firms in this year’s Report Card.

Specifically, ScotiaMcLeod advisors gave their firm a rating of 6.9 in the category, down significantly from 7.5 last year and 8.0 in 2016, because of concerns the advisors have with the ScotiaMcLeod Online web portal. Notably, they said their firm’s client-facing portal is not easy to use and doesn’t provide the information that advisors believe to be important to their clients, such as overall rate of return.

“[ScotiaMcLeod Online] seems pretty cumbersome to get into for clients who want to see their accounts,” says a ScotiaMcLeod advisor in Ontario.

“[The portal] doesn’t show long-term rates of return. Rather, it shows rates of return of individual securities,” adds a colleague in Alberta. “Clients have no idea how their portfolios are doing.”

However, the biggest source of ScotiaMcLeod advisors’ dissatisfaction with ScotiaMcLeod Online relates to a change in the firm’s terms and conditions, which appears when clients sign up to access the portal in order to view their accounts online.

“[The firm] wrecked [the portal] by changing the terms of use. Now, when clients want to go online, they have to go paperless to save the firm money,” says a ScotiaMcLeod advisor in Alberta. “But that means they can’t get their tax receipts [in the mail anymore].”

This change affects clients who get their account statements and other forms by mail and caused a lot of confusion among those clients, adds a colleague in Atlantic Canada.

However, Rob Djurfeldt, managing director and head of ScotiaMcLeod, says that clients still have the option to change their settings on the portal if paper statements are preferred. In addition, clients can access everything they would normally get in paper through ScotiaMcLeod Online.

“We want to keep giving [clients] the option of [receiving] paper,” he says, “but we had more than 90% of our clients select to go paperless.”

Nesbitt advisors gave their firm the second-lowest rating in the category, at 7.5, down from 8.3 in 2017 – the largest year-over-year decline in the category in this year’s Report Card.

Although there were many Nesbitt advisors who praised the changes made to the firm’s Gateway online client information centre over the past year, many other advisors cited issues with the information available on the platform, as well as with a glitchy, confusing system for which clients usually have to call their advisors to get help.

“Clients are on there daily, but the system seems to crash a lot [and] passwords have to be reset constantly,” says a Nesbitt advisor in British Columbia. “There also are inconsistencies between what clients see online and on their statements.”

Adds a colleague in Ontario: “We’ve been having issues more recently with clients logging in – either difficulty logging in or being booted off the system – and this is becoming a [source of dissatisfaction] for clients.”

Nesbitt, for its part, will continue to make investments and improvements to the Gateway platform, says Andrew Auerbach, executive vice president and head of the private client division with Nesbitt: “We are continuing to improve the online platform for our clients. I actually just met with some of the leaders in that area and we’re going to continue to make great strides that our clients are going to be very pleased with.”

Meanwhile, advisors with Toronto-based Richardson GMP Ltd., Mississauga, Ont.-based Edward Jones and Calgary-based Leede Jones Gable Inc. rated their firms’ online account access for clients lower by half a point or more because of outdated platforms.

Although many advisors with these independent brokerage firms are optimistic that the full system upgrades that have been promised for some time will improve the situation, some advisors are disillusioned because the upgrades are taking so long.

“We’re going through a full update in client statements and online access, which has been an issue, but they’re fixing it by the fall,” says a Richardson GMP advisor in Alberta. “[Online access] is something [the IT department] doesn’t need to work on because [there is] a robust update that’s coming.”

Says an Edward Jones advisor in Ontario: “The website is very antiquated, very out of date and it looks like it was built in the 1990s. It’s supposed to get a big overhaul this year, so I’m waiting. This was supposed to happen last year, but it got pushed to this year.”

A Leede advisor in Alberta adds: “[Our online client portal] is antiquated and hard to get around. It’s going to get changed, but we’ve been hearing that for two years now.”

Advisors with Toronto-based Raymond James Ltd., another independent brokerage, also rated their firm lower in the category vs last year, at 8.6 vs 9.0. However, most advisors report ed that they have had no complaints from clients and find online accessibility more and more important these days.

“The way clients interact with the firm in this area is great,” says a Raymond James advisor in Ontario. “There are few aspects that are very tangible in this service, so you need to have that well thought out.”

A colleague in B.C. adds: “I’m told clients love [the online portal]. I’ve never actually looked at it, but we’ve had no complaints – especially when clients decide to not open their [paper] statements; they can go online.”