remote work setup

For almost two decades, prem Malik, a financial advisor with Queensbury Securities Inc., worked out of the company’s head office in downtown Toronto. But since March, Malik has toiled within the four walls of his house — joking that he feels the way “animals feel when you take them from the forest and put them in a zoo.”

While Malik appreciates the flexibility and productivity inherent to working from home, “to be forced to do it brings new perspective to working,” he says. “I prefer to be among people; I can learn so much from interacting with them.”

Unlike Malik, however, some advisors prefer to maintain the work/life balance they enjoy by working permanently from home once the pandemic restrictions are lifted.

According to a study released in June by the Vancouver-based Angus Reid Institute, only one-third of people working remotely expect to resume working from their corporate workplace as consistently as they did pre-pandemic. Among those working from home, only 36% said they are likely to go back to their place of work when Covid-19 concerns subside.

Firms are seeking to accommodate the chosen work lifestyle of advisors, which will in turn influence future recruitment strategies.

Queensbury Securities has 70 securities and mutual fund advisors, and president John Webster is openly courting advisors who would like to make working from home “a permanent change,” he says. In a July LinkedIn post, he touted the benefits, such as “no commute, more family time and [saving] money on your taxes.”

Webster says he is ambivalent about whether advisors work from home or the office: “Whatever suits them, their lifestyle or their book of business. Pandemic or not, advisors can choose to work from home.”

Webster contends that advisors working from home have relatively lower overhead costs and can therefore make more money than if they worked out of the firm’s corporate office.

Charlie Spiring, chair, co-founder and senior investment advisor with Wellington-Altus Private Wealth Inc. in Winnipeg, says current conditions have provided a “massive recruitment advantage.” He says advisors, particularly from the big banks, have told him they find working from home very attractive. Wellington-Altus has been actively recruiting, adding seven new advisors and $2.3 billion in assets under management since March.

“Covid has changed things a bit to our advantage,” Spiring says, adding that “technology has put us in the driver’s seat” for advisors who are fed up with their firm’s or bank’s technology. (See story on page 10.)

Spiring says his firm, which employs 250 people, offers two workplace models: a corporate model, in which staff work out of the company’s head or a satellite office, and a home-based workplace model. Advisors using the latter model receive an additional 10% payout as a result of real estate savings derived from not having to maintain office space.

Konrad Kopacz, partner and portfolio manager at Toronto-based Echelon Wealth Partners Inc. in Oakville, Ont., says his firm also has a “flexible and accommodating” strategy.

“Our view is that the future should not be constrained by the pre-Covid past, and that we should worry less about where someone is physically working and more about the quality of support and enablement that we provide them with to succeed,” says Kopacz, whose firm has 145 advisors across the country.

Both Kopacz and Webster are recruiting advisors who want to give up going to a company office.

“A lot of advisors, especially on the [securities] front, don’t realize that an alternative exists,” Webster says. “I absolutely expect [the remote work] trend to continue post-pandemic.”

While a substantial cross-section of advi-sors now prefer to work from home, Webster says those with young families are more inclined to choose that option. “They absolutely love the opportunity to take their kids to soccer games, piano lessons and other events” in between working sessions, he says.

Spiring sees the same trend among those who would like to maintain a work/life balance. He especially applauds “young moms who can multitask while working from home” and still successfully run their books of business.

Kopacz also acknowledges that “caregiving and childcare are complicated matters for many families. As any professional will tell you, working from home is not a substitute for caregiving and childcare.” However, “not being expected to conform to the norm of commuting every day can certainly reduce some of that complexity and load for these families,” he adds.

Working from home also means that advisors must make allowances for compliance visits. Compliance officers and supervisors, Webster says, must periodically travel to home offices.

For example, Webster says, an audit by the Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada can last up to five days and remote-working advisors must open up their homes for the audit.

“This doesn’t always go down well,” Webster says. “One advisor’s wife hit the roof when she found out that she had to accommodate auditors.”

Malik says he would also prefer an audit to be conducted within the office. For this reason, he still pays a desk fee, even though he currently works from home.

Firms seeking to recruit advisors to work from home must account for compliance, technology, regulatory and security challenges.

Spiring says Wellington-Altus advisors can conduct virtual due diligence and use e-signatures to complete applications.

Webster says Queensbury, which does not use a branch model, provides tech support for setting up home infrastructure, including connections to back-office and service providers. The firm also recommends specialized software and data feeds that advisors may require.

Kopacz admits that “our journey through this pandemic has put our business continuity plans and technology infrastructure to the test, and stretched many of our people’s home setups. [However], increasing use of digital signatures, paperless processes and videoconferencing has allowed us to continue to be effective.”