A question of connection

Financial advisors in the dealer space appreciate freedom and independence. Yet, as the Dealers’ Report Card reveals, the quality of tools and back-office support, and how well firms communicate, still heavily influence advisor satisfaction.

The two firms with the highest IE ratings (an IE rating is the average of all a firm’s category ratings) in this year’s Report Card were Mississauga, Ont.-based Carte Wealth Management Inc. and Windsor, Ont.-based Sterling Mutuals Inc. They were also the top two firms in the categories of “firm’s support for advisors operating within a fee-based model” (at 8.4 and 8.9, respectively) and “technology tools and advisor desktop” (at 8.9 and 8.8, respectively). Further, Carte Wealth ranked first in the “firm’s effectiveness in keeping advisors informed” category (at 9.0), with Sterling Mutuals coming fourth (at 8.3 vs 7.5 in 2018, and exceeding the 2019 performance average of 7.9).

Conversely, firms with many categories that dropped significantly year-over-year (by half a point or more) generally fared poorly in those three categories. Lévis, Que.-based Desjardins Financial Security Independent Network (DFSIN) dropped significantly in 15 categories this year, the most of any firm. DSFIN had the lowest IE rating, and ranked last in “firm’s support for advisors operating within a fee-based model” (at 6.1, down from 7.2 in 2018) and “firm’s effectiveness in keeping advisors informed” (at 6.8, down from 7.4 in 2018).

Winnipeg-based Investors Group Inc. declined significantly in 11 categories, the second-most of all firms, and tied two firms for the second-lowest IE rating of 7.6. The dealer ranked second-last in “firm’s support for advisors operating within a fee-based model” and “technology tools and advisor desktop” (rated 6.9 and 6.4, respectively, with both down significantly year-over-year). Investors Group also ranked third-last in “firm’s effectiveness in keeping advisors informed,” with a rating of 7.5, down from 8.0 in 2018.

The firm with this year’s highest IE and overall ratings, Carte Wealth, received plenty of praise for its technology. Referring to the firm’s whole online system as “very robust,” one advisor says, “The CRM system [Kronos] is excellent. You can send out letters and articles to clients; [there’s] online training.”

Says another Carte Wealth advisor, “[They’re] easy to use. [I’ve] never had any problems with the systems.”

“A lot of the services, we have on-site,” says Kirk Purai, president of Carte Wealth. “We have online calculators [and] basic financial planning software that we provide to the advisors. We have a marketing platform that they can use to send the content to their clients.”

Carte Wealth advisors were also pleased with how the firm kept them informed. “They do very well,” says one advisor. “If I have any questions or problems, they answer or solve it on the spot.”

Another Carte Wealth advisor appreciated the email the firm sends to advisors every Sunday, giving a recap of what happened during the week and sharing plans for the following week. “The whole process is very smooth,” the advisor says. “Whenever there’s something that needs to get done, it gets done.”

Purai says Carte Wealth also records a monthly podcast to keep advisors informed. “Every month, we pick a topic and then we have a professional voice-over do the podcast.”

At Sterling Mutuals, advisors were also positive on the firm’s technology tools and advisor desktop. “That’s where they thrive. They are pretty good with that,” says one Sterling Mutuals advisor. Another went so far as to say they would give Sterling a 12 out of 10 for technology if they could. “They are very good; everything is very accessible and very easy to use, and they are always looking for situations where we can touch base with clients online,” the advisor adds.

When it comes to being informed, some Sterling advisors said they receive “a lot of emails” from the firm. “We get a newsletter every so often. We get updates from head office and tech support,” says an advisor. “I am always okay with getting more information than less.”

Advisors at the lower-rated firms expressed different sentiments. A DFSIN advisor in Ontario referred to the firm’s technology and websites as “outdated,” adding that access to the firm’s portfolio websites was “behind.” One advisor in the Prairies says DFSIN “could do more for us to be going paperless.” An Atlantic Canada advisor was more positive, saying DFSIN has done “really well” with its client management system, but that the insurance side is “clunky.”

The term “outdated” was also used to describe tech resources at Investors Group. “We’re in the Dark Ages,” says an Ontario advisor, in reference to Investors Group’s three-part paper application processes.

However, as another Investors Group advisor in Ontario notes, “They’re revamping everything. There wasn’t a lot of investment in the past. [The] CEO has the right mindset, but it requires a lot of investment.”

As for keeping advisors informed, DFSIN advisors noted they are kept informed mostly through email, but that there is a “big gap in the communication of the strategy and vision” of the firm, in the words of a Quebec advisor. An Atlantic Canada advisor had a different take on being informed: “They send so much communication that I would never get any work done if I read it all.”

There were mixed responses from Investors Group advisors in this category. Two Ontario advisors said they’re kept “in the dark,” with one referencing the firm’s rebrand. Other advisors said the firm does well at keeping advisors informed only “if you’re at a certain level” in the organization.

“We are on a need-to-know basis. I only know stuff because I am a top advisor,” says an Investors Group advisor in Ontario.