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This article appears in the September 2023 issue of Investment Executive. Subscribe to the print edition, read the digital edition or read the articles online.

Many firms are falling short in their communications with advisors, according to Investment Executive’s (IE) 2023 Dealers’ Report Card.

Most dealers saw significant year-over-year dips in their performance ratings from advisors in at least one of the two communication categories: “effectiveness in keeping advisors informed,” and “receptiveness to advisor feedback.” (IE defines “significant” as movement of at least half a point.)

Across all firms, the average rating for communication effectiveness declined significantly, to 8.1 out of 10 from 8.6 in 2022, while the average rating for feedback receptiveness dropped to 8.0 from 8.2.

The two lowest-rated dealers in the communication categories were Manulife Securities Inc. and CI Assante Wealth Management.

Manulife’s advisors rated the firm 6.8 for communication effectiveness, down significantly from 7.4 in 2022. The firm’s feedback receptiveness result also was lower, at 6.2, but similar to its 2022 rating of 6.3.

“They don’t differentiate [between] regular, ‘blasted’ information versus stuff that’s really important. The effectiveness and clarity are terrible,” a Manulife advisor in Ontario said.

Several other Manulife advisors mentioned that the firm communicates with them regularly, including through monthly calls. But as an advisor in British Columbia put it, “sometimes [there’s] too much information.”

Richard McIntyre, president and CEO of Manulife Securities, suggested that satisfying advisors’ varying needs and requests can be a challenge. “If you’re not giving the answers that people want to hear, then [your communication] might not be seen as a good thing,” said McIntyre, whose goal is for advisors to understand what the firm is doing, and why.

McIntyre chats with the firm’s advisory council once per month, and with the dealer’s 10 dedicated sub-advisory groups on a regular basis. “I definitely value feedback,” he said. “It’s the lifeblood of our business.”

Some advisors with CI Assante, which saw its ratings drop by nearly a full point for both communication effectiveness (rated 7.5, down from 8.4 in 2022) and feedback receptiveness (rated 7.2, down from 8.1), questioned whether their voices were being heard.

“[The firm] receives a lot of feedback and input but nothing changes. Well, why are you asking?” a CI Assante advisor in the Prairies said.

Other CI Assante advisors identified ample communication and the availability of tools and business experts. But one advisor in Quebec said it can be “hard to keep up with what’s going on.”

Sean Etherington, president of CI Assante Wealth Management, said the firm consults with advisors across six advisory councils, as well as other groups, on issues such as administration and technology.

Joady Guyot, vice-president, advisor engagement, with CI Assante Wealth, said finding balance between business priorities and advisors’ priorities can be tough. But, she said, “We always take feedback where we can take feedback.”

Post-pandemic, Guyot added, the firm has reinstated regional field teams and office tours to facilitate more direct conversations.

Even the top-rated firm in the communication categories, Carte Wealth Management Inc., saw a dip in its ratings year over year. The firm’s advisors gave it a combined 9.0 for communication effectiveness and feedback receptiveness, down from a combined 9.5 in 2022. However, advisors praised the firm’s proactiveness.

One Carte Wealth advisor said the firm sends “daily reminders and emails,” and there’s regular communication from branch managers.

“They deal with issues right away,” said another Carte advisor.

Another advisor expressed appreciation for weekly meetings with upper management, which make them “feel [like] part of Carte,” the advisor said.

Sterling Mutuals Inc. was one of only two firms to see significant year-over-year improvement in feedback receptiveness (the dealer was rated 8.7, up from 7.8 in 2022). Investia Financial Services Inc. was the other, receiving 7.7 in the receptiveness category, up from 7.1 in 2022.

One advisor with Sterling Mutuals mentioned the firm’s restraint, noting, “They do what’s necessary, but they don’t bombard us.”

Another Sterling Mutuals advisor said, “They have thick skin. They can take criticism.” The firm said it has a dedicated email inbox for advisor feedback.

Advisors with Investia mentioned monthly calls and weekly newsletters. Despite mixed reviews on how quickly the firm acts on feedback, one of the dealer’s advisors in Ontario said, “They are improving. We have had moments where it [seemed] they [had] not spent enough time communicating with advisors on the front line,” but roundtables composed of advisors with different tenures were being established.

The firm confirmed in an email that advisor work groups launched in May in English and French. “This was a request from advisors and we listen,” Investia stated.