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Branch managers, who are expected to oversee the work of advisors and foster cultures of compliance — and who often take on the role of business coach — don’t have it easy. This year’s Dealers’ Report Card results not only stress the importance of their role but also why firms benefit from offering meaningful training and guidance to these key people.

The overall average performance rating for the category “your branch manager” was 8.6, up from 8.2 in 2018. The overall average importance rating of branch managers also increased, jumping to 8.9 from 8.6. For 2019, the gap between performance and importance values inched down 0.1 compared to a year ago, meaning that advisor satisfaction improved slightly.

Looking across the Report Card, the majority of firms saw their performance ratings in the category increase. The ratings of only two dealers (Mississauga, Ont.-based Investment Planning Counsel Inc. [IPC] and Oakville, Ont.-based Manulife Securities) slipped, by 0.3 (to 8.3) and 0.4 (to 8.2) year-over-year, respectively. Neither dealer was the lowest-rated firm.

There’s no past data to use as comparison for this year’s newcomers, but Mississauga, Ont.-based Carte Wealth Management Inc. was rated highest in the category, at 9.2, while Quebec City-based Investia Financial Services Inc. exceeded the average performance rating, at 8.7.

Financial advisors from Carte Wealth said their branch managers are not only helpful but also part of a collaborative leadership team.

One advisor says their manager is “open-minded and intelligent. [They’ve] been huge in growing my business,” while another says, “I 100% trust my branch manager.”

The firm is “incredible in terms of service, compliance, technology and corporate culture. The people [at Carte Wealth] are dedicated and passionate,” says another.

“Most of our agents have a dedicated branch manager, a first point of contact,” says María José Flores, chief compliance officer at Carte Wealth. “Those [managers] are not salespersons; our dealer has a two-tier supervision level, [where] everything goes to the branch manager first and, eventually, it will come to me or another compliance officer for a second [round] of provisions.”

In terms of ongoing training, she says, “We have training with branch managers every two months to discuss updates in terms of regulatory bodies.”

Carte Wealth was also rated highest of all firms for “advisor’s relationship with compliance department,” at 9.5. Both the average performance and importance ratings of this category rose, too, compared to a year ago – to 8.7 and 9.2 from 8.5 and 8.9, respectively.

While the independents came out on top in the branch manager category – their combined performance average was 9.0, vs the average performance rating of the full-service and mutual dealers of 8.4 – the only firm to see a significant year-over-year increase in the category (of half a point or more) was Montreal-based Peak Financial Group. Its advisors gave their branch managers a rating of 8.8, up from 8.3.

One Peak advisor in B.C. says their branch manager is “very supportive; we’re able to talk through things as equals.” Another in Ontario says that, despite “lots of changes here in the past couple of years,” there have been “no issues and good support.”

Peak takes a similar approach to Carte Wealth by overlapping branch management and compliance. “Even if someone is not also the branch compliance officer, [they act as] the branch patriarch [overseeing] all of compliance,” says Robert Francis, president and CEO at Peak. Additionally, branch managers act as mentors and practice associates.

Yet, Peak’s rating for “advisor’s relationship with compliance department” declined to 8.6 from 8.8, indicating potential room for improvement. While Francis says the firm conducts “in-person training, where our compliance officers go across the country to meet advisors,” dissatisfaction stemmed from communication gaps.

The same Peak advisor from B.C. says, “Their overview of my portfolio is inconsistent; if I’m not doing something right, I want to know.” Another in Quebec says there’s “limited communication [and] limited training on how to fill out the paperwork properly.”

The lowest-rated firm for “your branch manager” was Lévis, Que.-based Desjardins Financial Security Independent Network (DFSIN). While its category rating rose year-over-year to 7.7 from 7.4, advisors gave it mixed responses.

One DFSIN advisor in Ontario says their branch manager is “helpful where he can be,” but that the manager is mostly versed in insurance. Another advisor in Ontario says they still “need to know who reports to whom,” adding that a “clearer hierarchy and defined rules” would help.

DFSIN was unable to comment before Investment Executive went to press.

Manulife, the firm with the rating that fell most for the “your branch manager” category, also received mixed reviews. While some advisors were satisfied, saying their managers were there to assist but also allow independence, others were critical.

“There are six [branch managers] who work over multiple provinces; not having one physically [there] makes things more complicated than it has to be,” says a Manulife advisor in Quebec. “It feels mismanaged [and] we often end up needing to answer questions on our own.”

Another advisor in the Prairies says their branch manager “doesn’t follow up. [They] focus on recruitment instead of solving practice problems, [and] never get back to smaller advisors.”

An added issue was turnover, with several advisors citing recent replacements. Overall, though, one Manulife advisor from the Prairies says, “I wish they’d employ people who have business experience, and [who] understand the priorities and importance of customer interactions. They have to look at the facts from a financial planning standpoint.”

Rick Annaert, president and CEO of Manulife Securities, says branch managers have varying roles. “For the offices where the branch managers [reside] in the branch, they do self-supervision, [but] sometimes that manager is just a compliance supervisor. We [also] have a team of employee branch manager/compliance officers who do Tier 1 supervision for the advisor offices.”

It seems dealers benefited from clearly communicating the qualifications and roles of their branch managers. Firms that built support teams around branch managers also seemed to have more capacity.

Successful branch management also affected a dealer’s recommendation rating. As one Peak advisor in Atlantic Canada who recommended the firm says, “It goes back to my branch manager. I know [them] well and trust [them] with my life.”