Life in time of COVID-19: Mature woman working on computer from home at the stand up desk. She has long grey hair and dressed in casual black outfit. Interior of living room set up with home office station, next to window. / Fotografia Inc.

This article appears in the June 2022 issue of Investment Executive. Subscribe to the print edition, read the digital edition or read the articles online.

As the work paradigm has shifted, dealers have bolstered their remote work and mobile technology capabilities.

“Remote work & mobile technology support” was the only category in the 2022 Dealers’ Report Card to see its average performance rating improve significantly (by half a point or more) year over year.

The performance average for the category was 8.5 in 2022, up from 8.0 last year (when the category was called “mobile technology support”).

Sterling Mutuals Inc. was the dealer with the highest rating in the category at 9.0, up from 8.9 a year ago.

“We can work from anywhere,” said a Sterling Mutuals advisor. And, said another Sterling advisor, “They have a good system that is user-friendly for both clients and advisors.” Yet another called Sterling’s OneBoss back-office software “phenomenal.”

The firm made investments in technologies such as e-signatures, videoconferencing, VoIP and digital faxing “long before the pandemic,” said Nelson Cheng, CEO of Sterling Mutuals.

More recently, the firm invested in a new workflow system for order processing, Cheng said. It also invested in training for advisors on software that facilitates electronic signatures, digital delivery of client documents and meeting know-your-product requirements.

Four other dealers — Assante Wealth Management Ltd., Desjardins Financial Security Independent Network, Investment Planning Counsel Inc. and Worldsource Wealth Management Inc. — had remote-work performance ratings that matched or exceeded the category average, and rose significantly from a year ago. Worldsource saw the largest year-over-year increase, to 8.5 from 6.2 in 2021.

“We’re pretty much able to work wherever,” said a Worldsource advisor in Ontario.

“[The management team] was quick to turn it into a remote, digital workplace. There were no delays. They added a lot of freebie stuff,” said another Worldsource advisor in Ontario.

Trish Nielsen, head of partnerships and business development with Worldsource, said the firm has expanded its use of DocuSign e-signature technology, adding that advisors can easily maintain an audit trail of all paperwork.

“Not only is the [digital] onboarding capability there,” Nielsen said, but all of the dealer’s forms are available online. “Our advisors can have e-signatures on any forms [so] it’s not just account-opening documentation. That’s really been a game changer.”

Firms that saw significant year-over-year dips in their remote work ratings were Manulife Securities and Carte Wealth Management Inc.

Manulife Securities had the lowest rating in the remote work category of all firms assessed (6.5, down from 7.3 in 2021), with some advisors at the firm saying that Manulife’s support needed improvement.

“Their infrastructure is falling apart. Lots of advisors are leaving because of it,” said a Manulife Securities advisor in British Columbia, speaking about technology in general. (Manulife also was rated lowest out of all firms in the “technology tools & advisor desktop” category at 5.4, down from 5.6 last year.)

“Ideally, I would like to go 100% paperless. They have something like DocuSign but it’s really inefficient,” said a Manulife Securities advisor in the Prairies.

Richard McIntyre, who’s been president and CEO of Manulife Securities since March, said he’s aware of the back-office issues that staff and advisors can face when working remotely. For example, support staff might not be able to help advisors solve problems over the phone as well as they could in person.

McIntyre also noted that the firm is in the second of three phases in reworking its client onboarding system: “The system is old and difficult to integrate.” Manulife has rolled out DocuSign to some advisors, but not all, he added.

Also on the wish list for Manulife advisors was better client tools. “They could deliver with mobile better. What they could do is deliver something that is functional and client-centric,” said a Manulife Securities advisor in Atlantic Canada.

As for Carte Wealth, its remote work rating fell to 8.5 from 9.2 in 2021. That caused the dealer to lose the top spot in the category, which it held in 2021, underlining the difficulty of keeping up with technology demands.

While Carte Wealth advisors acknowledged the existence of paperless, remote options and DocuSign, others suggested improvements.

“They could develop a mobile interface for advisors through an app. The screen data is tiny on your phone,” said an advisor with Carte Wealth.

Kirk Purai, CEO of Carte Wealth, said the firm is in the midst of a digital transformation. “Our whole concept of the office is going to be changed. When it comes to remote work, we are working with a few partners in creating that entire digital experience,” rather than simply ensuring forms are digital, Purai said. Pending successful cybersecurity tests, the launch of tools and updated processes for Carte Wealth advisors will begin this fall.