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This article appears in the June 2020 issue of Investment Executive. Subscribe to the print edition, read the digital edition or read the articles online.

One effect of the Covid-19 crisis, which worsened in Canada during the 2020 Dealers’ Report Card research period, is that Investment Executive (IE) was unable to attain sufficient survey samples for two of the Report Card’s long-time participants: Montreal-based Peak Financial Group and Markham, Ont.-based Worldsource Wealth Management Inc.

Still, IE gleaned insights into both firms by speaking to 20 financial advisors at each dealer.

Heading into mid-March, advisors at Peak and Worldsource were largely positive about the services their dealers were providing. Areas of strength for both dealers, based on the small-sample analysis, included “firm’s stability” and “quality of firm’s product offering.” Both firms were lauded for listening to their advisors.

“Every advisor [should] be so lucky as to deal with a firm like Peak. Leadership all the way down is doing their best,” says one Peak advisor in Quebec.

One Peak advisor in the Prairies praised the independence they’re afforded, saying, “[You can] let your clients know that everything is in their best interest. [You] can’t do that if your compensation is derived from incentives and product sales.”

Robert Frances, founder and CEO at Peak, says, “We are growing; we crossed $11 billion in client assets in mid-February.” He attributes this growth to the firm’s investment in compliance-related and advisor technology tools, as well as a drive to expand the firm’s securities, mutual fund, insurance and private wealth arms.

Worldsource advisors appreciated their dealer’s advisor orientation.

“[They’re] very supportive. [The] corporate culture at Worldsource is focused on helping the advisor grow their practice. [At] other dealerships, you’re just a number,” says one of the firm’s advisors in Ontario.

“They have done more in the two years that I’ve been here than I’ve experienced with any other firm. If something can’t be done, they’ll let you know why,” says a Worldsource advisor in B.C.

“Our company has gone through some challenges, [but] it’s been a year and a half since I [assumed my current role]. We’ve done some good things and there’s been positive turnover at the executive level,” says Anthony Messina, president and CEO of Worldsource Securities Inc. and Worldsource Financial Management Inc. since autumn 2018.

Key areas of focus now, Messina says, are technology advancements and upgrading advisors’ digital skills, along with leveraging parent company Guardian Capital Group Ltd.’s various businesses.

Weak categories for both firms, once again based on the small-sample analysis, included “technology tools and advisor desktop” and “ongoing training.” Importantly, these categories have persistent satisfaction gaps (the amount by which the average importance of a category exceeds its performance) across the entire Report Card. Nonetheless, many advisors at both Peak and Worldsource pointed to recent improvements.

“Robert Frances has embarked on trying to bring technology to [the] forefront [and] could make us a frontrunner,” says one Peak advisor in Ontario.

Peak advisors wanted to see improvements to client-facing documents and reporting, but one respondent in B.C. says there’s been a “revamp over the last few years. E-document signing [is] big going forward.”

On the technology front, Frances says, Peak strives to make advisors’ work easier, develop tools that help with compliance automation and to gather business intelligence to help leverage client data.

Advisors at Worldsource said in March that they were making the transition to new back-office software, leading to mixed sentiment. Still, one of the firm’s advisors in Ontario says, “It is getting better. I’d love to see paperless applications.”

One example of that dealer’s “significant investments” in technology is Guardian Capital’s January purchase of a majority interest in Modern Advisor Canada Inc., says Messina. This will help digitize client interactions, he says. The firm is also looking at streamlining operating systems and adding features such as chatbots.

In the coming months, the two dealers — like all investment firms — will be focusing on clearing pandemic hurdles. (See “Tackling pandemic challenges,” below.)

Along with daily advisor communication and weekly, bilingual video calls, Frances says, “We have a microsite for advisors with lots of information on Covid-19. Most of our advisors are paperless, but for those who aren’t, we’re offering support.”

At Worldsource, support has come in the form of buying laptops for staff who needed them, communicating regularly and discussing future office re-entry plans.

Says Messina: “I’m pretty hands-on. I wrote a comfort letter to not only our advisors but also our clients, to let them know we’re well capitalized and financed, and that we’re behind [them].”

Tackling pandemic challenges

Executives with the rest of the Dealers’ Report Card firms shared some measures they’ve taken to help advisors.

Assante Wealth Management (Canada) Ltd.

  • Technology training
  • Regular video meetings, national and regional calls, and peer-to-peer support
  • “Consolidating our messaging so that we don’t bombard advisors who are busy with clients,” says Sean Etherington, president

Carte Wealth Management Inc.

  • Daily seminars with advisors
  • Online cybersecurity training courses
  • Weekly economic and firm strategy updates

Desjardins Financial Security Independent Network

  • Offering financial relief to clients — the bank was one of three institutions in Canada recognized by the United Nations in April for its efforts
  • Newsletters, social media and a dedicated online portal

Investia Financial Services Inc.

  • Providing market perspective for advisors and clients, and marketing support to advisors
  • Launching a webcast series for advisors and clients
  • Through “recently launched” online portals, leveraging technology tools (e.g., e-signatures and secure messaging)

Investment Planning Counsel Inc.

  • Weekly webcast with advisors
  • Fast-tracking release of technology tools (e.g., Docusign) — “This is the time to invest a little more and further our digital footprint,” says executive vice president Reggie Alvares
  • Business coaching sessions

IG Wealth Management

  • Investment in cloud-based and video tools
  • Hosting digital client advisory council meetings with management
  • Conservatively planning for office re-entry

Manulife Securities

  • Offering easy access to planning and market experts, and in-house economists
  • Work-from-home training
  • Video calls with business coaches and behavioural finance insights offered in partnership with Toronto-based consulting firm BEworks

Portfolio Strategies Corp.

  • Mark Kent, president and CEO, remained in the Calgary office as of late April, with “a skeleton crew” that included the firm’s chief financial officer and a new client-advisor relations manager
  • Supporting advisors who must process paper transactions, and working with fund companies early on to deal with scaled-back operations
  • Dedicated back-office service line

Sterling Mutuals Inc.

  • “My homework every day is to call one [advisor], just to say hi,” says Nelson Cheng, CEO
  • Fast-tracking the release of new technology tool offerings, such as e-signatures, while delaying other changes (e.g., the release of ETFs to the firm’s advisors, which at press time was slated for autumn)