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Insurance agencies have failed to live up to their insurance advisors’ expectations regarding back-office support year after year. However, a glance at the ratings advisors gave their firms in the three “back-office and administrative support” categories in this year’s Insurance Advisors’ Report Card reveals that some firms are beginning to get things right, while others are falling ever further behind.

All three dedicated sales agencies and the lone personal producing general agency (PPGA) – Winnipeg-based Great-West Life Assurance Co. (GWL) – in the survey were given ratings that were lower by half a point or more in at least one of the three back-office categories: “new business (application processing)”; “in-force policy owner services”; and “commissions support.”

In contrast, all five managing general agencies (MGAs) in the survey received strong ratings in the back-office categories. In fact, four MGAs were given ratings that improved by half a point or more year-over-year in at least one of the three categories.

Ultimately, the cause of advisors’ satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their firm’s back office came down to staffing. In the cases of the dedicated sales agencies and GWL, advisors pointed to staff shortages and lack of training among existing staff in the back office as cause for discontent. In contrast, advisors with the MGAs cited their close relationships with back-office staff as a reason for favourable ratings.

Advisors with GWL’s Wealth and Insurance Solutions Enterprise (WISE) network gave the PPGA significantly lower ratings of at least half a point in all three back-office categories. In fact, GWL’s ratings in two of the three categories were the lowest in those categories.

The reason? Advisors cited the ongoing restructuring of the former Gold Key network into the WISE network, which was blamed for inadequate administrative support from the back-office staff.

“If you need something done, they tell you they need 20 business days to get to it, which is ludicrous,” says an advisor in Ontario with GWL’s WISE network.

“It’s brutal right now, but it’s not the staff’s fault,” adds a colleague in British Columbia. “[The back office is] understaffed and overworked.”

Mark Foris, vice president of GWL’s WISE network, ac- knowledges that the PPGA’s recent changes have impacted the back office. However, GWL is in the process of figuring out ways to address the issue.

“We had [several] experienced individuals leave the organization, and it takes time to train [their replacements],” he says. “So, our client services organization is training aggressively in [the three back-office categories]. The initiatives to get the right people fully up to speed are in play and we will absolutely get to a point at which we’ll hit the service standards advisors expect.”

Mississauga, Ont.-based RBC Life Insurance Co. and Waterloo, Ont.-based Sun Life Financial (Canada) Inc. also were hit with significant decreases of half a point or more in all three back office-related categories. Advisors with both dedicated sales agencies cited lack of knowledge among their back-office staff as well as shortage of staff, which mean existing staff are unable to process all the tasks given to them.

“The staff is not trained properly on the older policies,” says an RBC Life advisor in Ontario regarding support for in-force policy services. “Nobody [in the back office] knows what they’re doing. Every time you ask about a policy, you get different answers.”

“There aren’t enough [staff] processing [applications],” says a Sun Life advisor in Ontario. “We’re always struggling to have underwriters and case managers to handle cases.”

RBC Life and Sun Life executives declined to comment.

In contrast, the sentiment among advisors who work through the MGAs was quite the opposite. For example, advisors with Woodbridge, Ont.-based Hub Financial Inc. praised that firm’s back-office support for new business and in-force policy owner services, citing strong relationships with the staff.

“I have a great representative who works with me,” says a Hub advisor in Ontario about a back-office staff member who deals with in-force policy owner services. “She’s just great. It alleviates all of the extra followup, which allows me to focus on what I need to do.”

Terri Botosan, president of Hub, says that there have been ongoing initiatives at the MGA that focus on improving back-office services: “We’ve done a better job in the past 12 months of aligning advisors with the right account manager, or case co-ordinator, so that they really complement each other. [We try to] make sure the advisor is getting the best value out of that partnership.”

Similarly, advisors who work with Kitchener, Ont.-based Financial Horizons Inc., Toronto-based PPI Advisory or Calgary-based PPI Solutions Inc. also rated those MGAs higher by half a point or more in at least one category because of the timely support from well-trained staff.

“They’re [perfect] with their service [in support for commissions],” says a PPI Solutions advisor in Alberta. “That’s our lifeline in the insurance business. You definitely need that.”