Rock sculpture on the beach balancing mounds of pebbles on top / aisimonov

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

Canada’s insurance advisors are demanding more from their firms and leadership teams.

The 2022 Insurance Advisors’ Report Card found the average performance ratings for “strategic focus” and “effectiveness in keeping advisors informed” both dropped to 8.4 in 2022 from 8.8 in 2021. Unlike a year ago, neither category made it onto the list of the 10 best-performing categories.

The Report Card surveyed advisors who worked with either one of three dedicated sales agencies (DSAs) or through one of three managing general agents (MGAs).

Year-over-year pressure also was evident on the “leadership stability” and “receptiveness to advisor feedback” categories, where the 2022 average performance ratings were 8.7 (down from 9.1) and 8.0 (down from 8.7), respectively.

At the same time, the average importance ratings for all four of those categories inched upward by 0.1. But the satisfaction gap (the difference between a category’s performance and importance ratings) for feedback receptiveness tripled to 1.2 this year from 0.4 in 2021.

The two companies that bucked the trend and excelled in all four areas, with performance ratings all above 9.0, were both MGAs: IDC Worldsource Insurance Network Inc. (IDC WIN) and PPI Management Inc. These agencies once again boasted the Report Card’s highest IE ratings (the average of a firm’s performance ratings) of 9.4 and 9.2, respectively, up from 9.1 in 2021 for IDC WIN and unchanged for PPI.

An advisor with IDC WIN in Alberta called their MGA “exceptional,” noting, “[The firm is] eager to help and you know they genuinely care about you. When there is a problem, they fix it.”

“The people are great here,” said an IDC WIN advisor in British Columbia. “Their level of expertise is second to none.”

Advisors who ran their business through PPI similarly touted their MGA’s competence. “They know their business and any time I have a question, they respond so quickly,” said a PPI advisor in B.C. “They are very respectful of us as individuals.”

Improvement is always possible, and advisors at both MGAs said the agencies could enhance their technology and that they needed to hire more people, for example. (Both MGAs were nonetheless rated highly for “technology tools & advisor desktop” at 9.1 and 9.2, respectively, up from 8.4 and 8.8 a year ago.)

However, the key to staying on top is consistent strategy and industry leadership, advisors said.

One PPI advisor in the Prairies noted the shift in Jim Virtue’s position within the past year to president and CEO from president and COO. Virtue has been with PPI (and its predecessors) for almost 20 years, and as one PPI advisor in Ontario said, “There is some instability as positions change, but these are internal people. It shows the organization builds [by] keeping people.”

Regarding strategy, Virtue said helping advisors gain more clients in both the mass affluent and high-net-worth markets is a main goal. He added that the MGA also “recently undertook a strategic planning exercise, with participation of about 65 people from PPI [that] included a group of millennial staff — just to make sure we’re in tune with the changing world.”

PPI snagged a 9.5 rating for its strategic focus (tied with IDC WIN for the top result in the category).

Advisors working through IDC WIN also praised the MGA’s “focused” strategy.

Phil Marsillo, IDC WIN’s president, said the firm focuses on “four buckets”: practice management, advisor education, compliance support, and recognition. (IDC WIN led the Report Card in performance ratings for “ongoing training,” “MGA’s compliance regime support” and “bonus structure,” receiving 9.5, 9.8 and 9.6, respectively.)

The two firms that struggled most regarding firm leadership, strategy and advisor communication were both DSAs — reflecting the fact that the Report Card’s collective IE rating for the DSAs in 2022 lagged that of the MGAs, at 7.8 versus 8.8.

Canada Life Assurance Co. (a group that includes advisors from both Freedom 55 Financial and the firm’s Wealth and Insurance Solutions Enterprise, or WISE, network) was rated lowest out of all agencies in the Report Card in the strategy and keeping advisors informed categories. Canada Life’s results were 7.3 and 7.4, respectively, down significantly from 8.0 and 8.3.

The agency also had the lowest IE rating: 7.3, down from 8.0 in 2021.

Several Canada Life advisors, all of whom use the company’s Advisor Solutions platform, said the firm’s strategy was unclear. One Canada Life advisor in Ontario said, “They’re a bit lost right now [and] they aren’t market leaders in anything.”

A Canada Life advisor in B.C. said communication could be more personalized, with more context and plainer language.

The company’s reputation is “good,” but the “competitiveness” of its products and its outreach need work, said a Canada Life advisor in Ontario.

Rob DeMott, Canada Life’s senior vice-president, Advisor Solutions, said the company has an advisor council that met remotely throughout the pandemic and began meeting in person in November. Hearing from both established and newer advisors is “an important part of the work we do,” he said, noting that investments in digital and holistic wealth planning are top priorities.

DeMott urged advisors to be “as honest as they can possibly be in real time and in front of us.”

Canada Life was tied for lowest-rated for feedback receptiveness with Sun Life Financial Distributors (Canada) Inc. (SLFD), the latter having received the second-lowest IE rating (7.6, down from 8.1 a year ago). Both DSAs were rated 6.4 in the feedback category, down from 8.2 and 7.5 in 2021, respectively.

SLFD advisors acknowledged that they have advisory councils but expressed concern over which advisors are consulted.

“They need to […] have it more well-rounded so it’s different types of advisors,” said one SLFD advisor in the Prairies. “They create a strategic way first before asking [most] advisors.”

Rowena Chan, president of SLFD, said she has “direct interaction” with advisors daily, and the company’s councils and committees are composed of advisors from different locations and of varying ages and tenures. They “co-create and strategize” on everything from products to wealth planning and compensation, she added.

Across all agencies, well-rounded planning and advisor support will remain important. As one IDC WIN advisor in Alberta said, firms must have “a passion for this work” and understand the business, and “allow us to execute whatever [services] we need.”