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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.

As the lives of Canadians get more complex, so do their financial planning needs. Consequently, insurance agencies are focusing on broad planning support for their advisors, and more insurance advisors are offering planning services to their clients.

The majority of respondents to Investment Executive’s 2022 Insurance Advisors’ Report Card said they offer financial plans to clients — 77% of 210 advisors. This year’s percentage, tied with 2019, is a 10-year high.

PPI Management Inc. (PPI) was the top-rated firm for insurance planning, receiving a performance rating of 9.7, up from 9.3 a year ago. That managing general agent (MGA) was followed by IDC Worldsource Insurance Network Inc. (IDC WIN) and RBC Life Insurance Co. (RBCI), which both received 9.2 this year compared with 9.3 and 8.9, respectively, in 2021.

“We rely on [PPI] heavily and they deliver,” said a PPI advisor in British Columbia. Other PPI advisors said they appreciated that the MGA provided them with educational resources to help with insurance planning, as well as its “highly competent” staff.

Sentiment at IDC WIN and RBCI was similarly positive, with advisors praising the tools and experts available.

“The whole procedure that we have in place is excellent. We have a lot of discovery tools so advisors can ask questions [and] know the client a bit more,” said an RBCI advisor in B.C.

An IDC WIN advisor in Ontario said the MGA encourages “active planning” that allows clients to see all angles, including the consideration of tax implications with the help of specialists.

IDC WIN and PPI generally led the other financial planning categories, too. (See below for list)

For example, IDC WIN far outpaced the other agencies for “support for developing a financial plan for clients,” at 9.5, up from 8.4 in 2021. At the same time, PPI nabbed 9.7 for “support for tax planning,” which was two points higher than the category average of 7.7 (not enough advisors rated the category last year to determine a rating).

An IDC WIN advisor in Ontario said the MGA is “helpful and knowledgeable” when it comes to financial plans.

An advisor with PPI in Ontario, meanwhile, spoke highly of the MGA’s “case consulting, tech[nology] and tax support,” adding that the “underwriting support is good.”

Phil Marsillo, president of IDC WIN, said the agency employs accountants, a director of banking and wealth specialists who can consult on clients’ various needs.

PPI supports advisors with needs analysis, and has a team of people focused on high-net-worth (HNW) clients “that includes accountants, lawyers, actuaries, underwriters and advanced illustration specialists,” said Jim Virtue, president and CEO of PPI. (PPI was rated 9.3 for high-net-worth support, the highest of all agencies in 2022.)

The agencies that were rated on the lower end for insurance planning were Canada Life Assurance Co. (which includes advisors from both Freedom 55 Financial and the firm’s Wealth and Insurance Solutions Enterprise network) and Sun Life Financial Distributors (Canada) Inc. (SLFD). Canada Life was rated 8.1 in the category, down from 8.5 in 2021, while SLFD was rated 8.5, down from 9.0.

Both agencies’ results also were comparatively weak in the other four planning-related categories: Canada Life’s ratings were all below the category averages. SLFD was rated lowest of all agencies for its HNW support (at 6.5, compared with 8.1 a year ago) even while its other planning services were on par with performance averages.

Canada Life advisors offered mixed reviews, with one of that agency’s advisors in Atlantic Canada saying it has “really stepped up in that world.” Others at Canada Life requested better technology and more support staff who can help with holistic planning.

“I don’t think, for high-net-worth clients, [head office] takes as much care with them as they should,” said a Canada Life advisor in B.C.

At SLFD, an advisor in Atlantic Canada noted, “We have entire departments that specialize in high-net-worth clients” alongside estate and financial planning support.

Still, an SLFD advisor in Ontario said, “I think we can do better. I don’t think we really have a documented strategy for dealing with high-net-worth clients.”

Executives with both agencies acknowledged the value of in-depth advice for clients.

Rowena Chan, president of SLFD, noted that the agency plans to keep investing in its dedicated team for advanced case planning, which includes legal and tax experts.

In addition, Chan said, “We just finished the first round of training for all advisors [on] our new planning software; we partnered with Conquest Planning [Inc.].”

In the same vein, part of Canada Life’s launch of the Advisor Solutions platform in spring 2021 was the creation of a national team of financial planning consultants and the introduction of a goals-based planning tool (also through Conquest), said Rob DeMott, senior vice-president, Advisor Solutions, with Canada Life.

Canada Life held its first-ever financial planning forum this past May, which was attended by hundreds of advisors, DeMott added. “Now, more than ever,” he said, “clients need advice, with the constant barrage of information coming at them. It’s critically important.”

The five financial planning categories

  • Products and support for high-net-worth clients
  • Support for developing a financial plan for client
  • Support for wills & estate planning
  • Support for tax planning
  • Support for insurance planning