sharing ideas / Paper Trident

This article appears in the October 2023 issue of Investment Executive. Subscribe to the print edition, read the digital edition or read the articles online.

Notable jumps in satisfaction with the back office are rarely seen in Investment Executive’s Report Card series. Yet Canada’s Big Six banks seem to be doing something right, according to the branch-based advisors and planners interviewed.

The rating for “advisor’s experience with back-office tools & services” increased to 7.5 from 6.6 in 2022, making it the most improved category in this year’s Report Card. It also was the only category with a significant year-over-year rating increase (by half a point or more).

Advisors with CIBC Imperial Service rated CIBC an 8.4, the highest rating in the back-office category and up significantly from 7.7 in 2022. Next was National Bank of Canada (NBC), which advisors rated 8.2 — up more than two points from 6.1 a year ago.

“Because [CIBC has placed] tenured people into the [back-office] roles, as opposed to new people, they understand. I want to get answers right away, and I do,” said an Imperial Service advisor in Ontario.

CIBC launched a national office dedicated to Imperial Service on Sept. 1, said Rory Mitz, senior vice-president and head of CIBC Imperial Service. The office will roll out digital improvements to services such as client onboarding and account opening.

Back-office responsiveness also was praised by NBC advisors. “There are almost no waiting times,” said one of the bank’s advisors in Quebec.

However, other NBC advisors said resources can be hard to find and that the general lack of quality staff across the industry can at times constrain their organization.

Tony Scalia, vice-president of investments with NBC, said the bank uses digital tools such as chatbots to help advisors find answers quickly. Leaders from across the bank regularly discuss issues raised by advisors, including in the back office.

Compared with past years, “there’s much better communication [around] irritants or issues,” Scalia said. “Some of these processes haven’t been touched in 20 years,” so the improvements in process are crucial.

Planners with Royal Bank of Canada, where they work for RBC Financial Planning, were slightly less positive than a year ago (8.0, down from 8.2 in 2022).

“We have a very large back office, so it depends on the department,” said an advisor in British Columbia with RBC. “There are times we have issues, but most of the time, it’s very smooth.”

“We’re focusing on upskilling and cross-skilling our advisor support staff so they can move from supporting one area of back office to another more seamlessly,” said Michael Walker, vice-president and head, mutual funds distribution and RBC Financial Planning.

Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS) and Toronto-Dominion Bank (where planners work with TD Wealth Financial Planning) were rated lowest among their peers for back-office support, even though both banks’ ratings improved significantly year over year. Staff expertise and training deficiencies were common sore spots.

BNS received a 6.5, up from 5.8 in 2022. “Knowledge for the back-office [staff] is very poor,” said a BNS advisor in Ontario. “[I’m] not sure if it’s their training or their lack of support. I get delays and can’t process forms.”

The bank reviews its back-office resources and systems “continuously,” said Scott Gamble, senior vice-president of retail performance with Scotiabank. Investments in back-office processes that help both customers and advisors are prioritized, he added.

TD was rated 7.0, up significantly from 5.4 in 2022. A TD advisor in Ontario called the bank’s back-office deficiencies “a big issue,” adding, “I believe we are all human [but] there are sometimes very stupid errors we could avoid. Comes from lack of training.”

A TD advisor in Alberta also expressed frustration: “I do everything on my end correctly and it gets messed up on the back end, and then I have to call the clients and tell them. [They] associate that negative experience with [me].”

“We have major platform modernization projects that are launching at the end of the calendar year,” said Franceen Bernstein, vice-president and head of financial planning with TD Wealth. She noted that assistance from experts is available if planners need help before transactions are submitted.

Importance of the back office

The “advisor’s experience with back-office tools & services” category received an importance rating of 9.2, similar to its 9.3 rating a year ago and keeping it in the top 10 most important categories in the Report Card on Banks (find the list here). The back-office category also remained the area with the highest satisfaction gap (the difference between a category’s performance and importance averages). While that gap shrunk year over year by a full point, to 1.7 from 2.7, there’s still work to be done.