Concept of improving satisfaction

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

The Big Six banks once again need to improve their listening skills, say branch-based financial advisors and planners.

In Investment Executive’s 2022 Report Card on Banks, the “receptiveness to advisor feedback” category was rated 7.7 for performance, unchanged from a year ago, while “effectiveness in keeping advisors informed” was rated 8.3, down from 8.5 in 2021.

Yet advisors deemed both categories to be quite important, rating them 9.2 and 9.1 for importance, respectively, compared with 9.1 for both a year ago.

In fact, the feedback category’s 1.5-point gap between importance and performance placed it among the 10 categories with the largest satisfaction gaps in 2022.

The top two banks in the feedback category were CIBC, where advisors work with CIBC Imperial Service, and Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), where planners are with RBC Financial Planning. Their results were 8.9 and 8.4, respectively. CIBC was rated 9.0 last year and RBC’s rating remained the same.

Several CIBC advisors mentioned that the bank convenes regular focus groups and a monthly national advisory committee, with one advisor in the Prairies saying, “Our leadership is very open.” Still, some advisors said implementation of their feedback could improve.

Sentiment was similar at RBC. One of that bank’s advisors in Ontario called RBC an “advocate for our role,” allowing them to put their “best foot forward with clients.” However, others said RBC could improve its in-branch tools.

Peter Lee, CIBC’s executive vice-president of banking centres, said the bank offered feedback opportunities through its Imperial Club conference in April, which included workshops and Q&A sessions. Six months before that conference, Lee added, a survey was completed with advisors, region heads and banking centre leaders to address concerns and get ideas for improvements.

RBC connects with its branch advisor advisory boards on a regular basis, said Michael Walker, vice-president and head, mutual funds distribution and RBC Financial Planning. He added that the bank convenes “innovation circles that gather real-time feedback on what we need to build and how we’re building [tools], and to make sure we’re going in the right direction.”

The lowest-rated banks for feedback were Toronto-Dominion Bank (where planners work with TD Wealth Financial Planning) and National Bank of Canada (NBC). TD was rated 6.4, down from 6.8 a year ago, and NBC was rated 7.4, down from 8.0.

At TD, advisors said ample feedback opportunities existed, but so did communication gaps. “We are the ones who are in the field, and we know what’s best for the clients. They say they listen, but I don’t think they are,” said a TD advisor in British Columbia.

A TD advisor in Ontario recommended the bank ensure all employees can offer insights, and that it complete “proper research and study prior to making any changes.”

David Terry, vice-president and head of TD Wealth Financial Planning, said the bank uses several tools to collect feedback, such as surveys and a new “tactical” committee that includes planners from 60 regions across Canada. “We want to give [planners] every opportunity to be heard,” he said.

Still, TD is working on increasing transparency. Terry said he will be telling advisors: “We’ve heard you [and here are] the things that we’ve gathered from you but that we haven’t prioritized.”

Planners with NBC also felt a disconnect.

Strategy is “very much top-down,” said an NBC advisor in Ontario. “If they were more receptive to feedback from client-facing talent, it would give them better insight into the decisions they’re making.”

An NBC advisor in Quebec said change can be slow, but that NBC’s leadership is “always open and want to talk.”

Nancy Paquet, senior vice president, personal banking with NBC, said the bank uses a platform called Officevibe that gathers insights from advisors on a weekly basis.

NBC also holds quarterly consultations with planners in both English and French, and Paquet said she speaks with advisors daily.

“They can speak up to say what they like and what they don’t like. But sometimes, even though they say to fix [a process], we can’t yet,” she said — pointing specifically to tools such as e-signatures, a feature all branches can use but that the bank plans to integrate into its investment platform within the next few months.

Even though all six banks offered feedback tools, dissatisfaction typically occurred when banks made changes, but didn’t make those changes or communicate them quickly enough in the advisors’ view.

But improvement is possible: Bank of Montreal (BMO), which last year was rated lowest for receptiveness to advisor feedback at 6.6, saw its result improve to 8.0 in the 2022 Report Card.

As one BMO planner in Quebec put it, “They always get back to you and always manage expectations, depending on the situation.”