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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.

Branch-based advisors and planners with Canada’s Big Six banks appreciate the support they receive from their institutions, but there’s still room for improvement, according to Investment Executive’s (IE) 2023 Report Card on Banks.

The categories in which the banks received the highest ratings from advisors included “diversity, equity & inclusion policies” (rated 9.5, up from 9.4 in 2022), “branch manager” (rated 9.1, up from 8.9) and “financial planning support & technology” (rated 8.8, up from 8.6).

The branch-manager and financial-planning categories also topped the list of the most important areas for advisors. (See importance ratings breakdown, below.)

“Our manager from [the] last year cared. [They] were super knowledgeable. [They] definitely wanted everyone to succeed,” said an advisor in Alberta with CIBC, where advisors work with CIBC Imperial Service.

Like in 2022, CIBC was the highest-rated bank in the branch-manager category in 2023, receiving a 9.4 both years.

Royal Bank of Canada (where planners work with RBC Financial Planning) also had a top-three branch-manager rating, as it did last year (9.3, up from 9.0).

“[My branch manager] showed me the value of financial planning,” said an RBC advisor in British Columbia.

Both banks not only led the branch-manager and financial-planning categories, but they also maintained the highest IE ratings (the average of all of a firm’s category ratings) in the Report Card. CIBC’s IE rating was 8.9, down from 9.0 in 2022, while RBC’s rating was 8.7, down from 8.8.

Many advisors with both institutions praised their bank’s culture and general business support.

An advisor with CIBC in the Prairies said, “There isn’t a problem or situation I have ever [faced] where I don’t have the tool necessary to get a client question figured out. We have an abundance of resources.”

Meanwhile, an advisor with RBC in B.C. said they’d stayed with the bank for many years based on the firm promoting staff diversity and being “truly focused on putting the client first.”

Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS) had this year’s lowest IE rating at 7.7 (down from 7.8 in 2022), but its advisors related some positive experiences. The bank saw significant year-over-year rating improvements (by half a point or more) in five areas, including the branch-manager category, where it was rated 8.8 (up from 8.0 in 2022).

One BNS advisor in Ontario touted the “respect we give each other” and the teamwork, while another BNS advisor in Ontario said, “There’s an opportunity to reach the leadership to help improve everything.”

BNS continued to trail its peers in other key categories, however. The bank was rated 7.9 for financial-planning support, for example: the same as a year ago but almost a full point below this year’s performance average for the category of 8.8.

An advisor with BNS in B.C said planning is “emphasized” and that tools are being simplified, but several other BNS advisors said the bank’s software is “outdated” and “lacking.”

BNS was rated the lowest of the banks for its technology suite, which comprises six categories in the Report Card. It received a 6.9, well below the average performance rating of 7.8.

Regarding the tech suite’s “client relationship tools” category, a BNS advisor in B.C. said, “We’re going through [a] transition and there’s a bit of confusion. A lot of info has been re-entered. Before, our platform [was] too simple.” (This category was among the 10 rated most important by all advisors in the 2023 Report Card.)

“We continuously build new digital tools and platforms that make it easier for our employees to support our customers and create synergy across our banking channels,” said Scott Gamble, senior vice-president of retail performance with Scotiabank, in an email.

The bank has improved customer tools such as Scotia Smart Investor (a planning tool on the bank’s customer app) and invested in advisors’ hardware, he said. The bank asks about advisors’ experiences with its digital tools through formal feedback programs.

Across all banks, advisors emphasized the importance of leaders who listen. The categories “effectiveness in keeping advisors informed” and “receptiveness to advisor feedback” were both rated 9.2 on average for importance across all of the banks (little changed from 2022). While BNS was rated among the lowest of all six banks in these areas, four of the banks lost ground.

Said one BNS advisor in B.C. of their leadership team: “They listen, but how much they can do is the real question. We have lots of roundtable meetings with key members.”

Gamble noted in his response that collecting advisors’ feedback is “an essential part of our planning process,” enabling the bank to “make the right changes to best serve our teams and our customers.”

Even advisors with CIBC, the top-performing bank in the receptiveness category, requested improvement. They mentioned surveys and committees, but one CIBC advisor in the Prairies said getting clear messages from the front line to “the actual decision-makers” can be tricky.

“There’s a disconnect there in terms of [their] asks and targets, and what’s actually done by us in a day realistically,” the advisor said.

Rory Mitz, senior vice-president and head of CIBC Imperial Service, said the bank offers “regular touch points” to frontline employees. That includes a feedback-collection program that allows advisors to share “ideas for continuous improvements.”

The only banks to see significant year-over-year improvement in their advisor feedback ratings were National Bank of Canada (NBC) and Toronto-Dominion Bank (where planners work with TD Wealth Financial Planning). Both institutions also garnered significantly higher IE ratings compared with 2022 — 8.4 and 7.8, respectively — due to significantly higher ratings in more than 10 categories each.

NBC’s performance improved most in the “advisor’s experience with back-office tools & services” category, with a rating of 8.2, up from 6.1 a year ago (read the full story). But its ability to keep advisors informed also jumped markedly, to 9.0 from 7.7.

“[The bank] supports us in difficult times,” said an NBC advisor in Quebec. “The human aspect is very important.”

A TD advisor in Ontario said, “They encourage their employees to speak up [and are] constantly making improvements.” The bank’s adaptive and energetic culture, they added, is backed by a “wealth-planning platform [that] is second to none.”

A handful of advisors from both NBC and TD said they would like raises (read the full story) and improvements to digital tools broadly. Even so, “strategic focus” was another category in which these were the only two institutions with year-over-year improvement.

“I feel happy to work at a company as long as their focus makes sense to me as an individual,” said a TD advisor in Ontario. “Most of the things they’re looking at as a business focus makes sense to me.”

Read methodology details for the Report Card on Banks.

Most important categories to branch advisors in 2023

1. Branch manager: rated 9.5 out of 10

2. Financial planning support & technology: 9.5

3. Quality of product shelf: 9.4

4. Products & support for high-net-worth clients: 9.4

5. Receptiveness to advisor feedback: 9.2

6. Freedom to make product choices: 9.2

7. Advisor’s experience with back-office tools & services: 9.2

8. Client relationship tools: 9.2

9. Effectiveness in keeping advisors informed: 9.2

10. Total compensation: 9.2

Rankings are based on ratings out to two decimal places