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Branch-based financial advisors continue to criticize technological resources and back-office support, according to the 2019 Report Card on Banks.

The overall performance averages for “technology tools and advisor desktop” and “back office and administrative support” dropped by 0.3 and 0.4, respectively, year-over-year. And, for more than five years, both categories have had the highest satisfaction gaps (the amount by which the importance of a category exceeds its performance): in 2014, the satisfaction gaps were 2.0 and 1.5, respectively, and have grown to 2.3 and 2.5 this year.

The technology category’s performance average of 7.0 in this year’s Report Card means it has almost fallen back to its 2014 rating of 6.9, after a five-year peak of 7.4 in 2016. The back- office category’s performance average, meanwhile, has steadily declined in recent years: down to 6.7 this year, from 7.1 in 2018 and 7.6 in 2014 through 2016.

Among the six banks surveyed this year, Toronto-based Bank of Montreal (BMO) ranked last in the technology tools category, at 5.4, and second-last in the back-office category, at 6.2, while Toronto-based Bank of Nova Scotia ranked second-last in tech, at 6.4, and last in back office at 4.7.

BMO advisors pointed to issues related to their systems and software.

“They’re down all the time,” says a BMO advisor in Ontario, referring to the bank’s main operating system. “[With] manual forms, you have to fax [the] office to hand it in. It’s a nightmare.”

Another BMO advisor in Quebec notes how the bank is adjusting its technology tools and resources: “[It’s] transition time to a more updated software, and it’s a horror story with configuration.”

Meanwhile, an Alberta BMO advisor said the bank is upgrading its technology tools and resources, but that those upgrades are “coming in slowly” and that the process lacks “good cohesiveness.”

In an emailed response, a BMO representative notes that the bank is “constantly looking for ways to introduce technology that better supports our financial planners and that creates a better experience for clients.” One new offering is BMO WealthPath, a planning tool for mobile devices that came out last fall and helps “engage customers.”

Scotiabank advisors say their technology is also a work in progress. “We’re the last bank to get into digital and e-forms. We’re getting all new technology – it’s still trial and error,” says a Scotiabank advisor in Ontario. The advisor also says the institution’s computers are “OK,” but that the printers and copiers are “all very delayed.”

Referring to the client side, a Scotiabank advisor in B.C. says, “I don’t think they are doing a very good job with user experience, user input and user interface. They rolled it out, but not properly.”

Jamie Auerbach, vice president of advice and service effectiveness at Scotiabank, says in an emailed response that the bank will “continue to invest heavily in digital technology to ensure the solutions we provide are helping and enabling our advisors to better serve our customers.”

Auerbach also highlights two tools that are a main focus: Mapping Tomorrow, a client-assessment tool to help with financial planning and saving; and Aria Illustrator, a program that helps determine which mutual funds are right for clients. Auerbach says they’re “leading edge” tools, although they are not available remotely.

Numerous Scotiabank advisors stated that they don’t have remote access, which Auerbach confirmed. However, a few advisors noted that mobile technology and remote access are not important to them or necessary for the work they do.

The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) and Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) ranked in the top two in the technology tools and back-office categories. (Both banks are based in Toronto.)

Further, of all of the banks, CIBC received the highest ratings in both “online account access for clients” (9.7) and the back-office category (8.2). CIBC advisors touted the bank’s online access, describing it as “fantastic” and noting that “everything is available online.” As one CIBC advisor in Ontario says, “Our online access is user-friendly. We’ve won awards for our apps.”

Also, while some CIBC advisors criticized the slow pace of back-office work, most shared positive remarks.

“I can phone [the] back office anytime I want and get support,” says a CIBC advisor in Ontario. Says one in the Prairies: “Sometimes, you call [the] back office for support [and] you get put on hold for a while. But when you do get through, I find them quite knowledgeable.”

Advisors at RBC, which was rated first at 8.6 and second at 7.8 in the technology tools and back office categories, respectively, noted the firm’s commitment to providing resources.

“They’re [continually] investing in tools and technology for us and the clients. Everything [nowadays] is digitized,” says an RBC advisor in Ontario.

An RBC advisor in the Prairies praised the bank for enhancing mobile banking features, pointing to the bank’s MyAdvisor service, through which clients can connect with an advisor via video conference or telephone to conduct remote financial planning sessions. “We always seem to come out with the best [regarding technology],” the advisor says.

However, an RBC advisor in Ontario referred to the bank’s lending platform as “quite archaic.” An RBC advisor in B.C. said the firm’s work laptops “could be better.”

Generally, technology tools and back-office support are likely to remain polarizing areas for many branch advisors as technology continues to evolve.