Many rat­ings for Fi­nan­cial Hori­zons, Free­dom 55 and Hub dropped sig­nif­i­cantly, while Sun Life en­joyed sev­eral in­creases

Investment Executive - - FRONT PAGE - BY FIONA COLLIE

Four firms saw sig­nif­i­cant swings — both up and down.

four in­surance agen­cies saw their for­tunes change dra­mat­i­cally in In­vest­ment Ex­ec­u­tive’s ( IE) an­nual In­surance Ad­vi­sors’ Re­port Card this year. There were sig­nif­i­cant swings in many of their rat­ings — for bet­ter or worse — com­pared with 2016.

Specif­i­cally, Water­loo, Ont.based Sun Life Fi­nan­cial (Canada) Inc. was a stand­out in this year’s Re­port Card, with pos­i­tive changes in many cat­e­gories’ rat­ings. (See main ta­ble on page 12.).

On the other hand, many rat­ings for Kitch­ener, Ont.based Fi­nan­cial Hori­zons Inc., London, Ont.-based Free­dom 55 Fi­nan­cial and Wood­bridge, Ont.based Hub Fi­nan­cial Inc. de­clined by half a point or more — as did their IE rat­ings.

Free­dom 55 was the hard­est hit of these three firms. It re­ceived sig­nif­i­cantly lower rat­ings (half a point or more) in 18 of the 32 cat­e­gories in which it was rated. Some of the largest drops that Free­dom 55 ex­pe­ri­enced this year were in cat­e­gories re­lated to wealth-man­age­ment sup­port, such as “sup­port for de­vel­op­ing a fi­nan­cial plan for clients” and “sup­port for tax plan­ning.”

Free­dom 55 has more than 100 in-house spe­cial­ists, in­clud­ing wealth and tax plan­ning con­sul­tants, ready to help ad­vi­sors de­velop so­lu­tions for their clients via tele­phone or face to face, says Ab­bie MacMil­lan, vice pres­i­dent with Free­dom 55.

“There’s an en­tire t eam of peo­ple who have that tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise who can wrap their arms around the ad­vi­sor to help him or her un­der­stand how to po­si­tion prod­ucts in the mar­ket­place [or] how to have that next layer of con­sult­ing around taxes,” she says.

How­ever, the re­sults of this year’s Re­port Card sug­gest there may be a dis­con­nec­tion be­tween the firm and its ad­vi­sors about the level of sup­port avail­able.

More specif­i­cally, Free­dom 55 ad­vi­sors gave their firm’s tax plan­ning sup­port a rat­ing 5.9, down sig­nif­i­cantly from 7.3 in 2016, and also rated their firm’s sup­port for de­vel­op­ing a fi­nan­cial plan for clients at 6.3, down from 7.9 last year. For the most part, Free­dom 55 ad­vi­sors com­plained that their firm’s ser­vices and ex­perts are stretched too thin and not al­ways avail­able.

“There is one tax plan­ning spe­cial­ist serv­ing 150 ad­vi­sors in my prov­ince,” says a Free­dom 55 ad­vi­sor in At­lantic Canada. “He tends to fo­cus on top pro­duc­ers and has no time for any­one else.”

“There’s no one in-house who can help me fig­ure out pro­jec­tions for clients and pro­vide feed­back in per­son,” adds a col­league in Al­berta about the firm’s fi­nan­cial plan­ning sup­port.

Another firm that saw its rat­ings de­cline in sev­eral cat­e­gories this year was Fi­nan­cial Hori­zons. In fact, its ad­vi­sors gave the manag­ing gen­eral agency (MGA) sig­nif­i­cant lower rat­ings of half a point or more in 16 of the 25 cat­e­gories for which it re­ceived a rat­ing.

The drop in Fi­nan­cial Hori­zons’ rat­ings may be, in part, a sign of some of the un­ease ad­vi­sors were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing when IE was con­duct­ing the Re­port Card sur­veys in May. Win­nipeg­based Great-West Lifeco Inc. had just an­nounced that it had en­tered into an agree­ment to ac­quire Fi­nan­cial Hori­zons.

Case in point: Fi­nan­cial Hori­zons’ ad­vi­sors gave their MGA a rat­ing of 8.1 in the “firm’s/ MGA’s strate­gic fo­cus” cat­e­gory, down from 9.0 in 2016 in large part be­cause of the un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing the deal.

“[The MGA is] in tran­si­tion, so [strate­gic fo­cus] is hard to gauge,” says a Fi­nan­cial Hori­zons ad­vi­sor in On­tario. “There’s go­ing to be mas­sive changes to the way we do busi­ness.”

How­ever, John Hamil­ton, pres­i­dent and CEO of Fi­nan­cial Hori­zons, is adamant that ev­ery­thing will re­main as “busi­ness as usual” for the MGA and its advi- sors. In fact, since the sale was an­nounced on May 19, Hamil­ton has spo­ken with Fi­nan­cial Hori­zon’s ad­vi­sors via con­fer­ence calls and meet­ings to put any feel­ings to the con­trary to rest. Hamil­ton also met with the MGA’s ad­vi­sory coun­cil to ad­dress any lin­ger­ing con­cerns.

“Cer­tainly, [ad­vi­sors] had ques­tions,” says Hamil­ton, “and they’re very sat­is­fied and re­lieved with the an­swers.”

Fi­nan­cial Hori­zons ad­vi­sors also raised con­cerns about their MGA’s ef­forts in sev­eral other cat­e­gories, in­clud­ing “MGA’s help in po­si­tion­ing a prod­uct” and “sup­port for deal­ing with changes in the reg­u­la­tory en­vi­ron­ment.” The cat­e­gory that had the largest year-over-year de­cline, though, was the “firm’s/MGA’s mar­ket­ing sup­port for ad­vi­sor’s prac­tice.”

Specif­i­cally, Fi­nan­cial Hori­zons ad­vi­sors gave their firm a rat­ing of 5.9 in the cat­e­gory this year, down a full two points from 2016. Most ad­vi­sors sur­veyed said that the re­sources avail­able to them are lim­ited and generic.

“Typ­i­cally, you’re on your own,” says a Fi­nan­cial Hori­zons ad­vi­sor in Al­berta. “[The firm pro­vides] ma­te­ri­als that are broader and not ad­vi­sor-spe­cific — those aren’t help­ful.”

Fi­nan­cial Hori­zons of­fers in­di­vid­u­al­ized mar­ket­ing sup­port through its re­wards pro­gram to top-per­form­ing ad­vi­sors. More gen­er­ally, though, the firm of­fers ad­vi­sors help with mar­ket­ing ma­te­ri­als, prod­uct in­for­ma­tion and lead-gen­er­a­tion strate­gies through var­i­ous web-based plat­forms.

Hub also saw many of its rat- ings de­cline sig­nif­i­cantly in 2017 — al­though to a lesser ex­tent than Fi­nan­cial Hori­zons and Free­dom 55. Specif­i­cally, Hub’s rat­ings de­clined by half a point or more in eight cat­e­gories, in­clud­ing “your branch man­ager/MGA’s sales di­rec­tor or re­gional sales man­ager,” “on­go­ing train­ing,” and “back of­fice and ad­min­is­tra­tive sup­port for in-force pol­icy owner ser­vices.”

In par­tic­u­lar, Hub ad­vi­sors rated the MGA’s back-of­fice sup­port for in-force pol­icy owner ser­vices at 7.7, down from 8.3 in 2016, with some ad­vi­sors voic­ing con­cerns about per­son­nel.

“I just find that they don’t know the dif­fer­ent forms,” says a Hub ad­vi­sor in On­tario. “There are only two peo­ple who as­sist us in this area: one of them is new and the other is part-time.”

In con­trast, Sun Life bucked the neg­a­tive trend this year. The firm re­ceived higher rat­ings of half a point or more in 11 of the 34 cat­e­gories in which it was rated. Many of these im­proved rat­ings are a re­turn to form for Sun Life, as its rat­ings dropped by this same mar­gin in 12 cat­e­gories last year.

Sun Life ad­vi­sors were par­tic­u­larly i mpressed with how well their ded­i­cated sales agency keeps them in­formed about the com­pany and the in­vest­ment in­dus­try at large. In fact, Sun Life ad­vi­sors gave their firm a rat­ing of 8.6 in the “firm’s ef­fec­tive­ness in keep­ing ad­vi­sors in­formed” cat­e­gory this year, up from 7.8 in 2016.

Says a Sun Life ad­vi­sor on the Prairies: “From prod­ucts [and] com­pli­ance to the mar­kets, the com­pany is very good at get­ting in­for­ma­tion to its ad­vi­sors.”

“Ad­vi­sors had ques­tions, and they’re very sat­is­fied and re­lieved with the an­swers”

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