Back of­fices leave much to be de­sired, ad­vi­sors say.

Investment Executive - - FRONT PAGE - BY LEAH GOLOB

there’s widespread dis­sat­is­fac­tion among the ma­jor­ity of fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sors sur­veyed for this year’s Re­port Card on Banks re­gard­ing their banks’ back of­fices be­cause of staffing is­sues, sig­nif­i­cant changes or out­dated tech­nol­ogy.

Ad­vi­sors gave the Big Six banks an over­all av­er­age per­for­mance rat­ing of 7.1 in the “back of­fice and ad­min­is­tra­tive sup­port” cat­e­gory — the low­est such rat­ing for all cat­e­gories in the Re­port Card. In com­par­i­son, ad­vi­sors gave the cat­e­gory an over­all av­er­age im­por­tance rat­ing of 9.4. The dif­fer­ence of 2.3 points be­tween these two rat­ings re­sulted in the largest “sat­is­fac­tion gap” among all the cat­e­gories in the Re­port Card.

For ad­vi­sors, hav­ing a strong back of­fice is crit­i­cal. In fact, an ad­vi­sor in On­tario with Toron­to­based Cana­dian Im­pe­rial Bank of Com­merce (CIBC) de­scribed the bank’s back of­fice as the “back­bone” of her busi­ness. But when ad­vi­sors be­lieve they aren’t get­ting the sup­port they need from the back of­fice, they didn’t hold back.

In fact, ad­vi­sors with Toron­to­based TD Wealth Fi­nan­cial Plan­ning, a di­vi­sion of Toron­toDo­min­ion Bank ( TD), gave their back of­fice a per­for­mance rat­ing of 6.7, down from 7.3 in 2017. They’re un­happy that the staff are in­ex­pe­ri­enced and poorly trained.

“There are a lot of in­ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple who make a lot of mis­takes that make us look un­pro­fes­sional,” says a TD ad­vi­sor in British Columbia. “We al­ways have to redo pa­per­work, which leads to a lot of un­nec­es­sary ex­tra work.”

Adds a col­league in At­lantic Canada: “The [back-of­fice staff ] are not very well trained or ex­pe­ri­enced. I think the peo­ple in those po­si­tions need more men­tor­ship and coach­ing.”

How­ever, Rowena Chan, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of TD Wealth Fi­nan­cial Plan­ning, pointed out that ad­vi­sors most likely were re­fer­ring to the cen­tral­ized team of sales as­so­ciates rather than the back of­fice it­self. (She noted that the term “back of­fice” isn’t used in­ter­nally, which may have led to con­fu­sion about the two groups.)

Al­though the sales as­so­ciates re­ceive thor­ough train­ing, Chan says, there are many new peo­ple be­ing brought in to ac­com­mo­date growth in that de­part­ment.

“I un­der­stand how [ad­vi­sors] feel be­cause we’re [all part of ] a fast-grow­ing busi­ness,” Chan says. “Just this past year, we hired 100 new [ad­vi­sors]. To do that, we have to hire a lot of new sup­port staff. While we’re con­tin­u­ing to hire new re­cruits, there could be times that some new hires may not have the same ex­pe­ri­ence as those who have been on the job for two to three years.”

Ad­vi­sors with Mon­treal-based Na­tional Bank of Canada gave their bank the low­est back of­fice rat­ing of all the banks, at 6.1, but also pointed to their as­sis­tants as a rea­son for the dis­sat­is­fac­tion. The ad­vi­sors noted that there aren’t enough as­sis­tants, and the ones who are there are stretched too thin. This means ad­vi­sors of­ten get bogged down do­ing a lot of the ad­min­is­tra­tive work them­selves.

“[As­sis­tants] do their job, but there’s maybe too much be­ing asked of them,” says a Na­tional Bank ad­vi­sor in Que­bec. “We have to hunt them down. There are al­ways de­lays. It’s very im­por­tant to keep up for the client’s sake. I have to spend 10% of my time do­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion stuff.”

Adds a col­league in the same prov­ince: “A lot of things have been cut and branches now are lack­ing as­sis­tants. This is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant be­cause we now have to spend hours do­ing ad­min­is­tra­tive work when we should be do­ing our jobs.”

Nancy Pa­quet, vice pres­i­dent, in­vest­ment, with Na­tional Bank, says the bank has op­ti­mized cer­tain tech­nol­ogy tools re­cently to stream­line ad­min­is­tra­tive pro­cesses that were han­dled by the back of­fice in the past.

“Some tools that we’ve pro­vided give [ad­vi­sors] the pos­si­bil­ity of do­ing some­thing them­selves com­pared with ask­ing an as­sis­tant, ‘Can you do this for me?’” Pa­quet says. “So this is a change for [ad­vi­sors]. But it doesn’t take more time to do it them­selves than to write it down and give [in­struc­tions] to an as­sis­tant.”

Toronto-based Bank of Nova Sco­tia has also been go­ing through a re­or­ga­ni­za­tion in its back of­fice dur­ing the past few years. Specif­i­cally, the bank moved all back-of­fice func­tions to a call cen­tre in Toronto in 2016.

For the most part, Sco­tia­bank’s ad­vi­sors re­main dis­sat­is­fied with the new setup, rat­ing their back of­fice at 6.6. How­ever, some ad­vi­sors are ad­just­ing, as the rat­ing in­creased from 5.9 in 2017.

“There isn’t re­ally a back of­fice. Ev­ery­thing is cen­tral­ized and you’re put in a queue,” says a Sco­tia­bank ad­vi­sor in On­tario. “You don’t have a con­tact that you ac­tu­ally go to. And when they do get back to you, they don’t leave a con­tact name or a num­ber, so you have to go through the whole process all over again [later].”

In con­trast, a col­league i n At­lantic Canada adds: “[The call cen­tre staff ] make sure ev­ery­thing’s done right. They ac­tu­ally call me on stuff and it’s very per­son­able. I en­joy the hands-on ap­proach.”

“Any­time you go through any change, there are some grow­ing pains,” says Lau­rie Stang, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent, Cana­dian branch bank­ing, with Sco­tia­bank. “We have a con­tin­u­ous feed­back loop so that we can [find out how things are go­ing and] im­prove upon the cur­rent pro­cesses.”

In the case of Toronto-based Bank of Mon­treal (BMO), its ad­vi­sors have not dealt with any ma­jor changes to their back-of­fice pro­cesses. Quite the op­po­site: these ad­vi­sors com­plained that their bank was stuck in the past, as it still re­lies on fax ma­chines for com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween ad­vi­sors and the back of­fice.

“The staff mostly does an ef­fec­tive job,” says a BMO ad­vi­sor in Al­berta. “The is­sue is how we com­mu­ni­cate with them. We still use fax for a lot of pro­cesses, which is sloppy at best.”

Adds a col­league in On­tario: “Deal­ing with the back-of­fice staff seems to be the big­gest headache. Some trans­ac­tions we can do right on our desk­top, but oth­ers have to be faxed off.”

Mean­while, ad­vi­sors with To r o n t o - b a s e d Cana­dian Im­pe­rial Bank of Com­merce (CIBC) gave the high­est rat­ing in the Re­port Card for the cat­e­gory, at 8.4 (up from 8.1 last year), be­cause of the high-qual­ity sup­port they get from the staff.

“Any­time we need any as­sis­tance,” says a CIBC ad­vi­sor in On­tario, “we’re talk­ing to some­one who is very knowl­edge­able and ac­ces­si­ble.”

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