Al­though ad­vi­sors have com­plained for years about their back-of­fice sup­port, some firms have found the win­ning for­mula

Investment Executive - - FRONT PAGE - BY CU RTIS PAN KE

Hav­ing the right staff in place is the key to suc­cess.

hav­ing a strong back of­fice is crit­i­cal for fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sors. They rely on the sup­port this depart­ment pro­vides to keep their busi­nesses run­ning smoothly and to meet clients’ needs and ex­pec­ta­tions.

In fact, ad­vi­sors across the four ma­jor distri­bu­tion chan­nels in In­vest­ment Ex­ec­u­tive’s an­nual Re­port Card series gave the “back of­fice and ad­min­is­tra­tive sup­port” cat­e­gory one of the high­est over­all av­er­age im­por­tance rat­ings, at 9.3.

“[The back of­fice] is ex­tremely im­por­tant. [The staff is] al­ways there to help; they’re quick and they’re ef­fi­cient,” says an ad­vi­sor in Al­berta with Mis­sis­sauga, Ont.based In­vest­ment Plan­ning Coun­sel Inc. “I’ve messed up [be­fore] and they’ve fixed it; you can’t ask for more than that.”

De­spite the i mpor­tance of the back of­fice, though, firms have failed to meet ad­vi­sors’ ex­pec­ta­tions of this depart­ment year af­ter year — and 2018 was no dif­fer­ent. Specif­i­cally, ad­vi­sors gave their firms’ back of­fices an over­all av­er­age per­for­mance rat­ing of 7.5. The dif­fer­ence be­tween the two rat­ings re­sults in the high­est “sat­is­fac­tion gap” in this year’s sur­vey.

Some ad­vi­sors’ dis­sat­is­fac­tion with their back of­fice is a re­sult of lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween ad­vi­sors and the back-of­fice staff. For other ad­vi­sors, the prob­lem is that their firm’s back-of­fice staff was re­duced or is filled with in­ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple.

How­ever, some firms have man­aged to get the right teams in place in their back of­fices and, there­fore, re­ceived high praise from their firms’ ad­vi­sors. That was very much the case with regional in­de­pen­dent bro­ker­ages Leede Jones Gable Inc. of Cal­gary and Van­cou­ver-based Od­lum Brown Ltd., which re­ceived the high­est over­all per­for­mance rat­ings in the back­of­fice cat­e­gory in this year’s Re­port Card series, at 9.3 and 9.1, re­spec­tively.

In­deed, ad­vi­sors at both firms praised their per­sonal re­la­tion­ships with their back-of­fice staff as the main rea­son for their high lev­els of sat­is­fac­tion.

“You re­ally get a sense that every­one is pulling in the right di­rec­tion,” says an Od­lum Brown ad­vi­sor in Bri­tish Columbia.

Adds a Leede ad­vi­sor in the same province: “I get to talk to real peo­ple. You make a re­quest and it gets done.”

Leede ben­e­fits from hav­ing a tenured back-of­fice depart­ment be­cause the firm didn’t re­duce its staff dur­ing mar­ket down­turns or when the firm’s two pre­de­ces­sor firms merged in 2015, says Jim Dale, Leede’s CEO: “We kept our ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple and kept our ca­pac­ity. There’s a loy­alty in that group and across the whole or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Ad­vi­sors with Mis­sis­sauga, Ont.-based manag­ing gen­eral agency (MGA) IDC World­source In­sur­ance Net­work Inc. (IDC WIN) also men­tioned staff as a big rea­son why they rated their firm’s per­for­mance so strongly in the three back-of­fice cat­e­gories in the In­sur­ance Ad­vi­sors’ Re­port Card.

“They al­ways answer our ques­tions when we have any­thing [of con­cern],” says an IDC WIN ad­vi­sor in Al­berta. “The key com­po­nent is the peo­ple.”

IDC WIN as­signs a ded­i­cated case spe­cial­ist to each ad­vi­sor who joins the firm and the on­go­ing re­la­tion­ships that ad­vi­sors de­velop with the back-of­fice staff makes ev­ery­thing run smoothly, says Mar­garet Lyne, vice pres­i­dent, op­er­a­tions, Eastern Canada, at the MGA: “[The ded­i­cated case spe­cial­ist] is some­one who gets to un­der­stand how the ad­vi­sor op­er­ates over time and whom the ad­vi­sor knows he or she can con­tact with any ques­tions.”

Al­though re­la­tion­ships mat­ter, ad­vi­sors also ap­pre­ci­ate their back-of­fice staff’s ef­fi­ciency and time­li­ness in pro­vid­ing as­sis­tance. Ad­vi­sors with Mon­treal-based Peak Fi­nan­cial Group gave that dealer a rat­ing of 8.6 for the firm’s back of­fice be­cause of staff’s will­ing­ness to fol­low up with ad­vi­sors to en­sure prob­lems are solved.

“The peo­ple are very com­pe­tent and fol­low-through is ex­cel­lent,” says a Peak ad­vi­sor in On­tario. “The ball doesn’t seem to be dropped at all. If they don’t have the answer, they keep work­ing on it un­til [the mat­ter] gets re­solved.”

Peak’s back-of­fice man­age­ment has morn­ing meet­ings known as “hud­dles,” which keep the staff up to date on deal­ing with the lat­est re­quests from ad­vi­sors, says Marc Doré, the firm’s pres­i­dent and chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer: “[At the be­gin­ning of each] day, ev­ery­body knows that this ad­vi­sor called last night and he has this is­sue. If some­body has to be in­volved, they know right away and can have an im­pact.”

Ad­vi­sors with Toronto-based Cana­dian Im­pe­rial Bank of Com­merce (CIBC) also cited their back-of­fice staff’s pro­fes­sion­al­ism and, in some cases, im­prove­ments in the depart­ment as key rea­sons for giv­ing the bank’s back-of­fice a rat­ing of 8.4, the high­est in this year’s Re­port Card on Banks.

“The re­sponse time is bet­ter,” says a CIBC ad­vi­sor in On­tario, “and when we ask for some­thing, it comes cor­rectly — whereas be­fore, that wasn’t the case.”

The bank has been ex­plor­ing ways to cen­tral­ize back-of­fice roles, says David Ni­chol­son, vice pres­i­dent of CIBC’s Im­pe­rial Ser­vice di­vi­sion, to im­prove ser­vice and “pro­vide ad­di­tional train­ing, lead­er­ship and con­sis­tency.”

“They al­ways answer our ques­tions when we have any­thing. The key com­po­nent is the peo­ple”

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