Communication is a top priority

by Jade Hermeon
Investment Executive, June 2012

When it comes to communication between financial advisors and their dealer firms, there appear to be commendable efforts to keep advisors informed about ongoing issues and developments in the financial services industry as well as a high level of receptivity overall by the firms' management regarding advisor feedback.

Those themes became evident when advisors were asked to rate their "firm's effectiveness in keeping advisors informed" and their "firm's receptiveness to advisor feedback" for the first time in this year's Dealers' Report Card.

It appears that the firms are succeeding in maintaining solid two-way communication, as advisors rated these categories at 8.1 and 8.0, respectively, overall. Mississauga, Ont.-based PFSL Investments Canada Ltd., Ottawa-based Independent Planning Group Inc. (IPG), Investors Group Inc. of Winnipeg and Montreal-based Peak Financial Group received the highest ratings and most praise.

In terms of keeping advisors informed, PFSL makes it a priority to stay in touch with its advisors through several modes of communication, both formal and informal, says Jeff Dumanski, the firm's president and chief marketing officer: "We do conference calls and webcasts, and we do a specific Canadian leadership meeting every year. We also do pop-up messages on our intranet on what's new or what's changed."

PFSL's intranet is an important tool for the firm; furthermore, PFSL also has internal Twitter and Facebook accounts, which can be used to communicate to advisors regarding initiatives. Dumanski also makes a point of distributing press clippings that mention the firm's name to keep advisors informed on what's being written publicly about PFSL.

"Communication is big for us," Dumanski says. "We have our own print shop, and we put out a lot of material to make sure people understand the good, the bad and the different. Anything we think would advance a question, we put it out."

As for IPG, that firm's internal surveys reveal that advisors prefer to receive updates on matters related to their firm or to the financial services industry through email, says IPG president Vince Valenti. So, whenever there is a compliance update or information on other relevant matters, an email is promptly sent to all advisors.

When it comes to being receptive to advisors' feedback, IPG takes a different approach, focusing on meetings, presentations and other face-to-face methods of communication, Valenti says: "Because so many advisors are shareholders, they have a strong voice in the firm. So, when we are out meeting with them face to face, that's when we are learning and getting feedback. It gives us a good idea of what to focus on."

A similar approach also has been successful at Peak. In part, that's because the firm is a smaller independent dealer, much like IPG, and, as a result, can be more nimble and responsive than some of its larger, nationwide counterparts.

Says a Peak advisor in British Columbia: "As it's a smaller firm with a somewhat flat management structure, advisors are able to voice their concerns directly to anybody in upper management."

Peak advisors also noted the effectiveness of their branch managers in the process, as those managers usually are looking for feedback that they can take back to head office.

"Advisors can always voice complaints through the branch manager," says a Peak advisor in Ontario. "There's a willingness in our head office, not only to listen but also to act on behalf of advisors."

The reason why Peak places so much focus on receptiveness to advisor feedback, says president and CEO Robert Frances, is: "We're in the service business; we're not making shoes here. So, the only way to know if the service is good is to ask our advisors. Having an open-door policy is really important because advisors are going through all kinds of changes. And as they do, they need to be close to their dealer."

Richmond Hill, Ont.-based Global Maxfin Investments Inc. lags the rest of the pack when it came to advisor communication. In part, says president Bruce Day, that's because there is a need to go beyond appearing at the advisor forums that are held three or four times a year in various cities across the country and talk directly to individual advisors instead. Thus, Day is making himself accessible by phone and encourages advisors to call him anytime.

"What I'm going to try to do is be out there every quarter, to travel once a quarter," Day says. "The real answer is that I need to be out there more."