Half of the bank-owned brokerages included in Investment Executive's (IE) Brokerage Report Card saw a significant shift in their fortunes this year. Specifically, two firms' performance ratings dropped significantly in both various categories and overall, while another brokerage experienced significant increases in its ratings.

Although advisors pointed to various reasons for their increased satisfaction or dissatisfaction with Toronto-based BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc., ScotiaMcLeod Inc. and TD Wealth Private Investment Advice (TD Wealth PIA), the "firm's corporate culture" was the category in which ratings tumbled or rose the most for all three firms.

For TD Wealth PIA, corporate culture and "firm's strategic focus" were the categories in which ratings rose the most year-over-year. In fact, the firm saw its ratings rise by half a point or more in 28 categories, giving the firm the most ratings increases in this year's survey. As well, the firm saw its "IE rating" and "overall rating by advisors" also rise by at least the same margin.

In many ways, the ratings increases for TD Wealth PIA represent a reversion to the mean: the firm's ratings dropped by half a point or more in 20 categories last year - as did the IE rating and overall rating by advisors - in reaction to significant changes the firm had made, including to its compensation grid.

Still, TD Wealth PIA advisors said their firm's focus on its wealth-management strategy and its attention to high net-worth clients increased this past year.

"There's still room for improvement, but [the firm] is moving in the right direction," says a TD Wealth PIA advisor in British Colombia. "They're finally really focused on growing the wealth-management business."

Adds a colleague in Ontario: "There's a commitment on the part of the firm to do what it's promised, such as the development of a high net-worth offering. It's one thing to say, 'This what we're going to do.' But if you back it up with real money and real people, that's really important. Doing that shows a commitment to the vision - and advisors like that."

TD Wealth PIA got the message following the results of last year's Report Card. The firm has focused on being clearer with advisors on its strategy and vision, says Dave Kelly, senior vice president of TD Wealth Private Wealth Management.

"At the leadership level, we really focused on being able to distil our strategy down to one page and we tried to make sure we wrote it in advisor-centric lens and language," he says. "Part of [our strategy] has been the sheer consistency of our ability to have it on one page and always link back to the one page. That's made a big difference."

In contrast, ScotiaMcLeod advisors rated their firm lower by half a point or more in 17 categories compared with last year, as well as in the IE rating and overall rating by advisors. Much like TD Wealth PIA, corporate culture was also a factor for these advisors, but for the opposite reason: this category's rating had the largest year-over-year decline in the category.

The reason for this decline stems from the drop in morale caused by layoffs last spring, in which Bank of Nova Scotia let go of 7% of ScotiaMcLeod's roster of 750 advisors, plus their assistants. (See story at right.)

Another category in which ScotiaMcLeod advisors rated their firm significantly lower compared with 2016 is the "firm's receptiveness to advisor feedback." Specifically, ScotiaMcLeod advisors said management rarely listens, as executives pay attention only to advisors who have larger books.

"Everybody likes to talk, but people don't like to listen. Let's face it, [brokerage] is a business of numbers," says a ScotiaMcLeod advisor in B.C. "If you have a $1-billion book, management will listen to you. Money talks."

Yet, says Rob Djurfeldt, managing director and head of ScotiaMcLeod, company management always looks for opportunities to improve. For example, the firm introduced nationwide phone presentations in 2016 with followup questions from advisors after each one. In fact, any advisor could join the call and voice his or her concerns and comment anonymously.

"Every one of those calls is 'open mic' [and advisors] don't have to tell me what their names are," Djurfeldt says. "They can ask questions in the open and I can answer them to the best of my ability. We have made strides toward [better] communication, but it's an important area for us to continue to focus on."

At Nesbitt, advisors' sentiments toward their firm also was gloomy. They rated it significantly lower by half a point or more in 21 categories this year - the most for any firm in the Report Card - as well as in the IE rating and overall rating by advisors.

Nesbitt advisors, much like their counterparts at ScotiaMcLeod, were highly displeased with their firm's corporate culture and receptiveness to advisor feedback. Not only did these two ratings drop significantly for the firm vs the previous year, they also were the two lowest ratings in these categories in the survey.

Charyl Galpin, head, executive vice president and managing director with Nesbitt, points out that communication channels between advisors and management are always open and "advisor feedback is welcomed anytime."

Although Nesbitt advisors recognize they have the opportunity to provide feedback, they're perturbed by the fact nothing ever gets done as a result.

"[Management] doesn't care what I have to say or what I think," says a Nesbitt advisor in Ontario. "They couldn't get any worse."

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