Having a strong product shelf always has been very important for financial advisors who ply their trade with dealer firms - and the results of this year's Dealers' Report Card reveal this remains the case.

Advisors gave the "quality of firm's product offering" category an overall average importance rating of 9.1. Advisors also believe their firms are delivering strongly in this category, as they gave an overall average performance rating of 8.8 in the category.

Advisors who gave their firms the highest ratings for the category were quick to praise product shelves stocked with a seemingly endless array of mutual funds and other products to cater to specific clients and their growing needs.

For example, advisors with Toronto-based Assante Wealth Management (Canada) Ltd. gave their firm a performance rating of 9.2 in the category for having both an "almost unlimited" mutual fund offering, according to an Assante advisor in Ontario, and strong private client managed portfolios for high net-worth clients.

"We have very good internal products that are well thought out, executed well and supported well," says an Assante advisor in Ontario.

Adds a colleague in British Columbia: "I use a lot of the private managed [portfolios]. I've seen a lot of product offerings out there. [Ours] is the best and most consistent."

Advisors with Calgary-based Portfolio Strategies Corp. also spoke of their broad product shelf, which has no proprietary products, and the firm's emphasis on exempt-market products as reasons for giving that dealer a rating of 9.0.

"[Our firm] always is searching for new offerings to help us better serve our clients," says a Portfolio Strategies advisor in Alberta.

Adds a colleague in B.C.: "You can offer everything out there, and the firm goes out of its way to get exempt-market products."

Advisors with Markham, Ont.-based Worldsource Wealth Management Inc. also voiced their appreciation for the lack of proprietary products as a key reason why they gave their firm a rating of 9.0 in the category.

"The wider the selection, the better," says a Worldsource advisor in B.C. "That gives us a competitive advantage over someone who offers only in-house product."

Although having a vast product shelf brings more choice, some advisors also believe that brings more complexity.

"We have too much - we really do," says an advisor in Ontario with Winnipeg-based Investors Group Inc. "There's too much choice - and I don't think everyone is qualified to sell those products."

In turn, firms such as Mississauga, Ont.-based Investment Planning Counsel Inc. (IPC) have begun to consider reducing their product shelf.

"[My firm] is making strides to reduce our product offering because it's getting unmanageable," says an IPC advisor in Alberta.

"We are free to put together anything on the Street," adds a colleague in Ontario. "It's not terribly important to me that we have that option. Sometimes, there's too much choice."

Although IPC has yet to take any concrete steps to reduce its product shelf, doing so is something the firm has been looking into for some time, says John Novachis, executive vice president of corporate development at IPC, adding he would be surprised if IPC is alone in taking that route.

The reason for making this move, he says, is to inject simplicity back into an industry made complex by both a plethora of product options and the regulatory requirements surrounding them.

"The further demands that are going to be put on advisors and dealers to know products [make] staying on top of such a broad diverse product shelf very onerous," Novachis explains. "You have to have breadth in your offering, and enough depth that you provide choice. But, at the same time, you can't offer all flavours."

Another industrywide trend to which firms are attempting to respond is the emergence of ETFs. Although the regulations allow advisors licensed by the Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada (MFDA) to sell ETFs, doing so is difficult in practice. Because ETFs trade on a stock exchange, a partnership with an investment dealer is required, as is having the necessary back-office requirements.

Advisors at full-service dealers who are licensed by the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC) are able to access ETFs without obstacle. But many MFDA-licensed advisors pointed to the lack of ETFs as the single notable detriment in their firm's offering.

"[The firm's management] mentioned ETFs two years ago and did not deliver," says an advisor in Ontario with Windsor, Ont.-based Sterling Mutuals Inc. "[ETFs] are an important part of the business and are growing."

"I wish [my firm] would start getting to ETFs; I just don't think it's a priority," says an advisor in Ontario with Oakville, Ont.-based Manulife Securities.

To date, only one firm in the Report Card, Montreal-based Peak Financial Group, has provided access to ETFs to its advisors on the MFDA platform. In turn, many Peak advisors praised their firm's in-house ETF platform, which launched in December 2016 and enables advisors with Peak Investment Services (the firm's mutual fund dealer arm) to place ETF trades directly through Peak Investment Services Inc. (the firm's IIROC-licensed division).

"To be able to offer ETFs is a huge achievement," says a Peak advisor in Quebec.

As a result, Peak received the highest performance rating in the product offering category, at 9.3.

Providing MFDA-licensed advisors access to ETFs is the result of several years of work, brought on by both following market trends and advisor consultation, says Robert Frances, Peak's chairman and CEO.

"Advisors always tell us the more products and services they have available for their clients, the better equipped they are to be fully independent and successful as advisors," Frances says. "It's important to us at Peak to have all the options available to our advisors for each client."

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