Having the ear of those in management is important to financial advisors. Even more so is seeing their dealer firms' executives take action in response to advisors' feedback. Many firms struggle to meet these expectations, according to the results of this year's Dealers' Report Card.

That advisors value sharing their opinions with their dealers' leaders is clear from the 8.6 overall average importance rating advisors gave the "firm's receptiveness to advisor feedback" category. Just as clear is the fact dealer firms have work to do in this matter, as advisors gave their firms an overall average performance rating of 7.4. The 1.2-point difference between the two ratings is the third-largest "satisfaction gap" in the entire survey.

The mixed reviews from advisors with Toronto-based Assante Wealth Management (Canada) Ltd., for example, reveals how challenging efforts to handle advisors' feedback successfully can be for firms.

Assante received a performance rating of 7.9 in this category, tied for third-highest in the survey but down from 8.4 last year. In large part, Assante advisors took their firm to task this year because of delays and lack of results. Still, the firm's advisors expressed appreciation for the many avenues Assante uses to gather feedback, which include regional councils, corporate events and management's routine visits to branches.

"[Management] is receptive to our feedback, but they won't act on it," says an Assante advisor in Atlantic Canada.

The dealer always seeks feedback to ensure a new project is something advisors want, says Bob Dorrell, senior vice president, distribution sales and service, with Assante. However, advisors may forget about that initial conversation by the time a new platform is rolled out. For example, Assante recently launched a new corporate website in response to advisor feedback gathered two years ago. Thus, Dorrell says, management could try harder to link new initiatives to the original suggestions.

Says Dorrell: "We could probably do a better job of connecting those dots."

Oakville, Ont.-based Manulife Securities' performance rating in the receptiveness category also dropped this year, to 6.5 from 7.1 in 2016. By and large, advisors said they feel ignored and don't believe they have a genuine outlet through which they can voice concerns or suggestions.

"[Management] is not really receptive," says a Manulife Securities advisor in Ontario. "I don't think our message resonates with people higher up. [The response] can often be a case of 'Do what I say'."

Manulife Securities does, in fact, provide several channels for advisors to offer feedback, including an advisory council, the firm's team of field managers and a call centre, says Rick Annaert, the firm's president and CEO. As well, the firm has a policy to acknowledge receipt of an advisor's communication within 24 hours.

Furthermore, Annaert says, advisors are free to contact him directly and he will reply in a timely fashion so long as the advisor has a specific question or concern.

However, rants will not garner a response. "I don't respond to those," says Annaert. "It's just hard to because I don't know what issue we're dealing with; it's just a rant."

Toronto-based HollisWealth Inc.'s performance rating in the receptiveness category also dropped sharply, to 6.3 from 7.5 in 2016. In large part, the firm's advisors complained that the large bureaucracy of their parent firm, Bank of Nova Scotia, prevents them from providing feedback and management from acting on advisors' concerns.

"Whatever you tell [senior management], they do it their own way because they're a bank," says an advisor in Ontario with HollisWealth.

HollisWealth advisors won't have to deal with Scotiabank much longer, however. Quebec City-based Industrial Alliance Insurance and Financial Services Inc. expects to close a deal to purchase the fullservice dealer in the third quarter of 2017.

In contrast, advisors who awarded their firms top ratings in this category appreciate both their direct access to management and that executives take the time to respond.

Case in point: advisors with Montrealbased Peak Financial Group gave their firm the highest rating in the receptiveness category (8.6), largely because of management's accessibility.

"If we ever have a problem or a question, [management] is very interested in what we have to say and what changes we want to make," says a Peak advisor in Ontario, "[and] generally very good at giving us an answer."

Advisors with Winnipeg-based Investors Group Inc. gave their firm the second-highest rating in the category (8.0) because they believe their voices are heard with the help of a new, online platform launched earlier this year. The Idea Network allows Investors Group advisors to offer suggestions on how to improve the business. Advisors also can take advantage of the Idea Network to vote on ideas that they believe should be a priority for management.

"Anything I've put out there has been addressed," says an Investors Group advisor in Ontario. "[The firm] launched the Idea Network, and we can put our ideas out there for the company to see."

"We've always had a strong approach to gathering feedback in a multitude of forms [and] all will continue," says Todd Asman, senior vice president of products and financial planning with Investors Group. "But [the Idea Network] is a more digitally-based and group-based approach to be able to gather that input."

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