For financial advisors, having the right set of technology tools can increase productivity and efficiency, as well as focus on the most critical aspects of the job.

No surprise, then, that advisors across the four major distribution channels included in Investment Executive's annual Report Card series gave the "technology tools and advisor desktop" category a high overall average importance rating of 9.0. Unfortunately for advisors, most firms are following previous years' trends of underdelivering on advisors' expectations in this category. Specifically, advisors gave their firms an overall average performance rating of 7.5 in technology. The resulting difference between these two ratings is 1.5 points, representing the second-highest "satisfaction gap" in this year's survey.

Meeting advisors' expectations in this category is increasingly difficult, as technology is both expensive and changing at breakneck speed. This combination can flummox firms trying to provide advisors with the tech tools they need while funding and implementing systems that have been adequately tested and tweaked.

Still, some firms have managed to find technological solutions that work exceptionally well for their advisors. In fact, advisors at two firms in particular - independent brokerage Edward Jones and managing general agency (MGA) IDC Worldsource Insurance Network Inc. (IDC WIN), both based in Mississauga, Ont. - were so pleased that they gave their companies performance ratings that exceeded the high overall average importance rating.

Edward Jones was a clear standout, as the firm's advisors rated their tech tools at 9.3. Specifically, advisors were quick to praise the firm's tech for making life easy - especially in working with clients.

"The [firm] is probably very advanced in terms of the client contact," says an Edward Jones advisor in Atlantic Canada. "It's all in one place and very convenient."

"Providing tools that help us to explain investments to clients helps clients understand," adds a colleague in Ontario.

"The real focus is how technology complements a personal relationship between the advisor and the client," says Patrick French, principal in Edward Jones' client depth department for Canada.

French attributes Edward Jones' tech tools ratings to a "high level of integration" of proprietary systems that "talk to each other" to maximize efficiency.

"This enables the advisor and the client to focus on what all the research shows is most important to the client, which is what [he or she] is actually trying to accomplish," says French.

Meanwhile, IDC WIN's tech model is quite different, but no less successful in the eyes of that firm's advisors, who rated their tech tools at 9.2. IDC WIN caters to a network of independent insurance advisors, so the MGA opted to provide tried and tested options for advisors while allowing them the freedom of choice in what they ultimately use. In turn, IDC WIN advisors were keen on their firm's breadth of options for tools and platforms, which are accessible through the MGA's intranet.

"It's very convenient; even after work hours, I can access the platform very easily and download all the materials I need," says an IDC WIN advisor in Ontario.

"The [tech tools] have been outstanding. They've been extremely useful in my practice," adds a colleague in Alberta.

Embracing technology is something that's been part of IDC WIN's culture from Day 1, says Ron Madzia, president of the MGA. Although the firm does have some proprietary tools, IDC WIN's management recognizes that at the end of the day, individual advisors will choose what works best for their own practices.

"Our job is to analyze what we think are [the tech tools] best suited for advisors and to endorse them," says Madzia.

When faced with the possibility of introducing new technology, the firm will first test it with a small group of advisors before introducing that tool across the board.

"You have to have that entrepreneurial or creative bent to your culture to be able to try things to offer to your advisors to help them be more successful, and help them manage their practices more efficiently," says Madzia.

Going through systemwide upgrades and introducing new tech tools to advisors is no easy task, and many firms falter in implementing or in training advisors how to use new technology. However, Toronto-based RBC Dominion Securities Inc. (DS) advisors praised that firm for having navigated a system upgrade successfully, giving the firm a rating of 8.9 in the category, up from 8.1 last year.

"In the past year alone," says a DS advisor in Ontario, "there was significant investment in tech to improve the advisor experience, the client experience and the support for all the regulatory changes with [the second phase of the client relationship model] upon us."

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