Wealth Professional strives to recognize the best in the wealth management industry. At the heart of that industry are the financial advisors and advisory teams who provide necessary advice to millions of Canadians each year, who are the focus of WP’s latest 5-Star Awards.
Because Canada boasts a wealth of advisor talent, WP has divided these awards into four regions: Western Canada, Ontario, Quebec and Eastern Canada. This report features 5-Star Top Teams from around the country, as well as the 5-Star Advisors from Western Canada and Quebec; the Ontario and Eastern Canada winners will be highlighted later this year.
So what qualities define a 5-Star Advisor? The investors WP surveyed were asked to rank their advisors on communication, portfolio performance, product knowledge, client trust, client knowledge and customer service. Teams were evaluated on similar criteria, in addition to their key service offerings, differentiators, and value propositions.
The result was truly a snapshot of the future of the industry – those advisors and teams who made the final cut as 5-Star winners are going above and beyond investment management. They are helping clients with financial, tax and estate planning; offering them access to opportunities they might not be able to achieve on their own; and putting them in control of their financial well-being.
Where advisors are excelling
Client trust was the only category in which both advisors from Western Canada and Quebec received a score of 100% from investors – and it’s an important one. Building trust with clients is critical, and it appears that advisors in both regions are doing an excellent job.
“Working with an advisor over time, knowing and trusting them, is more than investing – it is the strategies being deployed and understanding clients’ risk tolerance,” says 5-Star Advisor Darren Alexander, a senior investment advisor with Alexander Wealth & Associates Advisory Group at Manulife Securities Inc. “An advisor can understand a client and their risk tolerance even better. I encourage investors to pick an advisor they trust and consolidate with them. As an advisor, if you can see all of the investments a client has, you are able to make better recommendations.”
Another area where advisors in both regions scored well was customer service: Quebec advisors once again received a score of 100%, while advisors in Western Canada were close behind with a score of 97%. Much like establishing trust, providing quality and differentiated service helps advisors and their teams build a strong client base.
“We received lots of referrals and feedback saying we were offering something that others weren’t – a different level of service,” Philip Tonge, partner and senior executive financial consultant at 5-Star Top Team Tonge McChelry and Associates with IG Private Wealth Management, says of his team’s approach to providing client service. “Our focus on planning has allowed us to grow and add team members. We really aim to offer high service in all areas.”
Product knowledge was another area in which Quebec advisors earned a perfect 100% score, while advisors in Western Canada netted a respectable 94%. The fact that both groups scored so well is a testament to the willingness of the best advisors to keep up with the latest products in an industry that releases hundreds of funds each year.
“We are always learning in this industry, with continuing education and day-to-day experiences,” Alexander says. “I don’t think you can ever learn enough.”
Both groups also fared well when it came to communication, an important area of the advisor-client relationship that’s been especially crucial over the past year. Quebec advisors received a score of 96% for communication, while advisors in Western Canada earned a 93%.
The importance of communicating regularly with clients cannot be understated. Advisors who were able to pivot to digital means of communication to stay connected with clients during the pandemic were able to help them ride out the market turmoil and stay the course on their financial plans.
“To me, the key to communication is when you are going through a rough period, like last March and April, reach out to every client,” says Rob McClelland, vice-president and co-owner of 5-Star Top Team The McClelland Financial Group of Assante Capital Management Ltd. “We are constantly trying to communicate everything we possibly can about what is going on, and when you go through these periods, you double down on the communication going out. It is almost too much, but what I realized is each client doesn’t consume every piece – they have their favourites.”
Client knowledge was Quebec advisors’ worst-scoring category, but they still managed to net a respectable score of 91%, while advisors in Western Canada did slightly better at 92%. The numbers suggest that individuals who work with an advisor feel that their advisor is knowledgeable about their financial well-being. That’s something advisors and the wealth management industry can showcase as they push for greater financial literacy across the board.
Room for improvement
The area most critiqued by investors in Western Canada was portfolio performance; advisors in the region scored just 85%, while their Quebec counterparts fared slightly better with a score of 93%. The lower scores in this area could be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the markets, but they also could tie into client education and communication – when clients know what to expect during a market correction, they’re less likely to be concerned about dips in performance. On the other hand, these scores might also be a wake-up call for advisors that their approach needs to evolve.
David LePoidevin, director of wealth management, senior vice-president and port-folio manager at 5-Star Top Team LePoidevin Group at Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management, is one advisor who’s altered his approach to portfolio construction over the decades.
“If you look back, while the bond market created an opportunity in the ’80s, it is probably one of the poorest choices we can think of now,” he says. “We held bonds then a long way, but when the 2009 credit crisis hit, we noticed an opportunity with dividend stocks. Now we love dividends – our approach is let’s make money but do it on a boring basis.”
The team model
This year’s 5-Star Top Teams were evaluated on the same criteria as individual advisors, but survey respondents were also asked to consider each team’s differentiators and the value proposition they offer to clients. Now more than ever, advisors are seeing the need to surround themselves with individuals with different skill sets to offer value to clients.
“A team concept is something you see more and more these days,” says 5-Star Advisor Thalia Kingsford, vice-president and senior investment advisor at Kingsford and Associates at BMO Nesbitt Burns. “When I built my team, it was because I had more business than I could cover with the level of quality I expected on my own. I added people who were smart and had a similar philosophy. We were built out of necessity to cover more clients with service. The thing that makes a team unique is we all have different credentials, so we can allocate to the appropriate expert.”
There’s no doubt that being a successful advisor today is about more than just investment management, but the winners of this year’s 5-Star Advisors and Top Teams show that the advisor community has acknowledged and embraced this new role. As the wealth management industry continues to evolve to find new ways to benefit clients, working with an advisor will become ever more valuable.
To find the best advisors in Canada, Wealth Professional undertook a rigorous marketing and survey process, reaching more than 200,000 investors across Canada. Investors were asked to nominate their advisors and rate them on six key criteria. From there, list of finalists was compiled, and one-on-one calls with nominators added qualitative research to the quantitative results from survey. The end result is a list of 5-Star Advisors who are recognized based not on AUM, but rather the service provided to their clients.
To identify the 5-Star Top Teams, WP relied on a similar marketing and survey process, asking investors across Canada to nominate their advisory teams and describe the team’s key service offerings, what sets them apart and what value they provide to their clientele. For the purpose of this report, teams were classified as those with three or more advisors.