There are many facets of the wealth management landscape, and wholesalers tend to be one of the more overlooked corners. Wholesalers often face a difficult balancing act of not only selling funds, but also providing service, support and education to advisors. The role has only gotten more difficult in recent years as record numbers of products have hit the market and advisors’ and investors’ access to information (and misinformation) has increased.
With that in mind, Wealth Professional surveyed advisors to find out which wholesalers in Canada are providing the kind of top-notch service advisors can rely on to better serve their own clients.
Areas of strength
Product knowledge is the category where wholesalers earned the highest ratings from advisors; 95% of wholesalers received top marks for their product expertise. This is a critical area – as of the end of 2020, there were 3,459 mutual funds and 846 ETFs available to Canadian investors, according to IFIC and the CETFA. With so many products available, it’s nearly impossible for advisors to know all of the intricacies. However, they need to have the facts before recommending a product to a client, so they must be able to trust that the wholesalers they’re dealing with have adequate product knowledge.
“It is important [for wholesalers] to fully understand products without any predispositions,” says Georges Aina of Manulife Investments, one of this year’s 5-Star Wholesalers. “It would be detrimental to your credibility if you do not fully under-stand a product. A key method is unbiased research, which is time-consuming, in addition to anecdotal information from advisors. Through conversations with your peers, you can learn the functionality, purpose and positioning of the product. You can also find out the intricacies through brute research from varied sources.”
Another strong area for wholesalers – and an equally crucial aspect of the advisor-wholesaler relationship – is communication. For advisors, the ability to ask questions and get answers about funds they’re considering can be a deciding factor in which products they recommend.
Wholesalers received ‘excellent’ ratings from 92% of advisors for their communication. They also received ‘excellent’ scores from 89% of advisors for their response time and accessibility, both of which are key aspects of communication.
This is an area that has evolved significantly over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Statistics Canada, as of January 2021, 32% of employees between the ages of 15 and 69 were still working most of their hours from home. As in-person meetings gave way to digital communication during the pandemic, wholesalers were forced to move with the times. The fact that this year’s 5-Star Wholesalers were able to garner such high scores for their communication is a testament to their versatility.
“Communication has always been the cornerstone of the wholesaler role,” says 5-Star Wholesaler Jillian Kosolofski of AGF Investments. “I believe effective wholesalers will learn from their pandemic experience and look to adopt a blended communications approach that includes in-person meetings, phone and video calls, and effective ongoing digital engagement.”
Travis Jensen of Canoe Financial, another of this year’s 5-Star Wholesalers, adds that communication is “extremely important, and the key is consistency. Even with face-to-face interactions being very limited right now, it’s important to keep communication consistent with phone calls, emails and videoconferencing. In today’s world of technology, you can’t respond to an advisor’s question two days after receiving it – you need to jump on it as fast as you can.”
Another area where wholesalers scored well is in their understanding of advisors’ business – 89% of this year’s 5-Star Wholesalers received ‘excellent’ ratings from advisors in this category.
As the wealth management industry has evolved over the past few years to become less product-centric and more focused on holistic financial planning, it’s heartening to see wholesalers working to evolve, too, so they can fit into an advisor’s ecosystem.
“This business requires a curious attitude and a joy of working with people,” says Bernd Silbermann of Manulife Investment Management, one of this year’s 5-Star Wholesalers. “On the face of it, it some-times seems that all advisors are the same. It couldn’t be further from the truth. That is one of the key ingredients to successful wholesaling. If all advisors were the same, you wouldn’t need wholesaling; mass marketing would work on its own.”
Along those same lines, one of the most important areas in the advisor-wholesaler relationship is the value wholesalers can add to an advisor’s business. Wholesalers also received impressive marks here, earning ‘excellent’ ratings from 92% of advisors. The results suggest that advisors truly do respect the offerings wholesalers provide – from the products to the knowledge behind them – and see them as an integral part of their business.
“I think we do play a big role,” says Harmeet Brar of CI Investments, another of this year’s 5-Star Wholesalers. “I think we can give them a broader perspective of what’s going on in the industry as a whole – trends, changes and what other advisors are doing. Because we speak to the advisor community at large and in different areas, we get a better gauge of the overall industry. I often get advisors asking, ‘What are the other guys doing? What’s going on? What’s working? What’s not working? What are some of the biggest challenges?’ When they run their own practice, they don’t really see what’s happening outside of their practice.”
Room for improvement
The one area where wholesalers could perhaps use a bit of work is in their efforts to educate advisors – 82% of advisors rated their wholesalers as ‘excellent’ in this area, making it the lowest-ranking category in the survey. It wasn’t all bad news – most wholesalers still received a ‘good’ ranking for education from advisors – but it is a critical aspect of the role that even the best wholesalers can improve upon.
“Our industry is moving fast,” says 5-Star Wholesaler Michael Katugampola of Sun Life Financial, “and as a result, I believe it is important for us all to stay current and be open to potentially different but impactful ways we can provide financial advice for Canadians.”
To uncover the best wholesalers in the Canadian wealth management industry, the Wealth Professional team undertook a rigorous marketing and survey process, leveraging WP’s connections to thousands of advisors across the country. Advisors were asked to nominate their wholesalers for consideration and rate them on their product knowledge, communication, response time, accessibility, understanding of the advisor’s business, ability to educate the advisor and the value they contribute.
From there, the WP team compiled a shortlist of top wholesalers and conducted one-on-one calls with nominators to add qualitative research to the quantitative results from survey. At the end of the research period, the top-scoring wholesalers were named 5-Star Award winners based on the service they provide to advisors.