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Firms are enacting phased return plans
BYB September 2020 Remote control
Covid-19 revealed the benefits and challenges of working from home. Some advisory firms now tout their remote-work capabilities in their recruitment strategies
ith firms expanding their digital offerings in response to the pandemic, financial
advisors and clients have greater choice in how they connect — virtually, in person or both.
This change in the client/advi- sor relationship is “driving where we’re investing our resources and time,” says David Gunn, country leader for Mississauga, Ont.-based Edward Jones Canada.
Firms also are considering how much real estate they require, and how to best reconfigure offices — from furniture setup to communal spaces. “We’re thinking about [that] already,” says Anthony Messina, president and CEO of Markham, Ont.-based Worldsource Securities Inc. and Worldsource Financial Management Inc.
effective. “We are not going to be the first up the elevator — that’s for sure,” he says. At the end of July, Worldsource’s head offices were to be at no more than 25% cap- acity. Before going back to the office, Messina says, advisors must ensure their staff are comfortable in returning and consider potential vulnerabilities to Covid-19, such
as age or pre-existing medical conditions. A July poll from Toronto-based KPMG LLP found that more than 54% of Canadians are afraid to return to the work- place given the contagiousness of Covid-19. At Worldsource, resuming in-person client/advisor meetings depends on client comfort, Messina says. If clients are comfort- able meeting in person, advisors can conduct half-hour meetings in office boardrooms or at their clients’ homes. Otherwise, they can
continue with video chats or phone calls. Other firms also are taking a cautious
Peter Kahnert, senior vice president of
corporate communications and marketing at Toronto-based Raymond James Ltd., says advisors’ “productivity [and] efficiency have been very high” when working from home.
For in-office work, however, issues such as physical distancing in elevators and on public transit, as well as concerns about childcare, present challenges. Therefore, as provinces reopen, returning to the office remains voluntary at Raymond James.
“Our focus as a firm is on the health and safety of our people, and also of our clients,” Kahnert says. “We want to make
sure everyone is comfortable.”
As with most provinces’ strategies,
the reopening plan at Raymond James is phased, beginning with 15%–25% of branch employees returning to the office if they choose. For those returning, offices have protocols for pedestrian flow and physical distancing based on guidelines from health authorities. Staff meetings may have to continue online even when people are in the office, for example. When Kahnert was interviewed in early August, Raymond James was recommending advisors avoid in-person meetings when possible.
David Gunn, country leader for Mississauga, Ont.-based Edward Jones Canada, says that firm is surveying branches about their comfort level with reopening and confirming that they’re stocked with protective equipment. (Head office sent a kit to each branch with guidelines and sup- plies, such as signs and hand sanitizer.)
While most branches have been com- fortable opening as they’ve been allowed to do so, “some of our branch team members may have underlying health conditions or just may not be comfortable,” Gunn says.
Where Edward Jones offices have reopened, many clients tend to feel com- fortable coming in. With offices typically consisting of one advisor and one assistant, “it’s already a fairly controlled environ- ment,” Gunn says.
Edward Jones meetings are by appoint- ment only, so clients don’t encoun- ter much foot traffic when arriving at a branch. (If no appointments are sched- uled, walk-ins are permitted.) Advisors heading into branch offices complete an online health-screening questionnaire each day before arriving at work.
Edward Jones recommends advisors schedule 30 minutes between in-person meetings to allow for physical distan- cing and disinfecting high-touch areas. Because some documents, such as pow- ers of attorney, must be signed in person, lobbies and offices have been rearranged to allow physical distancing, Gunn says.
Supervision hasn’t changed much at Edward Jones because the firm’s branch managers weren’t in-office before Covid- 19. “We’ve always remotely supervised from our home offices,” Gunn says.
With the pandemic impeding on-site supervisory visits, however, Edward Jones has implemented virtual audits and supervisory visits. “[That] helps us ensure our supervision program remains strong and effective,” Gunn says. IE
for almost two decades, prem
Malik, a financial advisor with Queensbury Securities Inc., worked out of the company’s head office in downtown Toronto. But since March, Malik has toiled within the four walls of his house — joking that he feels the way “animals feel when you take them from the forest and put them in a zoo.”
While Malik appreciates the flex- ibility and productivity inherent to working from home, “to be forced to do it brings new perspective to working,” he says. “I prefer to be among people; I can learn so much from interacting with them.”
Unlike Malik, however, some advi- sors prefer to maintain the work/life balance they enjoy by working perma- nently from home once the pandemic restrictions are lifted.
According to a study released in June by the Vancouver-based Angus Reid Institute, only one-third of people working remotely expect to resume working from their corporate workplace as consistently as they did pre-pandemic. Among those working from home, only 36% said they are likely to go back to their place of work when Covid-19 concerns subside.
Firms are seeking to accommodate the chosen work lifestyle of advisors, which will in turn influence future recruitment strategies.
Queensbury Securities has 70 securities and mutual fund advisors, and president John Webster is openly courting advisors who would like to make working from home “a perma- nent change,” he says. In a July LinkedIn post, he touted the benefits, such as “no commute, more family time and [sav- ing] money on your taxes.”
Webster says he is ambivalent about whether advisors work from home or the office: “Whatever suits them, their lifestyle or their book of business. Pandemic or not, advisors can choose to work from home.”
Webster contends that advisors working from home have relatively lower overhead costs and can therefore make more money than if they worked out of the firm’s corporate office.
Charlie Spiring, chair, co-founder and senior investment advisor with Wellington-Altus Private Wealth Inc. in Winnipeg, says current condi- tions have provided a “massive recruit- ment advantage.” He says advisors, particularly from the big banks, have told him they find working from home very attractive. Wellington-Altus has been actively recruiting, adding seven new advisors and $2.3 billion in assets under management since March.
“Covid has changed things a bit to our advantage,” Spiring says, adding that “technology has put us in the driv- er’s seat” for advisors who are fed up with their firm’s or bank’s technology. (See story on page 10.)
Spiring says his firm, which employs 250 people, offers two workplace mod- els: a corporate model, in which staff work out of the company’s head or a satellite office, and a home-based workplace model. Advisors using the latter model receive an additional
10% payout as a result of real estate savings derived from not having to maintain office space.
Konrad Kopacz, partner and port- folio manager at Toronto-based Echelon Wealth Partners Inc. in Oakville, Ont., says his firm also has a “flexible and accommodating” strategy.
“Our view is that the future should not be constrained by the pre-Covid past, and that we should worry less about where someone is physically working and more about the quality of support and enablement that we provide them with to succeed,” says Kopacz, whose firm has 145 advisors across the country.
Both Kopacz and Webster are recruiting advisors who want to give up going to a company office.
“A lot of advisors, especially on the [securities] front, don’t realize that an alternative exists,” Webster says. “I absolutely expect [the remote work] trend to continue post-pandemic.”
While a substantial cross-section of advisors now prefer to work from home, Webster says those with young families are more inclined to choose that option. “They absolutely love the opportunity to take their kids to soccer games, piano lessons and other events” in between working sessions, he says.
Spiring sees the same trend among those who would like to maintain a work/life balance. He especially applauds “young moms who can multi- task while working from home” and still successfully run their books of business.
Kopacz also acknowledges that “caregiving and childcare are com- plicated matters for many families. As any professional will tell you, working from home is not a substitute for care- giving and childcare.” However, “not being expected to conform to the norm of commuting every day can certainly reduce some of that complexity and load for these families,” he adds.
Working from home also means that advisors must make allowances for compliance visits. Compliance officers and supervisors, Webster says, must periodically travel to home offices.
For example, Webster says, an audit by the Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada can last up to five days and remote-working advisors must open up their homes for the audit.
“This doesn’t always go down well,” Webster says. “One advisor’s wife hit the roof when she found out that she had to accommodate auditors.”
Malik says he would also prefer an audit to be conducted within the
   “The future should not be constrained by the pre-Covid past”
inancial advisory firms have PF
established teams to follow
and respond to the latest de- velopments regarding the Covid-19 pandemic by keeping in contact with different levels of government and public health authorities.
“We’re actively monitoring case trends and provincial guidelines,” says David Gunn, country leader for Mississauga, Ont.-based Ed- ward Jones Canada. “If different government restrictions happen, which they are, they’re all taken into consideration when determin- ing when we open.”
Markham, Ont.-based World- source Financial Management/ Securities Inc.’s financial advisors receive two communications weekly informing them of what steps head office is taking.
“We create awareness [of] what the rules are,” so advisors can act accordingly, says Anthony Messina, president and CEO of Worldsource.
With reopening occurring in stages, the ongoing isolation of employees remains a concern, says Peter Kahnert, senior vice presi- dent of corporate communications and marketing at Toronto-based Raymond James Ltd.
“People are yearning for that feeling of connectedness,” Kahnert says.
Raymond James offers employ- ees information on health and well- ness, content with kids’ activities, fitness classes led by volunteers within the firm and a two-day on- line conference.

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