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Technology makes it possible to handle advisor onboarding virtually – and tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom can facilitate interactive walkthroughs that introduce advisors to their new firms.ismagilov/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Before COVID-19 hit, some of Canada’s largest independent investment dealers had been recruiting financial advisors actively and aggressively. Although the onset of the pandemic has had little impact on the level of this activity, how firms are recruiting advisors – and, in some cases, whom they’re targeting – has been affected significantly.

Traditionally, most firms’ advisor recruitment efforts include an in-person presentation in a boardroom, dinner at a high-end restaurant and a firm handshake to seal the deal. But firms have had to find alternatives with physical distancing in force in varying degrees across the country.

“This [situation] does force us to move left or right and dodge a little bit,” says Charlie Spiring, co-founder, chairman and senior investment advisor at Wellington-Altus Private Wealth Inc. in Winnipeg. However, he adds, “What we’re finding now is that the whole industry is uncovering a lot of firms’ weaknesses … We’ve [already] had two advisors move over to us right in the middle of the storm.”

Wellington-Altus also hired a new recruiter in Ontario, who started in mid-March, right around the time schools and non-essential businesses closed down in that province. The firm is playing up its technological advantages – from mobile desktop computers to electronic signatures – as a selling point. Mr. Spiring is quick to credit the firm’s co-founder and president Shaun Hauser for investing heavily in technology since its launch a few years ago.

“We wanted technology that was robust, that was remote, that could easily handle a lot of connectivity, that could handle anything cloud-based and that allowed us to be pliable,” Mr. Hauser says.

Technology makes it possible to handle advisor onboarding virtually – and tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom can facilitate interactive walkthroughs that introduce advisors to the firm. Instead of a dinner out, Wellington-Altus arranges for a local restaurant to deliver dinner to a prospective advisor, with the option to continue a video call through the meal.

For Toronto-based Raymond James Ltd., the switch to virtual recruitment has come with some surprising benefits, says Jamie Coulter, executive vice-president, head of wealth management, at the firm.

“[Before the pandemic], we would host a home-office visit, which is really a show and tell from our firm for an advisor looking to join Raymond James – typically, a four- or five-hour session in a boardroom in Toronto or Vancouver,” he says. “Last week, we hosted four virtual home-office visits using Zoom – and I’m not sure I’m ever going to go back to the old way because it’s working so well.”

Specifically, in the traditional approach, some of those who are part of the presentation would dial in to a conference call and be invisible to those in the room. Now, with videoconferencing, everyone can see everyone else and read each other’s body language.

“This has been such an unprecedented time, in general, but we were fortunate that we had capabilities in place that we could hit the ground running,” says Peter Kahnert, senior vice-president, corporate communications and marketing, at Raymond James. “As we come out of this whole situation – and we’re all praying that it’s going to be sooner than later, of course – these types of technologies will probably push us in a whole different direction. … This is opening horizons in so many ways.”

Mississauga, Ont.-based Edward Jones has also found that it was well positioned with technology to pivot its recruitment efforts in order to accommodate the current reality.

“Just as we have adapted so that our branch teams have the ability to serve their clients remotely, we can actually do every one of our hiring steps virtually,” says Ann Felske-Jackman, principal, financial advisor talent acquisition, at Edward Jones.

More of a challenge for Edward Jones has been the closure of licensing exam centres because the firm requires its advisors to be have both a securities and an insurance licence. The firm has long been known for attracting people who change careers and who didn’t necessarily have all the licensing they needed.

Edward Jones is “honouring all offers that were made,” Ms. Felske-Jackman says, noting that there are “94 people who have recently joined us who are in various stages of completing their licensing exams. For those individuals, we’ve revised the training platform and the timelines to accommodate their needs and we’re also delivering all that training to them 100 per cent virtually. Our goal is to have them fully ready when some of these dependencies are lifted.”

For the time being, new recruitment efforts at Edward Jones are focused on experienced advisors who are looking to change firms – an approach the firm had long avoided but has embraced in recent years.

Experienced advisors looking to move to another firm could fall into two camps: some may be reluctant to make such a significant change during a chaotic time; for others, the current crisis has revealed their current firm’s shortcomings, brought priorities into sharper focus and made them more open to making a change, Ms. Felske-Jackman says.

“We’re finding advisors have to weigh how disruptive a move will be to their clients against whether they’re able to serve them in a manner they’re hoping to right now,” she says. “For those who are really well supported in their firms, with the tools, technology and resources to serve their clients virtually, it might make sense for them to wait. … But other advisors are reaching out to us, telling us they don’t have those things in place.”