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Among the firms actively trying to get advisors back to the office on a more regular basis, most are quick to stress that physical attendance remains voluntary.nito100/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

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Despite being an industry in which face-to-face communication is vital, members of Canada’s financial services community – from advisors to asset managers and regulators – are not being ordered back to the office.

Hybrid work formats have become the new normal, in which advisors are generally allowed to continue working remotely for at least part of the week. Some firms are hinting at plans to start increasing the amount of time advisors must spend in the office, while others never gave up on the traditional practice of in-person communications.

“A few of us have come in every day,” says Mark Kent, president and chief executive officer of Portfolio Strategies Corp. in Calgary, although the official policy for his Calgary and Toronto offices since May has been a hybrid approach.

“Staff had some flexibility in returning one week on, one week off, or a two to three day [a week] rotation, [and] most staff choose the two or three-day rotation schedule,” he says. “We do plan on keeping it this way for a year or two for sure, but have not formally made the decision that this will be permanent.”

Almost one in five (19 percent) investment managers plan to remain fully remote as of September, according to a survey released on Tuesday by the Portfolio Management Association of Canada. Fifteen per cent said they expect their employees to return to the office on a full-time, five-days-a-week basis, while the vast majority – 59 per cent – plan to adopt some form of hybrid model. (The remaining 7 per cent responded with “other.”)

Maria Flores has been coming into the office full-time as of last month, but the president of Carte Wealth Management Inc. in Mississauga has a more specific motivation.

“One of the things we recently implemented was taking back co-op students,” she says, “I’m very attached to that kind of opportunity because that’s where my own career started.”

The co-op students need to be physically in the office to make the most of their experience, Ms. Flores says, “but at the same time, I need my people back because I cannot handle [the students] by myself, so now we have schedules to help tackle” the placements.

Officially, Carte has also adopted a hybrid model, going as far as replacing staff desktop computers with laptops to simplify the transition between home and office work.

Bill Charles, CEO of Global Maxfin Investments Inc. in Richmond Hill, Ont., says the mutual fund dealers has moved to a hybrid working model as well but is doing so with utmost caution.

“We are currently operating one day a week in the office as a starting point,” he says. “We will monitor and adjust that depending on another potential wave of COVID-19 cases with back-to-school and the fall.”

Among the firms actively trying to get advisors back to the office on a more regular basis, most are quick to stress that physical attendance remains voluntary.

It’s “more of an encouragement, not a demand,” says Peter Kahnert, senior vice president of corporate communications and marketing at Raymond James Ltd. in Toronto.

“We have been and will remain very flexible and open-minded, enabling hybrid-type solutions where they make sense,” he says, but adds “we are all hopeful for better days when more people will feel comfortable returning to the office in some form.”

What banks and regulatory bodies are doing

Wealth and asset managers at Canada’s largest banks face some of the most direct pressure in the industry to return to their desks.

For example, Bank of Nova Scotia is “increasing its focus as of September on coming together for certain types of work for which there are clear benefits of being in person, including collaborating with colleagues, meeting with clients, and work that must meet specific regulatory requirements,” says Katie Raskina, manager of media relations at the bank in Toronto.

“As a result, Scotiabank expects to see more employees returning to the office this fall,” she adds.

Meanwhile, Trish Tervit, director of public affairs at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in Toronto, says financial and wealth advisors across the organization have resumed in-person on-site client meetings with appropriate health protocols in place.

“They also have the flexibility to work remotely depending on the nature of the work they are doing and where they will be most able to meet our clients’ needs.”

Regulators, for their part, are still experimenting with hybrid models for their staff. The Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC) and the Mutual Fund Dealers Association (MFDA) launched pilot programs in May allowing employees to work remotely up to three days per week.

Both IIROC and the MFDA, which are in the process of merging into a single self-regulatory organization, say their respective pilot programs will run until at least the end of this year.

The Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario (FSRA) is taking a similar approach, but with a much shorter timeline. FSRA communications officer Alex Kvaskov in Toronto says the provincial agency is running a pilot in which staff come into the office twice a week until October.

“During this period, we will look at our operational and employee needs, and reflect on how well this approach is working for us and whether adjustments are needed,” Mr. Kvaskov says. “This pilot hybrid model is not one-size-fits-all.”

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