How the pandemic changed banking

Like the banks, IE had to adjust its operations over the past year. We revised the manner in which we gathered data for our annual sentiment survey. IE spoke with executives from Canada’s Big Six banks to get a sense of the year’s developments instead of speaking with the financial […]

Like the banks, IE had to adjust its operations over the past year. We revised the manner in which we gathered data for our annual sentiment survey. IE spoke with executives from Canada’s Big Six banks to get a sense of the year’s developments instead of speaking with the financial planners and advisors who work in the banks’ branches as we would normally.

Executives pointed to some continuity between this year and previous Report Cards: the importance of technology. For years, advisors have praised or berated their firms for how well they’ve kept their desktop and mobile technology up to date. The “technology tools and advisor desktop” category has one of the highest satisfaction gaps in the survey year after year: the category had an overall performance rating of 7.0 in 2019 and an importance rating of 9.3, creating a satisfaction gap of 2.3. In 2018, the satisfaction gap was 2.1.

Firms seemed to hit the mark last year regarding mobile technology, when the category “support for mobile technology and the mobile advisor” received a rating of 7.8 for both performance and importance. In 2018, the same category had a satisfaction gap of 0.6.

Technology has played a key part in keeping businesses running throughout the lockdown, with banks accelerating technology rollouts and investment.

For example, Toronto-based Bank of Montreal (BMO) introduced processes to allow for remote client instructions via telephone calls, as well as e-signatures.

CIBC and Montreal-based National Bank of Canada, along with Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and TD Financial Planning (both based in Toronto), had already rolled out remote access — to varying degrees — prior to the pandemic.

“Thank God our planners were ready to work remotely,” says Nancy Paquet, senior vice president, strategy, savings and investment, retail, National Bank.

One thing National Bank had to set up for its clients when the lockdown began in mid-March was a “soft” phone system that runs through a planner’s computer, which the bank did within 10 days.

RBC’s financial planners were already using an online tool called MyAdvisor, which includes video conferencing and e-signatures, but they began using it even more as the lockdown began in March.

RBC planners mentioned MyAdvisor in last year’s Report Card, and while some noted the tool still needed to be fine-tuned, many noted the possibilities it offered their business.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely a game-changer,” said an RBC planner in British Columbia.

“We are a digitally enabled bank [and we’re] putting a lot of money into this in the future,” added another RBC advisor on the Prairies. “I think that’s fantastic.”

“MyAdvisor was critical for us pre-Covid, but became an absolute imperative during Covid,” says Michael Walker, vice president and head, mutual funds distribution and RBC financial planning, with RBC.

RBC also made collecting e-signatures easier for its planners via two new tools: digital identification and e-signature light. The digital authentication process allows a person to upload a “selfie” and a picture of their identity documents when opening an account. E-signature light allows the bank to accept
e-signatures for more types of documents than before, something all banks worked on with regulators.

TD’s financial planners also were fully prepared to work remotely when the pandemic struck, leaning heavily on the company’s video-calling

“In April and March, we collectively hosted about 33,000 Webex meetings; 19,000 of those were hosted by client-facing professionals,” says David Terry, vice president and head, TD Wealth Financial Planning. “That is a significant increase in the number of meetings that we had with our clients through the virtual teleconference model.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, CIBC was largely branch-based, with only about 20% of its workforce able to work remotely. When the lockdown began, the bank tripled the number of people having remote access within nine days.

To supplement advisors’ efforts to stay in contact with clients, many banks hosted virtual events and provided materials to explain current market trends and various government benefits.

CIBC, for example, hosted webinars that included Q&A sessions with clients.

TD, for its part, made publications, conference calls and videos from its asset management, research and communications divisions available.

Banks have continued, and in some cases accelerated, the implementation of tools and platforms underway before March. For example, CIBC’s employee training is now 100% virtual. Lee notes the bank had been moving more things online for some time, but the pandemic sped up the process. The bank also moved forward on its e-signature capabilities and digitizing its back office. As well, CIBC began the pilot phase of new goal-planner software in August, with plans for a more extensive rollout in the coming months.

RBC is also adding to its financial planning tools with an update to NaviPlan Premium that is meant to be implemented, complete with training, by November. The bank also recently launched an application called CashWise that gathers data from RBC accounts and credit cards to give clients a clearer picture of their cash flow.

BMO, meanwhile, has updated its WealthPath tool to make inputting data easier for advisors while also providing real-time updates to financial plans and the ability to test hypothetical scenarios.

National Bank is in the midst of moving three of its databases onto one nominee platform for its branch-based financial planners. In January, the bank moved RRIF and TFSA accounts to the platform; in June, it moved all GIC-related products. Mutual funds will move to the platform before the end of the year.

“By this [autumn], we’re going to have one integrated nominee platform in which employees will have an end-to-end process, including e-signatures, for clients,” says Paquet. “[It will be] easier for employees to learn [and] use because it’s a 2020 platform and it’s not in DOS anymore.”

Terry notes that TD has made a few recent upgrades: in May 2019, the bank launched the TD Wealth Personality tool, which uses behavioural finance to help clients make decisions, for its planning division; the bank is also replacing its current financial planning software with TD Wealth Architect, a digital tool that is more visual and collaborative than the previous software. That tool was rolled out to Toronto-area regions in June, followed by B.C. and the Prairies in July; training is scheduled to be completed in September.

As the banks implement these upgrades, financial planning is likely to change forever. That may mean clients will expect more options when working with their planners remotely.

Walker foresees financial planning continuing to evolve beyond a static piece of paper into a dynamic document that is constantly updated and adjusted.

Says Walker: “That is the future of financial planning, from my perspective.”

Safety first

While banks were implementing or upgrading their remote work capabilities, branches remained open by installing Plexiglass-type barriers, placing markers on the ground to enforce social distancing, providing masks and increasing the frequency and intensity of cleaning.

In addition, Toronto-based Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and Montreal-based National Bank of Canada paid their branch-based employees an additional $50 per day during the initial months of the lockdown to help cover the costs of transit and/or childcare. RBC also offered its planners $400 to outfit a home office.

The banks also increased their health support for employees. Toronto-based Bank of Nova Scotia, for example, increased employees’ discretionary benefits account by $500, provided access to virtual health care, added five paid personal days for 2020, implemented paid emergency Covid-19-related leave and expanded access to resources such as psychologists and marriage counsellors.

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