Focus on Financial Planning

Cary List

Cary List is president and CEO of the Financial Planning Standards Council (FPSC), a not-for-profit organization based in Toronto that develops, promotes and enforces professional standards for financial planning in Canada through the certified financial planner (CFP) designation.

The introduction of restrictions to using the financial planner title as well a new statutory best interest standard will provide much needed clarity for clients

By Cary List |

The policy recommendations contained in the Expert Committee to Consider Financial Advisory and Financial Planning Policy Alternatives' long-awaited final report, which Ontario's provincial government released in late March, stand to have a profound impact on the regulatory framework for financial planners and other providers of financial advice in the province if they're adopted. Moreover, the proposed new rules could stand to have a far-reaching impact across Canada.

Notably, if the recommendations are implemented, anyone who holds out as a financial planner in Ontario will need to meet strict proficiency requirements, including minimum standards of education, experience and ethics. The Ontario Securities Commission and the soon to be created Financial Services Regulatory Authority would be tasked with determining what standard-setting and certification organization, or organizations, along with their respective financial planning credential or credentials, would be approved. This will be based on strict criteria that would measure the quality, rigour and effectiveness of that organization and corresponding credentials. Individuals would then be accountable to the approved standard-setting and certification organization to ensure that they remain qualified to hold out as financial planners.

For many, it's been too long of a road to get to this point. The Ontario government appointed the Expert Committee in April 2015 with a mandate to provide the government with advice and recommendations "regarding whether and to what extent financial planning and the giving of financial advice should be regulated in Ontario, and the appropriate scope of such regulation." The results of the final report confirm that we remain on the right path to ending client confusion in the financial services sector.

Read: Expert Committee; New rules for advisors and financial planners?

This is great news for Ontarians and great news for those who hold a recognized credential, such as the certified financial planner certification, and who already meet rigorous and strict ongoing qualification requirements as financial planners. It's not great news, however, for advisors who have never attained a financial planning credential but who use the title.

Furthermore, the Expert Committee recommends that not only financial planners, but all advisors in Ontario should be required to use only circumscribed approved titles that would clearly describe what type of advice the individual is qualified to offer.

The proposed titling restrictions would finally create an unambiguous distinction between financial planners and other advisors, creating much needed clarity for clients regarding who is qualified to provide what service. Such clarity would also enable clients to make better-informed choices regarding the type of advisory services they desire.

Another major recommendation contained in the Expert Committee's final report is the call to adopt a statutory best interest duty (SBID) for all financial advisory services in Ontario. As the final report sets out, an SBID would serve as an overarching principle guiding the relationship between clients and their financial planners or advisors. Although there's still much to be clarified before this recommendation comes into effect, professional financial planners who are already obligated to provide ethical and objective advice, and place their clients' interests first, are well-positioned and should be virtually unaffected by this new requirement.

There's still much work to do before these recommendations become law. Determining how the recommendations are ultimately interpreted for implementation remains daunting; and the devil really is in the details. Serious consideration will need to be given to fundamental questions such as what criteria will be used to determine what financial planner credentialing body or bodies and/or what credentials should be accepted as meeting the requirements for holding out as a financial planner, and how that will be determined.

Furthermore, titling rules and restrictions, including the potential to require further credentialing for other "financial advisors" will also have to be worked out. Although these are obstacles along the way, they appear to be speed bumps rather than roadblocks in achieving an outcome that recognizes true professionals and that allows clients to make better-informed choices as to whom they work with.

That said, the Expert Committee's final report represents just the first step in what's sure to be a challenging process. Translating these recommendations into actual policies will require significant co-operation, support, and hard work from all stakeholders involved. This includes government, regulators, professional bodies and industry associations. But it will be worth it in the end if it eliminates client confusion about who is competent and ethical to provide what type of advice — and if clients can finally feel confident that the person they engage to assist them in achieving their financial well-being is competent to do so and acting in their best interest.