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Canada has a key role to play in developing research that helps financial planners serve clients’ increasingly complex needs

Empirical research is an integral component of every profession, ensuring that current practice is scientifically valid and that new standards of practice are propelled by emerging knowledge. Research gives practitioners information based on what’s been proven rather than on current beliefs or rules of thumb. Financial planning, like any profession, must be grounded in research to continue its advancement for the benefit of Canadian consumers, who rely on financial planners increasingly to help them wade through the multitude of financial complexities and uncertainties.

I recently got a first-hand look at some of the latest financial planning research at the second annual Academic Research Colloquium for Financial Planning, hosted by the CFP Board Center for Financial Planning in the U.S., in co-operation with Financial Planning Standards Council and the international Financial Planning Standards Board, which represents the profession for more than 175,000 financial planners worldwide. More than 200 people representing the academic community, leaders of the profession and financial planners alike from around the world gathered to collaborate and share research in financial planning and related disciplines.

Beyond research on the technical aspects of financial planning, presenters from a wide variety of “related disciplines” that the Academic Research Colloquium covers delivered some of the event’s most enlightening and thought-provoking content. Researchers examined subjects such as psychology, behavioural economics and the impact of an aging society, among others. Although all these areas are important for other professions, they’re critical to financial planning. The holistic and integrated nature of financial planning requires a broad range of knowledge, skills and abilities. Research into these related disciplines can provide valuable insights to help inform a financial planner’s advice and help to transform that advice into the right action for clients.

Through the Center for Financial Planning and the Academic Research Colloquium, there’s now a permanent home to showcase the latest in financial planning research in the U.S. It promises to be a game changer for researchers, educators and financial planners alike. But Canada is also pulling more than its weight on the world stage. Canadians were well represented at the Academic Research Colloquium, with 25 academics from Canadian universities and colleges in attendance. An all-Canadian Academic Research Forum also took place immediately following the Colloquium, at which researchers from across Canada discussed their work and emerging issues impacting the financial planning profession and its practice in Canada. Combined, the Academic Research Colloquium and the Canadian forum featured an outstanding amount of Canadian content, including 14 presentations and poster sessions by researchers from Canadian universities and colleges.

Made-in-Canada research is also being developed and promoted through Canada’s Financial Planning Foundation, which has funded several studies that have been well received among the academic and financial planning communities, with the support of donors from across the country. But more research is needed. For example, we need to explore how Canadians can assess and ultimately improve financial health; how consumers relate to risk and how it should be addressed in a financial plan; and what are the behavioural factors that prevent Canadians from implementing financial planning advice. The results of such studies will provide important pieces of the puzzle that can help financial planners create a more positive impact on their clients’ lives.

As client situations become more complex, the importance of professional financial advice based on quantifiable, proven research will only continue to grow. Canadians rely on financial planners to guide them through the inevitable financial ups and downs they face today and those they will encounter tomorrow. The ongoing advancement of research and insights from around the world will ensure that financial planning practices are established with the necessary precision and rigour so that financial planning is recognized as the profession it needs to be, and that the profession keeps pace with the needs of the Canadians it serves.