This spring, we officially marked two years of title protection in Ontario. Since the first credentialing bodies and credentials were approved in April 2022, the pursuit of title protection for Canadian financial professionals has been marked by progress, challenges and lessons learned. Looking back on the past two years, and as more provinces take steps toward implementing their own regulatory frameworks, I’ve been reflecting on the successes, challenges and opportunities for improvement that have emerged.

I continue to believe in the principles of title protection for consumers’ benefit and the need to ensure all those who use the title “financial planner” meet high education and proficiency standards, are subject to stringent ethical and professional requirements, and a qualified professional body oversees their conduct.

At its heart, regulation within financial services must be about advancing the best interests of consumers. The original intent of title protection was to provide consumers with the clarity, confidence and protection they need when entrusting someone to help them and their families navigate the complexities of financial decision-making.

However, over the past several months, there are concerns that the implementation of the title protection framework in Ontario has not lived up to these ideals.

To its credit, the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario (FSRA) — responsible for overseeing and administering the province’s title protection framework — has made some good decisions. For example, the incorporation of clear client’s-interest-first ethical requirements for all financial advisors and financial planners has set a high bar for credentialing bodies and credentials to meet.

Prioritizing clients’ best interests is not just a regulatory or professional obligation for financial advisors and financial planners; it is a fundamental principle that underpins integrity, trustworthiness and success in financial services. By consistently putting their clients’ needs first, financial professionals can build strong relationships, foster trust and confidence, and help clients achieve financial security and resilience. It is positive to see the same high level in both Saskatchewan’s and New Brunswick’s proposed ethical standards for title protection.

In other ways, FSRA’s implementation of Ontario’s title protection framework has fallen short.

In a mandate letter recently sent to FSRA, the provincial finance minister emphasized the importance of FSRA enhancing transparency to protect the public interest. The lack of clarity around how the framework is applied and how credentialing bodies are evaluated, both at the time of approval and at the first-year supervisory reviews, is an ongoing challenge.

For example, while FSRA established rigorous approval criteria for all credentialing bodies, its use of “terms and conditions” to assist credentialing bodies in becoming approved prioritized expediency over serving Ontario consumers’ best interests.

Moreover, these terms and conditions were not shared with the public at the time of credentialing body approval. In fact, they were not published until almost a year after the framework came into effect.

Other provinces developing title protection frameworks have been encouraged to follow a more rigorous approach by not allowing approvals subject to the fulfilment of undisclosed terms and conditions, and by approving a credentialing body only when it has demonstrated the capacity to meet all framework requirements.

A more recent example of a challenge with the framework is the lack of transparency around the supervisory reviews of the approved credentialing bodies. As part of its oversight responsibilities of the title protection framework, last fall FSRA conducted its first-ever audits of all approved credentialing bodies, including FP Canada. In preparation for these audits, FSRA released a high-level supervision plan that indicated it would focus its first reviews on four areas:

  1. How prioritization of the client’s-interest-first principle is integrated at the core of the credentialing bodies’ credentialing programs
  2. How credentialing bodies are prepared to handle increased demands on resources and ensure they can effectively administer and maintain a credentialing program
  3. Transparency and accessibility of credentialing bodies’ complaint-handling processes to the public and ensuring the processes are fair and efficient
  4. Process for credentialing bodies to impose appropriate and timely disciplinary actions

The report on the supervisory reviews was issued in March. Unfortunately, FSRA missed an important opportunity to provide stakeholders with meaningful information on the outcomes of the reviews by choosing not to release the findings of these audits in full for each credentialing body. Instead, the regulator chose to release them in summarized, aggregated form.

In addition, while FSRA has emphasized the benefits of all credentialing bodies having met “minimum standards,” these standards have not been explained or clarified, particularly as they relate to complaint handling and disciplinary processes.

As indicated in the minister’s letter, transparency enhances public protection. It is critical to ensure that consumers can be confident that not only are the standards transparent and consistently applied at the time of approval, but that credentialing bodies continue to meet the requirements of the framework on an ongoing basis.

While FSRA’s decisions around the implementation of the title protection framework have fostered disappointment among many stakeholders, I continue to believe Ontario’s title protection framework can be improved and can begin to live up to its promise to consumers.

However, this demands an honest assessment of where and why implementation has fallen short.

It is important that Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and other provinces learn from Ontario — both its successes and challenges. Avoiding these mistakes in other jurisdictions and rectifying them in Ontario would go a long way toward restoring confidence in the framework and returning to the core commitments FSRA made to consumers.

While there is much work to be done to ensure title protection fulfils its promise to consumers, I believe this work is worth doing; all Canadians deserve the confidence that comes with working with a qualified financial professional.

Tashia Batstone is president and CEO of FP Canada.