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The Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario (FSRA) officially approved the Canadian Investment Regulatory Organization (CIRO) as a credentialing body under Ontario’s title protection regime, opening up the protected “financial advisor” title to CIRO registrants.

“By approving CIRO as a credentialing body, tens of thousands more investment professionals will be able to use the financial advisor title,” said Huston Loke, executive vice-president of market conduct with FSRA, in a release.

The Ontario regulator announced last March that CIRO intended to be a credentialing body. With Tuesday’s announcement, a registrant in Ontario can call themselves a financial advisor if they’re a registered representative, mutual fund dealing representative, portfolio manager or associate portfolio manager, the release said.

“Officially being recognized as a financial advisor will further the value of CIRO members and the recognition of their education and expertise,” Loke said in the release. “This arrangement leverages CIRO’s demonstrated robust complaint handling and disciplinary framework, which enhances consumer protection and fosters a more sustainable, competitive financial services sector.”

An ongoing concern with Ontario’s title protection regime has been the lack of proven oversight of credential holders by FSRA-approved credentialing bodies.

Andrew Kriegler, CIRO’s president and CEO, said in the release that “[a]ccreditation through CIRO will give investors confidence that they are dealing with highly qualified financial advisors.”

However, investor advocacy group FAIR Canada highlighted the licensing regime’s product focus.

“While CIRO’s members are subject to higher levels of regulation and oversight than other credentialing bodies, the fact remains they are still only qualified to give advice about investments,” the organization said in an emailed statement. “And some are just salespeople.”

In Tuesday’s release, Kriegler noted that CIRO’s status as a credentialing body would avoid duplication of regulatory requirements or cost.

Under the fee rule associated with Ontario’s title protection, CIRO pays less than other credentialing bodies, given that the Ontario Securities Commission already provides oversight of CIRO. The exemption from the cost of FSRA oversight has been another area of contention among stakeholders.

“CIRO and its licensees gain the framework’s benefits without contributing to the associated expenses,” Advocis said in a statement last fall.

In June, various industry stakeholders called the fee rule flawed, saying it would result in more costs for “financial planner” title users.

Advocis, along with industry stakeholders, also called for improved proficiency standards for the financial advisor title.

Under Ontario’s title protection, financial advisors need technical knowledge of one investment product and must be able to provide suitable financial and investment recommendations based on their licence or designation.

In comparison, title protection in Saskatchewan (rules are still in draft form) includes education requirements for financial advisors related to financial planning.

CIRO’s proposed proficiency standards for registrants — which are not directly related to title protection — include testing for competence (as opposed to specific course content) and mandatory ethics training, among other things.

FSRA said in Tuesday’s release that it will review the title protection regime by the end of March to evaluate its effectiveness and “assess opportunities for improvement, including consultation with key stakeholders.”

That review includes evaluation of the proficiency standards for both the financial advisor and financial planner titles to “ensure they remain relevant and aligned with what consumers expect from title users,” it said.

An investor poll conducted by FAIR Canada in August found the vast majority (92%) of consumers expect financial advisors to be proficient in all core areas of personal finance, including tax, estate and retirement planning.

The same proportion said it’s crucial for advisors to have a title that reflects their knowledge and expertise.

“Allowing mutual fund dealer representatives, registered representatives and portfolio managers to all use the same title reduces clarity that investors are clearly telling us they want and need,” FAIR Canada said in its statement on Tuesday.

Regarding its review, FSRA said in an emailed statement that its focus is on protecting consumers: “FSRA is committed to continue to work with stakeholders and assessing opportunities for improvement and will take action, if appropriate.”

FAIR Canada said the review will be “critical” if FSRA is to deliver on its consumer protection promise.

“More changes and work are required to better align the framework with consumer expectations,” the investor rights advocate said. “FAIR Canada will continue to advocate and support these needed improvements, and CIRO’s approval as a credentialing body does not fundamentally alter our position.”

In an emailed statement, Advocis said it remained “concerned” with CIRO’s approval as a credentialing body and looked forward to “engaging in FSRA’s stakeholder consultation.”