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iA Private Wealth is now a dually registered investment firm, becoming one of only four across Canada to gain that status under the new self-regulatory organization.

The Montreal-based wealth management arm, run by iA Financial Group, received approval for dual registration — securities and mutual funds — from the Autorité des marchés financiers, its head office provincial regulator, on Oct. 11.

The decision came nearly nine months after the firm’s initial application was filed on Jan. 30, with the process requiring significant documentation and coordination between iA Private Wealth and regulators.

After seeking a registration number, “The discussions started between CIRO [the Canadian Investment Regulatory Organization] and us, exchanging more information on the business model,” said Julie Gallagher, senior vice-president and chief compliance officer (CCO) with iA Private Wealth.

The dual-registration decision applies only to iA Private Wealth, confirmed Gallagher. Investia will remain a separate mutual fund dealer that also offers ETFs, under the direction of president Louis DeConinck.

Both the iA Private Wealth and Investia brands are “well-established, with two different offerings,” she said, so those divisions aren’t merging.

Two of the other three firms that have obtained dual-registration status so far are Toronto-based Designed Wealth Management, as of March 24, and Markham, Ont.–based AimStar Capital Group Inc., as of April 25. (The fourth firm hasn’t come forward, and CIRO declined to identify the company.)

Both are smaller firms, with approximately 55 and 20 advisors, respectively. Neither firm provided their assets under management, but Designed Wealth said in an emailed statement that, with as many as 10 advisors joining “over the coming months,” they will be “nearing the $2-billion mark.”

iA Private Wealth confirmed in an email that it had $48 billion in assets under administration, which aligns with July 31 metrics. The firm employs more than 460 advisor teams, separate from the 1,500-plus individual advisors who work with Investia Financial Services and who manage $51 billion in assets.

The firm’s scale made getting dual-registration approval more complex, extending the review process into the fall. As well, its exposure to duplicative Quebec regulations required seeking exemptions to avoid dual regulatory burdens on advisors under the new model.

However, the main reason for the long wait was iA Private Wealth’s plan to roll out an “integrated” offering that will allow advisor teams to be a mix of investment and mutual fund professionals.

A proposal that had each type of advisor working together on the same team and servicing the same clients “was novel for the regulators — CIRO and the provincial regulators,” said Gallagher.

“We had to convince them that this new model was in the best interests of Canadian investors but also of the industry,” she added.

For instance, investors whose assets and needs grow want continuity versus having to switch from their mutual fund advisor to a new investment advisor. Under this new model, a client would have easy access to both mutual fund reps and investment reps that are already working together.

This change should also help the firm’s existing advisors more easily grow their businesses and plan for succession, said Gallagher. Being dually registered means the firm gains access to a broader group of prospective advisors with varying skill sets when teams are looking to expand. So there’s a higher chance of finding “a good fit,” she added — especially when advisors work in rural areas and want someone also familiar with the community.

It’s generally an opportunity for mutual fund advisors who couldn’t join iA Private Wealth before. “[They can] get acquainted with our system, transfer in client accounts and [where desired] have a plan to become an investment advisor in the next few years,” Gallagher explained.

The firm’s dual-registration shift is the latest of several developments within iA Financial in just the past year. After Stephan Bourbonnais became the leader of the wealth management division early in 2023, the heads of both iA Private Wealth and iA Clarington Investments Inc. also changed.

Other firms’ dual-reg experiences

Gillian Kunza, CEO of Designed Wealth, said CIRO was supportive and helpful, but noted that the application and review process is relatively “brand new.”

Additionally, “We felt some [elements] got tied up in ‘what if’ scenarios that were based more on future rule amalgamations,” Kunza said, noting that CIRO considered how planned regulatory shifts might affect a dually registered firm’s policies and procedures.

For any other firm considering dual registration, their compliance team must be “accessible and transparent [when] working through the process,” and should come to CIRO with ideas and solutions, she suggested.

With how tough it could be to book time with CIRO, she also suggested pre-scheduled touchpoints “for the entirety of the [registration and review] process.”

For Designed Wealth, dual registration makes it easier for their advisors to move into the full securities space. Back-office efficiencies have also resulted, and the head office team is now more aware of the rules of each of the previous self-regulatory organizations.

Kevin Cao, president and CCO of AimStar Capital Group, said CIRO generally was fast to respond and gave clear answers.

But one complicating factor was Aimstar Capital’s introductory broker status. Its carrying broker, Raymond James Ltd., had to be involved.

Now, however, the firm’s mutual fund advisors can learn more about the full securities business. “It definitely encourages more mutual fund advisors to upgrade themselves,” Cao said.

Read more about other firms’ dual-registration plans.