Entrance to Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario
Courtesy Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario

A designation aimed at licensed life agents, who have so far been shut out from using the “financial advisor” (FA) title in Ontario, could provide a pathway for them to use the protected title.

The registered life insurance specialist (RLIS) designation is pending regulatory approval for FA title use, the Canadian Institute of Financial Planning (CIFP) says on its website.

“The program contains technical knowledge of insurance products and programs to enable an advisor to speak to clients about insurance with confidence and competence,” the website says. “It also contains content on the financial services marketplace, economics, investment planning, establishing a client’s risk profile, and ethical practices and professional conduct.”

The Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario (FSRA) refrained from confirming whether the RLIS is pending approval.

“FSRA has a rigorous review process for each organization that applies for credentialing body status, or for a new designation,” the regulator said in an email. “We do not comment on ongoing applications regarding designations or potential credentialing bodies.”

The RLIS aims to give life agents “the additional information they need to give more broad-based advice to their clients,” said Keith Costello, president and CEO of the CIFP.

When FSRA approved the Canadian Investment Regulatory Organization as a credentialing body, all registered representatives, mutual fund dealing representatives, portfolio managers and associate portfolio managers could use the FA title.

That left life licensees as the notable exception under the framework. During Ontario’s consultation period on title protection, FSRA had said the life licence qualification program (LLQP) fell short of the baseline competency profile for advisors. Specifically, the LLQP lacked content related to client outcomes, the regulator said, but a credentialing body could fill the gap, it suggested.

The RLIS’s 10 units of study include “Strategic Investment Planning” and “Investments in Financial Planning,” the website says, takes three to six months to complete, and requires one year of qualifying work experience.

In 2022, Advocis began working on a credential for life agents: the life insurance professional certificate (LIPC). “[I]t is expected that holders of this certifi­cate will be able to use the title financial advisor in Ontario,” the association said in its 2022 annual report.

In an email, Advocis said it is currently “re-evaluating how best to serve the evolving needs of the financial services industry and our members.” As such, the development of the LIPC credential is on hold.

The professional association is undergoing leadership and structural changes, after facing liquidity issues in 2022 amid pandemic-related challenges.

“We are actively exploring new ways to support and enhance the professional growth of advisors,” the association said. “Our goal is to ensure that any new initiatives are aligned with the highest standards and the real-world demands of our industry.”

The CIFP’s designations operate separately from its education offering for oversight purposes. The Chartered Institute of Financial Planning unit will oversee RLIS holders, and also oversees holders of the Chartered Financial Planner designation, which FSRA approved in March for use of the “financial planner” title.

That approval gave rise to industry backlash. FP Canada said consumers could confuse the designation with the Certified Financial Planner designation that FP Canada oversees and is subject to global standards. An industry coalition subsequently called on FSRA to make the CIFP rename its credential or rescind approval.

In April, the CIFP filed a claim against FP Canada for $1.2 million, alleging breach of agreement, depreciation of goodwill and discrediting its business and services in violation of the Trademarks Act, and trade libel.

On Monday, the court confirmed no new filings had been submitted regarding the matter. According to the CIFP claim, the timeline for FP Canada to file a defence, if it chose to do so, has passed.

“While CIFP sought issuance of a statement of claim in the Ontario Superior Court, the claim has not been filed,” FP Canada said in an email on Friday. “FP Canada is not currently subject to any procedural deadlines, nor required to take any steps on this litigation at this time. If required to do so, FP Canada will vigorously defend itself against all allegations in the claim.”

Costello said “one large insurance organization” is interested in the designation. The CIFP’s target is 1,000 designation holders within a couple of years, he said.

Costello emphasized that he believes the CIFP’s designations address needs, as opposed to capitalize on market opportunities.

“It’s careful planning; it’s … taking the needs of the market and harmonizing with the needs of the regulators and the public interest,” he said. “We’re trying to take the three areas and make them work together.”

If approved, the RLIS will be the CIFP’s fifth credential under Ontario’s title protection framework.

Last month, FSRA said it would announce the details of a succession plan for CEO Mark White, who has presided over title protection, once an appointment to the Ontario Energy Board is approved.