confused man

Life insurance agents across the country have widely different continuing education (CE) requirements — assuming they have any CE requirements at all.

Agents in Atlantic Canada are free to sell insurance products unencumbered by CE. They just pay a fee every two years to renew their licences.

Agents in other provinces have differing CE requirements. Each province has its own guidelines on what must be included in CE content, and education cycles don’t align in every province. For example, in Ontario, agents follow a two-year CE cycle; in Western Canada, a one-year cycle.

In Quebec, those licensed to sell insurance have the same CE requirements as other members of the Chambre de la sécurité financière.

Furthermore, Alberta and Quebec require CE courses to be accredited, while Saskatchewan and Manitoba permit course providers to accredit their own courses. B.C. and Ontario provide guidance on what should be included in CE but don’t require accreditation, which means insurance agents could be in for a nasty surprise if an audit determines their unaccredited CE hours weren’t up to snuff.

The differences among the rules can create confusion for insurance agents who are licensed in more than one province. The differences also are problematic for course providers, says John Waldron, founder of Toronto-based Learnedly Canada Inc.

“It doesn’t help that there’s this fragmented system across all the different provinces,” Waldron says. “An insurance agent in Nova Scotia and an insurance agent in Alberta have the same mandate, so they should have the same continuing education requirements.”

Learnedly offers online courses for financial services professionals, including insurance agents, for a monthly subscription fee. (Newcom Media Inc., parent company of Investment Executive [IE], owns CE Corner, which provides online CE courses.) Alberta, Waldron says, has the “most stringent” requirements for insurance CE outside Quebec. Learnedly gets its insurance courses accredited in Alberta, which is seen as the “de facto high-water mark” for CE standards in English-speaking Canada.

“We feel [accreditation in Alberta] is going to satisfy all provinces, whether [those provinces] need accreditation or not,” Waldron says.

Nancy Allan, executive director of the Independent Financial Brokers of Canada (IFB), another CE provider, agrees that provincial insurance regulators should adopt a nationally harmonized approach to CE requirements.

“This would simplify CE for providers, like the IFB, which offer education in multiple jurisdictions, and provide clarity to licensees who may be licensed in multiple jurisdictions — some of which may have no CE requirement currently,” Allan stated in an email to IE.

Some regulators seem open to the idea of harmonizing their CE requirements with the rest of the country.

“We’re always looking for ways to be more proactive in regulation,” says Kandace Hopkins, the Insurance Council of British Columbia’s director of practice and quality assurance. “As much as possible, we’d like to align with the other provincial regulators.”

But not all regulators are as enthusiastic. An email to IE from the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario stated the province has “no plans” to change its current CE regime.

Some argue that the CE requirements in every province except Quebec are out of date.

Richard Proteau, a life insurance consumer advocate and author of the book Unraveling the Universal Life Scam, says the regulations governing life insurance agents in the rest of the country haven’t kept pace with the reality of how agents interact with clients.

Insurance agents — whose job is to solicit insurance on behalf of an insurer — are effectively presenting themselves as financial advisors to clients, says Proteau, who previously worked as an advisor and held the certified financial planner and chartered life underwriter designations.

“If you ask me if the education requirements [for life insurance agents outside Quebec] are satisfactory for what’s in the law, I’d say yes,” Proteau says. “But the law hasn’t kept up with the times and doesn’t reflect what agents are, in fact, doing.”

Both Ontario’s and Saskatchewan’s regulators have announced plans to regulate the use of the “financial advisor” title. When that happens, advisors who are licensed to sell insurance may face new CE requirements.

Not all provinces are likely to suddenly jump on board with title regulation. In the meantime, they may at least attempt to reach consensus on what should be included in insurance CE, Allan says.

“Clearly there are varying standards among [CE] courses, and not all meet a standard that is appropriate to ensure agents receive meaningful, professional education,” says Allan, who notes that some agents who were recently audited in Ontario had CE credits disqualified when courses did not meet regulatory guidelines.

Allan adds that the IFB believes CE should “reflect a modern approach to content” and include credits for professional practice, management and ethics.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Alberta’s insurance regulator accredits CE courses. In fact, CE courses in Alberta are accredited by the Alberta Accreditation Committee.