Despite a series of investor-friendly commitments from policymakers and regulators, investor advocates aren’t ready to declare victory just yet.
“We’ve seen some incremental progress and developments, but the pace is relatively slow when it comes to reforms that benefit investors,” said Jean-Paul Bureaud, executive director of FAIR Canada.
Bureaud indicated there have been positive developments in terms of the planned reforms to dispute resolution. “We’re also cautiously optimistic that the amalgamation of [the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada] and the [Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada] might ultimately lead to a more seamless ‘one-stop’ experience for investors.”
At the same time, he stressed that the regulatory system “is still highly fragmented and overly complex,” adding that “more needs to be done to enhance investors’ confidence and understanding on how to find the right financial services that meet their needs.”
One basic example is the adequacy of advisor title regulation. The Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario (FSRA), which has been tasked with implementing regulation of the “financial advisor” and “financial planner” titles, continues to face criticism about proficiency requirements for the regulated titles, the approach to enforcement and the accompanying fee structure.
“Beyond prohibiting wholly unqualified individuals from calling themselves financial planners or financial advisors, the framework fails to deliver any additional or meaningful consumer protection,” FAIR Canada said in a submission to FSRA’s consultation on its priorities for the coming year.
The investor advocacy group, which recently published research highlighting the depth of consumer confusion about the use of advisor titles and the qualifications that underpin them, noted Ontario’s regime “focuses on protecting credentials used in [the] industry. The framework fails to focus directly on regulating the quality of the financial advice provided to the public.”
FSRA has maintained that its regime provides, for the first time, a minimum standard for proficiency and creates conduct expectations for the credentialing bodies.
FP Canada’s submission to FSRA’s consultation echoed some of these criticisms. The submission called for higher educational standards for the regulated titles, for FSRA’s enforcement capabilities to be beefed up to deal with violations of the title regulation regime (including added powers to sanction reps) and for the regulator to rethink its approach to cost allocation and fee collection.
These criticisms come amid ongoing efforts in other provinces, including Manitoba and Saskatchewan, to develop title regulation regimes. While harmonization is typically preferred, in this instance there’s concern that smaller jurisdictions may seek to harmonize their regimes with Ontario’s, entrenching its faults.
“[T]here are consistent concerns among stakeholders with aspects of Ontario’s framework that FSRA has not yet addressed, and we cannot support harmonization of poor policies,” FP Canada said.
Investor advocates also are concerned about the industry’s compliance with other regulatory reforms.
Dealers faced their first wave of compliance reviews to test the implementation of the client-focused reforms (CFRs) in the past year, and the results were not encouraging.
The first compliance sweep by the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) and the Canadian Investment Regulatory Organization (CIRO) focused on the CFRs’ conflict-of-interest provisions. The sweep found that two-thirds of firms had inadequate policies and procedures for dealing with conflicts, 53% had missing or incomplete disclosure, and 34% failed to identify material conflicts.
Bureaud called the reviews’ findings “disappointing.”
“Frankly, [given] the considerable time and effort put into the CFRs, including helping the industry to prepare over a long transition period, we were expecting to see better results,” he said.
The Ontario Securities Commission’s draft priorities for the year ahead include continuing to examine compliance with the CFRs. The OSC said its next round of reviews will focus on suitability, know-your-client and know-your-product provisions. Pending the outcomes of these reviews, the regulator may consider further policy action.
The prevalence of proprietary product shelves will also receive attention from regulators in the coming year, particularly the impact on client fees and performance. The OSC said that along with CIRO and the rest of the CSA, it will continue investigating the industry’s product shelves and some firms’ heavy reliance on in-house products.
A good year for investor protection
January: The Canadian Investment Regulatory Organization (CIRO) launches, along with its investor advisory panel
February: CIRO proposes paying disgorgement money collected from sanctioned firms and advisors to the victims of misconduct
April: Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) and the Canadian Council of Insurance Regulators finalize total cost reporting for investment and segregated funds
October: The federal government mandates the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI) be the sole provider of dispute resolution in the banking industry as of Nov. 1, 2024
■ Ontario government pledges in its fall economic statement to introduce a statutory process at the Ontario Securities Commission for returning disgorged funds from enforcement proceedings to harmed investors
■ Ontario government signals support for binding dispute resolution in its fall economic statement; Saskatchewan government tables legislation that sets the stage for binding authority
■ The CSA proposes a new model for OBSI that features binding authority