Canadian insurance and mutual fund dealerships looking to recruit younger financial advisors will be happy to learn that the financial services practitioner program, Canada’s only industry-sponsored, college-based training program for prospective advisors, will expand from its home base in Toronto to the Northern College of Applied Arts and Technology in Timmins, Ont., this January.

Originally launched at Seneca College of Applied Arts and Tech-nology in September 2006, the FSP is a 28-week, full-time Ontario graduate certificate program, developed in partnership with industry sponsors, that prepares students for a career as an insurance or mutual fund advisor.

In addition to offering basic courses on the theory of life and health insurance, mutual funds and wealth management, the FSP includes a work term through which students gain hands-on experience by prospecting in the field. The FSP also provides students with credits toward the certified financial planner examination and the chartered life underwriter designation.

The FSP’s expansion to northern Ontario will open doors for students in rural parts of the province who might not have considered a career in financial services before, says Doug Clark, director of business, justice and science programs at Northern.

“In the financial services industry, many students travel to southern Ontario for courses, which requires them to put in a lot of time and money,” Clark says. “The beauty of having a program at Northern is that students can go back to school without uprooting their lives to a new city.”

Through the FSP’s hybrid delivery option, students with an online connection have the option of attending theory courses in person or virtually. The virtual option applies only to technical courses such as foundations in life insurance and living benefits. Practice-management courses, such as professional selling skills for the financial services practitioner, must be attended in person.

Sam Albanese, founder of the FSP at Seneca, says he hopes that other colleges will follow in Seneca’s and Northern’s footsteps: “Eventually, we want to see a standardized program for financial services practitioners adopted at colleges across the country. This program is the key to bringing new blood into the industry and building the 21st-century financial advisor.”

Albanese is in talks with several colleges in Ottawa, as well as in the Kingston region of Ontario. He also is meeting with schools in British Columbia and Alberta.

Currently, the average advi-sor in the insurance sector is about 49.3 years old, according to Investment Executive’s 2011 Insurance Advisors’ Report Card. On the mutual fund dealer side, the average age of a mutual fund advisor was 49.4, according to IE’s 2011 Dealers’ Report Card. More telling, these averages have increased from 47.6 and 48.8, respectively, in only two years.

And as financial services firms continue to spend their money on hiring more seasoned advisors rather than training rookies, the average age of advisors across all facets of the industry will only continue to rise, Albanese says: “That’s why we need this program across the country, to make up for the cutbacks in rookie training.”

Although students can complete some of their certification online — such as the life licence qualification program, offered through Toronto-based Advocis — at a faster pace, online certification does not have the co-operative element that is essential to a future advisor’s success, says Albanese: “Anyone can complete an online certification in a few days, [but] it doesn’t mean you have the soft skills to succeed.”

Although Clark would like to see enrolment in the dozens at Northern, he expects about 12 students to graduate in the FSP’s first year. “As people get familiar with the program and spread the word, enrolment should rise.”

The tuition for the two-semester, one-year FSP in Ontario is about $4,800. IE