Canada: Make Advisors Work For Investors

In January 2004, the Ontario Securities Commission released a concept paper advocating a "fair dealing model." The paper acknowledged that the regulatory regime -- regulating dealers and their representatives through the products they sell -- was based on the outdated assumption that transaction execution is the primary reason people seek financial services. Recognizing that most customers are seeking advice, the concept paper proposed changing the regulatory framework to focus on the advisory relationship.

Financial professionals and salespersons in Canada are allowed to call themselves advisors, irrespective of their professional designation. Few, however, are compensated directly for their advice. Instead, they are paid commissions to sell specific products. Addressing the conflicts of interest that result from commission-based compensation, the paper proposed that retail clients should be entitled to rely on objective advice that is in their best interest and, when there are conflicts of interest, they should be clearly disclosed so that the client can understand the conflicts and how they may affect the advice given.

In September 2004, the proposal was swept into a broader project of the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) and rebranded as the "client relationship model." Last month, the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC) published its proposed reforms to establish requirements for the client relationship model. They specifically avoid imposing a duty on firms and their representatives to act in the best interest of clients, focussing instead on improving compliance with the existing "suitability" standard and improving disclosure with respect to conflicts of interest and performance reporting. IIROC noted that part of what influenced its thinking was an effort to harmonize with existing and proposed CSA standards (and other standards applicable to firms not under its jurisdiction).

To understand the difference between a "suitability" and "best-interest" standard, think of a student seeking advice at an electronics store about her need for a laptop. The salesperson recommends a highly priced unit with an expensive extended warranty -- all designed to generate the highest commission. The laptop is suitable--it will satisfy the student's needs. It clearly isn't the best solution and a disclosure obligation isn't likely to stand in the way of a motivated salesperson. If the salesperson had been bound by a "best-interest" standard, he would recommend a simpler, more reliable and affordable unit.

In the U.S., brokers and investment advisors are subject to different standards when providing investment advice. Many investors are unaware of these differences or their legal implications or find them confusing. In the wake of the global financial crisis, the Dodd-Frank Act required the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to evaluate the effectiveness of existing legal or regulatory standards of care for providing personalized investment advice to retail customers. Five months later and with the benefit of over 3,500 comment letters as well as a survey conducted by the CFA Institute (which already requires both a suitability and best-interest standard of its members in order to use the Chartered Financial Analyst professional designation) SEC staff released its analysis and recommendations. It has proposed a uniform standard of conduct for all brokers, dealers and investment advisors providing personalized investment advice about securities to retail customers to act in the best interest of the customer.

The SEC staff study acknowledges that working through the details of such a standard so as to ensure it is practicable and cost effective will be complex. It does not propose a strict fiduciary duty, nor does it suggest rules to try to eliminate conflicts.

The U.K. Financial Services Authority (FSA) recently banned commissions for advised sales of retail investments and released proposals which would require advisors to explain why a product is better than a cheaper alternative. This and other more intrusive proposals are based on the FSA's realization that there are "fundamental reasons why financial services markets do not always work well for consumers."

The contrast in the direction, speed and intensity of regulatory reform between Canada and other major developed markets raises a number of questions and suggestions. Why did the OSC start down the path of a "best-interest" standard in 2004 and, while others (including the U.K., Europe and Australia) have caught up, we appear to have fallen back to where we started -- disclosure requirements and a relatively static "suitability" standard? To what extent is this a function of a fragmented regulatory framework suffering from bureaucratic inertia (and an industry suffering from regulatory fatigue)? What accountability mechanisms are required to motivate a more focussed and intense effort?

Why is it that Canadian regulators have shied away from proposing a "best-interest" standard? As one commentator to the SEC staff's study noted, "If the product sold is that of advice, then that advice should be in the best interest of the client. Anything else is fraud, because the seller is delivering a service different from what the consumer thinks he or she is buying." Many argue that it's the buyer's responsibility to do due diligence and shop around for the best price. But should caveat emptor apply when buyers think they are hiring a professional to do the shopping?

There may be light at the end of this tunnel. Hopefully, the robust regulatory reform efforts underway elsewhere will inform and impose some discipline on our own. The OSC has a new chair. It recently established a highly credible Investor Advisory Panel, which has added this issue to its list of initiatives. FAIR Canada, the Hennick Centre for Business and Law, and the Toronto CFA Society are convening a second annual symposium on the subject next week. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has demonstrated genuine interest in investor protection -- most recently supporting a national strategy to strengthen financial literacy.

Canada takes justifiable pride in its financial institutions and infrastructure. In doing so we can ill afford to gloss over the nature of customer relationships or be perceived to lag other markets in our efforts to ensure fair dealing in financial markets.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.