14 December 2023

The Road Ahead: Assessing The Implications Of The CSA's Proposed Changes To Complaint Handling And Dispute Resolution

Crawley MacKewn Brush LLP


Crawley MacKewn Brush LLP is a leading corporate commercial and securities litigation boutique. The firm and each of our named partners are ranked nationally among the best of their peers. We are best known for our expertise in representing clients who participate in the capital markets and financial services industry.
The framework introduces a system where an independent dispute resolution service (IDRS), such as the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI), would issue binding decisions on complaints.
Canada Finance and Banking
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Summary of the Proposed Framework:

The framework introduces a system where an independent dispute resolution service (IDRS), such as the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI), would issue binding decisions on complaints. This marks a significant shift from the current model, where OBSI's recommendations are non-binding. Key aspects of the framework include:

  • A cap of $350,000 on compensatory awards, with the CSA open to feedback on increasing this limit
  • An "Investigation and Recommendation" stage, mirroring OBSI's current process
  • A "Review and Decision" stage involving a senior decision-maker for contested recommendations
  • Binding final decisions, enforceable as court orders

Challenges for Dealers and Advisors:

1. Increased Operational and Compliance Costs:

The proposed framework is likely to increase operational and compliance costs for dealers and advisors. These costs stem from higher membership fees for participating in the IDRS, potential increases in insurance premiums, and the necessity for more robust internal complaint handling processes. The financial burden of these changes could be particularly challenging for smaller firms, potentially leading to market consolidation and reduced competition. This increase in costs could also result in higher fees for investors, indirectly affecting the market's accessibility.

2. Complexity in Multi-Jurisdictional Operations:

Firms operating in multiple jurisdictions may face operational complexities due to the potential staggered adoption of the framework across different provinces. This scenario demands adaptable systems capable of complying with diverse regulatory environments, adding administrative burdens. The need to navigate these varying landscapes could lead to inconsistencies in service delivery and compliance challenges, particularly for firms with a national presence.

3. Risk of Eroding Procedural Fairness:

The use of an inquisitorial system in the proposed framework raises concerns about procedural fairness and transparency. Dealers and advisors might be apprehensive about the impartiality and expertise of decision-makers, especially in complex investment disputes that require specialized knowledge. The lack of an appeal mechanism to a securities tribunal or a statutory right of appeal to the courts could further impact the perceived fairness and effectiveness of the framework, leaving parties with limited recourse in case of a dispute.

4. Challenges in Defining 'Fairness':

The framework's reliance on a subjective and vague standard of 'fairness' for decision-making could lead to uncertainties in managing client interactions. Dealers and advisors might struggle to align their practices with a standard that lacks clear definition, potentially leading to inconsistent interpretations and outcomes. This ambiguity could result in a cautious approach to investment advice and client engagement, potentially stifling innovation and limiting investment opportunities for clients.

5. Financial Burden on Individual Representatives:

The proposed framework might lead to dealers and advisors passing on responsibility for compensation to individual representatives through indemnification clauses which are sometimes found in their agreements with dealers and advisors. This shift could increase financial risks for these professionals, potentially driving them out of the market.

6. Global Competitiveness:

The increased regulation and operational costs associated with the new framework might affect Canada's attractiveness as a financial market for international investors and firms. This impact could be particularly pronounced in a global context, where regulatory environments and investor protections vary widely. The potential for increased costs and regulatory complexities could deter foreign investment and limit the growth of Canada's financial sector on the international stage.


The CSA's proposed updated framework for handling complaints in the financial services sector represents a significant shift aimed at enhancing investor protection and streamlining dispute resolution. However, it presents several challenges for dealers and advisors, including increased costs, operational complexities, and potential impacts on fairness and market dynamics.

Despite the challenges outlined, it's important to recognize that the CSA's proposal addresses a significant need in the market. The current system, with non-binding recommendations, often leaves investors without a clear path to resolution in disputes with financial service providers. By introducing a framework with binding decisions and a structured process, the proposal aims to fill this gap, offering a more definitive and accessible means for investors to seek redress. This change is expected to enhance trust in the financial services sector and align Canada more closely with international best practices in investor protection.

As the framework moves towards implementation, active engagement and feedback from stakeholders are crucial to ensure a balanced approach that protects investors while maintaining a healthy, competitive, and fair financial services industry.

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.

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