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Originally published: May 20, 2021

This article is part of the Investor Office series of discussions with key figures in Canada’s financial services industry whose work impacts investors. The views expressed in this article are entirely those of Sarah Bradley and are not intended to represent the views of the Investor Office or the Ontario Securities Commission.

Sarah at five+ years

We first interviewed Sarah when she took the helm at OBSI in 2016. We sat down with her this Spring to catch up on developments and her message to investors. Read the 2016 interview here.

How has OBSI evolved over the last five years?

It’s interesting to reflect, actually.  Though I don’t know if it’s the last five years – there’s 2015 to 2020 and then there’s: “2020 – the COVID story!”

Thinking about that five-year block, from 2015 to 2020, we were very fortunate to have a window in that period of relative economic calm to be able to take a pause and tackle some pretty significant modernization projects.

We started off with some planning projects like building the enterprise risk framework and creating a five-year strategic plan. We then turned to some very practical back-of-house improvements. We launched a new case management system which is the backbone of everything that we do. We moved to cloud-based data and paperless workflows just in the nick of time, really.

Once those foundational pieces were underway, we tackled projects that would add tangible value to our stakeholders. This included the firm help desk, where we provide information to firms on a no-commitment basis. We developed an expedited investigation process for straightforward complaints. We also launched a new firm portal to allow firms to work with us digitally. They can log-in, see the progress of their cases and securely upload documents. We also launched a new case opening system for consumers. Consumers who prefer to deal with us digitally can start their whole complaint process through our website.

Enabling much of this work was our new website We started communicating more broadly, guided by our social media strategy and we launched an informative quarterly newsletter.

Has your board been changing too?

Yes, our board has evolved. We’ve recently added our new consumer interest director position and that’s been an exciting development. Our board has always had expertise in consumer issues, but we’ve never had a formal requirement of a dedicated consumer expert. The first inaugural consumer interest director is Wanda Morris. She previously was the chair of our Consumer and Investor Advisory Council. She also has experience with CARP and just a really deep experience in consumer and investor issues. So, it’s been great to formally welcome her onto the board in that capacity.

How are you managing the COVID-19 era?

Right now, following some the market disruptions and market volatility around the pandemic, we’re dealing with some pretty high case volumes. I think it’s also fair to observe that the whole financial services sector was affected by COVID-19.

During the first two quarters of 2021, we’ve opened about 68% more investment cases than the same period last year, and our case volumes are as high as we saw during the peak of the financial crisis aftermath in 2009 and 2010. There were some pretty significant market disruptions in 2020, a lot of volatility, and suddenly, firms were providing services to their clients from home. That caused, I think, an understandable level of financial strain and service disruption. For example, transfer delays or transaction delays have been common through this period. We’ve seen increasing cases around order-execution-only firms for DIY investors. It’s been busy

We are very focused on delivering high-quality service in this high-case volume period. Our staff has been able to maintain our service levels, in spite of shifting to working from home. That has been very important for all of us.

This is your 25-year anniversary…

The 25-year anniversary is a big deal for us this year. It’s a great chance to pause and reflect on quite a long history. We’re really proud of the work that we’ve done. We’ve helped many thousands of investors and their firms. We’ve really grown and evolved as an organization, alongside an industry that is growing and evolving too.

A look back is also a time for looking forward and it’s time for a new five-year plan. We’re about to launch our strategic planning process and hopefully establish a good roadmap for the next five years. And, in terms of initiatives and priorities, we continue to work with regulators and other stakeholders to find a path forward on one of the most important recommendations from our last review, which is binding authority for OBSI.

What should investors know about OBSI?

Through this whole COVID-19 period, we’ve all been very focused on staying safe in terms of our personal health, but it’s also very important for us to stay safe in terms of our financial health. Consumers should know that we’re here to help. Investors and firms are usually able to resolve their concerns fairly between themselves. But when things seem to have gone wrong, and investors feel that they need assistance, we’re here to help them resolve their concerns.

Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments