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Originally published: June 7, 2017
This article is part of the Investor Office series of discussions with key figures whose work impacts investors. The views expressed in this article are entirely those of Wanda Morris and are not intended to represent the views of the Investor Office or the Ontario Securities Commission.
Wanda Morris is the Vice President of Advocacy at CARP (formerly known as the Canadian Association of Retired Persons). The Investor Office recently sat down with Wanda to discuss her background, CARP and CARP’s investor initiatives.
I am a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) by training and have spent decades working in financial roles at both for profit and not-for-profit organizations. I began taking on different roles branching out into health and wellness consulting and public speaking training. About 10 years ago I became a social activist because I believed it would be the most effective way for me to help people. Even though it’s been a long time since I worked directly in the finance field, having a solid business background is frequently useful and is particularly helpful when advocating for investor protection.
On CARP and its role…
We are the largest advocacy organization for older Canadians. Our advocacy focuses on three areas: transforming healthcare, ensuring the financial security of seniors, and fighting for the human rights of older Canadians, particularly against ageism. There is no age restriction for CARP membership, nor do members have to be retired. We do have younger members who have joined to advocate on behalf of their parents or even grandparents. Our members typically are retired or semi-retired with above-average education and income, across the country.
On investor initiatives…
Investor protection is a top priority for us. It is an area where we feel there are significant gaps in the regulatory framework that need to be addressed – things such as the need for a best interest standard, the issue of embedded commissions, the lack of regulation of titles used by those who sell financial products. Those are our top three investor issues at the moment. I see us expanding our work over the coming year, particularly to address issues with powers of attorney and vulnerable investors and problems with the mechanisms in place for reimbursing investors who lose money.
We’re excited that recently announced legislative changes in Ontario and B.C. will give self-regulatory organizations more power to collect fines. That’s important, and that’s a great deterrent, but it doesn’t restore the investor’s investment. So that’s a phase 2 piece that we will certainly look at. But right now we’re focusing on a best interest standard, embedded fees and the regulation of titles. To that end we’re gutted to hear that so many provinces are abandoning their consultations on a best interest standard. As a result we’re even more focused and supportive of Ontario’s sustained commitment to such a standard. We really want to give Ontario and certainly the OSC every support possible to carry out that commitment and enact best interest legislation.
In addition, I think it’s a real privilege to be on the OSC’s Seniors Expert Advisory Committee and to work with people who are not only likewise so committed to protecting seniors but also bring such skills and expertise to the table. We recognize that seniors hold a disproportionate amount of the invested wealth in Canada, so while investor protection isn’t strictly a seniors issue, we believe we have a mandate to be heavily involved, and our members’ surveys support this commitment. We are also aware that there are issues unique to vulnerable investors, many of whom are older Canadians. So our efforts focus on both broad changes that will benefit all investors and specific changes that will better protect vulnerable investors.
I talked earlier about the next phase of our investor protection work; some of the other areas that we’ve identified are around powers of attorney and delegated responsibility, and safe harbours (Editor’s note: A regulatory “safe harbour” includes rules that empower advisors to take action in support of clients in cases of suspected financial abuse or cognitive decline).
On CARP’s latest survey…
We recently released the results of a survey we conducted with 1,900 CARP members across Canada. We had some of the strongest poll results that we’ve ever gotten in terms of a consensus from our members in support of a best interest standard and support for the banning of embedded fees, which has really strengthened our position in advocating for these reforms.
Any final thoughts…
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about that fact that it’s really distressing that Canada is an international laggard when it comes to investor protection. That we allow the conversation to be about whether we should even have a best interest standard, rather than having a timetable and a commitment on an implementation plan to put it in place. I know in the US, for example, there are very strong consumer protection groups that have fought for and received gains in investor protections. I look at the rules in place in the U.K., Australia or the E.U. and I’m saddened both by how much Canada lags and secondly by the lack of awareness and coverage of this in the media. I think we have our work cut out for us. At least, in terms of a bright spot, I’m really delighted to see the work of the Ontario government and the OSC, and look forward to helping address that lag and imbalance in investor protection.