Sunday, February 27, 2011


Strategy would incorporate formal education, government programs, online tools and a campaign to raise awareness

Urgent action is needed to improve financial literacy in Canada, and financial advisors and other members of the financial services industry should be key players in this endeavour. So recommends the Canada’s Task Force on Financial Literacy’s report, which was released earlier this month.

The report, which calls for a comprehensive national strategy to address Canada’s pitiful financial literacy rate, identifies five priority areas: shared responsibility; leadership and collaboration; lifelong learning; delivery and promotion; and accountability.

The strategy would incorporate formal education, federal government programs, online tools and a campaign to raise consumer awareness. Ongoing evaluation of the strategy by an appointed individual would ensure accountability, the report recommends.

Of particular interest to advisors is one of the main priority areas — lifelong education — which relies heavily on advisor expertise, says Cary List, president and CEO of the Financial Planning Standards Council in Toronto.

Although the report encourages provincial and territorial governments to include financial literacy within the public-school curriculum, it also asserts that financial services providers should play a large role in education outside the classroom.

The report highlights the importance of so-called “teachable moments” — which happen when a financial decision is being made — as a time at which advisors not only provide information but also ensure it’s understood.

“That’s a big part of financial planning,” says List. “When planners meet with a client, they’re much more successful if they can get the client to understand what it is they’re trying to achieve and what the issues and challenges are along the way.”

Advocis welcomes the task force’s acknowledgement that the government needs to make a concerted effort to promote the concept of professional advice so that Canadians can make better choices when it comes to their financial well-being.

The report suggests that the government should deliver the following key messages: the pros and cons of hiring an advisor; the roles and obligations of advisors; how to choose an advisor; an explanation of the various designations and credentials; and the top questions that should be asked when considering a financial services professional.

Greg Pollock, Advocis’s president and CEO in Toronto, says the association obviously sees no downside to hiring an advisor; however, as a member of the task force, he is well aware that the strategy needs to be balanced and neutral. After all, he says, there have been several highly publicized cases in which so-called “financial advi-sors” have blatantly ripped off clients: “We recognize that we need to be cautious in terms of saying you absolutely must go out and get a financial advisor.”

To that end, the task force advocates the creation of a national website that would cover these points and offer Canadians a number of tools to improve their financial literacy. The Canadian Life and Health Insurance Asso-ciation Inc. lauds this recommendation, says Stephen Frank, CLHIA’s director of policy development and analysis in Toronto. He emphasizes that the material must be presented in a user-friendly manner on a single website: “It’s not that there’s not a lot of information already out there. It’s that it’s scattered all over the place.”

Ian Russell, president and CEO of the Investment Industry Association of Canada in Toronto, agrees that a central access point is the way to go. In fact, he says, the current state of affairs — in which Canadians have to click their way through various websites, many of which are complicated — can actually be a deterrent to financial literacy.

The IIAC commends the task force’s proposed creation of a national advisory council on financial literacy, which would be made up of various stakeholders, not just self-interested parties.

The council, as recommended in the task forces’ report, would represent all regions of the country and be composed of a broad mix of experts from community-based organizations, the financial and private sectors, and governments.

The creation of such a diverse advisory council was one of the recommendations that the Investment Funds Institute of Canada had made to the task force, says Joanne De Laurentiis, IFIC’s president and CEO. She says IFIC is pleased by the report’s proposed strategy — and IFIC especially appreciates that the report doesn’t present a simplistic, “one size fits all” solution.

“There isn’t any one thing we can do. There are a number of things we need to do,” De Laurentiis says, adding that individuals make financial decisions throughout their entire lives. Thus, financial literacy needs to be an integral part of our culture.

The task force’s report touches on this, stressing that financial literacy needs to be considered an essential life skill. The report suggests the government consider the success of its own models — most notably, the promotion and support offered to ParticipACTION, when it launched in the 1970s and 1980s, and, more recently, the Canada Food Guide — when considering how to develop a national financial literacy strategy.

Of course, there are no guarantees that any of these recommendations will be put in place. In fact, List admits feeling some skepticism when he first heard of the task force. However, after seeing the depth of the recommendations, he is optimistic because the report focuses on changing behaviours on many levels. IE

Wendy Cuthbert

Investmenr Executive
February 22, 2011

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