Harmonized licensing will make it easier for advisors to do business in other provinces

par Al Emid | June 18 2006 08:21PM

Canada’s provinces and territories have agreed on a harmonized licensing form and reciprocal licensing arrangement for insurance advisors, explained Grant Swanson, executive director, Licensing and Market Conduct Division at the Financial Services Commission of Ontario. “We were asked to take a look at making it easier to be licensed in more than one province,” he said, speaking to practitioners at the recent Independent Financial Brokers Spring Summit in Toronto.

Under the new system, currently scheduled to take effect on July 4, regulators will provide a harmonized (common) application form for categories such as individual life agent, for practitioner applications from across the country. Under the reciprocal licensing arrangement, each province will accept the applicant’s proof of licensing in his or her home jurisdiction for purposes of licensing in other jurisdictions. “If a province has already checked that you are suitable, done a background check (and) police check, you shouldn’t be coming into the regulatory system as if you’re a brand new person that nobody knows,” Mr. Swanson told attendees, adding that background check requirements are very similar across the country.

The streamlined process will save a practitioner time and effort in applying and document-gathering but not in expenses since each province will continue charging the usual same licensing fees. However, it will come as good news to practitioners whose clients move around periodically, work for employers operating in several provinces.

The new procedure will require some fine-tuning over time, he conceded at the meeting. “There will be some growing pains and adjustments that have to be made, but we feel that it is a good direction,” he said. During a follow-up interview with The Insurance Journal, Mr. Swanson explained that where a practitioner’s home jurisdiction (the province in which he or she first becomes licensed) has greater continuing education requirements than second, third or fourth provinces in which he or she wants to become licensed, the practitioner will not have to provide further documentation or take further courses. However, where the home jurisdiction’s requirements are lower than those of the host jurisdiction, the practitioner will have to ‘top up’ CE credits in order to meet the higher requirements of the host jurisdiction.

Regulators do not intend to differentiate between the CE standards of various provinces in this context, he said. “In terms of what’s acceptable, it would be acceptable based on what qualifies in the home jurisdiction.”

CE course quality

Meanwhile, Ontario provincial regulators plan to continue their audit of continuing education course quality. “Increasingly we’ve heard questions about (whether) all of these continuing education programs are of adequate quality,” he said. FSCO plans to audit both courses and course providers, he explained.

Some advisors have told The Insurance Journal that they believe that certain CE credit sessions in Ontario amount to little more than product-promotion advertorial sessions.

Also on the national scene, the Joint Forum of Financial Market Regulators has an initiative underway to simplify disclosure documents for investment products such as individual variable insurance contracts (IVIC) and mutual funds, Mr. Swanson told practitioners at the Summit, adding that some IVIC disclosure documents run contain up to 300 pages or more. “It is sometimes difficult to know how much it is useful for a consumer to have,” he conceded.

In another move, Ontario plans to handle all individual life licensing applications, general insurance licensing and mortgage brokerage licensing over the Internet (with a few exceptions) also starting-based practitioners. Ontario currently handles between 50%-60% of applications over the internet, he said. “When you look at Internet licensing it provides an electronic way of processing the application and screening out the straightforward ones, (which are) the vast majority so that we can just focus on the problem applications,” he said.

While Mr. Swanson characterized the changes as beneficial to advisors, earlier papers and announcements clearly demonstrated the width of the gulf between regulators and advisors, and it remains considerable.

Responding to a question from an attendee about whether regulators recognize the impact of their actions on practitioners, he conceded that was not the case. “I think I can say with all honesty we can’t; we’re not in your shoes,” he said. “So if there is something that arises that makes no sense at all, let us know …”