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Investment watchdog working to protect elderly Canadians from financial exploitation

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One of the watchdogs for Canada’s investment industry says it’s working towards creating regulatory safeguards for clients who may be targets of financial exploitation, particularly seniors.

The Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada says a survey done for IIROC found wide public support for having tools and rules in place to protect vulnerable clients.

The idea of having a “trusted contact” on file, who can be consulted by an investment professional who suspects a client is being exploited or vulnerable, was supported by 93 per cent of 1,000 people surveyed for IIROC.

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IIROC is a private-sector body that shares responsibility for regulating about 160 Canadian investment dealers, including subsidiaries of the country’s major banks.

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Andrew Kriegler, IIROC’s chief executive officer, says that the next step is to work out the details with other regulatory bodies including the provincial and territorial regulators represented by the Canadian Securities Administrators.

While there’s strong support for putting protections in place, he says “Canadians want us to do it right.”

“And doing it right . . . means respecting privacy and not compromising that in a rush to do a simple answer.”

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The desire for privacy runs deep with many people and investment professionals want to be sure they don’t overstep a line if they interfere with a client’s decision, Kriegler suggests.

“Viewed from one perspective, that’s an intrusive act. It’a surrendering of control,” he says.

“It may be done for exactly the right reasons . . . but, inherently, that’s a surrendering of control, a surrendering of privacy, a surrendering of mastery over your own life, over your own decisions.”

“And I think that’s inherently a tricky question.”

But Kriegler says there’s also evidence, from one of Canada’s largest groups representing older people, that there is need for some sort of protection for seniors.

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He cites an estimate from the Canadian Association for Retired Persons that about one-in-five older Canadians are subject to elder financial abuse and notes that dementia may also reduce the abilities of people as they age.

Immigrants are another potentially vulnerable group, although IIROC hasn’t collected information on that front.

“We didn’t address that question in the survey work,” Kriegler says. “It would be speculation but I think reasonable speculation.”

In fact, he says, all of the issues are likely magnified when a client is uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the system and that’s one reason IIROC wants to tread carefully in conjunction with other Canadian regulatory bodies.

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They would include the CSA members and the Mutual Fund Dealers Association, another of the financial industry’s self-regulating organizations.

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The survey, conducted by The Strategic Counsel, involved 1,000 people selected from IIROC’s online advisory pool of 10,000 investors.

Besides support for establishing a trusted contact, the Strategic Counsel survey of 1,000 people found 89 per cent of respondents supported giving investment advisers and firms the ability to put a “temporary hold” on account activity.

Support was also high (86 per cent) for providing a regulatory “safe harbour” to protect investment advisers who second-guess a client’s instructions, either by placing a temporary hold or consulting the trusted contact.

“I think investment dealers want regulatory certainty and that’s what’s behind the whole safeharbour idea,” Kriegler says. “This gives them the cover to take the right actions on behalf of the client.”