Next time your phone rings, it may not be your broker with a hot tip.
Canada's national telecommunications regulator unveiled a decision Thursday declaring advisers who sell and promote financial products or services to be "telemarketers," who must now abide by the same rules as other phone solicitors.
The decision will not end calls from financial advisers to their existing clients, but it will compel the advisers to register with regulators as telemarketers and abide by restrictions facing the industry, including limits on the times of day that clients can be called.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's decision effectively removed an exemption for financial advisers that had been granted in 2008 when telemarketing rules were revamped.
"The commission notes that every other industry is subject to the telemarketing rules … when making unsolicited calls to sell or promote products to existing clients," the CRTC said in its decision.
Susan Copland, policy director at the Investment Industry Association of Canada (IIAC), which represents Canada's largest brokerage firms, said the decision won't curtail all communications between brokers and clients, but sends the wrong message that financial advisers are akin to strangers selling unwanted products.
"It's the same framework as if they were selling carpet cleaning services," she said.
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Ms. Copland said financial advisers are heavily regulated and face a competing regulatory requirement to contact customers in certain circumstances if their financial situations change or their investments change.
Moreover, she said that by being labelled as telemarketers, financial advisers must go through a "spiel" to identify themselves at the beginning of each phone call and face restrictions calling clients in different time zones. For example, the Toronto Stock Exchange opens at 9:30 a.m. ET, which is 6:30 a.m. in British Columbia. This falls outside the permitted calling time of 9 a.m. local time under telemarketing rules.
Telemarketing rules also only recognize someone as an existing client if they have bought a service within the prior 18 months or if they have contacted the company with a request for services within the last six months, she said. That means some people who do not often deal with their advisers could be deemed to no longer be existing customers, which means the adviser cannot call them if they have registered with the national "do not call" list.
"It's almost regulation for the sake of regulation," Ms. Copland said. "Clearly this isn't a telemarketing service. You have a relationship with your financial adviser."
The decision was a response to a request from the insurance industry that insurance brokers receive the same right as financial advisers to be exempt from the telemarketing rules. Instead of extending the exemption to the insurance sector, however, the CRTC decided to level the playing field by removing the exemption from financial advisers.
"It's lousy," said Steve Masnyk, spokesman for the Insurance Brokers Association of Canada. "It's not good for consumers."
The CRTC ruling noted there is no restriction on brokers contacting clients through means other than the telephone.
But Ms. Copland said legislation is now being drafted to create a "do not e-mail" list for Canadians, which could curtail the another key way brokers talk to clients. "I'm not quite sure how our industry will communicate with clients," she said.
She said IIAC will look at whether it can appeal the CRTC decision or seek to have it amended.
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