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The Bay Street financial district in Toronto.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Several of Canada’s largest banks have blocked their financial advisers from offering clients certain high-interest cash funds during a period in which investors are flocking to safer investments amid shaky stock and bond markets, a restriction regulators may examine in a continuing review of industry sales practices.

Advisers at several major banks are not able to buy their clients high-interest-savings ETFs, also known as cash ETFs or HISA ETFs. These products mainly invest in pools of banks’ high-interest savings accounts and deposits. Instead, the banks’ investment arms are prompting their advisers to offer the banks’ own proprietary savings accounts directly to clients.

Royal Bank of Canada RY-T, Bank of Montreal BMO-T, Toronto-Dominion Bank TD-T and Bank of Nova Scotia BNS-T all block their advisers from buying the HISA ETFs, placing them on “restricted lists” usually reserved for risky, volatile investments.

It’s another stumbling block for independent fund companies in Canada that manage and sell the cash funds. Do-it-yourself investors who use discount brokerage trading platforms at RBC, BMO and TD are also blocked from purchasing HISA ETFs.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce CM-T and National Bank of Canada NA-T provide access to cash ETFs at their discount brokerages and their investment-adviser brokerages, CIBC Wood Gundy and National Bank Financial. Scotia iTrade allows do-it-yourself investors to access cash ETFs but does not allow investment advisers at Scotia McLeod to purchase cash ETFs for clients.

Some of the banks who block sales of the cash ETFs told The Globe and Mail they believe they offer a satisfactory suite of cash products to their clients, making the HISA ETFs unnecessary.

However, Canadians who use independent discount brokerages or other sellers of cash ETFs flocked to the product as interest rates began to rise earlier this year. Investors injected more than $1.6-billion into those ETFs in the first half of the year. In Canada, there are currently six HISA ETFs with almost $9-billion in total assets under management as of July 30, according to data from National Bank Financial.

The draw for many investors is how quickly the yields on the products jump as interest rates rise. The yields of HISA ETFs averaged 1.45 per cent in May and have doubled to about 3 per cent. Traditional high-interest CDIC-insured savings accounts currently pay 2 per cent to 2.3 per cent.

Management expense ratios for the HISA ETFs range between 0.05 per cent and 0.39 per cent.

Julia Mackenzie, spokesperson for the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada, said that while the organization oversees discount brokerages and full-service investment dealers, it does not regulate the products dealer firms offer.

“Though there are product due diligence requirements, there is no restriction on what dealers can offer or choose not to offer to clients,” Ms. Mackenzie said in an e-mail to The Globe.

However, Ms. Mackenzie says a group of Canadian regulators is conducting a broader compliance sweep, looking to see if there are any potential conflicts of interest among investment dealers. She said regulators will – among other things – examine conflicts associated with proprietary products and related restrictions of firms’ product offerings.

The broad sweep is being jointly conducted by IIROC, the Mutual Fund Dealers Association and the Canadian Securities Administrators – an umbrella group representing provincial and territorial securities commissions – with the goal of examining how investment firms are implementing a set of new rules called client-focused reforms.

The sweep is independent of another review conducted earlier this year by the Ontario Securities Commission on the product offerings of Canada’s largest banks. Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy launched that review after he said he had concerns about financial institutions halting sales or “unduly” restricting sales of third-party investment funds. The OSC submitted recommendations to him on Feb 28.

The OSC declined to comment on its recommendations, referring questions to the Finance Minister. Mr. Bethlenfalvy’s office has not responded to several e-mail requests sent by The Globe on whether the recommendations would be released to the public.

RBC Dominion Securities Inc., Royal Bank’s investment arm, is one of the country’s largest full-service securities brokerages, with 1,900 securities advisers. RBC spokesperson Kathy Bevan said in an e-mail that although RBC does not currently offer HISA ETFs to clients, the bank offers “a number of competitive products to meet their short-term cash investment objectives.”

“We periodically review and monitor our product offerings to ensure we are able to provide our clients with best-in-class solutions and customized strategies to meet their financial goals,” Ms. Bevan said.

Jeff Roman, a spokesperson for BMO, said the bank only offers CDIC-insured high-interest-savings accounts, while TD spokesperson Derek Kirk said HISA ETFs are not “generally available” to be sold by TD Wealth advisers at this time, but the bank reviews its product offerings on an “ongoing basis.”

Scotiabank declined to comment on its adviser channel.

By contrast, Martin Gagnon, National Bank’s head of wealth management and the co-chief executive of National Bank Financial, said in an e-mail the bank’s advisers have the “freedom to select the best investment product based on their clients’ personal and financial objectives, their personal situation, etc.”

“If a third party HISA ETF is the best solution for a client, they are available,” he said.

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