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Property and casualty insurer the Co-operators Group Ltd. has expanded into the investment sector with the launch of its own mutual fund division that will offer clients funds from some of Canada’s largest independent asset managers.

The Guelph, Ont.-based insurer has launched Co-operators Financial Investment Services Inc., a financial services arm with more than 600 advisers licensed to sell mutual funds and a product shelf that includes funds from nine independent fund providers, including AGF Investments , Fidelity Investments Canada, Franklin Templeton Investments and CI Financial .

“When we looked at our landscape, it was really clear to us that many of our existing clients and many Canadians weren’t getting the advice that they needed to be able to make the best financial plan that they could,” Co-operators president and chief executive officer Rob Wesseling said in an interview.

Mr. Wesseling said the company is looking to fill the gap for middle-income Canadians who typically cannot gain access to financial advice because they do not have enough investable assets.

The shift into wealth management is a first for the insurer, which has largely been focused on home and auto insurance since its inception in 1946.

Mr. Wesseling said the insurer explored several options for entering the wealth management business, including the possibility of obtaining a securities dealer’s licence with the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization. But the company ultimately decided to apply with the Mutual Fund Dealers Association in early 2020 for membership that would allow it to offer the funds to clients.

“The majority of the needs that our clients have can be met with the mutual fund dealer structure,” he added.

With more than $61.5-billion in assets under administration, the Co-operators currently has 6,000 employees, including 2,500 representatives with insurance licences. In addition to home and auto insurance, the company provides business, travel, farm and life insurance.

Along with its new lineup of mutual funds, the company will continue to offer investments in the annuities and segregated funds provided by insurers. Exchange traded funds are not currently part of the new product shelf, but may be included in the future, Mr. Wesseling said.

“The [COVID-19] pandemic has made it incredibly clear that planning is really important and focusing on protection is really important,” Mr. Wesseling said. “COVID has shaken people up in Canada – across the globe – and caused people to step back and think about where they have financial risks and physical risks.”

Over the past decade, Canadian banks and insurers have been boosting their focus on wealth management as $1-trillion in personal holdings are set to be passed down by elderly investors to younger generations in the coming years.

The new Co-operators platform, which offers access to a wide array of independent fund companies, happens to coincide with new regulatory rules that prompted several Canadian banks to try to halt sales of independent third-party investment products from their financial planning arms recently.

“Along with annuities and segregated fund products, Canadians need to have the full picture to protect what they have today and plan for tomorrow,” Mr. Wesseling said.

But unlike some wealth management firms that are targeting Canada’s ultrarich families, Co-operators is aiming to provide financial plans to an underserved population with lower savings.

In a recent survey commissioned by the Co-operators and conducted by Angus Reid, 55 per cent of Canadians said the pandemic made them realize they need to revisit their financial plans, while 69 per cent confessed to never being properly educated on financial security and planning as they headed into adulthood.

Co-operators chief marketing officer Emmie Fukuchi said many “everyday Canadians” are not well served within today’s marketplace and the gap was one of the key drivers for the company to pivot into asset management.

“For too long,” Ms. Fukuchi adds, “Canadians have been made to feel like a number, having been bracketed into data sets, subsets and averages. "

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