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Peter Routledge took charge at the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) in late June.Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

The new head of Canada’s banking regulator says he aims to bring greater urgency to oversight of the financial sector, in order to curb volatility that will be caused in some cases by new risks from climate change and emerging technologies.

Peter Routledge took charge at the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) in late June. The regulator is not known for moving quickly in response to upheaval. But on Monday, Mr. Routledge suggested that he would speed things up.

He kicked off his first public speech in his new role, at a virtual conference held by the Toronto-based Global Risk Institute, by quoting Martin Luther King Jr. about the “fierce urgency of now.” Even three months in, he said, he regularly reminds himself that “the clock is ticking down.”

Mr. Routledge pledged to “transform” OSFI’s approach over his seven-year term, and to revamp the regulator’s culture. But he sidestepped two hot-button issues that are top of mind for many investors: When OSFI will lift temporary restrictions that prohibit banks and insurance companies from raising dividends or buying back shares, and how the regulator might further shape mortgage underwriting rules in response to hot housing markets.

Mr. Routledge said in the current interregnum between the recent federal election and the formation of the next government, it would be inappropriate for OSFI – a federal agency – to weigh in on those issues.

He did send signals about how he plans to approach key priorities set by his predecessor, Jeremy Rudin. Climate-risk disclosure requirements for financial institutions “will expand materially over my term as superintendent,” Mr. Routledge said. Though many companies adhere to international standards set by independent bodies such the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), he added, “it is clear the reporting of quality data, presently but not permanently, falls somewhat short.”

“We haven’t really crystallized and quantified climate risk,” he said. “The faster and earlier that we can do that as a country, I think, the more successful adjustment we’ll have.”

Around the world, there is a fundamental reallocation of capital under way, as institutional investors look to back companies that are able to thrive in a low-carbon world, according to Marcia Moffat, managing director for BlackRock Inc.’s Canadian division. BlackRock’s clients, she said in a panel discussion at Monday’s conference, expect to double their assets in sustainable strategies by 2025, bringing those investments from 18 per cent to 37 per cent of their portfolios. And improvements in climate-related disclosure are essential to that process.

“[Capital] can’t flow if there’s no clarity and standardization around disclosure, and good data,” Ms. Moffat said.

Mr. Routledge also said the digitization of financial services will affect every business model, and that it represents a serious threat to “an unknowable few.” To encourage innovation and competition, OSFI plans to “ease competitive entry” into the regulated banking sector for financial technology startups, he said, but also ensure “a level regulatory playing field” with incumbent banks and insurers.

OSFI will pay particular attention to new risks posed by financial institutions’ reliance on third-party technology providers, and is following the Bank of Canada’s lead in closely tracking developments in cryptocurrencies, Mr. Routledge said.

The rapid proliferation of digital currencies is a prime example of the kind of unexpected risk that can arise quickly. Mr. Routledge expressed a desire to make OSFI more able to anticipate new threats to financial stability. He said he wants to make the regulator’s culture less risk-averse, more diverse and more willing to take “earlier corrective action” when it finds a problem through supervision of financial institutions.

“My new responsibility requires that I assume and plan for more frequent volatility storms with varying degrees of intensity,” Mr. Routledge said. “OSFI must level up its ability to adapt to, and thrive in, that uncertainty.”