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By working with a well-selected study group of peers, advisors get continuing guidance, support, networking opportunities and maybe even develop some friendships, says Curtis Findlay, president and financial advisor at Compfin Management Ltd.

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Continuing education (CE) is a necessity in the financial services industry, yet it’s not uncommon for financial advisors to find themselves in a mad scramble to get their CE credits toward the end of every year.

A recent report from the Financial Services Commission of Ontario found that almost one-third of insurance agents who were subject to a compliance review were referred for possible enforcement action – with failing to comply with CE requirements being a top reason.

Yet, meeting CE requirements doesn’t always have to feel like a chore, says Jamie Robb, principal of Mississauga-based Fiducia Wealth Management Inc., which operates under the Worldsource Financial Management Inc. umbrella.

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“Done right, meeting your CE obligations can be a distinct competitive advantage in the marketplace,” he says. “With the industry trending toward more automation, multidisciplinary advice will be one of the most valuable skill sets you can offer. Pursuing your CE requirements in a proactive way, such as expanding professional credentials with a long-term view to diversification, will always be a winning strategy.”

Mr. Robb is employing a “two-for-one” approach. He’ll be earning most of his 2019 CE requirements as he works through the process of obtaining the certified divorce financial analyst designation.

As advisors’ time and energy are limited, being selective when deciding how to earn CE credits is important, says Tami Romanchuk, owner, advisor and financial planner at Shoreline Financial & Insurance Services Ltd in Victoria.

“Ensure you’re selecting sessions to not only satisfy CE requirements, but help you or your practice grow,” she says.

“I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying the Advocis Banff School for the past 13 years, where I receive the majority, if not all, my total annual CE requirements,” Ms. Romanchuk adds. “The event is hosted in one of the most beautiful locations in Canada and we get plenty of time to network and chat with our favourite faculty members and industry leaders. Some of those conversations are priceless.”

For advisors who struggle to find valuable CE-focused events in their area, Curtis Findlay, president and financial advisor at Compfin Management Ltd. in Ridgeway, Ont., and chair of Advocis’ technology task force, has a novel solution – they should create their own.

“There are two approaches to this – and while neither is free, the difference between identifying professional development days as highlights in your annual review versus only seeing them as necessary evils will be worth the costs for some advisors,” says Mr. Findlay.

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The first approach involves gathering various colleagues with similar interests and experience in the same region. Then, the group partners up with a private college that has been accredited by regulators in their province to approve content appropriate for CE credits. In Mr. Findlay’s case, he has worked very closely with Business Career College, which operates in several provinces.

“The college provides an experienced, knowledgeable industry instructor who is able to lead discussions and case studies,” he says. “Our members pay the college to attend two days of sessions. Each year, we work closely with the instructor to design a unique agenda around a financial planning theme. Last year, we chose seniors’ planning issues. My colleagues and I have done this for about 10 years and nobody has ever complained about the time or cost.”

At the end of the sessions, participants receive their CE credits. Such arrangements allow advisors to choose speakers with no conflict of interest, earn the vast majority of credit hours needed for the year and delve into technical subjects CE course providers often ignore, says Mr. Findlay.

Another option he suggests is for advisors to form a study group, using agendas and course materials that regulatory staff must preapprove for insurance CE credits in some provinces.

“Seven of us from across Canada created one several years ago, and we meet twice a year. A member chairs the meeting and deals with the venue selection and negotiations,” he says. “If you can identify the right members for the group, it quickly becomes a knowledgeable, trusted resource that helps every member through technical discussions, expansion planning, staff issues, retirement planning and generally acts as a sounding board for how to run your businesses.”

The benefit of working with a well-selected study group of peers eclipses simply obtaining CE requirements. Advisors get ongoing guidance, support, networking and maybe even develop some friendships.

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But to get some of those ongoing benefits, advisors can extend their networks beyond fellow advisors and look for ways to learn from entrepreneurs and experts outside of the industry, says Galen Nuttall, financial security advisor at Freedom 55 Financial in Belleville, Ont.

“While I love hanging out with advisors, when I was just reading their books or going to their talks, it’s like I was sitting at a dinner table having a great conversation,” says Mr. Nuttall, who says he attends at least one industry conference a year and takes advantage of opportunities to get CE credits at his local Advocis chapter.

“When I widened my scope, it was like all the house lights went up and I became aware of all these other tables having great conversations, too,” he adds. “The more time I spend with entrepreneurs, the more I innovate in my own business and the more I stay on top of trends that could jeopardize my business if I don’t pay attention.”

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