IFIC chair seeks common ground among members

By Al Emid | December 28, 2005 | Last updated on December 28, 2005
3 min read

Heading into 2006, the chair of a trade association whose members generate a myriad of products sold by advisors plan to continue working to clarify what the association is — and is not.

During a year-end interview with Advisor.ca, Brenda Vince — confirmed as IFIC chair in September — stressed the parallel between the evolution of IFIC and the mutual fund sector.

During the 1990s the industry grew rapidly and IFIC members tended to view issues similarly, she recalls. “Maybe mutuality of interests on issues was consistent,” she notes. “All managers had the same kind of issues or managers and distributors were in the same space in terms of priority.”

Today, however, the fund industry has reached maturity and IFIC members’ interests are not quite as homogenous. “In a mature industry you get into situations where there tend to be winners and losers more, the interests of bigger players versus smaller players might be different,” she says. That sea change brings with it a question about how a trade association adds value for its members. “That is our challenge over the next year.”

IFIC hopes to add value by focusing on issues common to all members, big and small. Fund governance unmistakeably falls in that category. While larger and smaller players assign top priority to governance there are differences between them. “The challenges to a smaller player are very different than for a big player,” she says. Some challenges come down to available funds and resources for dealing with cost implications of regulatory requirements, she explains, pointing to resources available to her as president of RBC Asset Management.

Compliance costs are a bigger challenge to smaller firms. “Those are issues where I’m not sure that an industry association can play a serious role,” Vince says. (The Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, whose members also manufacture products handled by advisors, has traditionally handled issues of greater interest to small insurers through forum arrangements.)

Other differences between members also affect the “mutuality of interest” equation, such as whether a mutual fund company is part of a larger financial institution or a free-standing company.

Vince says she believes IFIC will take a more proactive position on fund issues than previously, but within limits. “I think the leadership that’s come to the board, the commitment to getting the right new leader (newly-appointed president and chief executive officer Joanne De Laurentiis is considered to be very bottom-line-oriented by some financial services veterans) should signal that we will attempt to take a more proactive stance but it won’t be on every issue,” she says.

Further work to clarify relationships with self-regulatory organizations such as the MFDA is also on the next year’s agenda, especially given the presence of both managers and dealers on IFIC’s membership roster.

“How do you [work with] that SRO is one of the things, particularly for your dealer members, that has been one of the issues that we have needed to work our way through,” she says. Completing that process is also an IFIC target for 2006.

Other matters such as the future of IFIC’s education division will not be settled as quickly. “The reality is that the education programs are assessed on an individual basis,” she says when asked about the profitability of the Life Licensing Qualification Program offered by the Canadian Institute of Financial Planning, a wholly-owned IFIC subsidiary. Educational programs are assessed on an individual basis and with a longer-term view, she adds.

Outside of IFIC’s purview, the outcome of several regulatory issues will affect the mutual fund sector. Regulators can be expected to push for new rules governing products like principal protected notes and hedge funds. “We’re not regulators. What we do is observe a marketplace that says there is a lot of product out there that doesn’t necessarily play with the same rules.”

Regulatory action would help resolve this uneven playing field, Vince believes.

While greater regulation of principal protected notes would level the field for IFIC members, it would not mean that advisors would necessarily feel more comfortable with their makeup, suggests Paul Bourbonniere, principal partner at Toronto-based Polson Bourbonniere Financial. “If there were some sort of rigour that an advisor could go through and then and only then he or she could use them, that’s a direction to go.”

Al Emid is a Toronto-based freelance writer


Al Emid