OBSI releases strategic plan amid increased scrutiny

By James Langton | January 11, 2022 | Last updated on January 11, 2022
2 min read
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While promises of regulatory action to improve consumer and investor protection linger unfulfilled, the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI) is embarking on a new strategic plan that will carry it through the next few years.

The industry dispute resolution service published its new strategic plan, which is intended to guide it through 2026.

The plan sets out three so-called “pillars” that OBSI will aim at over the coming years, including providing effective dispute resolution services, enhancing communication and public awareness, and improving its operational resilience.

Within these overarching goals, the organization highlighted a couple of specific plans, including the planned introduction of “an early conciliation process to resolve straightforward disputes faster and in a way that meets the needs of the parties.”

OBSI also intends to enhance its digital complaint platforms, expand outreach to consumers (including vulnerable and disenfranchised communities), and do more to help consumers, the industry and regulators identify issues that often lead to complaints.

The new plan comes at a time when complaint-handling and dispute resolution processes have attracted increased attention from regulators and policymakers.

Last year, the federal Department of Finance launched a consultation on improving the complaints process for financial consumers. The Finance minister’s mandate letter, released in December, also put establishing a single, external complaint handling body (with binding powers) on its agenda for the coming year.

OBSI is also currently undergoing its latest five-year review, led by Osgoode Hall Law School professor Poonam Puri. That consultation runs until Jan. 31. A report, with recommendations, is expected by the end of March.

The previous independent review called for regulatory action to beef up OBSI by providing it with the authority to make binding compensation recommendations. This recommendation was echoed last year by Ontario’s Capital Markets Modernization Taskforce in its final report.

Securities regulators have repeatedly expressed a commitment to enhancing OBSI, and a working group is examining the prospect of adopting binding authority and an appeal mechanism. Yet promises for action on OBSI have repeatedly gone unmet.

In the meantime, OBSI acknowledged the possibility of fundamental reform in its latest plan.

“We are in an exciting period of innovation and growth and need to be engaged and responsive to these changes as an organization,” said Sarah Bradley, ombudsman and CEO, in a release.

“We are also looking forward to welcoming a new chair of our board of directors in the spring of 2022, and engaging with regulators on a range of important initiatives currently under active consideration that could change the nature of our business. Times of uncertainty, evolution and opportunity are when strategic planning matters most,” Bradley said.

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James Langton

James is a senior reporter for Advisor.ca and its sister publication, Investment Executive. He has been reporting on regulation, securities law, industry news and more since 1994.