As I enjoy a coffee break at the 2018 Distribution Symposium, I think back to the days when the Managing General Agencies and the Mutual Fund Dealerships attended separate conferences. Our issues were so different, our agendas so diverse. We didn’t have similar goals back then, and although we knew the industry was changing, we didn’t know how quickly or how deeply those changes would affect us.

We’ve been "together" for years now, and this conference continues to assist with current issues and prepare us for the future.

Seems not that long ago we were talking about anti-money laundering and other compliance initiatives at the 2008 MGA meeting. Many of the discussions centred on compliance (yes, it had a small ‘c’ back then) and how it might impact us. Those conversations invariably ended with someone saying we didn’t need to worry. MGAs had never been found liable and they couldn’t be held responsible for product suitability. But I think many of us secretly wondered if we were really being as diligent as we should.

A few years later, we found out. Product suitability lawsuits and lack of appropriate errors and omissions insurance put more than one MGA out of business, but we’ve come a long way since then. It’s nice to see the playing field levelled between the sale of segregated funds and mutual funds. Continuing education has taken on real meaning, and product suitability and knowing the client are top of mind for everyone.

A decade ago, we worried about a few carriers that had more than one distribution channel. It was difficult to compete with them because they were wherever the client wanted them to be. It seems funny to say that today . . . that there were a few carriers offering products through a number of distribution channels. After the carrier-consolidation wave of 2011, they all made an effort to expand distribution. Today, carriers own distribution; they partner with distribution; they go direct to the consumer and for the most part, have done a good job keeping banks out of our business by providing clients with alternatives.

Independent distribution still offers consumers the best route to unbiased advice and continues to be a significant channel for all Canadian carriers, but it’s far from being the only choice. I’ll always wonder how things would have been different if MGAs had done a better job of embracing compliance and understanding profitability within their own operations. Maybe some carriers would still have been totally committed to this channel of distribution. I guess I’ll always wonder.

At least, though, we’ve made great strides in how we transact business with our carrier partners. We used to have nine people enter commission information on our system, which the carrier also had on its system. I was so happy to redeploy those people to more proactive functions, which also helped our advisors enter new markets and increase their sales. It’s nice to be able to provide those advisors with programs to help them effectively renew their ten-year-term business and convert their older clients before it’s too late. We’ve avoided so many lapses and are now able to help clients immediately. Having the entire in-force data on our site, available to all our advisors at the click of a button, has revolutionized the in-force service in our industry.

We should be proud of what we’ve accomplished. Advisors are able to serve their clients much better than before and that’s what it’s all about . . . isn’t it?