online marketing / Serhii Bolshakov

This article appears in the February 2022 issue of Advisor’s Edge magazine. Subscribe to the print edition, read the digital edition or read the articles online.

A small part of the client-focused reforms (CFRs) may play a big role in how advisors market themselves.

Per the Canadian Securities Administrators’ reforms, which took effect Dec. 31, client-facing advisors can no longer use titles, designations or awards that are based partly or entirely on sales or revenue. For example, they can’t use corporate officer titles — typically “vice-president” or “director” — if they aren’t actually executive officers.

“Certain titles can be confusing to the average investor or imply that a registered individual performs a particular function at a firm or has particular expertise,” the CFRs’ companion policy says. “Similarly, titles can give rise to certain client expectations or help to create an unfounded feeling of trust, reassurance or prestige.”

Regulators want to avoid client confusion — often a consideration during regulatory audits, said Richard Roskies, senior legal counsel with AUM Law in Toronto. As a whole, the CFRs aim to enhance trust between clients and advisors, Roskies said, which the rules around titles support.

The reforms also require firms to have policies and procedures about appropriate titles and designations, and regulators expect firms to inform advisors about these policies and enforce them.

In particular, titles that convey expertise in seniors’ issues or retirement planning should be scrutinized, the companion policy says. Advisors who use such titles should be “appropriately qualified and competent.”

As firms evaluate the titles their advisors use, they should consider their clients and prospective clients, Roskies said — the more vulnerable the clientele, the more stringent the evidence required to justify a title.

To assess whether a designation is misleading, the reforms’ companion policy says, firms should consider if the designation has a rigorous curriculum and experience requirements, and is issued by a reputable organization.

A title or designation not approved by an advisor’s firm can’t be used — this includes on business cards, websites (including LinkedIn), organizational charts and so on. Roskies suggested advisors be thorough in identifying all contexts in which they’ve previously used titles that don’t make the cut. “We know that the regulators will start looking at this,” he said, and the use of unapproved titles “theoretically could be used against you.”

What about marketing yourself as a “top advisor” or similar, based on a competition or media list? Are such awards also verboten?

“Specific to the CFRs, regulators have concerns where those awards speak to compensation or revenue generation,” rather than expertise or competency, Roskies said. Awards based on criteria such as sales or revenue will likely be deemed misleading, he said.

While advisors must toss titles, designations and awards that reflect sales, they don’t need to toss their creative marketing skills. A unique title may still be possible so long as an advisor can walk the talk.

For advisors who want to create a title, “do it in a considered manner,” Roskies suggested. “Talk to your compliance department to make sure that, if you’re going to stretch the bounds a little bit, there’s justification for it.”

Title tips for client-facing advisors

  • Consult your firm’s policies for title use, and use only firm-approved titles and designations
  • Don’t use a corporate officer title unless legally appointed as such
  • Don’t use titles, designations or awards associated — even partly — with sales or revenue
  • Ensure that an unacceptable but previously used title is no longer used, including online