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Following a surge in retail trading, and a rise in complaints about service issues, the Investment Industry Organization of Canada (IIROC) is grappling with the question of when an outage becomes an investor protection issue.

In a notice setting out its regulatory priorities for the coming year, the industry self-regulatory organization (SRO) said that it’s reviewing service issues at online brokerage firms, and considering when the sorts of delays and outages that clients are increasingly complaining about rise to the level of being a regulatory concern.

“In particular, we are now examining the point at which service levels and interrupted access to investments would become an explicit investor protection issue,” the SRO said, citing “the trend of escalating complaints and the significant disruptions caused by recent events.”

To that end, the SRO said that it has asked discount brokers to “provide detailed historical information related to their online trading availability, functionality and service. We will review the degree to which outliers exist and what, if any, response is appropriate.”

Alongside this focus on discount brokers specifically, IIROC said that it’s also looking at improving complaint handling generally.

The SRO said it recently carried out some research with an independent research firm that involved complainants, with the goal being “to determine if there are opportunities to improve our complaint handling process.”

It’s also planning to publish a proposal to address the possibility of IIROC facilitating disgorgement to harmed investors.

Other ongoing priorities include enhancing its enforcement powers, regulating crypto-trading platforms, and establishing a retail investor panel.

All of this work is occurring against the backdrop of the Canadian Securities Administrators’ (CSA) ongoing review of self-regulation, which may result in some fundamental reform of the SRO framework.

IIROC noted that its priorities also include supporting industry innovation and modernizing its own rules.

In terms of rule modernization, the SRO is focused on assessing the activities that advisor reps must do within their registration as well as what counts as outside business activity — while also reviewing the rules for different business types.

“We continue to identify and address rules that result in unnecessary process and cost, or that limit the appropriate use of technology. By modernizing our rules and our approach to regulation, we can help to reduce risks associated with innovation and make it easier for the industry to deliver the products and services that Canadians are looking for,” IIROC said.