Get informed and get involved

By Brad Brain | November 1, 2009 | Last updated on November 1, 2009
5 min read

I’m a financial planner in a small and remote northern community. When I first started in the business, life was a lot simpler. We didn’t have CNBC. We didn’t have Twitter, or podcasts, or webinars, or even email. The internet didn’t exist at the time.

Back then I used to try to catch the Paul Harvey News program on the local radio station each morning, as he often mentioned what the Nikkei did overnight. Can you imagine that now? Getting your overseas market reports from Paul Harvey on AM radio?

For client meetings we’d approximate the value of client investments by taking the hard copy of their last quarterly statement and using a handheld calculator. We’d multiply the number of units they had last quarter by the daily fund prices we’d receive by fax. Back then, that’s all we had to work with – a thermal paper fax machine, a calculator, and last quarter’s statement … and Paul Harvey news.

It cracks me up to even remember those times now, but back then I realized quite quickly, if I was going to make any headway, I’d have to be the one to make it happen. I was solely responsible for my career and its advancement, or lack thereof. If I waited for peers, or my division manager, or the company I worked for to make things happen, I’d be waiting a very long time.

So I set out to do something about it, and over time I began to pick up the tricks of the trade. And all that while, I had a vague feeling big things were afoot on a macro scale. Things that would impact me – both at the time and for the rest of my career – things I paid scant attention to at that time.

I spent no time worrying about things like the regulation of financial planning as a profession. I had other things to worry about, like how to find some clients. After all, I was just a young guy from a small remote northern town, trying to earn a living. What role could I possibly play in the big-picture stuff?

Over time, I joined both CAIFA and CAFP. I had this vague notion that belonging to industry organizations could be beneficial because it would mean someone would take up cudgels on my behalf.

When the formation of the MFDA was initially discussed I was blissfully ignorant of the implications. I figured someone else would fight that battle. As it turns out, I wasn’t alone. A lot of people didn’t bother to find out what the deal was with the MFDA until it was a fait accompli.

As I gained more experience and started figuring things out, some of this big-picture stuff became a little less hazy. First of, I realized every now and then there’d be things that would impact the industry, and things I didn’t really agree with. Some of them I perceived as threatening to my clients and my ability to serve them, or threatening to the industry (and by extension to my livelihood). Things that I thought needed improvement. I could have myopically ignored these issues. Many people do. Or I could have made some lame excuse about not getting involved because the advisor organizations I belonged to were not representing me as I thought they should. I could have continued to sit back and allow others to speak for me. Then again, I realized if it was going to be, it was up to me. I realized if there was something I thought was broken, it fell to me to see that it fixed.

I was the one responsible for speaking up when I saw something I didn’t agree with. Perhaps some regulatory dictate – initially well intentioned – had become perverted through misunderstanding or misapplication. The local chapters of the associations I belonged to needed my voice.

The next stage in my journey was when I realized it wasn’t just little old Brad Brain from the tiny town of Fort St. John (for reasons of isolation or anything else) who was responsible for himself, his clients, his industry, and his livelihood.

We’re all responsible for these things. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the industry, what firm you work with, what licensing or credentials you have, or what your business model looks like. You are responsible for you.

All of us are busy people. We’re trying to balance work and family. We’re trying to earn a living during challenging times. It’s so easy to turn a blind eye to the big-picture stuff when we have so much immediate stuff to deal with.

Of course, this attitude is akin to the mentality of the person who doesn’t take the time to vote because he thinks one vote doesn’t matter. After all, it’s seldom that an election is decided by just one vote. So why take the time to bother?

The question answers itself.

This attitude mirrors the textbook descriptions of the old economic theory – Tragedy of the Commons – each of us acting in our own best interest means collectively we’re worse off, whether it entails the destruction of a shared pasture or standing by idly while the industry is determined by self-interested bureaucrats.

I recently had the honour and pleasure of participating in the Advocis Day at the BC Legislature. Our objective was to make politicians aware of the problems of incidental selling of insurance, the restrictions on advisor incorporation, and pension reform. None of these are terribly sexy topics to ponder. An average advisor’s eyes would quickly glaze over when these types of topics are discussed. I know mine used to. So, the average advisor tends to leave these things to others. But if everyone leaves things to others, who’ll speak out about the sale of insurance products by untrained and unlicensed staff; staff with no continuing education requirements; no errors and omissions insurance? Who’ll lobby for the rights of advisors to utilize the same tax planning tools available to other professionals? Who’ll talk about pension gap and proactively offer help when finding solutions?

There’s another gargantuan issue that faces our industry today: Application of HST to mutual funds. Are you going to let your political representatives know how you feel about it? Or are you going to be apathetic, letting someone else do the heavy lifting? If so, how do you think your clients would feel if they knew you were indifferent to increasing costs on their investments?

The point of this missive is simple. The time for idly standing by has passed. It’s time to get informed and involved. Or, in the very least, join an organization of advisors that is. Don’t just be a sucker and fall for the fallacy this is someone else’s problem. If it’s going to be, it’s up to me. And you.

  • Brad Brain, CFP, R.F.P. CLU, CH.F.C., FCSI., is a certified financial planner with Manulife Securities Incorporated (Member CIPF) and Manulife Securities Insurance Agency.

    Brad Brain