Consultation on Terms of Reference for FSRA’s Consumer Advisory Panel (CAP)
FAIR Canada is pleased to provide comments in response to the above-referenced consultation. FAIR Canada is a national, independent charitable organization dedicated to being a catalyst for advancing investor rights in Canada. As a voice of the Canadian investor and financial consumer, FAIR Canada promotes its mission through outreach and education on public policy issues, policy submissions to governments and regulators, and pro-active identification of emerging issues.
FAIR Canada is supportive of the FSRA’s efforts to promote the consideration of consumer perspectives and concerns within its policy-making processes. The CAP can play a key role in ensuring that often-complex policy decisions are further informed by CAP members, who reflect diverse backgrounds, experiences and/or expertise. This input can serve as an integral part of the broader stakeholder engagement process. It can also provide a vital counterweight to the policy influence consistently wielded by well-resourced and professionally organized industry associations.
Moreover, the CAP, as an advisor to the FSRA, could serve to help reflect broader consumer issues within FSRA’s priority setting and policy development that may be raised by advocacy groups like FAIR Canada. In this regard, we look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with the CAP on future FSRA policy priorities that impact consumers of financial products.
Comments on the Terms of Reference
In general, the Terms of Reference (TOR) are reasonable and well-aligned to achieving the CAP’s stated purpose. Our few substantive comments on the TOR are noted below.
a) Panel Leadership
The TOR notes that the Panel will be chaired by the Chief Consumer Officer or their designate. In our view, this approach may create a perception of a lack of independence. To promote the CAP’s ability to function as an independent advisor, it will be important that it is, and that it is perceived to be, separate from the FSRA.
The noted approach is also inconsistent with the practice adopted by similar consumer panels in Canada. For example, the Ontario Securities Commission’s Investor Advisory Panel (IAP) is chaired by a member of the IAP. Similarly, in Quebec, the Chair of the Financial Products and Services Consumer Advisory Committee is a member of the Committee.
We would therefore urge the FSRA to adopt what we believe is best practice by requiring the CAP Chair be selected from among the members of the panel itself.
In addition, we would strongly recommend that the Chair of CAP, as opposed to the Consumer Office, be responsible for preparing meeting agendas. Again, this would reaffirm the CAP’s autonomy.
Lastly, we recommend that a Vice-Chair position be established to help ensure that meetings can proceed when the Chair is unavailable, and to facilitate a smooth transition when there is a change or vacancy in the CAP’s Chair.
b) Clarify Level of CAP’s Engagement
The TOR contemplate that the CAP is to identify a list of topics for the upcoming year through an annual agenda-setting meeting. It further mentions that CAP is to provide its perspective during the consultation processes on proposed policy priorities. What is not clear, however, is whether CAP will have the opportunity to participate in all or just
select proposed policy priorities, or at what stage of the policy development process. We believe the CAP should be consulted on any proposed policy priority that may have a consumer impact, and preferably before policy proposals become too entrenched or hard to adjust. This would promote the ability of CAP to speak to all matters that impact consumers and to ensure that its voice makes a meaningful difference for consumers. It would also be consistent with other advisory panels, such as the UK’s Financial Services Consumer Panel (FSCP). Specifically, the FSCP’s mandate imposes a positive obligation on the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to consult with it “throughout [the FCA’s] deliberations on policies and practices that have a consumer impact.”
We thank you for the opportunity to provide our comments on this issue. We would be pleased to discuss our submission with the FSRA should you have questions or require further explanation of our views on these matters. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.