Scott Findlay, financial advisor with and founder of Valley-Wide Financial Corp. in Abbotsford, B.C., believes independence is essential. Doing a good job for his clients means having the freedom to choose the products that are most suitable for their individual circumstances, he says.

Findlay has built both a book of business and a firm on the basis of that philosophy.

Now, Findlay is taking the helm at the Mississauga, Ont.-based Independent Financial Brokers of Canada (IFB), the financial advisory industry association based on the same principle. In that role, he says, he wants to prove to regulators - on behalf of all advisors - why the power to choose is so important.

"There's a threat to that independence with some of the regulation that's going on," says Findlay, who was elected president and chairman of the IFB in August 2016. For example, he says, the proposed ban on embedded commissions will infringe on advisors' freedom to choose the business model and form of compensation that's most appropriate for them and their clients.

"Regulation is challenging us; it is challenging the independent advisors," Findlay says. "We have to have our voices heard - that independence can be very beneficial to consumers."

Regulatory advocacy on behalf of independent advisors comprises a key part of the IFB's activities. The 4,000-member association also provides members with regulatory support, continuing education opportunities and various other services to help advisors run compliant and efficient practices.

Client-facing roles

Findlay, age 55, brings more than 30 years of experience in the financial services sector to his new role at the IFB. He began his career as an insurance agent before advancing into management roles at various companies, including Toronto-based Manulife Financial Corp. and Kingston, Ont.-based Empire Life Insurance Co. His various roles included advisor training, sales management, head office director of agencies and regional manager.

Despite this management experience, Findlay always gravitated toward the client-facing advisor role. "I've built good relationships with clients over the years," says Findlay, who holds the certified financial planner designation, "so I've always wanted to maintain that."

That's why Findlay jumped at an opportunity to buy a book of business from an advisor who was preparing to retire in 2000. That opportunity allowed Findlay to make the switch from his carrier role to independent advice. He launched Valley-Wide Financial, a managing general agency (MGA), the following year, then built it into a firm with approximately 30 insurance brokers who are dedicated to providing independent advice.

"We're a small group of producers, and we've positioned ourselves as a producer group that always has had the inclination and the mandate to be independent," Findlay says. "A lot of our brokers come from the more restrictive or captive agencies, and they join us just for that independence."

Findlay is licensed to sell both life insurance and mutual funds, and he focuses on comprehensive financial planning for his clients.

A few years ago, as Findlay found the management side of the MGA business becoming increasingly demanding, he made a decision to join forces with a much larger MGA, Mississauga, Ont.-based IDC Worldsource Insurance Network Inc. That meant Valley-Wide Financial became an associated general agency (AGA), which enabled it to maintain its brand and its leadership team while gaining access to the resources and support of an entity having much greater scale. "We weren't big enough [before]," Findlay says.

Continuing to build Valley-Wide Financial as a stand-alone MGA, Findlay says, would have required him and his partners to step back from their clients and spend more time on management functions. That is something he wasn't keen on doing.

"Focusing on growing our own businesses was a better fit for us," he says, "because we're all independent producers. And, this way, we don't have to worry about building or maintaining an MGA."

Natural fit

Findlay has been active with the IFB throughout much of his career. He has served on the organization's board of directors since 2003 and was elected vice chairman in 2013. Having had extensive experience on the board, he says, means moving into the president and chairman position is a "natural fit" and presents an opportunity for him to give back to the industry.

Given some of the fundamental regulatory changes facing the industry, regulation is top of mind for Findlay in his new role. "I know regulators want to protect the consumer's interests - that's their whole goal," he says. "But I think there could be an adverse reaction to there being overregulation."

In particular, he believes the proposed ban on embedded commissions will reduce access to advice for some clients. "The middle- to lower-income consumer would get hurt by that because nobody [will be] serving them," he says. "We will be lobbying strongly against getting rid of embedded commissions at this point. I think more consultations are required."

Although embedded commissions may not be appropriate for all clients, Findlay says, advisors and clients should have the option of choosing the compensation model best suited to them. "I think consumer choice is very important," he says.

Given that the industry still is adapting to the second phase of the client relationship model (CRM2), Findlay says, regulators should see how consumers react to the new disclosure before moving ahead with further regulatory changes on the compensation front.

Another top priority for Findlay is increasing the IFB's membership base. "Membership growth is paramount," he says. "That is No. 1 in maintaining a strong organization and association."

Given the aging population of advisors, the IFB's membership has declined slightly in the past few years. "That's a challenge that I think every association is facing," says Findlay, "[that is,] the demographics and the retiring advisors."

The IFB is working on several initiatives to attract younger members. Last year, for example, the IFB launched a new succession-planning program, Coming Up Next, which helps retiring advisors connect with potential successors.

Other priorities for Findlay include maintaining open communication with IFB members and, in particular, keeping members apprised of the rapidly changing regulatory framework.

The association also focuses on continuing to offer regular education programs and conferences, including its biannual summits, which are held in multiple locations across the country.

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