Regulation Examples

March 24th, 2014 by Potato

In the last post we talked about the importance of regulation: to create an environment where a non-expert, without the ability to independently evaluate an expert, can come to trust a complete stranger because of the regulations and mechanisms in place to create and maintain quality and ethics. There are lots of examples of industries and professions with varying degrees of regulation that we can learn from.

Car salesmen are regulated (OMVIC in Ontario). The regulations set some minimum standards for disclosure and how prices can be advertised: it’s not especially strong legislation (for instance, the dealer does not have an obligation to work in the best interest of the customer), but then the general public understands explicitly that the car salesperson sitting across the desk from them is in a sales role. They don’t couch themselves as “transportation advisors”, and if you went to one you would know that they would try to sell you a car (and you would not walk away with a recommendation for a bicycle and transit pass even if those might suit your situation better). They might be able to help you pick a particular car that’s suitable: compact over a truck, but even then you know that if you walk into a Chrysler dealership with a need for something fuel efficient you won’t be driving out in a Prius or Leaf: the best they could do is a 4-cylinder gasser that their dealership sells. To my mind, this is most analogous to the current MFDA designation in the financial sphere, but without the universal, mutual understanding of the sales and commission-driven nature of the role.

Some trade organizations exist more to protect their members and a monopoly than to protect consumers and build trust with the public. Since it’s been a while since I’ve done so, let’s pick on realtors: there are minimal barriers to entry, and no formalized processes to manage conflicts-of-interest (except for those set up at individual brokerage offices). There is a dispute mechanism, but from casually looking at cases and allegations, they seem to take realtor-on-realtor aggro way more seriously than allegations of misleading or mistreating the lay public. In other words, CREA/TREB is not a model I would want to copy: the initial quality standard is not rigourous, there’s no continuous improvement, there’s next to no policing or efforts to maintain the public trust: it appears to be a trade organization out to serve its own interests.

In cases where the decisions are literally life-or-death the regulatory body tends to take a more active role. Medical physicists for instance are responsible for calculating radiation doses in cancer therapy and ensuring that the machines are accurately delivering the doses prescribed. Over-dosing can kill through radiation effects, underdosing can allow cancer to proliferate. The Canadian College of Physicists in Medicine requires a graduate degree in one of several related fields, a fellowship program (education), examination, continuing education, periodic re-certification, and practice reviews.

Banking, at least the deposit-taking part, is a highly regulated industry. Not just anyone can rent out a space with marble pillars and a vault and call themselves a bank. Because trust is essential to preventing a run on the banks, a government-backed insurance scheme (CDIC) is in place to guarantee that if all of the regulations and oversight somehow still manages to fail, depositors will get their money back (up to a limit of $100,000 per account). Now, that’s not to say that a bank won’t ding you with service charges or sell you services you don’t need — they walk a fine but well-defined line of trust and conflicting interests for sales.

Franchises are not something handed down by the government or enshrined in law, yet by building strong brands people know that stopping at McDonald’s or Subway for a meal will provide a fairly uniform meal experience — they can trust that even in a strange city far from home that they’re going to get what they expect. It’s a way of accomplishing the end goal of letting someone with no easy way of independently evaluating quality to walk in off the street and know that they’ll be in good hands.

So what would I like to see? I think good regulation will be stronger and faster* than building up a brand/franchise, though the end result might be better that way as an organization shooting for excellence doesn’t have to play to the lowest common denominator. Either way, I think getting rid of embedded commissions and their inherent conflicts-of-interest and obfuscation is the first step: it’s an uphill battle for education and standards if that basic component of the business model isn’t fixed first. We could follow the UK and Australia in that direction, and it will be interesting to see how their experience plays out over the next few years.

Either way, training and examination requirements at the start, including an ability to explain how fees work, the impact of fees, cash flow planning, and managing behavioural issues. Explaining risk at some level is necessary but is tough because even experts have trouble defining it precisely — perhaps just understanding that there are aspects of risk. Levels or specializations of certification, and an understanding that some situations should be kicked up the chain. Re-examination, auditing of practices, and other systems to keep quality high. And a correction mechanism: some way to feed back new or unresolved problems back through continuing education, to arbitrate disputes, and compensate customers who were wronged.

The regulatory body should ideally be separated from the body that looks to maintain a monopoly or promote the profession so that it can be client-serving and not self-serving. Because it can be confusing as to what the responsibilities of the advisor are (especially if a term like “advisor” is used), someone (who?) should make it clear to the public what the relationship is, possibly disclosed up front (“Hi, I’m a salesperson and I do not have a responsibility to do what’s best for you, just to make my commission and not recommend something egregiously bad. Let’s look at a 7-seater, shall we?”).

Unfortunately I still haven’t had a chance to read the private member’s bill in Ontario so this might all be covered already.

* – from implementation to helping people. It will likely be slower to be crafted and passed in the first place.

2 Responses to “Regulation Examples”

  1. Potato Says:

    In the first post the issue of regulatory burden was brought up; unfortunately I don’t really have the information from these examples to comment much on burden.

  2. Potato Says:

    Be sure to check out Michael James on Money today, he nails the car salesman analogy:

    When I buy a $25,000 car, I think of it as spending $25,000. I know that my money gets split up in some way among the car salesman, the dealership, the manufacturer, and possibly other parties. Knowing the actual split might help me negotiate a lower price, but for the most part I don’t really care how the money gets divided.

    When I invest $25,000 with an advisor I don’t think of it as spending at all. I am entrusting my money to an advisor, his firm, and the fund managers. I hope to get back this money and more in the future. I’m entitled to know what fees I pay for the services I get. When buying a car, I know I’m spending $25,000. But when I invest, most of the money I hand over remains my money.”