Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman. I would like to thank you and the Standing Committee on Finance for inviting the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada to appear before you.
I am proud to say that I have recently been appointed commissioner of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, as of mid-December. I will do my best to respond to your questions.
To begin the discussion today, I would like to first highlight the mandate of the agency and then present to you some key activities that the agency is undertaking and that may be of interest to you.
The agency's mandate is to supervise and monitor the conduct of federally regulated financial institutions that take deposits and make retail loans. It is also charged with the mandate of consumer education in the financial sector.
Our work complements the regulatory framework that includes the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, which supervises the safety and soundness of our institutions; the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation, which protects consumers through its insurance of retail deposits; and the Department of Finance, which is charged with the financial sector policy framework.
At its most fundamental level, the agency's role is to ensure and promote compliance with the disclosure provisions found in the various financial institutions' statutes. Our mandate does not give us a role in matters of redress. Parliament, in establishing the financial consumer protection framework, clearly separated individual consumer redress from enforcement of the law. The ombuds services were a response to Parliament's desire that all financial institutions belong to a third party dispute resolution body, to provide redress for individual consumers based on fairness.
As the market conduct regulator, our ultimate objective is to encourage a fair and competitive marketplace by ensuring that consumers have the information to make informed decisions.
Pursuant to our mandate on consumer education, the FCAC educates consumers on their rights and responsibilities when they are dealing with financial institutions. We provide Canadians with accurate and objective information on products and financial services, on a timely basis, in order to help them better understand and select products that will help them better manage their personal finances.
Our publications and online tools give consumers information on various products and financial services such as credit cards, mortgages, bank accounts, credit records, and payday loans.
By filling in the information gaps that exist in the marketplace, the agency provides Canadians with the tools they need to help them navigate a complex financial marketplace.
Demand for our services is growing. Every year more and more Canadians come to us to obtain information or to register a complaint about a financial institution. Since 2001 the agency has received more than 140,000 phone calls, e-mails, and letters from Canadians. Last year, in the 2006-07 financial year, we distributed 750,000 publications to consumers across the country.
Our website has become one of Canada's best sources of objective, up-to-date information on financial products and services. In the previous financial year, our website received in excess of 1.4 million distinct visits.
Through our outreach program, the agency is working with a growing number of partners in order to increase our reach and awareness of the agency among consumers. In 2006-07 our partnerships with the Canada Revenue Agency and Human Resources and Social Development Canada helped us reach over 8 million consumers directly, through inserts in GST rebate, child tax benefit, old age security, and Canada Pension Plan cheques.
Last year Parliament voted the agency $3 million over two years as an initial investment in improving financial literacy among Canadians, and in particular youth. We are forming alliances across the country in an effort to leverage these funds as much as possible in terms of spurring interest in investment and improving the financial capability of Canadians.
Canadians are expected to take charge of their financial affairs in a rapidly changing financial marketplace to invest for their futures and their families' futures and to accumulate enough savings to support their retirement.
To this end, Canadians need tools, information, advice and training to manage their personal finances with confidence.
With our funding, we are working with the British Columbia Securities Commission on a joint project to develop a web-based curriculum for high school students. We are piloting a project with George Brown College and the Ontario Investor Education Fund in presenting convenient mini-courses for college students. We are working with other government departments and Statistics Canada to carry out a national baseline survey to determine the financial strengths and capabilities of Canadians that will provide substantial data for focusing more efforts in this field.
We are also working in collaboration with a non-profit organization called the Social and Enterprise Development Innovation (SEDI) as well as the Autorité des marchés financiers du Québec in view of holding a second conference on financial ability. This conference will bring together experts and stakeholders to share knowledge, and develop the necessary networks to advance this program.
Lastly, the Internet will serve as the main platform to set up a resource centre that all of our partners and all Canadians will be able to use and share.
In closing, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to appear before the committee. I look forward to answering any questions you have.
I will be very pleased to answer your questions.