Why Doesn’t the Federal Government Consult Their Own Debt Literacy Experts?

Posted in In The News
Posted by J. Douglas Hoyes, CA, CPA, LIT, CIRP, CBV

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We don't just have a financial literacy problem in Canada, we have a debt literacy problem. Household debt in Canada continues to skyrocket, reaching a "gravity-defying" $2 trillion in December 2016.

While it's true that we carry significant mortgage debt (it increased 5.9% last year), my biggest concern is that consumer debt increased roughly 3.4% from a year earlier.

Consumer debt includes credit card debt, personal lines of credit, and car loans. It is debt we incurred to buy consumer goods. I don't care how low interest rates are right now, Canadians have a debt problem.

The federal government is also concerned with how Canadians are managing their money. They are so concerned that they created a special National Steering Committee on Financial Literacy. Part of this committee's mandate is to empower Canadians to "manage money and debt wisely". Members of the committee are to include representation from "the public, private, and non-profit sectors".

Licensed Insolvency Trustees are appointed and regulated by the federal government to help people deal with debt. According to the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy:

Licensed Insolvency Trustees (LITs) are federally regulated professionals who provide advice and services to individuals and businesses with debt problems. LITs help people make informed choices to deal with their financial difficulties.

So the federal government says that Licensed Insolvency Trustees are experts in debt management. I agree. As a Licensed Insolvency Trustee our firm meets with thousands of individuals every year who are dealing with overwhelming debt. We listen to their stories, ask questions to better understand their situation, and provide them with advice about their options. This may, or may not, include a consumer proposal or bankruptcy, but our role is to provide advice to help them find the best solution for their circumstances.

Here's what we know:

  1. The Government of Canada agrees that Licensed Insolvency Trustees are the most qualified professionals to help Canadians deal with debt.
  2. Licensed Insolvency Trustees meet with thousands of people every year who are struggling with debt.
  3. The Government of Canada has created a committee specifically to improve the financial literacy of Canadians part of who's mandate is to help Canadians manage debt wisely.

Would you not expect that at least one Licensed Insolvency Trustee would be on the committee? There's not.

The National Steering Committee on Financial Literacy just announced their committee members. They include representatives from the banks, credit unions, investment advisers and the life insurance industry. There is one credit counsellor, but not a single Licensed Insolvency Trustee is on the committee.

It's surprising that, on a government financial literacy committee whose mandate is to help Canadians manage debt, the lenders are represented, but the professionals that the federal government acknowledges are debt management experts, are not.

Why is that?

I don't know.

I applied to be on the committee.

As a Licensed Insolvency Trustee I meet with people every day who are experiencing severe financial problems. In addition to that, our firm conducts an in-depth study every two years where we collect information to better understand why the average person files insolvency. We call this average insolvent person Joe Debtor. This report is released to the public to help others understand what causes people to become insolvent and eventually file bankruptcy or a consumer proposal. This insight would be useful in helping Canadians make wise debt decisions.

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees.

I received an email effectively saying thanks, but no thanks.

Thank you for your application for membership on the National Steering Committee (NSC) on Financial Literacy and also for your patience during the selection process. Over 120 applications were received from individuals representing a broad range of public, private and non-profit organizations from across Canada. We carefully considered all applicants.

I want to acknowledge your commitment to strengthen the financial literacy of Canadians and thank you for your interest in working with me as member of the Steering Committee. However, I regret to inform you that you were not selected to be a member. I greatly value collaborating with all organizations who have an interest in this important issue and would like to continue to work together as we implement the National Strategy for Financial Literacy.

The new committee will be publicly announced in the near future by the Commissioner of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC).

Thank you again for your dedication to help strengthen the financial knowledge, skills and confidence of Canadians.  Your commitment is greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Jane Rooney

Financial Literacy Leader

Moving Forward

I understand that not everyone who volunteers on the committee will be selected. I understand that fact, but what I don't understand, is that in a time of record debt levels, the Government of Canada did not select at least one of their own licensed debt experts to be on the committee.

I'm not criticizing any of the members who were selected to be on the committee. I assume they all have extensive financial knowledge and will do their best to advocate for the every day Canadian. More than half of the committee members have previously worked for the government, providing insight from the public sector. I personally think more representatives with private sector experience would be beneficial to this committee, but until I see their recommendations made, I won't pre-judge their results.

Despite not being selected to serve on the committee, my firm and I will continue to do our part to educate Canadians on the problems that are caused by excessive debt. We will continue to publicize and promote the government programs that are available to help Canadians deal with their debt.

We publicize and promote these programs, and other newsworthy items within the personal finance realm on our YouTube channel, our weekly podcast, and our blog. It's why we conduct additional research and advocate for the indebted consumer. Whether we're on a committee or not, we're here for you, the every day Canadian. Helping Canadians deal with their debt is what we do.

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About J. Douglas Hoyes

Doug is our co-founder and is a Licensed Insolvency Trustee, Consumer Proposal Administrator, certified Insolvency Counsellor and Chartered Professional Accountant.

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