Easier said than done. Nailing down who would handle such a system triggers a head-spinning round of pass-the-buck. The Department of Finance refers questions to provincial securities regulators, who in turn say it’s a problem for the industry. Industry groups like the Investment Funds Institute say they’ll help individuals search for old investments on a case by case basis, but that it’s really up to the provincial governments. Banks will also hunt down unclaimed accounts if investors contact them, but the problem with this approach is the industry has undergone intense consolidation, and investors may have no idea where to start looking.
One possible organization seen to have the resources to operate a national database is the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada, the brokerage industry’s self-governing body. But Warren Funt, vice-president for Western Canada, says there are “significant hurdles” to such a database. For one, the IIROC oversees 200 investment dealers, and not firms like mutual fund dealers, portfolio managers and others governed by the rest of Canada’s smorgasbord of watchdogs. Unclaimed investment assets are also more complicated to handle than bank balances. “It’s a worthy objective, but I’m not sure it can practically be done,” he says. Originally published in the Financial Post June 11th, 2010. To go to the Financial Post Website please click here
In recent years B.C., Quebec and Alberta have passed unclaimed asset laws. (No such laws exist in Ontario.) B.C.’s Unclaimed Property Society, established in 2003, has a searchable database that includes old credit union accounts, unpaid wages and insurance payments. A spokeswoman says the society would handle investment accounts, but relies on firms to notify it of unclaimed assets. Since its launch, no investment funds have been sent its way. Nor is there a penalty should firms fail to flag unclaimed accounts.
Grauer can’t help wondering just how many other Canadians could be losing out on a chunk of their nest egg. “These companies could be sitting on a ton of money people don’t know about and collecting fees on it.” At the very least, it’s prompted her to dig around for any other stray accounts she may have. “I haven’t found anything else yet, but hope springs eternal.”