With a background in education and administration, Greg Pollock has been able to bring those values to Advocis and help shape the image of financial advice in Canada
Many in the wealth management industry know Greg Pollock for his role as president and CEO of Advocis, the Financial Advisors Association of Canada. As the largest voluntary professional membership association of financial advisors in Canada, Advocis offers services like designations, continuing education and more. Pollock’s background makes it clear why his role at the head of the organization is a perfect fit.
After obtaining a bachelor of science degree from the University of Toronto, Pollock began his career as a secondary school science teacher and became involved in school administration. “I got into professional development for secondary school teachers by working for the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association [OECTA],” he says. “It was mainly helping teachers become more proficient at their craft.”
He eventually rose to the position of general secretary for OECTA and joined the Catholic Principals’ Counsel of Ontario. “In those roles, I was involved with the insurance and financial matters of the association,” Pollock says. “I sat on the board of the Ontario Teachers Federation, which does a lot of work with the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, so I got to be involved in that.”
That exposure to the financial side of education kickstarted Pollock’s transition to the financial industry. In 2008, Advocis sought him out to lead the organization. “I saw a lot of similarities between what I had been doing, only this was directly for financial advisors,” he says. “The focus at Advocis is on professionalism and what it means for the public and advisors. There was a lot that I could draw on in my background.”
Given his background in education, the fit with Advocis seemed natural. “The public isn’t always aware about the educational history of Advocis or our predecessor organization, the Life Underwriters Association of Canada, but it launched the CLU in 1926,” Pollock says. “That is almost 100 years of education.”
During his time with various educational associations in Ontario, Pollock held a government relations role, which prepared him for dealing with public officials of all levels at Advocis. He was asked to sit on a financial literacy task force by Jim Flaherty, the finance minister at the time. The task force came out with numerous initiatives, including Financial Literacy Month in November, which Advocis remains heavily involved in.
Promoting education has been a pillar of Pollock’s career – and he speaks from experience. In addition to his bachelor’s degree, he has two master’s degrees, in education and law.
“I think they are both important to financial advice – education is critical to advisors for the quality of advice,” he says. “I did my law studies in dispute resolution. I was always interested in mediation and finding a middle ground. I think I use those skills every day to help advance the association and our various parties in the industry.”
Throughout his 12 years with Advocis, Pollock has overseen the launch of many important initiatives. One highlight has been promoting the importance of title protection.
“Since I arrived, we have been about raising the bar for advisors,” he says. “We are unhappy when an individual claims to be a financial advisor and then gets into difficult circumstances because it is a stain on the whole industry. We won’t eliminate unsavoury characters, but we can take a collective response and address the infraction in a professional way. One way we have done this is by limiting who can call themselves a financial advisor or financial planner. To our delight, the Ontario government put forth the Ontario’s Financial Professionals Title Protection Act, and now the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario is developing the rules.”
A recent initiative that Advocis launched to aid in this cause was a Professional Financial Advisor (PFA) designation in 2019. In 2020, the program had its first batch of graduates, and now the second and third classes are underway.
The pandemic also required Advocis to pivot and offer different types of programs; one of the biggest was Coffee Talks, 30-minute segments on a variety of topics, which have been attended by hundreds of people. Another popular program was Advocis Connect, which helped Canadian small businesses by connecting them with an advisor for advice on issues related to the pandemic.
“We found with all the programs rolling out, many small businesses were just trying to survive – it was challenging to understand the programs,” Pollock says. “Advocis Connect pairs them with an advisor – there is no commitment, and they can get the advice they need.”
Another initiative Pollock is proud of is Advocis’ DigiCat. Led by the organization’s technology task force, DigiCat caters to the advisor of the future, helping advisors integrate technology into their businesses. Pollock says there is much more to come from this initiative in the future.
While navigating the past year was a challenge, Pollock says the biggest one of his career has been anticipating where the industry is heading and getting the right solution in place. “The speed of change is so great, you have to know when to cut losses, be flexible and know when to shift.”
As someone who sees many advisors enter the industry, Pollock acknowledges that it can be tough, that is why his advice is to focus on the person first. “Doing that will make you a successful advisor. There is a major need for financial advice, people know it but don’t ask for help. I think we are moving to place where advisors will have a client base of a couple hundred clients not thousands in order to have that direct relationship. Clients want to be able to see their advisor personally, that is why the advisors who focus on people will be the most successful.”