February 19, 2019 by David Gambrill
EDITOR’S NOTE: The story has been corrected to show that FICOM’s position before the Financial Services Tribunal was that the financial penalties were deemed to be insufficient to deter brokers from misrepresenting facts. A previous version incorrectly stated that FICOM’s position was that the financial penalties were too harsh. Also, Insurance Council of B.C. has issued only five decisions in the matter thus far, not seven (two hearings have been requested).
Five B.C. brokers have been issued new penalties by the province’s broker regulator, after each were found to have issued false receipts to insurers to override their clients’ outstanding toll bridge debts. Two other brokers have requested hearings, which are currently being arranged.
B.C.’s provincial government made it free to cross the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges in September 2017. That left the bridge toll overseer, Transportation Investment Corp. (TI Corp.), to collect about $75 million in outstanding bills from drivers. Four months after the tolls were eliminated, drivers still owed more than $40 million in unpaid tolls.
Seven brokers were found to have committed misconduct by sending false receipt numbers to insurers, incorrectly suggesting that their clients’ outstanding bridge tolls had been paid. Each admitted the misconduct, with one explaining to the Insurance Council of B.C. that she was “only trying to help customers with toll bridge debts who were in a difficult position due to not having a credit card or whose insurance would expire at midnight.”
Council was unmoved, finding that there should have been no doubt in the minds of the seven brokers that providing false information to an insurer was wrong and that nothing could reasonably justify their actions. The regulator noted that by entering false receipt numbers to ensure client coverage, the brokers “stood to benefit financially from related insurance transactions.”
The Insurance Council of B.C. had previously proposed to issue $5,000 fines to each of the brokers, in addition to suspensions, but the province’s financial regulator, the Financial Institutions Commission (FICOM), appealed the fines to the to the Financial Services Tribunal.
FICOM did not challenge the findings of broker misconduct, but rather appealed the financial penalties, arguing that they were insufficient to deter brokers from misrepresenting facts. They also argued the financial facts were inconsistent with previous decisions. FICOM ultimately fined the brokers for the misconduct. The brokers did not cross-appeal their decisions at the Financial Services Tribunal (FST).
The tribunal rejected the individual $5,000 fines. Subject to mitigating circumstances, the FST ruled, “it is only licensing action in the form of a suspension, cancellation or conditions (in addition to whatever other remedial option the regulator may consider appropriate in a case) that can adequately protect the public, secure its confidence and express the denunciation that such conduct warrants.”
Moreover, the FST found that baseline penalties for each broker should be a minimum of six months, and each should be required to take an ethics course.
The Insurance Council of B.C. has now re-issued five of the penalties, which range between six and nine months, with special consideration given to the experience and level of the broker involved.
Among them, a Level 1 salesperson entered a total of 116 false receipt numbers over 18 months to override toll bridge debts when he processed Autoplan transactions.
One brokerage nominee (she was a Level 2 broker at the time of the misconduct) told council that she was “only trying to make things easier for her customers with toll bridge debts.”