The CEO of BC Financial Services Authority gives his advice for weathering the economic downturn

Blair Morrison digs on what the BCFSA actually does.

Credit: BCFSA

Blair Morrison digs on what the BCFSA actually does

1. You became CEO of BCFSA in 2019 after 11 years with BMO in your hometown of Toronto. Why did the job appeal to you?

I had a great career with a lot of really interesting jobs. I was able to work with people all around the world. When I left BMO in 2018, my wife and I decided that I could retire and do some more nonprofit work—I was already on one board in Toronto—or we could do an adventure. When I was approached about this job, it ticked off all the boxes. I love B.C.; I’ve been able to visit lots of the province, and I still have more to go. I’ve really enjoyed my time here. We got a place in Coal Harbour and I tend to walk to work every day and get out and enjoy the rain and the sun.

2. The organization has been transforming for a few years, as it was rebranded from FICOM (which previously regulated financial services) in 2019 and then became the main real estate regulator for the province in 2021. What was it like to steer those changes while dealing with the pandemic?

I’ve been lucky to be involved in a number of transformations over my career. I enjoy working with people and setting people and organizations up for success. At FICOM, there was a certain percentage of people who worked from home every day. But going from 10 or 15 percent to 100 percent in the pandemic was different. We focused communication on our people, not only from a work perspective but also a physical safety and mental health perspective. We kept a lot of time to make sure we were reaching out and connecting with our people.

We talk a lot about culture, and how hard it is to build a culture in a hybrid world. The team pivoted with technology and we, from a productivity or work perspective, were probably more productive. That brings more challenges and concerns. You have to make sure people aren’t working too much and are taking care of themselves.

3. What are your main priorities for the organization?

A regulator should instil confidence in the sector it regulates—confidence that people are properly licensed and educated, that the institutions are effectively managed and that bad actors are being dealt with. Whether you’re buying a house, seeking insurance or planning retirement, we want to make sure the institutions and individuals you engage with are acting in accordance with the rules, so that you feel protected in the transaction. At the individual level, any of those things are very significant discussions. So we’re focused not only at the macro level, but also in terms of protecting the consumer in how they deal with the sector.

4. What’s BCFSA’s relationship with the financial sector itself?

A long-standing criticism from the sector was that they didn’t know what the regulator was doing; there was a lack of transparency. They didn’t know where to allocate their resources to be responsible to what we wanted. We addressed that in a number of different ways. We created a position for a new executive with accountability for stakeholder engagement and a road map that stretches out three years and gives information to all of the different segments—insurance, trust, credit unions, pensions about where our regulatory priorities are going to be. That lets them plan and figure out where they want to respond and engage. We’re trying to focus on the riskier matters. I think the dialogue with the sector is good. We don’t always agree, and that’s fine. But we also always have the conversation and the discussion. I think they’ve seen the change and appreciate that change.

5. What can individuals do to weather this economic downturn and how can they protect themselves? 

What I would say—at all times, but particularly in tough economic times—is do your homework, ask your questions. You’re engaging this sector on some of the most important financial decisions of your lifetime. Not all participants in the sector have the same amount of experience. They may have different areas of expertise. Make sure that you’re dealing with an authorized and professional organization—and you can check our website for a list of those if you see things that don’t sound right. Or, if people appear to be acting in a way that’s harmful to you or the public, let us know. It’s always tough to be taken advantage of, or to feel like you’ve been treated unfairly. And that’s particularly acute in a recession, where it’s much harder to overcome those outcomes. The bottom line is, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t 100 percent true.


Sports (mostly watching these days) and reading

Last book I read

The Maze by Nelson DeMille

Favourite TV show

The West Wing (retro) and Ted Lasso (today)

Most memorable concert

Elton John (Vancouver, 2022)

Pet peeve

Slow drivers in the left lane

Favourite place in B.C.

Vancouver’s seawall