Good afternoon, Mr. Chair.
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm Ian Russell. I've come before the committee many times, but this is the first time I've been here in my capacity as president and chief executive officer of the Investment Industry Association of Canada to talk to you on the singular subject of tax-free savings accounts, or TFSAs. With me today is my colleague Barbara Amsden, who will be helpful to me in responding to a number of the questions that may come from the committee.
The IIAC is one of Canada's oldest and youngest associations. It was founded in 1916 as the Investment Dealers Association, which began as a trade association that over the next 90 years became increasingly a self-regulatory body. From 1996 to 2006, the IDA grew rapidly as a regulator, tripling in size. In April 2006 the organization separated its dual mandate, creating a single self-regulatory organization and a trade association.
The Investment Industry Association is the trade association for the Canadian securities industry. In that capacity we've been able to lobby effectively or advocate on behalf of our members, some 210 firms in the Canadian investment industry, for improvements in regulatory and tax policy to strengthen the capital markets in the Canadian economy and to meet the government's objective of productivity improvements. We've been better able to publicize what our industry does to promote the savings investment process and encourage capital formation.
As I said, we have 210 members. They range from very large, national, full-service investment dealers to small boutique operations, which operate as an institution with an institutional focus, and also as a regional focus, in all parts of the country.
The role of the Investment Industry Association of Canada is to promote the growth and development of the Canadian investment sector. The IIAC represents a strong and proactive voice that seeks to represent the interests of the investment sector and all market participants. Our corporate members range from regional companies employing few persons to major corporations that employ thousands of Canadians. Our members assist Canadian investors in building and protecting their capital to ensure their financial future and that of their families.
For our members to successfully begin offering TFSAs and to promote further savings by Canadians, we believe it is in the best interests of investors, governments, and TFSA providers that TFSAs be made as simple as possible to introduce and manage, and to this end that they be as similar as possible to and able to leverage the current RRSP framework.
A great deal of work needs to be done by our members between now and the January 1, 2009 start-up date. Technology changes don't just occur at the push of a button. We hope to have your help with legislative changes, as well as the help of the Department of Finance and the CRA on regulatory and administrative matters, to ensure a smooth launch and an excellent good-news story for the front pages of the first newspaper editions of the new year.
With your permission, I won't read the rest of my remarks, but I will touch on four problems and amendments that we suggest.
First, Bill C-50 limits TFSA offerings to a trust annuity contract or deposit, and excludes securities accounts. Interest and annuity rates have dropped since the early nineties, and more and more Canadians now rely on investments, rather than just term deposits and annuities, to finance their retirement. Requiring that brokers still resort to the trust structure of using third-party trustees to offer TFSAs adds costs and inefficiencies, and we believe it is really unnecessary.
Second, the CRA proposes more frequent reporting than for RRSPs, but based on the RRSP example, we believe this is not cost-justified, as material over-contributions to RRSPs are proportionately small, excess amounts are usually low, and penalties can be imposed to dissuade over-contributions. As for RRSPs, an annual report with contributions and withdrawals will enable the CRA to identify over-contributions, even if those are withdrawn in the same year in an effort to unfairly take advantage of the tax system.
Third, the treatment of TFSAs upon the death of the TFSA holder differs from that of RRSPs. Income or capital gains on the TFSA become immediately taxable at the time the holder dies, in contrast to RRSPs, where there is an exempt or transitional period after death, which allows for a period to learn of the holder's death and a process for deeming the disposition of assets and for resetting costs at fair market value, and various other points. As we know, the death of a family member means a difficult time for everyone, and treating RRSPs and TFSAs differently will lead to additional complications and frustrations at a time when complexity and administrative complications are particularly difficult for the bereaved.
Fourth, on implementation, Bill C-50 provides that qualifying TFSA arrangements must be entered into after 2008. This would prevent the opening of accounts with a zero balance earlier and would lead to a rush following the new year. Our members are already getting calls about opening TFSAs. This risks negative publicity for TFSA providers and the government, if there is congestion at the beginning of the year.
So we are requesting four legislative changes.
First, we recommend amending the legislation to allow brokers to offer TFSAs directly under an account agreement, and not just as a trust.
Second, for efficiency and cost-effectiveness—while leaving CRA's ability to manage the integrity of the tax base undiminished—we ask or recommend that you amend the legislation to require annual transaction-related reporting by TFSA providers to the CRA without a requirement for reporting transfers between the accounts of the same TFSA holder. This government is committed to reducing the regulatory burden and not adding to it. We believe that more frequent reporting will in fact cause more problems for investors and intermediaries than necessary.
Third, for simplicity, and given little risk to the tax base, we propose an amendment to standardize and simplify processing on the death of the holder, treating TFSAs like RRSPs, or in the same manner.
Fourth, for smooth implementation, we recommend that you allow TFSA providers to open accounts before the new year while still preventing contributions or transfers until January 1.
So those are the recommendations that we have before you, Mr. Chairman.