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Bank lobbyist picked to lead fund group

Appointment could cause some IFIC members to 'raise an eyebrow or two'

MUTUAL FUNDS REPORTER

A veteran bank lobbyist has been appointed the new head of the Investment Funds Institute of Canada, sparking some concern that the agenda of the big banks will dominate the mutual fund industry association.

Joanne De Laurentiis, the 56-year-old president and chief executive officer of Credit Union Central of Canada, will take on the same title at IFIC, effect Jan. 16. She will replace Tom Hockin, the former federal finance minister who has run IFIC since 1994.

Ms. De Laurentiis has run the umbrella association representing the credit union industry since 2001.

But the bulk of her career has been spent working on behalf of the banking sector.

She was head of Mondex Canada, a smart-card payment program abandoned by the banks, and the Interac Association, an association representing the electronic financial network.

She has also served as the vice-president of public affairs for the Canadian Bankers Association.

Ms. De Laurentiis's background was the subject of discussion at the IFIC board meeting yesterday that voted in favour of her appointment.

The banks have emerged as a dominant force within the mutual fund sector. The retail fund market share of the Big Six has climbed to 36 per cent, up from 24 per cent in 1996.

"There is an acknowledgement that her banking background might cause some of the members to raise an eyebrow or two," said one IFIC board member who asked not to be identified.

But Blake Goldring, president and CEO of AGF Management Ltd. and a member of the IFIC search committee, said critics should not dismiss Ms. De Laurentiis after a cursory look at her résumé.

"I was floored during the interview process," he said. "Once she gets in the job, she will wow a lot of people."

There are some compelling parallels between IFIC and Credit Union Central, added Brenda Vince, IFIC chairwoman and president of Royal Bank of Canada's mutual fund arm: The two organizations have several hundred members but are dominated by a handful of players, each group lobbies regulators and politicians, and finally, each association trains and educates member firms.

"She brings a skill set that we absolutely need," Ms. Vince said. "Running industry associations is a challenge."

Ms. De Laurentiis will have a daunting agenda ahead. Under Ms. Vince's leadership, the IFIC board is rethinking the group's mandate, including a review of membership guidelines and the regulatory environment.

IFIC has a vast membership of banks, independent fund companies, distributors and boutique firms. Critics contend that competing interests have made IFIC irrelevant. For example, IFIC was largely silent a year ago when allegations of suspicious trading were made against some of the industry's largest fund companies.

"They have lots of challenges and that's what I like," Ms. De Laurentiis said in an interview.

"The role of a good trade association, the role of the leader of a trade association, is to find a common interest. And I think there are common interests across the parties. . . . Both serve the public good, both have concerns about the right regulatory framework."

Joanne De Laurentiis

President and chief executive officer of Credit Union Central of Canada from 2001 until Jan. 15, 2006. Credit Union Central represents the interests of 530 credit unions across Canada. In the continuing debate on bank mergers, Ms. De Laurentiis has argued that credit unions can expand their presence and compete in that environment.

Prior to Credit Union Central, Ms. De Laurentiis held senior roles at Mondex Canada, the Interac Association and the Canadian Bankers Association.

Since 2001, she has served as chairwoman of Ethical Funds Co., a Vancouver-based socially responsible mutual fund manager. "I know what an MER [management expense ratio] is and we've been trying to get them down," she said.

"The role of a good trade association, the role of the leader of a trade association, is to find a common interest. And I think there are common interests across the [IFIC] parties. . . . Both serve the public good, both have concerns about the right regulatory framework. There are lots of common interests to work. The issue of whether or not they are competing is between them and the market. I don't think a trade association should get involved in that aspect of it."

© 2007 The Globe and Mail. All rights reserved.

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