The Canadian Securities Course: pricey endeavour or valuable investment for journalists?

By Vanessa Santilli

Jonathan Ratner didn't take the Canadian Securities Course (CSC) to advance his journalism career, but that is precisely what it's done.

By Vanessa Santilli

Jonathan Ratner didn't take the Canadian Securities Course (CSC) to advance his journalism career, but that is precisely what it's done.

Now an investment reporter at the Financial Post, Ratner recalled an editor who interviewed him for an internship being far more interested in the fact he had completed the CSC than his journalism degree. “It continues to be something editors look for," said Ratner, who said he took the course to improve his understanding of the stock market, on the recommendation of his father, who worked in the financial services industry.

The course itself is a large investment—in time and money. Taking the course online costs $985 for the two required multiple-choice exams and online textbook in lieu of the more expensive physical textbook and extra study aides. But some journalists say the course is a worthwhile investment.

Sarah Efron, deputy editor at MoneySense, said the course gave her more confidence. "I'm not just regurgitating what people are saying. I can go, 'Wait a second, maybe that doesn't jibe with something I've learned before.’”

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At MoneySense, employees have to pay to sign up for the course out of their own pockets and, if they pass,  the company reimburses them. And while the Financial Post used to cover the cost for their employees,  they no longer do so.

The course can balloon beyond $985. To receive the full set of study tools along with the exams, it costs a  whopping $1,310. Some of the extras include practice exams ($140), an audio book ($35), a web cast  ($60) and a financial calculations tool kit ($85) for those wanting to brush up on their math skills.

Because the CSC is a lower-level designation for those working in the financial services industry, Efron said  the course gives journalists insight into what financial training is like.

"You could sell mutual funds after and it wouldn't be that much of a jump," Efron said.

 She advised those working in business journalism to take the course, but to be aware of the time and  financial commitment, as there is a $250 fee to extend the course by one year. "You have one year to write  the exams from when you sign up, and you can extend it one year, but then after that you just lose your  money."

The securities exams have a pass rate of 60 per cent, but those keen to take the course are not in for easy  reading.

"It is a bit of a slog," Efron said. "It's a lot of material. Not particularly difficult material but there's just a lot of it and some of it is super detailed, like how many days does it take to settle a stock trade?"

Karen Ho coughed up the extra cash when she took the course in 2012, although she received a discounted rate through BMO, her employer at the time.  

Ho, a freelance journalist specializing in business reporting, said the course taught her a lot about the financial services sector in a short period of time. "When I was at the Financial Post, they expected me to write an article about ETFs [exchange-traded funds] and then interview the head of an ETF division at one of the major banks. I think because I did the CSC, I wasn't wading into waters I didn't understand."

Ho said the high cost of the course is an impediment, given how common unpaid internships are for young journalists and increasingly lower pay in freelance work. From Ho's experience, the extra study aides are unnecessary expenses.

"The online version already includes quizzes you can do over and over again," she added.

Steve Ladurantaye, a former reporter at The Globe and Mail who has since joined Twitter Canada, said the CSC allowed him to understand technical terms in the investment industry, along with broad concepts he didn't previously know much about, such as hedge funds. When he started at the Globe in 2006, Ladurantaye was hired as a copy editor in the business section and was told that if he wanted to get back to reporting, he should take the course. Ladurantaye’s feelings on the course are mixed.

"I don't have a business degree, so it was a bit of a crash course in investment stuff. But about 70 per cent of the course is math-related and learning formulas for calculating the effect of something on something, which has never, ever come in handy," he said. "If nothing else, it helped ensure I didn't sound like a bozo when talking to smart sources about business."

So just how common is having the CSC in business newsrooms? Out of 20 reporters at the Financial Post, nine have taken it and two are currently completing it, while seven have not completed the course and the other two did not reply before this article's deadline.

At MoneySense, the majority of staff has taken the course, Efron said. "For many new positions, it's listed in the job ad as a condition of hire to have it or take it."


Vanessa Santilli is a Toronto-based freelance writer. She has written for publications such as MoneySense, Bankrate Canada, The Toronto Star, CAmagazine, Chatelaine, The Medical Post and Panoram Italia.

Business publications image courtesy of Eric Mark Do


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