by Gordon Pape
Many people would like to have an expert take an unbiased look at their portfolio and tell them if they're on track. Such advisors do exist. The problem is they are not easy to find.
Many Canadians are feeling uneasy about their investments these days and some would like to get an unbiased second opinion about their holdings. Unfortunately, the financial planning industry does not make it easy for them.
Every month, I receive several questions from readers wanting to know where they can get objective advice from an expert who doesn't have a vested interest in selling products. Here's one example from Alberta reader Linda F.:
"Are there financial planners who, for a fee (not commission), will review your financial status and develop a plan for the future? I have my RRSP with RBC Dominion Securities but get the feeling my investments are being made because of the commissions and are not necessarily to my advantage. The last five investments lost money immediately and continue to fall. It also cost me money to pull out of the investments. I realize no one can read the future but am I not paying that commission to have them make adjustments based on the present conditions? Obviously, I am not impressed with the return on my investments this year."
The short answer to Linda's question is yes, of course there are fee-for-service financial planners who will perform a complete portfolio analysis. They typically charge by the hour although you may be able to negotiate an all-in fee for your review, although it won't be cheap. For example, Toronto-based Second Opinion Investor Services, which accepts clients from across the country, charges a flat $1,800 for a comprehensive portfolio review. However, if the portfolio is large and complex, that may be cheaper than paying their hourly rate of $250.
Unfortunately, it is not easy to find such fee-for-service planners. Advocis.ca, which is the website of The Financial Advisors Association of Canada, offers a "Find an Advisor" page at http://www.advocis.ca/content/find-ad-form.aspx however it does not allow you to screen for fee-based advisors only.
The same frustrating situation applies when you use the "Find a Planner" feature on the website of the Financial Planners Standards Council at http://www.fpsccanada.org/find_a_cfp_professional.
When I asked a Council spokesperson about this, she admitted that finding a fee-for-service planner is "challenging". The reason for this, she explained, is because the Council "can't favour one type of planner over another."
Obviously, there are some internal politics at work here but the end result is very annoying for investors. For example, a random search in the Toronto area produced more than 1,100 entries within a 25-kilometre radius. You can click on each name for more information and there you'll find details about their practice. Look under the heading "products licensed to sell". If the line below says "none", the person is a fee-for-service planner. Of course, it would be simple to write a small piece of code that would bring up only those names on demand but the Council can't, or won't, do it.
The best source I could find for specific information on fee-for-service planners was an article by Duncan Hood that was published on the Canadian Business Online website in March of this year. He did some exhaustive research into the subject and has compiled a list of dozens of fee-for-service planners from across the country. Each entry includes such useful details as their areas of specialization, hourly rate, academic and professional qualifications, areas served, address, e-mail, website, and phone number.
You may also find a minimum account size however you should take that with a grain of salt. Many fee-for-service planners will work with accounts of any size if you are willing to pay their hourly rate. Call and ask. The link for the article is: http://www.canadianbusiness.com/my_money/planning/article.jsp?content=20080310_110229_7096
Finally, you may also find some ads for fee-for-service planners in the Yellow Pages. Look under "Financial Planning Consultants". But make sure you understand all the costs and know exactly what you'll receive in return before you make any commitment.
This article originally appeared in the Internet Wealth Builder, a weekly e-mail newsletter that provides timely financial advice from some of Canada's top money experts. The IWB was chosen by The Globe and Mail as one of the top five investment newsletters in Canada. For more information about becoming an Internet Wealth Builder member, Click Here