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What about the fees?

Just when I think that not one more word can be written about the cost of wealth management … it comes up again. So from the position of working in wealth management for nearly 25 years, I feel compelled to weigh in.

Firstly, I have to put all the cards on the table. Of course my view will be seen as self-serving. Of course the views of the online do-it-yourself brands serve their purpose and the list goes on with supporting views from all the various and sundry channels that deliver investments. With that out of the way I will share what I have learned over the years.

We all need different support at different stages of our financial life. When you are starting out, and have comparatively smaller resources, putting your money in a savings vehicle regularly is all you can and need to do. Just follow the advice of gurus like The Wealthy Barber and forget about everything else. Since your income taxes are low and your personal expenses are eating up most of your salary, the cost of any overlay of advice will turn out to be too much.

The next stage comes when your disposable income is higher, and perhaps you have a spouse or partner or even a couple of kids. The question then becomes what to do with those precious financial resources. Your expenses are still high and the amount you can save is not easily replaced. Mistakes come at a higher price. Now would be a good time to examine your time and commitment to creating and managing your families’ wealth. 

It is in this second stage and beyond that a financial plan which is regularly reviewed and updated will keep you on track. Your investment portfolio may still not be large but you want to make sure that it is adding to the hard work you are doing through saving. So do you do it yourself? Or seek help? And what should that cost? And what about after that when you start spending those investment dollars to fund retirement or even planning for the next generation? Now taxes and inflation matter and things are less simple.

When it comes to hiring wealth management, the fees are incremental. For example you might pay 0.5 per cent to an online manager for basic investment into exchange traded funds (ETFs). On top of this 0.5 per cent you will also pay the fee charged by the ETF – the lowest being about 0.2 per cent. With this bare bones approach you are up to, at a minimum, 0.7 per cent. That’s the baseline. What do you need or want from there?

I clearly believe in advice. Every shred of evidence proves that investors do better with advice. The Cadillac is to have an advisor supported by a team that covers all the skill sets necessary to take you through your financial life. A fully flushed out financial plan that is adhered to, monitored and supported by a strong disciplined investment policy. A team that knows you and your family, doesn’t turn over team members every few months, a team that is experienced and connected to lawyers, accountants and all the other professionals that step in and out of your life as required. The Cadillac. And that costs a lot less than most articles would have you believe. 

As I pointed out earlier, costs are incremental. We have already established that the base line is roughly 0.7 per cent. What may come as a surprise is that everything provided in the Cadillac version might not add any additional cost! You don’t have to be a millionaire either. At worst it could add 0.8 per cent for all of the services that truly enhance the investor experience. Why wouldn’t everyone want that? 

The whole discussion around fees has been hijacked by all of us in the wealth management and investment services business. And sadly, it has been the wrong discussion. Rather than making it seem that advice and service is too expensive, there needs to be some context. The right approach, whether to do it yourself or through an advisor is one that focuses on the activities and services that truly make for a better wealth management outcome. Decide what help you need to stay on track and do your homework. You might be surprised at what the real costs are.

This article is supplied by Joanne Livingston, an investment advisor with RBC Dominion Securities Inc. Member–Canadian Investor Protection Fund.

Livingston MacDonald Wealth Management helps young professionals with $200,000 or more of investment assets articulate and execute smart financial plans. Visit