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Meeting with an adviser. (Photos.cmo)

Meeting with an adviser.

(Photos.cmo)

Your money

Financial advisers aren’t just for the rich and nearly retired Add to ...

Finding a love match takes chemistry, timing and often lots of hard work.

The same can be said for making a connection with a financial adviser, yet experts say far too many Canadians are unwilling to put in the time and energy required to find the perfect fit.

“We find that people put more time into thinking about purchasing a vehicle than they do about selecting a financial adviser and it needs to be exactly the opposite of that,” says Greg Pollack, president of the Financial Advisors Association of Canada.

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A recent study from the Montreal-based Centre for Interuniversity Research and Analysis on Organizations found that those who avail themselves of outside advice see their assets grow over time by 1.58 to 2.73 times more than those who act alone.

And contrary to common belief, the service isn’t just suited to millionaires and the nearly retired.

An estimated 10 million Canadians use the help of professionals working at financial institutions, brokerage houses, independent operations and environments like insurance companies to plan for their retirements and financial security.

Interest grows with age. About 64 per cent of those 50 and older use a financial adviser, while 47 per cent of those under 50 do so.

Convincing younger Canadians, especially those with limited incomes, to plan for their futures remains challenging. But Mr. Pollack said Ottawa’s decision to delay the age when people will receive Old Age Security and reduced availability of defined benefit pension plans will get people’s attention.

“There seems to be a growing awareness that individual Canadians are going to be more dependent upon themselves than they have been on the government in the past,” he said.

Sharing one’s intimate financial situation can be very difficult, making finding the right person all the more important.

The great recession was tough on many investment portfolios and black clouds remain on the horizon. But those who worked with professionals to develop long-term plans were more likely to reject the panic instinct to sell when markets tumbled, Mr. Pollack said.

Walking into a bank branch and merely taking the recommendations of the person assigned to your file isn’t the best strategy. Nor is waiting until RRSP season early in the year to hold a 15-minute conversation about your retirement planning, said Camille Beaudoin, a financial literacy specialist at Quebec’s securities regulator, l’Autorite des marches financiers.

He said people need to do their homework, visit several candidates and ask lots of questions.

The goal isn’t to find a friend “but to find a person that has time for you and has clientele with the same profile you may have,” he said.

The Canadian Securities Administrators will release on Tuesday the results of their survey on retirement and investing. While he wouldn’t provide details, Mr. Beaudoin said the results indicate “we still have a lot of work to do” to raise the financial literacy and action of Canadians.

The 2009 survey found that 38 per cent of Canadians didn’t have any investments set aside for the future, with residents of Quebec and New Brunswick being the least prepared at 48 per cent.

Credit Counselling Canada president Pat White said financial issues are so complex that people are often too embarrassed to seek help or ask questions.

She said there’s a need for general financial literacy to help improve the lives of people, including the thousands who use her agency’s services each year because of mismanagement and misfortune.

“I think there’s a correlation between increased financial literacy and better money management,” she said.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada recently launched Your Financial Toolkit. The web-based program of 11 modules educates Canadians on financial issues ranging from mortgages and taxes to how to find an adviser and avoid fraudulent practices.

The goal is to arm citizens with practical information they can use from an unbiased and reliable source, said agency spokeswoman Jlie Hauser.

“It certainly gives people a good basis on which they can go and talk to someone at a bank or another financial institution,” she said.

The toolkit, developed after two years of consultation with industry experts, will be promoted in November during financial literacy month.

The head of the Investor Education Fund — one of the project’s key partners — said financial problems in Canada, ranging from high debt loads to lack of savings, demonstrate the need for improved financial education.

The challenge isn’t new. Pressure has been building for 20 to 25 years, but investing has become more complicated, he said.

“It definitely is an issue of concern, partly because the financial world has gotten a lot more complicated, the demands on the household are much greater, yet we haven’t added in more education,” IEF president Tom Hamza said in an interview.

He said the toolkit is targeted at average Canadian households that don’t have a background in financial planning and crave a neutral, independent source. It can be used as a complement to other sites, including IEF’s own website getsmarteraboutmoney.ca whose use has grown by 70 per cent annually for the last six years.

High-profile fraud cases involving Bernie Madoff and Earl Jones has shattered some people’s faith in the honesty of financial advisers. The toolkit has a lengthy section offering practical advice.

Experts have the following advice on finding an adviser — know yourself, your financial objectives and risk tolerance; check professional credentials including licence; interview four to five candidates and follow up with references; feel comfortable with the adviser’s investing philosophy; understand adviser fees; and establish hard expectations up front about portfolio performance review and benchmarking.

Red flags that may raise concerns include — promises of specific percentage returns on investments; overly pushy about investments without considering investor’s goals, objectives and risk tolerance; pressure to act quickly to get a special deal open only to a select few.

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