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Sign up for a comprehensive financial plan with Jason Pereira and you'll need deep pockets. The entire process takes about a year and includes five meetings covering five separate plan components. The cost: $5,000. Mr. Pereira is an award-winning financial planner at investment dealer Woodgate Financial/IPC in Toronto.

He recently claimed top prize for the Americas in the 2015 Global Financial Planning Awards sponsored by PlanPlus Inc. of Lindsay, Ont. He also holds the respected Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation and is a regular contributor to The Globe and Mail's Financial Facelift feature.

Once you have your financial plan, you'll be free to buy and sell with whichever investment adviser you prefer, Mr. Pereira says. If you decide to have Woodgate/IPC manage your money, quarterly reviews and follow-up plans will be included in the annual fee. Alas, you'll need at least $1-million of investable assets to get in the door.

Is financial planning the preserve of the wealthy? What, exactly, do financial planners do?

"The average person thinks financial planning is investing," says Matthew Ardrey, vice-president of T.E. Wealth in Toronto, a fee-only financial planning firm with a separate investment counsel arm. Investing is part of financial planning but not all of it, he says. Mr. Ardrey, who deals mainly with well-off clients, is also a regular contributor to Financial Facelift.

Starting next July, "average" investors will have a better understanding of what they are really paying for financial advice thanks to the second phase of the client relationship model, or CRM2, an initiative of the Ontario Securities Commission.

For the financial services industry, the challenge ahead is clear: how to give people the advice they need at a price they can afford, says Keith Costello, president of the Canadian Institute of Financial Planning. Standards throughout the industry must be raised, Mr. Costello says.

In Ontario, a review of the industry has already begun. The Ontario Ministry of Finance has set up an expert committee to explore whether new rules are needed to govern people who offer financial advice. The committee is chaired by Malcolm Heins, a lawyer and former head of the Law Society of Upper Canada. It is expected to make recommendations to the ministry late this year or early next year.

The first item they are seeking comment on: Is the provision of financial advice different from financial planning?

"Who is doing what and what should they call themselves?" are among the questions the committee is grappling with, Mr. Heins says. "Dealing with that confusion is going to be part of our task."

A simple solution would be to make financial planning a professional designation – like lawyers or accountants – perhaps using Chartered Financial Analysts (CFAs) as a model, industry players say. Only people who were properly educated and governed would be able to call themselves financial planners.

"I'm a CFP. You shouldn't take financial planning advice from anyone who doesn't have those letters after their name," Mr. Ardrey of T.E. Wealth says. CFP refers to Certified Financial Planner. But anyone can call themselves a "financial planner."

"It's now a Wild West throughout Canada," says Neil Gross, executive director of FAIR Canada, an investor rights group. Sales people use whatever designations they choose, the level of proficiency varies widely and the public is poorly protected, Mr. Gross adds. "We need a system that brings some order to the chaos. Hopefully that is what will come as a result of this round of consultations."

Another problem is that the financial services industry has marketed financial planning as a free add-on to product sales, Mr. Gross says. "This is unfortunate because it tends to minimize the importance of financial planning." Mr. Ardrey agrees: "That's an issue. It devalues the advice of real financial planners."

What is financial planning?

It could begin with a chat during which the planner asks you about your goals and aspirations. You will be asked to fill out long and detailed forms, after which you may meet for another chat. The planner will draw up statements of income and expenses to see whether you are running a surplus or deficit, and a statement of assets and liabilities to gauge your net worth. They will cover budgeting, savings, insurance, wills, tax and estate planning and investments. At the end, you'll receive the plan in writing.

To put the recommendations into action, the planner may refer you to the required specialists: a lawyer, an accountant, a trust company, an insurance agent and an investment counsel. The giving of investment advice flows from the financial plan.

"I shouldn't be investing their money until I know what their financial plan looks like," says Mr. Pereira. A proper financial plan will cost, he says. "Financial plans should not be the free toaster of the industry."

All advisers who are licensed to sell securities or insurance are required to do some financial planning, says Ed Skwarek, vice-president of regulatory and public affairs for Advocis, an association of financial advisers and planners. A minority holds a financial planning designation. He'd like to bring sales people from brokerage firms, mutual fund providers and insurance companies all under one regulatory tent. (Fee-only financial planners could be exempt.)

Then the regulators could set common standards. "You have to do something to raise the standards. We need to provide a solution for the average consumer," Mr. Skwarek says. "If not for them, why are we doing it?" he says of the expert committee's review.

Adds Mr. Costello: "Whatever we do, we have to find a model that reduces the cost of advice and ups the standards. There's so much money in the industry, there has to be a way to balance things out so people can get advice at a lower cost."

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