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The easy way to lower your investment advice fees

Near the top of your investing to-do list for 2018 should be a note to schedule a meeting with your investment adviser to discuss fees.

A recent survey of investors suggests your meeting could be productive. The study was commissioned by the Canadian Securities Administrators, an umbrella group of provincial securities commissions, and covered a variety of investing issues. One of them was the impact of the new disclosure statements that investment dealers must annually send clients to document advice fees paid and personalized rates of return.

Of the investors who recalled receiving a disclosure statement in 2017 a little over 71 per cent found it easy to understand and a similar percentage agreed that it helped them understand the fees they paid. A little more than one-third of these people discussed fees with their advisers after receiving the statement. Of that group, a little less than half made changes in their account. Just under 30 per cent changed the mix of investment products, and 19 per cent changed their fee arrangement.

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These numbers tell us that investors who discuss fees with their adviser are heard. A shift to cheaper products is possible, and so is a reduction in advice fees. Low cost isn't the only attribute to consider in an investment or advisory relationship, but it's a top consideration at a time when return expectations for both stocks and bonds are subdued. Remember to consider value as well when talking fees. Paying more and getting more in financial planning as well as investment management can be a fair deal.

You're not just doing yourself a favour when you discuss lower fees with your adviser. You're also helping to demonstrate to the investment industry that fees matter to investors. Advisers may be more inclined to pick low-cost options from the get-go if they know clients will come back at them at a later date to complain about high fees.

Of the investors who followed up with their adviser to discuss fees, 7 per cent changed adviser and 4 per cent changed investment firms. If your adviser won't budge on fees, it may become necessary to leave. But a lot of advisers seem open to changes that address client concerns about fees.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of the table accompanying this article incorrectly said CIBC Investor's Edge had inactivity fees of $100/year for RRSPs, RRIFs, and LIRAs if balance is more than $25,000. As noted in the table, it should be for a balance of less than $25,000.
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