When Elaine Wade inherited a six-figure portfolio of stocks from her father a few years ago, she had some decisions to make.
She already had an investing account at another financial institution, but she wasn't thrilled with her adviser, who "kept pushing me into stocks I didn't want."
Nor was she happy with her father's broker, who also pressured her to purchase what she thought were unsuitable investments.
"I wanted to consolidate my accounts but I didn't trust either of my advisers," she said. "Then I was at a party last summer and a girlfriend said, 'Why don't you just do it yourself?' And I thought, well, why not?"
In the old days, the thought of going it alone might have seemed too daunting to someone like Ms. Wade, 56, of Nanaimo, B.C. But the do-it-yourself approach is appealing to more people thanks to a growing number of investing books, websites, newspaper articles and courses – both in the classroom and online – that take the mystery out of managing a portfolio, budgeting and other personal finance topics.
"There's definitely more of a trend toward doing your own investing," Ms. Wade said.
As a semi-retired accountant, she was already comfortable with numbers. But her investing knowledge was rusty, so she recently enrolled in the Canadian Securities Course for Investors, a new program launched in April by CSI Global Education and aimed at the general public.
For years, CSI Global has offered the Canadian Securities Course to people working in the securities industry or aspiring to careers in financial services. Completing the CSC is one of the requirements of becoming a licensed adviser.
The new CSC for Investors has the same content as the regular CSC, but there are some key differences: CSC for Investors costs $495 compared with $950 for the regular CSC; it has no exams; and it doesn't lead to accreditation. It's meant solely for individuals who want to expand their investing knowledge.
"CSC for Investors is aimed at people who want to really understand what the investment landscape looks like," said Dylan Fedy, senior director of marketing and customer insight at CSI Global in Toronto.
"It makes them a more confident investor, whether that's someone who's doing it on their own, doing a portion on their own or working with a professional."
When a client takes the time to become educated, it's good for both the client and the adviser, he said. For example, during periods of market turmoil, a knowledgeable client will understand the importance of staying focused on long-term goals and won't try to talk the adviser into selling positions at what could be the worst possible time.
The interactive online course – a hard-copy textbook is also available for an additional charge – covers a broad range of topics, including how the securities industry works, the role of regulators, economic theory, stocks, bonds, options, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), financial statements, financial planning and taxation.
CSI provides a free demo of the course on its website at csi.ca. You can read the chapter on fixed-income securities, do the online module and take a quiz to test your knowledge. (Even if you don't plan to take the course, it's worth reading the free chapter and doing the exercises – especially if you've ever wondered how bonds work.)
Don't have time for an intensive course? There's plenty of free information available on the Internet. A useful place to start – though it doesn't have the same level of detail as the CSC – is Getsmarteraboutmoney.ca, a website developed by the non-profit Investor Education Fund. The IEF was established by the Ontario Securities Commission and funded by settlements and fines from OSC enforcement proceedings.
Getsmarteraboutmoney.ca covers the basics of ETFs, mutual funds, registered retirement savings plans, registered education savings plans, tax-free savings accounts, budgeting, managing debt and the importance of wills and estate planning, among other topics.
For those who prefer to learn about investing in a classroom setting, where they can ask questions of the instructor and share ideas with other students, there are also a growing number of options.
Gail Bebee, a personal finance speaker and author of No Hype – The Straight Goods on Investing Your Money, teaches a course called Investment Planning offered by the Toronto District School Board's Continuing Education department. She also holds seminars at public libraries and for private clients.
Her courses – which are often filled to capacity, reflecting the hunger for knowledge that's out there – attract a wide range of students.
"You always get a mix," she said. "The vast majority are people 40 and up who are working and they now have some money and they're focusing on the road ahead."
"There are a good number of women, which is good to see. I get some retirees. Then there is the disgruntled crowd – people who don't like their investment adviser."
Many students come in with a low level of investing knowledge, she said. Students may not realize, for example, that they are paying fees when they invest in mutual funds, or why it's important to diversify.
Not every person has the time or the temperament to become a self-directed investor, Ms. Bebee said. But even people who work with an adviser can benefit from education. For those who aren't sure if they have what it takes to go it alone, she recommends signing up for a free practice trading account at RBC Direct Investing. (Note: You have to be an RBC client.)
"It's a good way for people to try things out without getting burned," she said.
For Ms. Wade, the money in her trading account is real, which is why she's determined to learn as much as possible from the course she's taking.
"I was looking [at my portfolio] online and I could see all sorts of information about each stock that I owned, and I didn't understand half of it – all of these ratios and indices and trends," she said. "And I thought, it's time. I have to go back to school."