In the time it took for their accounts to be transferred from one investing arm of a big bank to another, Katherine Kane and her husband lost an estimated $13,667.
Moving the four accounts from the robo-adviser RBC InvestEase to the online brokerage RBC Direct Investing last spring took about four weeks, a period in which both stocks and bonds fell in price. Ms. Kane sought compensation for the losses from Royal Bank of Canada RY-T, which offered a $1,000 account credit to each spouse in what it called a goodwill gesture.
The offer was reluctantly accepted this week, but Ms. Kane remains unhappy with how the bank handled the transfer. “You don’t waste a month’s time when you’re dealing with people’s money,” she said.
Her story highlights what seems to be a growing problem in the investing industry: In a volatile financial world, account transfers can leave your investments in limbo for weeks and even months. Some in the industry say transfers lately have been slower than ever.
Ms. Kane, 67, and her husband, 73, are both retired. They each had a tax-free savings account and a non-registered account with RBC InvestEase, which builds and manages portfolios of exchange-traded funds for clients. Ms. Kane said they chose InvestEase as a low-cost way to invest with some support, but ultimately decided to leave because they were worried about a stock market decline and wanted to invest in guaranteed investment certificates instead.
The couple submitted account transfer forms on April 7, heard nothing and then got in contact with RBC Direct Investing later in the month for an update. Their expectations for quicker service were based on a note on RBC DI’s website saying that transfers of assets within RBC can take anywhere from three to seven days, with transfers from other institutions taking two to six weeks.
It turned out that the transfer was held up by a box that was inadvertently ticked when Ms. Kane and her husband filled out their transfer forms. They requested a mix of cash and investments be transferred by InvestEase, and so-called split transfers like these aren’t available.
“The only reason there was any action taken is because we escalated it to a manager on both sides (InvestEase and Direct Investing),” Ms. Kane said. “We waited for two weeks and nothing was happening.”
An RBC spokeswoman would not address specifics of the offer made to Ms. Kane and her husband, but said the bank is looking at its procedures for transfers. “The team is not satisfied about how long it took to process this request, the system issue which caused the delay, or the general handling of this matter,” she said in an e-mailed response to questions.
An electronic system exists for transferring commonly held investments like stocks, exchange-traded funds and mutual funds – it’s called Account Transfer Online Notification. ATON hasn’t solved the problem of delayed transfers, though.
The Ontario Securities Commission received 57 complaints related to transfers in fiscal 2022, more than double the 28 in the previous year. The latest annual report from the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI) shows these delays are the third-most common issue cited in complaints related to mutual funds and GICs.
The Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada’s requirements for account transfers indicate that 10 business days is a normal length of time for assets to start appearing in a new account at a different financial institution. Contact your new financial institution if the delay drags on longer, particularly if you need access to your money. If you feel you lost money as a result of a mishandled account transfer, try submitting a complaint to OBSI and asking for compensation.
Ms. Kane’s story shows how the transfer process can break down, even in what appeared to be a straightforward transfer within the same bank.
Her loss calculations were based on a spreadsheet comparing the price of the ETFs in the accounts held by her and her husband on April 14 (they gave RBC a week’s grace on the timing of the transfer) to May 2 and May 4, the days that assets arrived in the new Direct Investing accounts.
RBC responded with a detailed three-page letter containing an apology for a “system issue” at the bank that affected the transfers. The letter says that once the problems were noted, the transfers were processed on a rush basis.
As for the note on the RBC Direct Investing website that says transfers within RBC can take anywhere from three to seven days, the letter said this guidance “is only to be used as best-case estimate and not as a commitment or guarantee.”
I asked advisers and planners in my LinkedIn network about account transfer delays and found a considerable level of frustration. Some suggested transfers have been even slower lately, possibly a result of staffing issues related to the pandemic. Others said it’s a longstanding problem related to a business reality: There’s no incentive to rush a job that puts investment assets in the hands of another company.
Ms. Kane chose the word “disrespectful” to sum up the way her transfer experience. “The way it was handled was awful,” she said. “Everyone dropped the ball.”