New investment rules fail to reveal some hidden fees

CRM2 disclosure rules give investors a better look at fees - but not the whole picture

Legal and other administrative costs not covered under latest effort at transparency

New rules which came into earlier effect this month require certain fees charged by the investment industry to be spelled out more clearly to clients — but other charges remain hidden. (Tim Wimborne/Reuters)

You may have noticed some new information in your latest investment update, and some of it might have you scratching your head.

It's all thanks to a new set of rules, mandated by Canadian securities regulators, called Client Relationship Model 2 (CRM2), which is supposed to provide investors with more information about what they're spending to have their money managed, and how their investments are performing.

Highlights of CRM2, which went into effect July 14, include:

  • An investment's performance (since 2016) must be shown as a money-weighted return.
  • Fees for advice, commissions must be now disclosed.
  • ​Other charges, such as management and custodial fees, still do not need to be disclosed. ​

CRM2 requires a snapshot of how your money is doing. But this snapshot covers, for now, a relatively short timeframe — from 2016 on. As you can imagine, that timeframe isn't as telling as a longer one.  

Presenting data prior to 2016 is encouraged, though not mandatory, according to Martin Pelletier, a portfolio manager and co-founder of TriVest Wealth Counsel in Calgary. 

He says reputable firms, including his, "have been doing that for years."

Some investment fees, most notably advice and commission fees, must also be outlined under CRM2, and must be shown as a dollar amount, as opposed to simply as a percentage.

Charges such as "trailer fees" — a kind of commission for products like mutual funds — can't be swept under the rug anymore.

"In the old days, what advisers used to do is they used to have everything all included within the fund so you didn't see anything," Pelletier told CBC News.

But there are other fees that, even under the new rules, don't have to be highlighted, like trading costs, legal and administrative fees.  

Tough questions about advisory fees had been expected to emerge after the second phase of enhanced disclosure rules, known as CRM2, became mandatory last year. (John Kwan/Shutterstock)

Not the whole picture

That means the onus is on investors to get in touch with their financial institutions and do some digging, says Tom Bradley, CEO of Steadyhand, a low-fee Canadian mutual fund.

"You really need to go to your adviser and say 'OK, this is nice, but what is the total package?'" Bradley said during a recent appearance on CBC's On the Money. 

He says his firm discloses all costs to its clients, but says most companies don't.

"I work in an industry that, I hate to say it, has taken no leadership in being client-centric or client-friendly."

Bradley notes that implementing CRM2 took about a decade and, by many accounts, doesn't go far enough.

That's due in large part to stiff resistance from across the investment industry. 

By stalling, the investment community "forced regulators to ram [the new rules] down their throats," he said. 

The industry "grumbled all the way to CRM2," he added. 

Pelletier agrees that there's been enormous push-back against anything that would impact profitability.

"The industry is an oligopoly. It's a tightly held industry with the banks dominating. There isn't a lot of competition," he said. 

Tom Bradley, president of Steadyhand Investment Funds, on new mutual fund statements that comply with a disclosure framework called CRM2 6:25

'Investors don't speak this language'

One of the architects of CRM2 agrees that advisers and clients sometimes have trouble communicating.

"One of the things I'd say we, as an industry, have failed to do well is think about where our clients are. Investors don't speak this language," said Susan Silma, now a partner at CRM2 Navigator, a firm that helps financial institutions figure out how best to communicate with investors.

But Silma is quick to defend financial advisers, and says a lot of the confusion surrounding statements stems from things getting lost in translation.

"In fairness, the people in the industry that design these things actually speak this language. They know what all the words mean. This is common industry terminology."

Susan Silma, co-founder of CRM2 Navigator, is a champion of more transparent disclosure rules 5:52

Sky-high fees

The fees paid by Canadians for investments in mutual funds, for example, are "among the highest in the world," according to the Ontario Securities Commission, citing studies over the last 13 years. 

But Bradley says Canadians are starting to wake up to the alternatives. People are increasingly becoming aware of low-cost Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) and so-called robo-advisers, he says. 

"We're actually on the cusp of Canadians becoming more fee-conscious," he said. 

Silma sees CRM2 as an important first step toward better communication — and clarity about fees — between advisers and clients. But it's still important, she added, for clients to make an effort to understand all that paperwork. 

"Have your adviser talk to you about. Ask questions about it. Learn a little bit more about it. Don't be afraid to ask, there aren't any dumb questions," she said. 

About the Author

Anne Gaviola

Producer, On The Money on CBC News Network

Anne Gaviola is a hunter, gatherer and teller of stories. Follow her on Twitter @AnneGaviola, on Instagram at annegeewhiz

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.