Tax Season

5 investment tips that challenge conventional wisdom

Not all investors trust advisors employed by banks and financial firms to put clients' interests ahead of those of their employers, so we asked an independent advisor for some unorthodox advice on investing and financial planning.
With stock markets expected to continue to be lacklustre in their performance, consider alternative retirement fund investments, an independent wealth advisor suggests. (Spencer Platt/Getty)

The business of providing financial advice and investment services generates billions of dollars in annual revenues in Canada and employs tens of thousands of people.

There are close to 15,000 mutual funds in Canada, for example, and nearly 2,000 mutual fund managers, according to, a financial resource website.

But not all investors trust advisers employed by banks and other large firms to put their clients' interests ahead of those of their employers. That's one reason for independent financial advisers, who provide their services for a fee.

"We're not representing anybody's product, service or supplier," Russell Todd of Calgary-based wealth advisers Doherty & Bryant, told CBC News.

So, here's some exception-to-the-rule advice from someone who's not selling you something:

1. Mutual funds aren't the only option. They're expensive, and most of them fail to match the return of major market indices or averages. On average, the managers of an equity fund pay themselves between 2.5 and three per cent of its value. But the management expenses of exchange-traded funds — securities that mirror an index — run at a quarter of that, and more and more banks are coming out with ETFs that are packaged like a mutual fund and available to the average investor.

2. Don't get an RRSP. There's no point for those on low incomes and those close to retirement. They are long-term savings vehicles that work best for those whose retirement income will fall to a lower tax bracket. "It's better to look at debt reduction or tax-free savings accounts," says Todd.

3. Balance debt repayment with saving. Your net worth shrinks if the interest cost of servicing your debt exceeds the inflation-adjusted return on your investments, but — contrary to what some books recommend — it's probably not possible to eliminate all debt before you start putting something away for the future. Many Canadians have a mortgage, and "you aren't going to pay that off overnight," says Todd.

The best thinking is to make a priority of paying off debt that has no chance of adding to net worth.

"When you're paying on a mortgage, you're essentially paying on an asset that's going up in value," Todd said. "Credit card debt is on items that have already been consumed or going down in value. It's not the best kind of debt to have."

4. Convert to an RRIF before age 71. The law requires you to move from an RRSP to a retirement annuity such as a Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF) by age 71, but you might want to do that much earlier. The current average Canadian retirement age is 62. Converting then might allow you to avoid taking your Canada Pension Plan benefit early, and at a discount.

5. Re-think your investment strategy for retirement income. "What you're looking for in retirement is certainty of income, not certainty of capital value," Todd says. He recommends reorganizing your investments into something like a tax-free savings account or an RRSP and withdrawing it at a steady rate, such as five per cent a year.

As well, consider alternative investments to the slow-growing stock markets, including income-generating assets such as Real Estate Investment Trust units, in much the same way as large investors such as the CPP Investment Board has been doing.