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What’s involved in moving investments from a high-fee advisor to a DIY setup?

May 27, 2020 Jason Heath
What's involved in moving investments from a high-fee advisor to a DIY setup?

In other words, Brett, it is tough to say whether your 5% return is good or bad, as it depends on the precise timeframe and how you were invested.

If you are not clear on the fees you paid, I would say there are two problems with that uncertainty. First off, it is a clear failure of the financial industry and regulators that investors do not know how much they pay. Fee disclosure has increased in recent years, but for a mutual fund investor, statements still generally report only the trailing commission paid by a mutual fund, which may only be about half of the all-in management expense ratio.

Second, I think investors need to be more direct with their advisors when asking questions about fees, let alone other issues. If you have a $1-million portfolio, Brett, and you are paying more than 2 % per year in fees, that is more than $20,000 a year. Consider that for the same amount of money, you could buy a car—maybe a used car or a base model these days—every year. I cannot imagine buying a car once in my lifetime, let alone annually, without knowing the cost. If you cannot get a direct answer, I would say that alone is a reason to consider a change with your investments. If you cannot trust the people whom you pay for financial advice to give you financial information about your own investments, that is a problem.

Your idea to move to a discount brokerage to buy ETFs is an option. I think most DIYers are best suited to ETFs as opposed to trying to build a portfolio of stocks and bonds. Picking and monitoring dozens of stocks is a lot of work, and buying bonds and other fixed-income equivalents directly can be difficult.

A fee-for-service financial planner may be able to help you with the framework and logistics of doing so, Brett, but it is important to know they cannot provide recommendations on specific securities. They can talk about risk tolerance, asset allocation, rebalancing, tax implications, accumulation and decumulation as they relate to an investment portfolio. But they cannot tell you which specific ETFs to buy.

More importantly, I think you may be putting the cart before the horse.

I would speak to your existing advisor first about your fees and ask them what investment options or fee arrangements are available. If they cannot have a straight-up conversation with you about fees and offer more competitive options, you should look elsewhere. You should consider other advisors, because with $1 million to invest, you have plenty of options. You may ultimately opt for DIY at a discount brokerage, but if all you have known for 30 years is your mutual fund company, it would not hurt to explore alternatives before going straight to managing your own portfolio. If nothing else, it will help validate your decision to become a DIY investor once you have considered the alternatives.

Your concern about the tax you and your wife may have to pay should you have to sell the $100,000 or so in each of your non-registered accounts is hopefully overstated. Even if the investments in these accounts have doubled in value, which is unlikely, your tax payable would probably not exceed $25,000 in total, depending on your incomes and your province of residence. I know, that is still a lot, but remember, this assumes you have a significant capital gain, and if you are paying more than 2% in fees and considering moving to ETFs with fees of almost nothing, you could save almost $25,000 in fees in the first year. It sounds as though you already know your registered accounts can be moved tax-deferred and tax-free.

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