Q: My elderly mother, 83, just sold the family home for $300,000. The bank seems to advise her to buy expensive financial products not best suited to my mother’s stage of life.
What should she do with the proceeds from the sale of her home? As she is not able to make financial decisions on her own, I’d like to have an idea BEFORE I go to the bank with her as to what would be the best solution for the money.
A: You’re in a common position, Beth, advising an aging parent on their finances. Many adult children find themselves in this role, and it’s a role they may or may not be equipped to fill.
Your hesitance with trusting the bank is common as well and highlights a sad deficiency with the Canadian financial industry. If consumers cannot trust financial advisors to give financial advice, who can they trust?
I think the first point I’d like to reinforce is that whether you’re guiding your mother in her decision-making or acting officially as power of attorney, your approach should be the same. You need to help your mother do what is best for her.
I have trading authority on the accounts of an aging family member who is no longer able to make financial decisions on their own either. Although I also have power of attorney, I have not yet had to provide it for financial or health care decisions but suspect it won’t be long before I must do so.
They were always a conservative investor. I am a more aggressive investor personally. But I have tried to find a balance between the family member’s risk tolerance and my own, acting as a fiduciary should.
Most people in the Canadian financial industry are not fiduciaries. They don’t need to put your best interests first. They are salespeople and when they work for a bank or other company, they are often limited to selling the products offered by their company. And when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Credo Consulting did a study earlier this year called Advisors Load Clients’ Portfolios with Proprietary Products. The findings were unanimous that “financial advisors use their own related/affiliated companies’ products far more frequently than could have happened by chance alone.”
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if the fees are reasonable, and the risk profile of the investments is suitable for your mother, Beth. If you feel they are recommending something too aggressive, it’s easy enough to ask for a more conservative recommendation.
It’s also worth asking if the value of your mother’s investments might qualify her to invest with different divisions of the bank. It’s not uncommon for different minimum investment levels to give you access to a broader range of products.
And now, more than ever, you shouldn’t feel constrained to investing with your bank just because that’s where your bank accounts are located. There is no shortage of independent, third-party investment firms. Most can make monthly deposits directly to a bank account, eliminating the need to consolidate everything under one roof.
I’d like to make another point on your concern about the bank’s products being expensive, Beth. Some banks have reasonably priced products in comparison to some independent firms. Some independents charge a fraction of the bank. Don’t assume one is automatically better than another.
Don’t forget that inflation is also expensive, as is long-term care. You need to do your best to balance your mother’s short-term cash flow needs with the potential costs her nest egg may need to cover in the future. If you think her pension income, home proceeds, and other investments should be able to cover her expenses for five or more years, it’s unlikely a globally balanced investment portfolio will have a negative return over a five-year period.
And if your mother’s risk tolerance, your own risk tolerance, or your mother’s cash flow needs mean you won’t have much or any exposure to stocks with her investments, beware bank Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GICs). The rates tend to be quite low and smaller institutions like trust companies and credit unions may offer a significant interest rate premium and still qualify for government guarantees.
It’s also a tough environment for conservative retail mutual funds, especially certain fixed income or bond funds. Yields are low, interest rates are rising, and fees don’t leave much room for the investor to earn a return.
Good luck, Beth. I can appreciate how difficult it is to try to help an aging family member with their finances. I am in the same position myself, and I know much better than most what I am doing. It’s still a tough role for me to play.
Jason Heath is a fee-only, advice-only Certified Financial Planner (CFP) at Objective Financial Partners Inc. in Toronto, Ontario. He does not sell any financial products whatsoever.
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