Regulatory Change Helps Drive Popularity of Fee-Based Investment Accounts

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The investment services industry is changing at a dramatic pace, with investors demanding more choice, more transparency, and more personalized advice. One of the fastest growing trends within the financial services sector is the use of fee-based accounts. While there are many reasons for the increasing popularity of these accounts among advisers and clients alike, recent regulatory changes have been a major catalyst.

Traditional vs fee-based account structures

In the past, the most common type of account structure has been a transactional one, wherein commissions are charged for each buy or sell transaction. With fee-based accounts, however, advisers do not receive commissions—instead, they agree to a set fee schedule, usually charged on a quarterly basis. This fee is normally based on the portfolio’s market value and composition. Buy and sell recommendations are based solely on the client’s strategic needs and goals. If an investor’s account increases in value, so do the fees paid to the adviser; conversely, if an investor’s account declines in value, so do the fees paid. With a fee-based structure, the adviser has a direct (and overt) incentive to ensure that the investor’s account increases in value.

Client relationship model initiative enters second phase

The recent increase in the use of fee-based accounts correlates to a large extent to the implementation of the second phase of the “Client Relationship Model” (CRM), a regulatory initiative passed by the Canadian Securities Administrators in March 2012 The CRM affects both the Mutual Fund Dealers Association and the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada.

While the key objective of CRM1 was relationship disclosure and enhanced suitability, the key objective of CRM2 is to increase transparency/disclosure for investors with regard to fees paid, services received, potential conflicts of interest, and account performance. All of these mandatory disclosures are being phased in from 2014 to 2016.

In July 2014, CRM2 mandated pre-trade disclosure of all fees prior to an investor agreeing to buy or sell an investment. With a traditional transactional account, an adviser must disclose all of the fees a client is required to pay, such as any commissions for transactional accounts when buying or selling positions. However, many investors have complained about “hidden” and unexpected fees, especially with respect to mutual funds. With CRM2, all of these fees now have to be fully disclosed prior to the transaction.

This move to greater transparency is a major shift from certain types of transactions that had no disclosure requirements in the past. For example, an adviser used to be able to purchase a bond and embed their commission in the cost of the bond on the trade confirmation slip. Now, fixed income trades also require full disclosure. In other cases, even if there was disclosure in the legal sense of the word, understanding this disclosure required clients to read the fine print in lengthy prospectus documents. Similar CRM2-type regulations for full disclosure were implemented in Australia and the UK in 2013, requiring transparency regarding all fees. Not surprisingly, this resulted in a significant reduction in the number of financial advisers working in the industry in both countries. It’s possible that we could also see a reduction in the number of advisers here, once the new rules are fully implemented in Canada.

Fee-based accounts are already onside of the new rules, as transparency is embedded in their structure: The client has a discussion about fees with their adviser up front, and a fee-account agreement with full disclosure is then signed by both the investor and the adviser. 

Comprehensiveness

Another reason for the growth in popularity of the fee-based platform is the fact that many advisers now offer a comprehensive wealth offering, which includes both investment and planning-related services. This differs from the role of the stock broker of the past.

Clients have a variety of financial planning needs, primarily with regard to retirement and estate planning. Many advisers can offer detailed financial plans and provide access to experts in related areas, such as insurance, and will and estate planning. An adviser will often communicate with the client’s accountant and lawyer to ensure everyone is on the same page.

In a traditional transactional account where commissions are charged for every buy or sell, it has always been challenging for advisers to be compensated for additional services such as financial planning. Consequently, many transactional-based advisers simply would not offer these services to their clients.

Some unique benefits

Certain benefits are unique to fee-based accounts.

Rebalancing without additional cost

For example, this structure enables wealth advisers to rebalance portfolios as needed to reduce risk at no additional cost. Multiple types of rebalancing are important when managing risk. At the macro level, let’s assume a client’s optimal asset mix is 60% in equities and 40% in bonds. After a period of strong equity markets, the client’s equity percentage rises to 68%. Reducing equities by 8% and allocating this to fixed income is rebalancing at the macro level. At the micro level, there is an optimal position size for one holding. In this example, let’s assume the optimal position size is $24,000 for each company held in the portfolio. If one stock rises significantly above or below the optimal position size, then consideration for a rebalancing trade should occur.

Several trades could be required on an annual basis to rebalance a portfolio. With transactional accounts, the commissions for doing multiple small adjustments would likely be prohibitive. However, not doing the trades because of the commission payable in a transactional account means that you’re not managing risk as effectively.

The adviser’s ability to make tactical shifts in an account is another benefit of fee-based accounts. For example, there are times when investors benefit from moving in or out of USD-denominated holdings. Being able to make these changes when the currency is right should be done without concern for the trade’s commission cost. Being able to move between sectors based on current outlook can also be strategic, especially when transaction charges are not a factor (if a transaction charge is 2% to sell and 2% to buy, then the cost of any switch trade has to increase by 4% to break even).

Income splitting and “householding”

Fee-based accounts also offer couples and families one more opportunity for income splitting by setting up account-designated billing for their fees. For example, the higher income spouse can pay the fees for the lower income spouse. Let’s assume the lower income spouse has an RRSP and a TFSA. The higher income spouse can put funds into the lower income spouse’s account as a contribution of fees without attribution. In another example, a client with multiple fee-based investment accounts (i.e. one non-registered and five registered) can arrange to have all of the fees paid out of the non-registered account.

“Householding” is a term used in fee-based accounts to link accounts together for fee-billing purposes. As the total of the householded assets increases, the percentage fee for the adviser’s services decreases. Let’s say we have a middle-aged couple with $400,000 in investments. The couple has parents with $680,000 in investments, over which the couple has power of attorney. The couple also has a corporate account totalling $120,000 in investments. By householding, or combining all accounts under one agreement, the household value becomes $1,200,000, which results in lower overall fees for everyone.

Deducting investment council fees

Another benefit of a fee-based structure for non-registered accounts is the ability to deduct investment council fees as “carrying charges and interest expense.” Many investors are still not aware of these tax benefits. Anyone who has non-registered accounts would be well advised to read the Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) interpretation bulletin on this topic (IT-238R2). The investment council fees cannot be deducted for registered accounts, but there is the benefit of paying the fees for registered accounts from a non-registered account, especially for younger clients where registered accounts are deferred for many years.

Adviser-managed accounts

Over the last several years, adviser-managed accounts have been the fastest growing segment of the broad fee-based group. In this type of account, the adviser is licensed as a portfolio manager and able to use his or her discretion to execute trades.

In setting up the adviser-managed account, one of the criteria is that the account must be fee-based. The regulators have made it clear that a portfolio manager is not permitted to use discretion when it comes to commissions or transaction charges. One of the starting points to setting up a managed account is to get a clearly defined investment policy statement that sets out the relevant guidelines that will govern the management of the account. At this same time, a fee-based agreement is signed that clearly outlines the negotiated fee structure.

Shifting to a new model

As the financial services industry continues to change and evolve, so do the solutions being offered. There is now more flexibility and choice in how a wealth adviser and an investor can work together.

High-net-worth clients are looking for advisers who have the credentials and licensing to offer discretionary portfolio management. Within that context, there is also an expectation that financial planning and other related services will be part of the overall fee-based structure. The traditional model of solely doing stock trades for trading commissions is becoming an increasingly difficult business model to sustain.

Kevin Greenard is a portfolio manager and associate director of wealth management with ScotiaMcLeod, a division of Scotia Capital Inc. and ScotiaMcLeod Financial Services Inc.

Exploring the world of fixed income investments

The term fixed income can be confusing, especially when the financial industry has so many names for the same thing. For someone new to investing I typically draw a line down the middle of a page. On the left side of the page I label this “debt”, and on the right hand side I put “equity”. Debt is another term often associated with “fixed income”. In explaining what debt is I begin by using a simple example, a two year annual pay Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC). With a two year GIC you are giving your money to a company and in exchange you receive interest for the use of the capital. You receive your original capital back at the end of two years. You have no direct ownership in the company with debt.

The equity side of the page would have common shares, this is what most people would directly link to the stock exchange. Although some fixed income investments trade on a stock exchange, the majority of listed securities are equities. When the news is flashing details of the TSX/S&P Composite Index, the Dow, or the S&P 500 – these would all be equity indices reflected on the equity side.

Most people would agree that on the equity side of the page it would not be a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket. A prudent approach would be to diversify your equities by holdings various different stocks (i.e. between 20 and 30 different companies) in different sectors and geographies.

All too often I come across investment portfolios that have zero diversification on the fixed income side. As an example, it may be a person that has $500,000 or a million dollars all in GICs. In my opinion the best approach to fixed income is to have diversification – different types and different durations.

If we move back to the left hand side of the piece of paper, underneath debt we have already listed GICs. Let’s list a few other types of fixed income investments including: corporate bonds, government bonds, real return bonds, bond exchange traded funds, notes, coupons, preferred shares, debentures, bond mutual funds, etc.. Over the last decade there has been a huge growth in non-domestic bonds for retail investors. Perhaps one area that is often underutilized by many Canadians is the use of international bonds. Bonds are available in different developed countries. Advisors are able to purchase direct foreign bonds in developed countries and emerging markets. The emerging market bond space has opened up many different opportunities. With certain structured bond investments, these can be hedged to the Canadian dollar or not hedged (you are exposed to the currency risk).

Within each of the above main categories there are sub-categories. As an example, with bond ETFs one could purchase numerous different types, including: floating rate, short duration (example: one to five years), long duration, all corporate, all government, high yield, US bonds, etc.

Another example of subcategories can be explained using preferred shares as an example. Preferred Shares are generally classified as “fixed income” even though they pay dividend income (similar to common shares that are on the equity side of the page). For clients who have non-registered funds, a portion of your fixed income in preferred shares can be more tax efficient than interest paying investments. The main types of preferred shares are retractable, fixed-reset, floating rate, perpetual, and split. All have unique features that an advisor can explain to you.

When equity markets perform well it is natural that they become overweight in a portfolio. We encourage clients to periodically rebalance to their preferred asset mix. In good equity markets this involves selling some of the growth in equities and purchasing fixed income investments. When equity markets are declining, the process of rebalancing could result in selling fixed income and purchasing equities at lower levels.

The idea of adding “fixed income” is not that exciting in this low interest rate environment, especially when many “equity” investments have yields that exceed investment grade short duration bonds. Opportunities still exist in fixed income for reasonable yields, especially when you explore different types of fixed income. One always has to assess the risks they are comfortable with. As an example, I ask clients what they feel is the greater risk, stock market risk or interest rate risk. By stock market risk, I define this as the risk that the equity markets will have a correction or pull back (say, 10% or greater). By interest rate risk, I mean that interest rates will jump up materially and do so quickly (in a short period of time).

Every model portfolio I manage has fixed income. This is the capital preservation and income side to a portfolio. The percentage in fixed income really comes down to a clients risk tolerance and investment objectives. Time horizon and the ability to save additional capital is also a key component in determining the allocation to fixed income. It is important to first determine the right amount to allocate to fixed income, and second, to diversify it to enhance liquidity and overall returns.

Kevin Greenard CA FMA CFP CIM is a Portfolio Manager with The Greenard Group at ScotiaMcLeod in Victoria. His column appears every second week in the TC. Call 250-389-2138.

 

Behind the scenes with trade execution

If we define every transaction in an account as a trade then we can start a conversation about the basics of trade execution.

Some people may believe that trading is executed through a primary stock market. If we keep this article specific about Canada, the primary exchanges are Toronto Stock Exchange and the TSX Venture Exchange (for small and medium sized companies). Both of these exchanges have trading hours between 9:30 am and 4:00 pm eastern time, Monday to Friday, with the exception of certain holidays. In British Columbia, this means the primary exchanges close at 1:00 pm.

Over the last decade new marketplaces have emerged in Canada, these have been referred to as Alternative Trading Systems (or ATS). These systems at first grew in popularity because brokers were able to avoid paying the exchange trading fee. Also, an ATS may have different hours of operations than the primary exchanges. The Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC) regulates the above noted primary exchanges and the following ATSs: Canadian Securities Exchange, Alpha Exchange, Bloomberg Tradebook, Chi-X Canada, CX2 Canada ATS, Instinet Canada Cross Limited, Liquidnet Canada Inc., Lynx ATS, MATCH Now, Omega ATS, and TMX Select.

When an advisor enters an order it may be executed on the primary exchanges, an ATS, or a combination of both. The main factors effecting where the trade is ultimately filled is best available price, historical liquidity, and likelihood of execution. If a Canadian trade is executed on just one exchange then your confirmation slip would have a message something like “AS AGENTS, WE TODAY CONFIRM THE FOLLOWING BUY/SALE FOR YOUR ACCOUNT ON THE TORONTO STOCK EXCHANGE/CANADIAN VENTURE EXCHANGE/ALPHA/OMEGA/ etc.” If the Canadian security transaction was executed by a combination of exchanges/ATS then the message on the confirmation slip would reflect this by stating something like “AS AGENTS, WE TODAY CONFIRM THE FOLLOWING BUY/SALE FOR YOUR ACCOUNT ON ONE OR MORE MARKETPLACES OR MARKETS. AVERAGE PRICE SHOWN. DETAILS AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST“.

For example, a client wants to sell 2,500 of ABC Company at market after watching BNN and seeing the the price per share at $15.59. If all the shares were sold and executed at this price, the proceeds would be $38,975. The actual value once we enter the order is almost always different. The reason for this is both depth of quote and dark liquidity.

Depth of quote is when we can see the quantity of shares available and the current bid and ask at each price level. Prior to the above trade execution I outlined the depth of quote with my client (see table below). Advisors assisting retail clients typically have what is called Level II quotes where they can see both bid and ask at different price levels – I refer to this transparent part of the market as the “lit” system. Using the above example of a client wanting to sell 2,500 shares of ABC Company at market, the beginning few lines of the bid side of a depth of quote/level II would provide the following information:

Depth of Quote/Level II

Orders          Size           Bid

14                       700            $15.57

22                     1,600           $15.54

  9                     4,200           $15.50

  3                      9,000           $15.40

15                    10,000           $15.37

Orders represent the number of limit orders entered on the lit system. It is possible for the same client to enter multiple limit orders. Size is the number of shares available at the bid price on the lit system.

Using the above Level II table, 700 shares would be sold (also referred to as filled) at $15.57, 1,600 filled at $15.54, and 200 filled at $15.50. An Advisor could communicate to the client what is visible on the lit system and that the total estimated proceeds would equal $38,863. It is possible that once the sell button is pressed that the actual trade is executed at a higher price as a result of dark liquidity (also referred to as dark pools).

Dark liquidity is a term that relates to traders being able to enter orders without providing the above transparency to other market participants. Effectively, the trades are not transparent or lit; thus the term dark pool came about because the orders can not be seen. Retail clients and advisors typically do not have direct access to entering trades with dark liquidity. Most financial firms have traders that assist Portfolio Managers, Wealth Advisors and institutional clients with larger trades.

Traders can use dark pools on both the primary exchanges and ATS. Dark pool trades in Canada are nearly all limit orders, and are typically done for institutions executing large trades. Using the above table, if an advisor entered an order to sell 100,000 shares at market, the price would immediately get driven down to as low as $15.00 (assuming no dark pool orders to buy). The benefit of dark liquidity for institutions is that they do not have to “show their cards” before they are played. In other words, an institution may want to sell 100,000 shares of ABC Company with a limit price of $15.57. A trader could work the order with acquiring smaller fills without creating big swings in the price of the security. The trader could enter a limit order putting 20,000 shares on the lit system so it shows on level II, enter 50,000 in a dark pool at the same price so it is not displayed, and hold off entering the remaining 30,000 in order to continue to work the order.

Wealth Advisors must verbally confirm each trade with clients and then execute the trade right after they obtain confirmation. With frequent small trades at different points in time, dark pool trades are not generally used in Canada at the retail level. In the US, dark pools are much more common, even for smaller sized trades. Some individual clients may have large holdings in a particular security and the traders are available to assist. Portfolio Managers on the other hand often execute large block trades (combining all the shares for all clients) on a discretionary basis. Once a quantity of shares to buy or sell is determined the Portfolio Manager is often in direct communication with the traders.  Together they can choose to use dark pools, or not.

Dark liquidity is still relatively small in Canada when compared to the United States. Earlier this year, the US Securities and Exchange Commission noted that around 40 per cent of all U.S. stock trades avoid the exchanges. The increase in dark pool transactions make it more challenging to determine the true liquidity and price transparency of a security. Market makers assist in the lit market but are non-existent in the dark pool. The Canadian Securities Administrator and IIROC have already implemented a few rules with respect to dark liquidity and I would suspect that further rules will be unveiled in the future.

 

Kevin Greenard CA FMA CFP CIM is a Portfolio Manager with The Greenard Group at ScotiaMcLeod in Victoria. His column appears every second week in the TC. Call 250-389-2138.

 

A proactive advisor can cut your taxes

Clients are often unaware of investment alternatives, credits, loss-recovery options

I ask every new client to sign a Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) form T1013 – Authorizing or Cancelling a Representative. This authorizes CRA to release tax related information to me, referred to as a “representative.” It is an invaluable tax tool to proactively help clients.

Canada Revenue Agency’s website (cra-arc.gc.ca) is a great resource for general information.   On this website, representatives can access their client’s tax information. When I have clients sign the T1013, I request Level 1 authorization which enables me to view information only. There is no ability to make changes. The most obvious benefit for clients in signing the T1013 is that they no longer have to bring in a copy of their annual tax returns and applicable notices of assessments. This information is available online. I use it for a variety of purposes, primarily to give proactive advice to save tax dollars. Here are a few situations clients have encountered to which I was able to provide solutions as a result of having the T1013 on file.

Situation 1: In examining Mr. Red’s tax return, we noted he had to pay $456 in interest and penalties to CRA for not making his quarterly instalments on time.

Solution: We brought this to Mr. Red’s attention and provided automatic solutions that could help him. The first was that we could begin withholding tax on his RRIF payments. The second was that we could contact Service Canada and request that withholding tax be taken on CPP and/or OAS payments. A manual option was that we could make his quarterly instalment payments to CRA for him directly from his non-registered investment account.

Situation 2:   Mrs. Brown is a new client who transferred in a non-registered investment account. During our initial conversations, she said she prepares her own tax return. My evaluation of her past returns showed there was no carry-forward information for realized gains or losses on her investments. I confirmed that she had sold many investments over the years, but had not recorded these on her tax return.  

Solution: I explained that all dispositions in a taxable account must be manually reported on Schedule 3 (no tax slip is issued for this). We assisted her in obtaining previous annual trading summaries to calculate the numbers needed to adjust her previous tax returns.

Situation 3: Mr. Black has been contributing to his RRSP for many years. In the last year, his income dropped substantially and he was comfortably in the first marginal tax bracket. Mr. Black said he projected that his income would continue at the current level or decline as he approaches retirement.              

Solution: It no longer made sense for Mr. Black to continue to contribute to his RRSP account. His savings should be directed to a Tax Free Savings Account.

Situation 4: Mr. Orange received penalties for over-contributing to his TFSA accounts. In our first meeting, he explained that he had several TFSA accounts and had lost track of his withdrawals and contributions.

Solution: We outlined the rules with respect to TFSA accounts and any replenishment for a previous withdrawal must occur in the next calendar year. I also had him sign the T1013 form. I printed out all of his TFSA contributions and withdrawals from the online service. I recommended that he consolidate his TFSA accounts. I also provided copies of the CRA reports, including a report which shows his current year contribution limit.

Situation 5: Mrs. Yellow has been a long time client whose health has deteriorated over the years. In reviewing her tax returns, I noted that he was not claiming the disability tax credit.

Solution: I provided her with a copy of the Disability Tax Credit form T2201. I advised her to bring this to her doctor to have the form signed and submitted. A few months later, Mrs. Yellow received a letter back from CRA with their approval for her application. They also approved backdating her eligibility to 2009. In assisting Mrs. Yellow and her accountant with the T1-Adjustment form, we projected that she would receive a tax refund of $12,490. From now on, Mrs. Yellow will be able to claim the disability tax credit every year, resulting in significant tax savings.

Situation 6: Mr. White has, in the last few years, completed his own tax return using Turbo Tax. He has correctly reported the taxable capital gains on line 127 of his tax return during this period. Unfortunately, Mr. White did not initially key in his loss carry-forward information. Many years ago, Mr. White had a significant net capital loss on a real estate investment, and was not aware that he could apply his net capital losses to reduce his taxable capital gains on the stock sells.  

Solution:   I arranged a meeting with Mr. White and explained to him the importance of keying in the carry-forward amounts when starting to use Turbo Tax. I also showed him how he can use a T1-Adj form to request CRA change line 253 – Net capital losses of other years. Mr. White had to submit four T1-Adj for each year he missed applying his net capital losses. Combined Mr. White received a refund of $47,024 after all reassessments.

Situation 7: Mrs. Green has recently transferred her investments to us. We noted a few investments with significant losses that she has held in her account for many years.   There is little hope that these investments will recover in value. In reviewing Mrs. Green’s online account with CRA, I looked up all of her previously reported taxable capital gains and net capital losses. In this analysis, I noted she had substantial taxable capital gains three years ago that brought her income into the top marginal tax bracket.   Net capital losses can only be carried back up to three years. Mrs. Green was unaware net capital losses could only be carried back up to three years.

Solution: I recommended that Mrs. Green sell most of her investments that were in an unrealized loss situation. By selling these she triggered the tax situation and created the net capital loss. I printed off the T1A – Request for Loss Carryback form and explained to Mrs. Green how the form works. Mrs. Green was able to recover $29,842 after CRA carried the loss back and reassessed her tax return from three year ago.

Situation 8: Mr. Blue had stopped working at the age of 62, but his spouse was continuing to work a few more years. In looking at his CRA online reports, I noted he was collecting CPP and that this represented most of his income, which was below the basic exemption.  He had not thought about taking money out of his RRSP early as Mrs. Blue was continuing to work and they had enough money flowing in from her income and in the bank to take care of the bills. Mr. Blue had a sizeable RRSP account and Mrs. Blue will have a good pension when she retires that can be shared.

Solution: I explained to Mr. Blue that when he starts collecting OAS, pension splitting with his spouse, and having to withdrawal from his RRIF that his taxable income will increase significantly. We recommended that he convert a portion of his RRSP to a RRIF and begin taking income out on an annual basis immediately. We mapped out a plan to keep his taxable income around $35,000. With these early withdrawals, our projections would keep both Mr. and Mrs. Blue in the top end of the first marginal tax brackets throughout retirement.

Situation 9:   Mrs. Purple is extremely busy with work and has a great income. It is definitely advisable for Mrs. Purple to maximize her contributions to her Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP). Unfortunately, Mrs. Purple never seems to find the time to photo copy her notice of assessment and provide this to her advisor. She was frustrated that last year, she missed contributing to her RRSP because her advisor did not phone.

Solution:   When Mrs. Purple came to see me I explained the benefits of the T1013 form. One of the main benefits is that I can go on-line and instantly obtain her RRSP contribution limits and unused portions for the current year.   I proactively contact each applicable client and advise them of their limits and recommended contribution level based on projections of current and future income levels.

Financial tips for blended families

Opening the communication channels is key when helping couples in blended family situations.   This communication should absolutely start on Day 1 for blended families, and should be part of the account opening process. A good advisor will ask probing questions beyond the checklist of mandatory questions to first open an account.  

With new blended families, it is not always easy to have open communication with both parties. Often, they have different advisors and different financial institutions.   If this is the case, then it is common for the couple to maintain the status quo with their separate finances.   I always encourage couples in blended families to come in together, even when they are maintaining separate finances. Once this happens, and once there is open discussion and communication, then progress can be made on a variety of financial decisions.

Often there is a disparity between the value of assets, or net worth, of each party. Rarely are the assets equal. One party may have more equity in real estate, while the other has more stock and bond investments.  

Making objective financial decisions can be challenged by the simple notion that “blood is thicker than water.”   For example, many parents want to provide for their children from a previous marriage. However, this can conflict with the many tax benefits provided for married or common-law relationships. This conflict is especially challenging when it comes to estate planning. Below I have listed a few common assets and basic challenges couples in blended families may face.

Non-Registered Account:  The term taxable account or non-registered can be used inter-changeably. Often young people do not have non-registered accounts as they are busy paying off mortgages and/or contributing to their registered accounts, such as RRSPs.   Older couples with adult children are more likely to have taxable accounts when they enter a blended family.   When a person has non-registered investments just in their name, this is called an Individual Account.   The monthly statements and confirmation slips have just the one person’s name on it, and the year-end tax slips (i.e. T5 and T3 slips) are in same one individual’s name.  

Couples in a first marriage, and who have built up equity together, will open up a taxable account called Joint With Right of Survivorship (JTWROS). This type of account has many benefits for couples, including income-splitting. The primary benefits of these joint accounts are probate is avoided, income tax continues to be deferred, such as for unrealized capital gains, and simplicity of paperwork after the first spouse passes away.  

Some couples have two JTRWOS with each person being primary on their own respective account. By primary I mean their name is first on the account and their social insurance number is on all tax slips. This enables couples to still keep funds separate, but it will still provide the same above benefits.

Tenants in Common:  Another option for taxable accounts is Tenants In Common. With Tenants in Common a taxable account is set up with two or more owners, where the ownership percentages do not have to be equal. Upon the passing of any owner, their portion represents part of their estate, and the other owners do not have the right of survivorship.   Many of the benefits of JTWROS are lost with Tenants In Common, but for some couples this may be the right decision. A couple that would like to combine their assets to pay household bills, could simply allocate the ownership based on the amount originally contributed. If Spouse ”A” puts in $300,000, and Spouse “B” puts in $700,000 then the allocation for ownership could be 30 per cent for Spouse A and 70 per cent for Spouse B.   If either spouse passes away, their Will would dictate how their proportionate share is divided.  

Registered Accounts:  The two most common types of registered accounts are Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSP) and Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSA). RRSP and TFSA accounts can only be in one person’s name.  

However, with both of these types of accounts you are able to name a beneficiary. With couples in a first marriage and building equity together, your spouse is likely always named the beneficiary on registered accounts.   At the time of death, Canada Revenue Agency allows the owner of an RRSP (called an annuitant) to transfer their RRSP to their surviving spouse or common-law partner, on a tax-deferred basis. If there are financially dependent children because of physical or mental impairments, then it also may be possible to transfer the annuitant’s RRSP on a tax-deferred basis. Outside of these two situations, the annuitant’s RRSP is fully taxable in the year of death.

A person who has a spouse, and chooses to name an adult child the beneficiary should understand the tax consequences. If you name your spouse the beneficiary, your spouse receives 100 per cent of the value until the funds are pulled out gradually (taxed when taken out). If you name someone other than a spouse, the funds are deemed taxable in one large lump sum, so the marginal tax bracket of 45.8 per cent could easily be reached. Many people would cringe if they could see the amount of tax paid to CRA from RRSP accounts resulting from a lack of planning.  

Although the TFSA has no immediate tax issues on death, there are still some benefits to naming your spouse or common-law partner the beneficiary.   As an example, let’s look at a blended family with Spouses C and D. Spouse C has $48,000 in a TFSA and Spouse D Has $52,000.

Spouse C has the option of naming the Estate the beneficiary, naming Spouse D the beneficiary, or naming another individual such as a child or children from a previous marriage. If Spouse C names the Estate the beneficiary, then the account would likely have to be probated to validate the Will. The Will would provide us direction as to who the beneficiary of the TFSA will be. If Spouse C named Spouse D the beneficiary, then we can roll over the entire $48,000 into Spouse D’s TFSA account (without using contribution room). After the roll over, Spouse D would have a TFSA valued at $100,000 – all of which is fully tax sheltered. The roll over can be done once we receive a copy of the death certificate – and no probate is required for the transfer of assets. The only time individuals are permitted to put more into their TFSA accounts, other than their standard annual limits and replenishing amounts withdrawn in an earlier year, is when their spouse or common–law partner passes away and they are named the beneficiary.

If Spouse C named the children from the first marriage the beneficiary, then Spouse D does not get the additional room and the children could receive the funds but would not be able to roll this amount into their own respective TFSA accounts without using their available room.  

While there are many solutions available for blended families, it is important to talk about these options and then document the plan.   Gathering all the information and creating a plan that both parties are content with can take some time. A plan should include all standard types of assets such as personal residence and vehicles, as well as liabilities. One of my most rewarding moments as a Portfolio Manager is assisting my clients with their plan. A plan ultimately provides peace of mind for clients in what is often viewed as a complex situation that was either too sensitive to talk about or simply not addressed.

Tax tips for Americans in Canada

Recommendation No. 1: Seek advice on reporting requirements

Most countries, including Canada, do not tax on the basis of citizenship. For example, Canadian citizens who live in Canada pay tax in Canada on the taxable income they earn. If a Canadian citizen moved abroad a few years ago, with no continued ties to Canada, it is most likely this individual would be considered “non-resident” and would have no tax reporting obligation to Canada. In other words, Canadians are taxed based on residency.

The U.S. tax system is different as it treats all U.S. citizens as U.S. residents for tax purposes, no matter where they live in the world, including Canada. Many U.S. citizens live in Canada and are resident here. A U.S. citizen has to pay tax in Canada on taxable income if they are resident for Canadian tax purposes.   Canada and the U.S. have entered into various agreements (i.e. tax treaties) to address taxation differences and to largely avoid double taxation.  

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the U.S. has been trying to crack down on American taxpayers using financial accounts held outside of the U.S. to evade taxes. For example, the U.S. introduced the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), signed into law on March 2010, with the objective of identifying taxpayers evading taxes. To do that required co-operation from other countries to provide information.  

The U.S. effectively told Canada that if it did not comply, then all income from U.S. investments would be subject to a 30 per cent withholding tax. This threat of withholding was for both registered and non-registered investment accounts.

Previously, Canada was not required to withhold any tax on U.S. investments held in registered accounts. For non-registered accounts, the negotiated tax treaty had withholding rates on U.S. dividends at 15 per cent and nil for US interest income.

Earlier this year, Canada and the U.S. signed an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) regarding FATCA, in which Canada agreed to pass laws requiring that, primarily through financial institutions, that annual reports be made to the Canada Revenue Agency on specified accounts held in Canada by U.S. persons. The agreement brings Canada, via the CRA, into a reporting agreement to satisfy FACTA.

Under the agreement, the U.S. has agreed not to apply the 30 per cent withholding tax on registered accounts, such as RRSPs, TFSAs and RESPs, and to maintain the existing withholding rates for non-registered accounts.

Effective July 1, 2014, an amendment to the Canada Income Tax Act adopting Canadian tax regulations related to FATCA.   Also beginning in July 2014, financial institutions have new requirements to report to the CRA, not the IRS. Clients of financial institutions will be required to complete additional mandatory questions for all non-registered accounts. New account-opening forms will require you to state if they are a citizens of Canada, and if they are a citizen of the U.S. Another question is, “Are you a U.S. Person (Entity) for tax purposes?” Certain legal entities must answer a new classification question relating to active or passive entity.

For the purposes of FATCA, here are some examples of who is deemed a U.S. Person (Entity):

  • U.S. citizens, include persons with dual citizenship, U.S. residency,
  • Any person who meets the IRS “Substantial Presence Test of U.S. Residency,”
  • U.S. resident aliens (Green Card holders who do not have U.S. citizenship),
  • Persons born in the U.S. or who hold a U.S. Social Security Number (SSN) or U.S. Tax Identification Number (TIN) or a U.S. Place of incorporation or registration

Financial firms have a mandatory obligation to provide this information to CRA. CRA will begin sharing relevant information pertaining to the agreement with the IRS starting in 2015.

For the majority of Canadians, this is a non-issue. For the approximately one to two million people in Canada that would be deemed a U.S. Person (Entity), it reinforces the need to have all of your tax filings up to date with both the IRS and CRA.

Sharing information electronically between CRA and the IRS will enable the IRS to obtain information on U.S. Persons (Entities) that have not fulfilled their reporting obligations.

Other indicators must also be reviewed, including U.S. address (residence, mailing, in-care-of, or interested party), U.S. telephone number, standing instructions to transfer funds to an account held by the client in the U.S., a power of attorney or signatory authority granted to a person with a U.S. address.

Many snowbirds have asked me what their requirements are under FATCA. Reviewing the “Substantial Presence Test of US Residency” on the IRS website is a good starting point. A wealth advisor should have enough knowledge about FATCA to make sure your accounts are documented correctly and that they are asking you the right questions.

I recommend every client who is not sure if they have a reporting obligation to consult with an independent tax advisor to determine if they are a U.S. person for tax purposes. It is important that the accountant you approach has knowledge in these areas to be able to provide you appropriate advice.

Effective July 1, 2014, financial institutions are required by law to report annually to CRA on accounts where a client is unwilling or unable to provide documentation for FATCA, one of more U.S. owners are specified ”U.S. Persons,” undocumented account holders for FATCA purposes, and passive entity with one or more controlling persons that are specified “U.S. Persons.” The information that must be sent to CRA includes name, address, TIN/SIN and total account value.

If you are not sure if you have a reporting obligation, we encourage you to speak with your wealth advisor who should be able to communicate with your independent tax professional, and together ensure your financial accounts are documented correctly and you are fulfilling your reporting requirement, if any.  

This article is intended as a general source of information and should not be considered as personal investment, tax or pension advice. We are not tax advisors and we recommend that individuals consult with their professional tax advisor before taking any action based upon the information found in this publication.

Emails – the good, the bad, and the fraud

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission ­ or CRTC ­ has the authority to administer the Telecommunications Act, including the National Do Not Call List (DNCL). Effective July 1, 2014, Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) will also be administered by the CRTC.  The DNCL and CASL are intended to protect the public from unwanted communications, including annoying phone calls and unwanted SPAM. 

People have to be extremely careful when they receive unsolicited phone calls and emails.  In this age of technology, automatic dialing machines and blanket emails can hit large populations quickly.  Caution should always be exercised when you are asked to provide any personal information. 

Unless you know for certain that the phone call or email is legitimate, you are best not to respond.  If the unexpected email or phone call is of a financial matter, we recommend that you hang up and phone your financial advisor.  Your advisor should be able to assist you after you provide the details of the phone call or email.    

In talking with clients, I explain to them that we put measures in place to protect their capital from fraud. We will not accept trading instructions over email or fax, and we will never carry through with a money transfer request without first confirming with our client either in person or on the phone.  Our team knows to be especially careful if we receive rushed explanations, or explanations that are out of the ordinary.  Extreme caution is necessary for any payments to third parties or to overseas bank accounts. 

While the Do Not Call List deals with unwanted phone calls, the Anti-Spam Legislation deals with Commercial Electronic Messages (CEM). The majority of financial advisors utilize email, or rather CEMs, as a means to distribute timely information quickly and efficiently.   CEM is not just marketing emails. 

For example, a financial advisor may be sending periodic emails with timely economic and market commentary, recent financial news, and investing and wealth management strategies.  Sending out event and meeting invitations electronically also falls under CEM.

Government statistics state that over 80 per cent of emails are considered SPAM.  CASL casts a very large net.  The concern is that the rules could prevent businesses from sending you legitimate emails.    The intention of the legislation is to eliminate the huge number of spam emails, not the legitimate ones.  Businesses should also know that the intention of the CRTC is to prevent businesses and organizations from sending email to people who have not consented to receive it.    

What will happen to the approximately 20 per cent of legitimate emails that you were receiving before July 1, 2014?   Will the anti-spam law’s large net prevent you from receiving emails that have relevant and timely information? 

A couple of smart solutions exist to ensure you continue to receive the good emails.  Businesses are still able to send you a CEM provided they have “consent.”  Consent is best understood by looking at two terms, “express consent” or “implied consent.”

“Express consent” is obtained when a business asks for your permission to continue sending CEM and you provide consent (i.e. you say “yes” or click accept on an email).  Many businesses have already created electronic marketing systems to keep track of those individuals who have provided “express consent”.  Some businesses are proactively sending CEM messages before July 1, 2014 requesting that you confirm continued receipt of CEM.  In asking for permission, the distributor of CEM must explain the reasons why they are asking for consent and provide the following information:  name, address, telephone number, and website.  The sender of the CEM must provide you the ability to unsubscribe from any future email communications if you so wish.  

“Implied consent” is best understood from looking at certain actions.  If an individual business owner receives an incoming email requesting information, then the business owner has implied consent and can respond to that email.  One incoming email does not provide ongoing “express consent.”  If the person who initially emailed a business does not reply to the business’s response email, the email chain ends and so does consent. 

Another example:  If a business relationship is already established in the previous two years, then “implied consent” exists.  Similar to the Do Not Call List, the anti-spam law also has exceptions to the general rules adding to the complexity, including exemptions for family, friends, and certain third-party referrals. 

In addition, when the new CASL rules come into effect, all CEMs must contain an unsubscribe feature so that people have the option to retract their express or implied consent, if they wish at a later date.

If you are concerned that you may not continue to receive some of your legitimate emails after June 30, 2014, then we recommend you contact the respective individuals or businesses to determine how they are managing “consent”.  You can respond “yes” to those businesses which have sent you an email requesting consent.  Another alternative is to proactively send the individual or business an email, such as, “I give you my consent to continue to send me emails to the following email address: jack.jones@email.com.  I reserve the right to unsubscribe at a later date.” 

Financial advisors and companies are taking this very seriously.  The CRTC may impose hefty fines on individuals and businesses violating the Do Not Call List and new anti-spam rules.    If a person breaks the Do Not Call List rules, the penalty could be $1,500 per violation, and up to $15,000 for businesses.  The fine for violating anti-spam law for individuals is as much as $1 million per occurrence.  Businesses breaking the anti-spam rules could be fined up to $10 million per occurrence. 

Investments for retirement income key

Fewer Canadians can count on large defined-benefit pensions or fat nest eggs 

The Investment Industry Association of Canada (IIAC) issued a report on March 18, 2014 titled “Canada’s Investment Industry:  Protecting Senior Investors.”  The report noted the challenge of defining who is a senior.  Rather than picking a specific age, the IIAC used the term “senior investor” to include people who have retired or are nearing retirement.  The report also noted that there is only a limited number of Canadians who are not concerned about investment performance.  As time goes on, fewer Canadians will be able to retire with a large defined benefit pension plan or significant financial assets. 

Most Canadians who are retired, or are approaching retirement today, need to appropriately manage their investments.  Investment performance is composed of two parts, the changes in the value of the investments and also the income stream.  More and more people are looking for investments that generate an income.

The 2011 Census noted that almost 15 per cent of the population was 65 or older.  The first wave of baby boomers, born between 1947 and 1966, began hitting 65 in 2012.  The report noted that demographic studies indicate that one in four Canadians will be 65 or older by the year 2036.  

Seniors are living longer in retirement than ever before.  If a client retires at age 60 and lives to age 90 then their retirement time horizon is thirty years.  For most retired clients, it is a daunting task to try to map out an investment strategy to last the remainder of their lifetime.  Most seniors want to retire and not get bogged down by looking at their investments all the time. 

I have a few suggestions for seniors approaching retirement or those already retired.  First, find a qualified financial advisor who you feel has experience, but also one that you can work with for a reasonable period of time.  Together you can work on the suggestions below. 

The first step I take with new clients is ensuring that I understand their complete financial situation.   I suggest that a net-worth statement be prepared, listing all of your assets and liabilities.  The more detail you can provide, the better.  As an example, if you have certain assets listed, adding in the original cost of those assets helps an advisor map out the tax component for any future dispositions.   If you have a previously prepared financial plan, this is an excellent document to provide to your advisor.  Often, I see people bring in their previous financial plan, it is not so much a financial plan as a simple illustration or concept. 

A very important step is the preparation of a budget.  The best budgets are those that are prepared on a monthly basis.  Listing all of your incomes (i.e. Old Age Security, Canada Pension Plan, etc.) and all of your expenses will give you an idea of the monthly excess or shortfall.         

It is at this stage that an advisor can be invaluable for mapping out and explaining the various options.  Many seniors are looking for income.  In years past, income was closely associated with fixed-income investments (i.e. bonds, GICs).  As interest rates have declined, so has the income level for seniors relying on traditional fixed-income options.  It is still possible to create a good income portfolio but this often involves looking beyond traditional fixed income, at least for a portion of the investments. 

An advisor should be able to map out the various types of investments that pay income.  With each type of investment your advisor can explain the tax characteristics of the payments, frequency of payments, and risks. 

Creating a diversified income flow often involves using a variety of investments.  An income investor could have GICs, corporate bonds, debentures, bond ETFs, preferred shares, blue chip common shares, etc.  Many forms of income are tax efficient, including both preferred and common stocks that generate dividend income.  Many preferred and common shares have dividend yields that are higher than GICs and investment grade bonds.

There is no low risk option that generates high income. I frequently explain to clients that you can enhance your potential return by taking a little risk; however, the element of risk still exists.  Knowing that risk also exists in fixed income, and that life expectancies are longer, many seniors have opted to adjust their asset mix to include other investment opportunities that generate income within their portfolio. 

Historically, a senior could take a very passive fixed-income approach in retirement.  Today, seniors have to be more involved in their investments.  It is important for seniors to work with a financial advisor to design a portfolio that matches their risk tolerance and investment objectives, such as income and capital preservation.

Research ETFs before you buy

Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) have become one of the fastest-growing areas of the financial market.   “Index Shares” is another similar term and many advisors use these terms inter-changeably.  Investors can participate in a broad variety of investment opportunities using ETFs. 

The original ETFs differed from traditional actively managed mutual funds as these are passive products.  For example, an investor could purchase an ETF of a well-known index such as the S&P 500 which holds the largest 500 U.S. public issuers. 

As their popularity has grown, so has the number of ETFs being created.  Some companies are creating a hybrid product with relatively low fees and some active management.  The water is getting a little murkier as new features are being added to these new products, so I caution investors to understand before they buy.

One reason for the growth in ETFs is the relatively low cost and transparency of the fees.  Investors do not want to be burdened with the cost of high fees, especially if these are hidden or embedded.   The management fee for the S&P 500 is 0.14 per cent through iShares by BlackRock (TSX symbol: XUS), and 0.15 per cent through Vanguard (TSX symbol: VFV).  These are just two symbols that track this common Index.  Other ETF examples trade directly on US exchanges and some that are currency hedged.  You should have full understanding of the tax component, risks and features before purchasing.

The annual cost of an actively managed mutual fund is significantly more than an ETF.  Mutual funds have a Management Expense Ratio (MER) that is embedded.  New regulations and rules are coming soon that will require full disclosure of all fees.  Trading costs are in addition to the normally published MER.  A passive ETF would have very little trading.  Like all services, fees are really only an issue in the absence of value. If an actively managed mutual fund is consistently performing better than an ETF, then the MER and trading costs may be fully warranted.

Some advisors may not recommend ETFs for a few different reasons.  It could be that an advisor only has a mutual fund licence and they are not permitted to discuss or provide ETFs as an option.  Mutual funds can be sold on a no-load, front-end (initial service charge) or a back-end (deferred service charge) basis. We recommend that investors ask their advisor what the initial commissions are, the ongoing trailing commissions, and the cost to sell the mutual fund investment.  Understanding the total cost of choosing an investment option should be done prior to purchase.

ETFs are very much an option that can complement a fee-based account.  Both cost structures are low and provide complete transparency.  ETFs are listed, and trade, on exchanges similar to stocks.  For transactional accounts, there is a cost to purchase an ETF, and a cost to sell them.  For fee-based accounts, there are no transaction costs to purchase or sell an ETF, however, the market value of the amount purchased would be factored into calculating your fees.

When a new client transfers in investments traded on an exchange, it is always easy to make changes.  Investors who have purchased proprietary mutual funds or mutual funds purchased on a low load or deferred sales charge may have fewer options.  In most cases, proprietary funds cannot be transferred in-kind and a redemption charge may apply to transfer in cash.  For example, say Jack Jones has $846,000 in a basket of mutual funds in his corporate investment account.  Jack is paying 2.37 per cent (or $20,050) annually in MERs to own his mutual funds.  I mapped out a lower-cost option for Jack that would decrease his cost of investing, to one per cent ($8,460).  The approach to investing involves a fee-based account with a combination of direct holdings and ETFs.  Annually, Jack would save $11,590 and have full transparency and liquidity.

ETFs can be used strategically to obtain exposure to various types of asset classes, sectors, and geographies.   Although the cost is lower, they are not immune to declines when markets get shaky.  An advisor can design a portfolio of positions that are lower risk then the market.  This is tougher to achieve with off-the-shelf  ETFs. 

Although the traditional ETF is a passive approach, we still feel that an advisor can provide advice with respect to the active selection of the ETF, tax differences, hedging options and more.   To illustrate using bond/fixed income ETFs, an investor could choose amongst many different types depending on the current environment (i.e. interest rate outlook, current economic conditions). 

An advisor can provide guidance on whether to underweight or overweight government bonds or corporate bonds and provide guidance on whether you have a short term, long term, or laddered bond strategy.  Based on your risk tolerance, should you stick to investment grade bonds or seek out greater returns with high yield bonds.  An advisor can explain some of the more complex fixed income ETFs including those holding real return bonds, floating bonds, or emerging market bonds.   An advisor can provide recommendations with respect to actively switching between these passive ETFs.