Online access and paperless options becoming more mainstream

Computers, phones and tablets have all become mainstream in today’s modern households. The thirst for current knowledge in a busy mobile world has never been greater. More than ten years ago, businesses began introducing new online options for clients to get financial information. Although some were slow to adopt this technology change, most clients today desire to have online access to both their bank and investment accounts.

The term online access has caused some confusion, especially when financial firms have both online access through a website (the web) and login access through an application (the app) for a tablet and smart phone. What you can access and do on both of these online platforms are different. We recommend that clients create an account and get comfortable with both to obtain all available information on their accounts. I think the hesitation early on was due to peoples’ comfort level in regard to technology and security issues.

There are many benefits to setting up online access. One of the main reasons people like online access is the ability to set up “paperless” options. With most financial firms, this is done through the website version. Going paperless is an optional choice, or an added benefit, that clients have once they have online access on the web. Let us look at some of the benefits of online access and paperless delivery.

Security

I mentioned that some people may be hesitant to go online for security reasons. Financial firms have spent enormous capital to ensure appropriate security is available for their clients. Some people could easily argue that with mail delivery being a manual process that the arrival of your mail at your home is not 100 per cent guaranteed. When you receive other people’s mail you may wonder if anyone has received yours. Many people feel that it is more secure to go paperless and not have your financial information sent by regular mail.

Customization

Clients have the ability to select and customize what documents they wish to receive by paper delivery or by paperless delivery. The three broad categories are statements (monthly statements), confirmation slips (sent after each trade) and tax documents. Clients must elect paperless or paper delivery on each account. For example, a client could elect paperless delivery on the TFSA and RRSP account but wish to have paper delivery on the taxable or cash account. It is normally less confusing for clients if they either go all paperless delivery or all paper delivery.

Timeliness

Another benefit of online access and paperless delivery is that you would be able to access your statements sooner. With paperless delivery you would receive a notification by email that your financial information is available online and you could immediately log in and view this information. With paper delivery, the statements would have to be printed by your financial firm and mailed to you. When Canada Post was going on strike, many clients converted to paperless documents to ensure they continued to get their financial information in a timely manner.

Tax documents

Many clients today like the idea of logging onto a secure website and printing off their tax documents. We also recommend that clients create “My Account” with CRA and print the slips automatically sent to them as a completeness check. Once you have set-up “My Account” with the CRA you can take advantage of their sign-in partner service. This allows you to sign into “My Account” with the CRA using the same sign-in information you use for your online access at your financial institution. This is one less password you will have to remember. If you have online access, you would be able to compile all tax slips provided you have paperless delivery and online accounts set up by March 31. If you have paperless tax documents, the latest your accountant should receive your tax documents is April 1st every year. Even if you are travelling you can access your documents and send these through to your accountant — remember to use secure email.

Environment

Paperless documents also has the added benefit of being good for the environment. Financial firms reduce printing costs, mailing/delivery costs and do their part for the environment by reducing the amount of paper they use. Clients viewing the information online can do so in a secure manner. They do not have to print the statements and worry about storing the financial information securely or shredding old documents. When clients select paperless delivery, they can go online and go back several years to look up financial information whenever they need to. It is easy to find and stays secure in the meantime.

Power of Attorney (POA) — monitor parents

In many situations, we are dealing with two or more generations in a family. When our clients are aging, we will typically have a discussion with them about steps they can do today in the event they become unable to make financial decisions. If they have reliable and responsible children, we will often suggest a family meeting where one of their adult children is introduced to us. We have a discussion about financial information for aging clients or clients suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. We like to have this conversation while our aging clients still have capacity and the ability to set up a financial power of attorney. Financial information can be confusing and create anxiety in some cases. Establishing a power of attorney, to monitor your situation can reduce this significantly. What works really well is to set up the account delivery as paperless and provide full online access to the power of attorney.

Power of Attorney (POA) — monitor children

We are often asked if we will help our clients children get started on the right path with investing. When the accounts are set up we can easily add the parent on as a power of attorney. A parent may want to gift money to their children and the POA on the account enables them to keep an eye on the child’s financial progress. Guiding your children on how to deal with money can be as important as guiding them toward a good education and profession. Children naturally do not know the different ways to invest or the different types of investment accounts.

Transfers between accounts

If you have online access set up with your bank and financial firm, it creates an added benefit of viewing both. Online access enables you to transfer funds from a bank account into your investment account. This can be done quickly and efficiently, without the need of writing physical cheques.

Kevin Greenard CPA CA FMA CFP CIM is a portfolio manager and director of wealth management with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria. His column appears every week in the Times Colonist. Call 250-389-2138.