What is the difference between a nominee account and a client-name account? by Glenn Szlagowski - Financial Advisor

In a nominee account (sometimes referred to as a self-directed account), the investment dealer or mutual fund dealer holds all of your securities in one account. In a client-name account, your investment resides at a financial institution like a bank or mutual fund company.

Sounds confusing doesn’t it?

I like to use the following as an example to help explain the difference between the two types of accounts:

In my office, I have a candy dish (for my clients) with individually wrapped mints. Think of a nominee account as being the candy dish or container. Think of each mint being an investment. You may have many investments (mints) in the container but there is only one container and therefore one account. No matter how many investments (mints) you may have – you still have just the one container. In other words, the investment dealer keeps all the investments in safekeeping in one account/container. We can call the container holding all the various investments a nominee account.

To continue with my candy dish analogy, in a client name account, the individually wrapped mint (investment) does not reside at the investment dealer, or brokerage account.   It is outside the candy dish. This type of account resides directly at the financial institution itself. For instance, your bank chequing account is likely to be a client name account because the account physically resides at your bank and is not in a brokerage account with your adviser.

Or put another way; you can buy a GIC directly through your bank or buy it through a stockbroker. If you by it through your bank, the GIC resides at the bank. It is registered in your name (client name) at the bank. If you buy it through a stockbroker, it will likely be registered in the investment firm’s name (nominee name) held in trust for you.

What are the advantages/disadvantages of a client name account?

There are a lot of financial institutions in Canada and theoretically, you could open an account at each one. That gives you the most choice but it is a lot of paperwork and bookkeeping. Some firms will do that work for you. Deposit brokers for instance, can handle all the paperwork for you and they have agency agreements with 30+ banks, trust companies and credit unions. They can open up an individual client name account at each bank for you and the paperwork is their responsibility.

Advantages: A Client name account gives you the maximum choice but also generates the most paperwork. Some clients like the maximum control it affords over their investments. Everything is registered in the client’s name at all times. Costs are generally free for these types of accounts.

Disadvantages: Signature requirements. As you are the owner of the account, applications, transfer documents, etc. often requires your original signature. If you live across town or are out of town, getting to your adviser to sign lots of forms might be a non-starter for some investors.

Estate workload is heavier. A large client name account holding a dozen investments or more at a dozen different financial institutions means that your Executor will have to settle the estate at each of those financial institutions.

Example of nominee registration versus client name registration:

Nominee account registration:                                                                                        

ABC Investment Firm Ltd

In Trust For: John Smith, Account# 123456

ABC Head Office Operations,

999 Anywhere St.

Toronto, ON M1H 1H1

[Editor’s note: I have seen some nominee registrations where the client’s name (John Smith) was omitted and only the reference account number was used.]


Client name registration: (i.e. John lives in Kitchener on Belmont Ave.)

John Smith

729 Belmont Ave. W.

Kitchener, ON N2M 1P3

[Note: the above client name registration indicates the client has direct ownership i.e. It is in his name.]

What are the advantages/disadvantages of a nominee account?

Advantages: The main advantage is convenience. Nominee accounts are registered as an “In Trust For” account (see above example). You can relay your instructions to a broker who can buy and sell investments based on your verbal instructions on the phone, or on an email, fax, etc. Signatures are generally not required for most transactions.

For an estate situation, nominee accounts have a real advantage over client name accounts. Although you may have dozens of investments in a nominee account, you still have just one account (remember the candy dish?). Therefore, only one set of estate documents needs to be submitted.

Disadvantages: Cost. Typical fees for nominee accounts are $125 per year plus tax. There might be fees for additional plans (LIRA, LIF, etc) and fees for unscheduled withdrawals (typically, $50 per withdrawal + tax) in registered accounts. However, some nominee accounts holding just GICs may be fee free. If you wish to transfer your nominee account(s) to another firm, transfer-out fees can be quite expensive – generally equivalent to 2 years worth of annual fees. Check with your adviser about these and other costs.

Which account is best?

That’s a hard question. It depends on the client. If we are talking about GICs and you want the best rates then a client name account will provide the highest rates because in a client name account you have the most choice. If however, you like the convenience of dealing with your investments by phone or email rather than in person, then the nominee account can be much more convenient.

If you have a RRIF account, LIRA or LIF, a nominee account ( free for GIC accounts) at Assante, would likely be the best choice.

For RRSP’s it’s too close to call. If you use a deposit broker ( Belmont Village Financial) – you have plenty of choice. Account size, the number of GICs and how frequently they turn over are all things to consider. For larger accounts with frequent amounts of transactions, I would give the nominee RRSP the nod.

For out-of-town clients, the choice is much easier – you want a nominee account where you can relay investment instructions to your adviser over the phone or by email. Signatures are usually not required.

Got a question about how nominee accounts work? Contact me at gszlagowski at assante.com. 



Do-it-yourself investing

Some months ago I saw the following which is a re-hash of many similar articles that I’ve seen in the business sections of the newspapers. Unfortunately, I put it aside as a basis for a new article and I’ve forgotten where I’ve first seen it!

" ...folks who buy mutual funds through brokers (and, therefore, pay a fee to buy the fund) lose 1% per year on average versus those who buy mutual funds directly (and, therefore, don’t pay a fee to buy the fund). How significant is 1% a year? Over a 30 year time span, this annual 1% erosion will eat more than 25% of an investor’s total return."

The 1% referenced above is the cost of an adviser. What the above paragraph is trying to suggest is that if you don’t want professional management of your life savings and you want to do it entirely yourself without any help, you could indeed, save the 1%.

Are we being penny wise and pound foolish? What if the 1% saved (as stated above) is offset by a 3%, 4% or more annual loss because maybe you are not really equipped to be a great portfolio manager? Should saving money on the management of your life savings be your single ultimate goal?

The answer is clearly – no.

Obviously the author of this article does not like financial advisors and has intentionally used the word “losing” in what I think, is an example of irresponsible reporting.

Are costs the same as losses?

I don’t believe they are.

My doctor provides a valuable service. His or her fee is embedded in the price of the service. I (thankfully) do not get a bill when I need medical attention. Medical costs are not open, transparent or disclosed and I do not need to take medical courses to become medically literate so I can qualify to be a patient. I do not perceive my doctor as losing me so many percent per year but I do recognize there is a cost element in seeing a doctor.

Problem is the average investor does indeed “lose” say, 3% per year(or more) due to shooting oneself (predictably irrationally, speaking) in the foot. Buying when they should have sold. Selling when they should have bought or just too much buying and selling in general or trying to catch up with the latest investment fads of the day. People after all are people. We are just not genetically hardwired to be great portfolio managers.

What if the investor hired an adviser for one reason only - to dissuade the investor from bad investment behaviors and to intercede at crucial inflection points? Perhaps talking an investor from not selling at the depths of despair in 2009 and losing 57% of your life savings forever? Or not buying into the tech euphoria and avoiding the resultant tech crash.

Have we all forgotten the lessons of the Great Financial Panic of 2008 - 2009 already? If an adviser (by sheer force of Will) managed to protect an investor from himself or protect investors from the ravages of the media during the Crisis, would the investor still perceive his adviser to be a guaranteed annual loss of 1%?

Certainly not.

Managing your life savings is not a do-it-yourself project. Knowing one’s own limitations and turning things over to a professional when it is appropriate to do so, may be one of the smartest things you’ll ever do.


Related articles:

  1. The Great No-help Liehttp://wealthadviser.ca/newsletters-8/207-great-no-help-lie.html
  2. Value of Advice http://wealthadviser.ca/newsletters-8/200-value-of-advice.html


Aspire to be average!

Averages are of course, just averages. Naturally, no one admits to being just average.

Given the following scenario:

1. Due to the U.S. Financial Crisis, the benchmark S&P 500 stock market index dropped about -57% from its peak in 2007 to the depths of despair on March 9, 2009 when the stock market finally bottomed out. Yes, that’s a minus sign in front of the 57. That’s a big drop. Millions of investors capitulated in a fugue of loathing and despair as headlines everywhere predicted the imminent breakup and certain financial collapse of the U.S.A. As usual, the press was completely wrong. The press made the same prediction for the European Union. Wrong again.

2. Fast forward to August 2014 and currently the same S&P 500 benchmark index is up almost 200% from the low on March 9, 2009 (Source: http://www.advisorperspectives.com/dshort/charts/markets/SPX-snapshot.html?current-market-snapshot.gif).

Given the above numbers, what is your rate of return over that time frame?

The question is actually far more difficult than it seems.

If you panicked during the “Great Panic of 2008 – 2009” you could have sold your index or ETF and crystallized your paper loss of -57% with a real loss. In dollar terms, a $10,000 investment would only be worth $4,300. If you were a do-it-yourself investor, you were waiting of course, for the “all clear” message in order to get back in. Unfortunately, there were no “all clear” messages on the evening news or in the morning papers.

Many investors remain in a fog of uncertainty more than five years after the low point in 2009, and are still in cash. This is changing (has the Great Rotation begun?) as I am seeing some reports of investors piling record amounts of money into stock index funds much to the delight of the Canadian do-it-yourself money magazines. That message sounds suspiciously like the “all clear” message; unfortunately it is almost six years too late!

In the real world though, things are very different. The media believes that buying the cheapest investment products will do the best. Based on real world experiences, I suspect the exact opposite is true – the cheapest investments do the worst. The cheapest investments ( the no-help type) consists of investments that exclude the labour component ( adviser not included!).

Here’s a true story that was very candidly told to me by a doctor (not my client) which I would describe to be as a VHNW (Very High Net Worth) individual. He admitted that he had capitulated during the Panic in 2008 -2009, cashed out and has been in cash for the last five years. No mutual funds, not even a GIC. He couldn’t make the decision to get back in, he said.

The big lesson here of course is not to sell during a big downturn (or even worse, refusing to buy during the big recovery) and it is very true that if you sold or stood aside and watched the big "V" on the chart (the big downturn followed by the big recovery), you might be forced to admit that your returns would be nonexistent, horrendously negative or at best - mediocre.

If the good doctor had even an average mutual fund performing in a very average way, he could be bragging to his colleagues at the next medical convention about his wonderful returns over the past 5 years.

Incredibly, we still see journalists criticizing mutual funds for their professional portfolio management fees not realizing that for many if not all investors, the costs of bad investment decisions at times of emotional distress far outweigh a lifetime of fees. The true drag on investment performance is not the open and transparent fees that one must pay for professional money management but likely the media that abandoned their readers when readers needed them the most. Journalists are at best, fair weather investors.

Millions of do-it-yourself investors panicked and sold out during the Great Panic of 2008 – 2009 likely due to the headlines or the evening news. Today, the Financial Crisis is old news and is largely forgotten. Very few investors admit to making disastrous investment decisions during that perilous time. It is perhaps our human nature that fools us into thinking that it was someone else who was panicking and doing all that selling – certainly not me (probably it was that average investor on the chart!)

That one mistake alone (selling at or close to the bottom) may take a decade or more just to break even.

In my view – one of the most important things that financial advisers do best is expressed by noted behavioral economist Dan Ariely:

"Whatever you do, I think it's clear that the freedom to do whatever we want and change our minds at any point is the shortest path to bad decisions. While limits on our freedom go against our ideology, they are sometimes the best way to guarantee that we will stay on the long-term path we intend." -- Dan Ariely, Professor of Psychology & Behavioral Economics at Duke University


Related articles:

  1. The Great No-help Liehttp://wealthadviser.ca/newsletters-8/207-great-no-help-lie.html
  2. Value of Advice http://wealthadviser.ca/newsletters-8/200-value-of-advice.html


Fund Facts - The risk and reward of fluctuation, volatility and standard deviation

 "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." Winston Churchill

I have had some recent discussions with a major Canadian investor advocacy group (FAIR Canada) that had contacted me. Apparently, they saw this humble blog of mine and invited comment on their submissions to the various regulatory authorities.

The group thought that “risk” as pertaining to mutual fund investing is poorly defined. They are appealing to the regulators to augment the information on the new Fund Facts document that must be given to mutual fund investors when they buy a new fund.

I do agree with the investor advocate’s view that the various ways of describing risk are complex and had addressed that very same topic several years ago in my article “Risky Business”.

Not much has changed since I wrote that article but at this moment in time, the security regulators appear to have made a radical U-turn and appear be leaning towards the use of standard deviation as a measure of risk. When I wrote the somewhat contentious (at the time) article in 2009, the regulator would not allow advisers to use risk rulers, standard deviation (or any variant) as a measure of risk. Their view was that the fund company’s prospectus description of risk was to be used.

Unfortunately the industry, advocacy groups, regulators or advisers still cannot all agree on what measure or measures can or should be used to evaluate the riskiness of a mutual fund.

Fund Facts are replacing the prospectus as this important new information document must be given to investors anytime they buy a new mutual fund. This change came into effect June 13, 2014.

The new Fund Facts document contains a graphical risk “ruler” that indicates the volatility of the fund in terms of low risk, low to medium, medium risk, medium to high and high risk. The simple ruler – with a pointer to indicate where you are on the scale, indicates the degree of fluctuation (volatility) of the fund in the past. It does not predict how volatile the fund could be in the future.

    fund facts risk ruler        

        Example (above) of Fund Facts “Risk ruler”. Note pointer indicating “medium” risk.

The advocacy group suggested that more sophisticated measurement tools should be used and additional mathematical concepts or statistical models be employed.

Although I have a background in Mathematics and Economics, I did not agree. The whole point of the Fund Facts document is to simplify. Explanations of skewed binomial distributions and probability theory would hinder, not help in the decision to buy (or not to buy) a particular mutual fund.

Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees. Investors need to know one very important thing. Many mutual funds fluctuate a lot in price. Anything that fluctuates in value can potentially make or lose money. The industry including the advocacy groups can’t seem to agree how to tell potential investors that they have a chance of losing money. Bell curves however, aren’t going to do it.

In my initial presentation to a new mutual fund investor contemplating the purchase of a stock-based mutual fund, I always point out that stock markets go up and they go down – sometimes a little - sometimes a lot. How much is a lot? Well during the U.S. Financial Crisis in 2008 and 2009 the benchmark S&P 500 stock market index dropped a staggering 57% (peak to trough). That’s a lot.

The advocacy group described my explanation of risk as “glib”.

[Editor’s note: To be fair to FAIR Canada (pun intended), at least they are reaching out to the adviser community and are asking for comment and discussion. No regulatory authority has ever asked me for input on how to improve our industry and to this adviser - that’s a terrible oversight.]

If I suppose, one’s man’s interpretation of simplifying arcane mathematical concepts is being glib – then I plead guilty to all charges. But I offer no apologies.

In non-jargonized parlance, I’ve described what the buyer of the mutual fund is buying, and what can be expected in the way of fluctuation. In one sentence only. No fancy charts and no crash courses on statistical theory required!

Is the new “risk ruler” effective?

When I showed my 85 year old client the risk ruler of a particular fund, he responded immediately before I had time to discuss what it was or how to use it.

He grasped the concept immediately. Peering intently at the ruler he said to me. “Glenn, the higher the risk of this fund (pointing to the ruler), the higher the chance there is to lose money, right?”


The Fund Facts document overall will do a very good job of replacing the telephone book sized prospectus and it will be the major talking point of discussion during the point of sale process.

Investing after all, is a process - not a product.

Sure, the Fund Facts document could be improved but it does highlight all of the most important information that an investor should know before buying a mutual fund.

This is a good thing.

ERRATA:  I thought I was contacted by FAIR Canada but was in fact, contacted by SIPA who is a different investor advocacy group. My thanks to SIPA for their clarification. Their web site can be found here: http://www.sipa.ca


Consumer watch - Tangerine Bank hits sour note with RRSP and TFSA transfers

Tangerine accepts money readily enough but what if you want it back?

ING Direct pioneered the no-fee savings account in Canada. Unfortunately, the U.S. Financial Crisis morphed into a World Financial Crisis in 2008 -2009 and many European banks found themselves (along with their American counterparts) in deep financial trouble. According to Wikipedia:

In 2008 as part of the late-2000s financial crisis ING Group, together with all other major banks in the Netherlands, took a capital injection from the Dutch Government. This support increased ING's capital ratio above 8%, however as a condition of Dutch state aid, the EU demanded a number of changes to the company structure. This resulted in divestiture of a number of businesses around the world, which included insurance businesses in Latin America, Asia, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and the ING Direct unit in the US, Canada and the UK .”

 On August 29, 2012,The Bank of Nova Scotia bought out ING Direct Canada and renamed it in April 2014 as Tangerine Bank.

Despite the promises of outstanding customer service on their new TV commercials; my client’s recent experiences with the new bank have not been good ones. The issues have been with transfers out. Specifically, registered plans transfers such as RRSPs and TFSAs.

Under the Income Tax Act, financial institutions are obliged to transfer a RRSP to another financial institution upon the bank’s customer written request to do so.

There are voluntary guidelines as to how long this transfer process should take. According to the CBA (Canadian Bankers Act) Guidelines, a registered plan transfer should be done within 7 business days and up to 12 business days during the busy RRSP season. Unfortunately, the guidelines are voluntary and non-binding so in reality a financial institution can exceed any of these limits without fear of regulatory penalty.

A number of very late transfers from Tangerine has resulted in a curious turn of events that appears to show that the bank may be inappropriately applying “privacy concerns” to institution–to–institution transfers resulting in considerable delays and frustration with a transfer process that has ground to a halt. Two clients have already sworn that they will never deal with Tangerine Bank again. Two others have moved their funds out of the new Tangerine Bank to Manulife Bank which offers a premium savings account very similar to Tangerine’s ISA account. One other client has lost money due to Tangerine Bank’s glacially slow transfer process.

Now why would Tangerine’s privacy policy cause delays and frustration with respect to registered plan transfers?

Great question.

My office has processed many thousands of these types of transfers. We have transferred RRSPs, RRIFs, TFSAs, LIRAs, LIFs, pension plans and all manner of registered plans and over the years have dealt with dozens of banks, trust companies and credit unions.

Therefore, we find Tangerine Bank’s refusal to speak with the institution requesting the transfer as exceedingly odd as Tangerine Bank’s very existence depends on the free flow of money coming in from these very same financial institutions.

Concerned calls to front-line staff about the whereabouts of the transfer-out cheque are met with polite refusals to divulge any information citing “privacy concerns” about releasing any information to the institution (or their authorized representative).

We filed a concern of our own to Tangerine supervisory staff who indicated to us that inquiries should not be made by phone but by fax. We tried to use Tangerine’s suggestion but faxes were not responded to. Even when we indicated (via fax) that the matter was urgent and there was clear evidence of a serious service issue, Tangerine still refused to talk to us directly. Despite our instructions to contact us, Tangerine instead would call a rather confused client who would of course not know anything about the technical details of a registered plan transfer.

We escalated the issue further to the bank’s internal ombudsman; however my email correspondence to the ombudsman was intercepted by another Tangerine department.

Despite my argument that Tangerine clients were being hurt and losing money due to Tangerine’s intransigence, Tangerine would not be swayed. Their policy was their policy and it was not going to change. Future queries from our office would still have to be directed to their fax system and we should get a reply within 48 hours.

As one last ditch effort to appeal for some sort of resolution with regards to their privacy policy, I asked Tangerine if they would honour a letter of direction signed by their customer allowing us to make a service account inquiry on their behalf.

To my complete amazement, horror and dismay, Tangerine Bank’s answer was no!

[Editor’s note: My immediate reaction was shock. Is this even legal?]

Our office is considering escalating the issue. My preference is to contact Tangerine’s CEO directly and ask him to review the Bank’s current policy. Other than that, we are literally at wit’s end with respect to Tangerine Bank.

We find the bank’s privacy view to be contradictory. Institution-to-institution registered plan transfers under the Income Tax Act (ITA) consists of a cheque made payable to the receiving institution. When the receiving institution does not receive their cheque in a timely manner, the receiving institution will always call the transferring institution (in this case, Tangerine Bank) with a service inquiry or follow-up. Perhaps the documentation was not in good order, perhaps the client missed a signature, or maybe the cheque got lost in the mail. It could be any number of things. For the sake of our clients, we have to know.

We believe that Tangerine is inappropriately using “privacy concerns” for institution-to-institution transfers that do not involve client privacy issues at all. As the receiving financial institution already has the client’s personal and confidential information, we find Tangerine’s privacy policy to not release any information about the transfer as decidedly odd. More odd is that Tangerine’s customers are being hurt due to the Bank’s reliance on internal policies that is not in the best interest of their customers.

Tangerine may be Canada’s newest bank but already, my clients are saying it is not delivering the award winning service they claim to have.


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