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My interest in all things “finance related” all kind of started a few years ago when I went to a “free investment education session” from work sponsored by Investors Group. They were showing us these fancy charts about how your money can be compounded when held in mutual funds. They asked each one of us in the session to put our names down so they can contact us personally afterward to arrange a free individual session- they told us repeatedly that they are “commission free” so I trusted them. Of course they never mentioned or compared their services other investment options such as discount brokerages like Questrade or Canada's robo advisors (although they would have been pretty new at the time).
I met my “investment adviser” in one of the Investors Group fancy offices. The first thought that came to mind when I met my new adviser was that he looked like he was my age (repeat, I am 20-something). I was thinking to myself “er… I’m entrusting my hard earned back breaking money to this guy?” I asked him how many years he has been an adviser and I think he actually somehow managed not to answer my question by giving a circular question in return. Anyway, he was telling me about their “Allegra Moderate Portfolio B” and how it has performed well and how I should put my money in it. He was trying to convince me to transfer over everything I had in other investment companies to Investors Group and into this “Allegra Moderate Portfolio B”, so I could have more “diversification”. Because mutual funds are diversified.
I posed the question, so are you going to move my money out of this mutual fund if it isn’t performing up to par? He told me “I don’t have this kind of service for less than $10,000 of an investment” and then proceeded to try and convince me to move everything I had in other investments to Investors Group again. Of course, a couple of years later I now know yanking money in and out of funds as the markets go up or down is not a smart solution, but the fact that he didn't stop to educate me on these realities says a lot in my opinion.
Investors Group Review and Commissions
He and his associate were also really pushing the idea of leveraging: borrowing to invest, painting it as a “win-win” situation. It may be not too bad of an idea now; with the interest rates at rock bottom, but the interest rates were way up there when I was working with investor's group a few years back. They were pretty pushy about it.
No commission huh? (a few years back, I knew NOTHING about MER's) Apparently I learned afterward the higher the portfolio, the more commission the advisers get. AND their MER’s (management expense ratios: money they charge you to ‘manage’ the mutual fund- investor's group will get a cut, and the advisor will get a cut) are known to be quite high. They range from 2.7% to 2.9%. So even if you don’t make money or are losing money, you are losing even more money with the high MER! I also heard that they make more commission off larger portfolios (hence his trying to convince me to move my life savings into his hands) and that they make money by lending you money to invest (the leveraging piece of it).
Then, to top it off, I got an email to say that my investment adviser left Investors Group about a year into watching the money invested on my statements slowly dissipate, and I was orphaned. Pretty soon after, I sold my RRSP mutual fund with investors group for (25% less than I put in) and moved it over to a self-directed discount brokerage.
I learned my lesson- not to be bullied around with flashiness, pizazz, and salesperson speak . I guess they aren't half bad, but I just didn't like their pushy style. I guess I realized I have a bit of a “DIY” mentality when it comes to personal finance. Even if you don't share my DIY mindset though, I really think that the time of high-fee advice has come and gone. You've got big banks and investment firms buying pieces of companies such as Wealthsimple instead of doubling down on their mutual fund verticals (although the overall funds invested in mutual funds still dwarf these alternatives).
Updated for 2018
I had to laugh recently when I opened a pseudo-textbook at a high school I was in for a conference. It had some generic money title and when I flipped open the front page there was message from the Investors Group CEO staring me right in the face. I thought to myself: You wouldn't let Monsanto sponsor your biology course and write that textbooks would you? How is this any different? Of course once you peaked inside the resource, there was some ok stuff on budgeting, paying yourself first, etc (I grudgingly admit), but there was nothing on the different types of investment options, or different types of investment advisor compensation models out there. AND there was nothing in the book about how anyone can call themselves a financial advisor – that the only term that offered even a modicum of protection was “fiduciary”. I don't know why I expected any different, but it was still sad to see our educators depending on resources like this. The insane conflict of interest that allows a massive corporate mutual fund machine to put their name all over financial literacy could not be more obvious.
Read the comments below for a thorough look at the debate on how financial professionals should get paid. All I know is that IG continues to charge some of the highest MER fees in an industry and non-coincidentally, they have oodles of money to put their name on everything from textbooks to new sports stadiums. Guess where all that money comes from guys? Here's to hoping that eventually, robo advisors, online banks, and the rest of the FinTech world force traditional companies (IG certainly isn't alone in their faults) to become a whole lot more competitive.
Readers: Have you had experiences with Investor's Group or similar investment companies? Have they been positive or negative?
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