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Technology will drive better disclosure to investors

When you go to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, you always have a conversation with the pharmacist who gives you verbal and written instructions on how to properly take your medication, right? Investing can be very similar: we all need direction at some point.

With all the new changes to regulation and transparency over fees this year, November has taken on even more importance as Financial Literacy month.

Fees associated with investing is the new canary in the coal mine showing the disruption to advisers and their industry.

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Why? The industry is under much more regulatory scrutiny as the backend of the business is being slowly exposed. Banks and advisers have had to change the way they conduct their business like never before and will have to answer questions by their client regarding fees and performance that could potentially be quite uncomfortable. But is this a bad consequence? No, quite the opposite as a more informed investor will foster a stronger relationship with their adviser and ultimately be better served.

The investment industry has come a long way from the days of an adviser coming to your home and rummaging through the trunk of their car to find the right marketing materials to present. Or if in the branch, looking through a stack of documents for the latest Prospectus.

Companies, such as InvestorCOM, are leveraging technology to improve investor communications. Today, an adviser can sit at a table with a client and effortlessly access and deliver a disclosure document from their laptop, iPad or smartphone immediately. The sales transaction gets easier and the client receives the information required to make more informed decisions. Today's level of disclosure is unprecedented and it would be impossible for financial institutions to comply without this type of technology.

As of 2015, 33 per cent, or about 4.9 million, of Canadian households held mutual funds. The best way to get information on mutual funds is through a document called Fund Facts. The Fund Facts document was introduced in 2011 in response to the ineffective Prospectus, a thick cumbersome book that nobody read because it was too complicated. The Fund Facts sole purpose was to give a simple document to consumers so they could easily understand what they were purchasing, the fees associated with the fund – both past and future – and how the fund had performed. All of this is now done before a purchase is made so advisers and their clients can have a better and more informed discussion, much like the pharmacist does when you pick up your medicine. This is what the industry calls P.O.S., or Point of Sale regulation.

CRM2 (or phase 2 of the Customer Relationship Model regulation) is the next phase set out by the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) to provide even more transparency regarding fees associated with mutual funds and other investments. It lays out a much clearer picture of the performance of the fund and the fees associated with that performance.

Investors should ask their advisors: what are the fees on their funds and when are they paid? Also, what happens if the portfolio has decreased in value? How does that affect the fees? Can I switch to a fee-based service? Advisers will need to communicate these answers clearly to their clients, and articulate the value of the service they offer in order to build trust in the relationship. And, new technology makes this easier than ever before.

Is the financial industry ready for big changes ahead? It's already happening, and we are on the cusp of bigger changes still. The average Canadian investor will be the one to benefit. And, for good reason: it's their money, their future and their financial health. With heightened regulation, it will be technology that ensures investors receive better information on a timelier basis.

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Anthony Boright is president of Toronto-based InvestorCOM Inc., which is focused on the evolving disclosure and compliance needs of the financial services industry.

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