Investing with the Big Canadian Bank Brokerages

As an independent wealth management firm, there is no question that some of PWL Capital’s most aggressive competition comes from the Big Bank brokerage houses: TD Waterhouse, BMO Nesbitt Burns, CIBC Woodgundy, Scotia McLeod, and RBC Dominion Securities. This competition has become increasingly noticeable as the bank brokerages strategically advance their offering into the realm of wealth management. With their established brands and elitist feel, it is obvious why high net worth investors can be attracted to the perceived prestige and safety of dealing with the big name institutions. There may be some very good people giving wealth management advice within the bank owned brokerages, but there are inherent problems with their structure which is to the detriment of their clients.

One of the most obvious issues is conflicts of interest. Conflicts arise due to the integrated nature of the banks’ operations; if the institution decides that there is a product or stock that needs to be moved, one of the most accessible sales conduits is the clients of the bank-owned brokerage. Sales pressure from within the organizations has the potential to result in investment recommendations that may not be in the best interest of the clients. The core function of the bank-owned brokerages is not wealth management; they are sales channels and profitability centers serving the shareholders of the banks.

Beyond the conflicts of interest, the bank brokerages are hindered by their lack of a unified investment philosophy. At any of the bank brokerages there will be a large number of portfolio managers and investment advisors each implementing their own strategies. Some may use the bank’s proprietary mutual funds, some may pick individual stocks, while others may use the bank’s wrap account program. There may even be portfolio managers within the bank brokerages that use low-cost index funds, but without a unified philosophy guiding their investment decisions, advisors at the bank brokerages are more likely to recommend the flavour of the month mutual fund or the latest hot stock issue to their clients.

Dealing with an independent advisor-owned firm eliminates these issues. A firm like PWL Capital is designed to avoid conflicts of interest. We are paid by our clients, and there is no pressure to push any stock, mutual fund, or ETF at any given time to any given party. Under our structure, our only goals are to grow the assets of our clients while providing the ongoing financial planning advice that helps us maintain lasting relationships. With a unified, science-based, firm-wide investment philosophy, there is never a question of whether or not we should be using the latest financial innovation or buying the most exciting new stock in our client portfolios. Our disciplined approach is guided by academic research and evidence from the history of markets.

Despite PWL Capital’s intellectual integrity and dedication to doing what is right for clients, and the reasonably obvious profit-seeking nature of our competitors, some high net worth investors are inevitably swept off their feet by the Big Bank brokerages.

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