Suitability: Leading complaint among investors who come to OBSI for help


5 July 2021

By the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI)

  

In 2020, almost 20% of investment complaints the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI) investigated related to the suitability of the investments. It is the leading issue investors submit a complaint about.

In many of these investment complaints, investors say that they received poor advice, that their investments or investment strategies were unsuitable and/or that their investments did not perform as they were told. In these instances, investors ask to be compensated for the investment losses they incurred.

What is suitability?

Investment advisors are required under securities laws to ensure that the investments they recommend are suitable for the person they are advising.

The suitability of an investment is a complex determination that is based on the advisor’s detailed understanding at the time that investments are made or recommended to their client, such as:

  • Investment needs and objectives, including things like the need for income and time horizon.
  • Financial circumstances, including things like the ability to afford potential losses.
  • Risk tolerance, including things like personal views and understanding about investment losses, gains, and volatility.

Advisors are required to fully understand the products that they recommend to their clients to make sure that each investment is suitable.

Who is typically affected by unsuitable investments?

Based on a Seniors Report we published in 2019, most suitability complaints are made by older Canadians. Nearly three-quarters (35% of complainants 60 to 69 and 36% of complainants over 70) of the investment issues that we receive from Canadians in their 60s and older were related to suitability.  

What can I do to make sure my investments are suitable?

 Give your advisor what they need.

Always answer your advisor’s questions about your financial situation as fully and truthfully as you can. They are not being nosy – they need to fully understand your situation to make the best recommendations for you.

Confirm and read your paperwork.

In the investment industry, Know-Your-Client or KYC is the process and documentation to ensure that an investment advisor knows the important financial and personal details about their client. Investors should always confirm the accuracy of their KYC, read their disclosure documents carefully and ask questions to be sure they understand them.

Stay informed and involved.

Investors should monitor their investments and stay informed by reviewing their account statements regularly. If you are concerned about the performance of your investments, you should contact your investment advisor to discuss the matter.

What to expect from an advisor

Here are things that advisors do:

  • They are responsible for providing sound investment advice to match the financial needs and goals of their clients.
  • They determine what is best for a client by meeting with them to discuss the “big” picture: a current look at their financial situation, risk tolerance and investment strategy.
  • In exchange for a fee, they recommend investments for their clients, carry out trades for them and monitor their account performance.
  • They are required to document their clients’ information according to “know-your-client” rules and should keep a consistent record of all client conversations. These requirements are in place to benefit the investor.

But . . .

  • No advisor can guarantee positive investment returns because all investments, even suitable investments, have a risk of loss.
  • Even though the advisor’s role is to recommend suitable investments, they cannot predict the future nor guarantee results. There is always a risk that the value of an investment today will be lower in the future.

Case study: Retiree seeks compensation for financial advisor’s alleged lack of service and poor advice

Allegations of unsuitable or poor performing investments, misrepresentation, and lack of service

Mr. O and his wife were retired and held several mutual funds in their investment accounts at ABC Firm between 2014 and 2019. During that time, their financial advisor was Ms. L. In June 2019, Mr. O expressed several concerns to ABC Firm about the investment advice and service he had received from Ms. L throughout his relationship with the firm. He alleged that:

  • the investments she recommended for purchase had either been unsuitable or underperformed, leading to financial losses of about $25,000 over five years.
  • the fund fact sheets provided to him were either misleading or not for the mutual funds he held.
  • L misled him about the performance of his portfolio by hiding the Gains/ Losses figures from the portfolio performance reports.
  • L did not comply with his requests or demonstrate a commitment to helping him achieve his financial goals and spent little time monitoring his accounts.
  • the level of service that Ms. L provided was inadequate in relation to the fees he paid to ABC Firm.

Mr. O asked ABC Firm to review his concerns and reimburse him for $25,000 – the full amount of his financial losses – to resolve the matter.

 

Firm finds no evidence of financial harm

ABC Firm did a thorough review of Mr. O’s accounts to address his concerns, including a close look at account documentation and account records over the five-year period he had been a client. They also reviewed Ms. L’s notes and comments regarding Mr. O’s accounts, and took into consideration her email correspondence with Mr. O.

The firm told Mr. O that their investigation found there was no evidence to suggest that Ms. L had made unsuitable investment recommendations, misrepresented the information in his portfolio performance reports, ignored his concern about management fees or provided poor service. Unsatisfied with the results of ABC Firm’s investigation, Mr. O brought his complaint to OBSI.

 

Our findings


During our investigation, we reviewed ABC Firm’s documentation as it related to Mr. O’s concerns. We also interviewed Ms. L about her handling of Mr. O’s accounts. We found that:

  • O’s file documentation showed that he was comfortable with a conservative growth strategy and Ms. L had invested him in mutual funds that were suitable.
  • all transactions on Mr. O’s accounts were reviewed and explained to Mr. O in advance, including those meant to replace underperforming investments.
  • L provided advice based on Mr. O’s need for tax efficiency and a conservative investment strategy and that he benefited from a net gain of about $14,000.
  • it was not possible for Ms. L to omit information or otherwise alter reports about Mr. O’s portfolio performance because the reports were created using an internal system.
  • after Ms. L had provided Mr. O with the fund fact sheets for his mutual funds, the fund managers switched the fund to series E1 or E2 automatically for Mr. O’s benefit – a change that was outside of Ms. L’s control.
  • L specifically recommended that Mr. O switch the type of mutual funds he held to reduce the fees associated with his investments.

We concluded that there was no evidence of Ms. L misrepresenting investments to Mr. O nor did we find that there were occasions when Ms. L did not comply with Mr. O’s requests. Ms. L had communicated with Mr. O regularly and ensured that his financial plan was updated on an annual basis.

The outcome
We explained the findings of our investigation fully to Mr. O, and did not recommend compensation.

 

In 2021 the CCEL published a study paper and suite of resources on investment and disability as part of our Inclusive Investing Project. Explaining risk and understanding risk tolerance is an important part of supporting a person with a disability to participate in decision-making. Check out our booklets for assistance in approaching these topics. There a booklet for people living with dementia and another for family and friends who provide support with investment decision-making.