Tuesday, October 16, 2018

DSC sold fund doomed in IIROC channel - if IIROC rules followed and enforced

Information asymmetries and investors’ assumption that those providing them personalized advice must act in their best interest means unsophisticated investors too often rely heavily on their Reps, which leaves retail investors vulnerable to exploitation. Numerous surveys confirm this unchallenged reliance on Rep recommendations. But rules and regulations exist to prevent mis-selling. As long as they are enforced by IIROC dealers, most retail investors should be safe.

DSC funds pay 5% upfront commission to the dealer .Five per cent is a big chunk of change for a fund company to pay up front. In order to make the money back, the fund company needs clients in the fund for 6-7 years. It is difficult to see how responsible IIROC dealer supervisors or compliance staff would ever consider this bondage to be in the best interests of the client. Reps should not recommend DSC funds if clients plan to invest for only a short time, if they have little money and can't afford to lose any of it, or if they have a low tolerance for market/price volatility. A well-documented compliant KYC process should help keep such clients away from DSC sold mutual funds.

Existing IIROC rules require a Dealing representative to resolve conflicts -of -interest in the best interests of clients ( Rule 42). Other rules require Reps to only make recommendations which are suitable for clients based on KYC. Mutual funds with embedded commissions create a conflict-of-interests with DSC sold funds dramatically amplifying that conflict with the outsized 5% upfront payment. So a Rep faced with deciding to sell a DSC vs. FEL (0%*) fund would have to recommend FEL to address the conflicts between compensation schemes. In addition, it can be argued that the liquidity of the FEL series vs. the locked in nature of DSC funds is itself a conflict-of- interest since decreased liquidity is not in the best interests of clients.
* an IIROC dealer could subvert this by not offering 0% front load funds

Also, even under a lowly suitability regime product cost enters into the picture. In the case of say, Fidelity funds, the MER of the FEL series of funds is less than the identical DSC series so the FEL should win again IF Reps are truly resolving conflicts in the best interests of clients. While clients can switch into money market funds at no cost (except for 0-2% switch fees), because DSC funds allow switches within the same family without triggering redemption fees, the DSC redemption schedule still remains. Any attempt to redeem for cash will result in a penalty. Directly recommending a DSC money market fund would have to be considered abusive selling as a m/m fund is intended to act as a temporary parking spot for cash and should not therefore be bound with illiquidity chains.

Furthermore, it is imprudent for Reps acting in a client’s best interests to recommend actively-managed mutual fund unless the reasonably expected return from such fund will cover the extra costs and risks typically associated with such funds. This is key, as most actively-managed funds simply are not cost-efficient if analyzed properly. If the potential closet indexing factor is considered by analyzing a fund's incremental costs in terms of Ross Miller's Active Expense Metric (see Reference), the number of cost-efficient actively-managed mutual funds is very low.

Before processing any order, Reps. must disclose the charges the client will incur for the purchase, sell, switch or transfer, or a reasonable estimate if the actual amount is not known at the time of the disclosure. We expect that such disclosure may be inadequate unless the Rep. informs the client of the FEL series or other alternatives. If the disclosure is balanced and fair, we would however expect a rational investor to reject the DSC series.

The accurate collection of the client’s time horizon is an essential component of the KYC process and it is imperative that Reps/supervisors consider this information when assessing suitability .If time horizon is less than 7 years or client is older than say 65 then it may not be suitable to lock a client into a fund for up to 7 years. Regardless of age, there is no logical justification for exposing a client to early redemption penalties when equal or better alternatives are readily available.

Additionally, Reps should consider the suitability of DSC purchases for accounts in a de-accumulation stage e.g. the suitability of DSC purchases in RRIF accounts. In most cases, suitability will be almost impossible to justify when FEL is an available alternative.

Further ,when product and account cost becomes a formal suitability factor when/if proposed client-focussed reforms see the light of day, the Rep would have to look at a spectrum of products that are suitable including index funds , ETF’s and actively- managed ETF’s. Given empirical research on actively - managed funds that shows chronic underperformance vs. Benchmarks, indexing would most likely be the optimum solution, especially for investors with modest account sizes. Any other Rep recommendation would be subject to scrutiny from compliance and likely eligible for a client complaint.

Of course, if the Rep has not met disclosure obligations, that too would be a basis for a complaint. It is inconceivable that any informed investor faced between being locked in and not, would ever choose to be locked in. An informed investor would likely also object to the 5% advance payment for advice if the alternative was pay as you go. Rep recommendations should not be limited as to whether the redemption schedule was disclosed to the client but rather a consideration as to the suitability of the recommendation to purchase the DSC fund. For example, investors who do not have an adequate emergency fund should not be sold a DSC fund.

So there you have it, with so many hurdles, there is no future for the DSC actively-managed mutual fund in the IIROC distribution channel. One BIG assumption –IIROC Dealer Reps care about their clients financial wellbeing AND supervision and compliance interpret and enforce the rules as intended.

Some argue that it is impossible for an SRO (junior regulator) to say that DSC is wholly unsuitable for everyone when it is allowed by the CSA. IIROC can (and does) certainly say that DSC is not suitable for certain clients by interpreting their suitability rules but they are not able to ban it entirely (as it is allowed by the CSA). According to one source ,just over 30% of DSC sold fund assets are with IIROC dealers. There is no doubt, an outright ban on this toxic product is in the Public interest. Caveat Emptor.

Kenmar Associates 


Ross Miller's Active Expense Metric and its implications
If the Fund fails the metric test, passive would have to be considered. The DSC issue would automatically be resolved since low cost Index Mutual funds could not pay the 5% upfront commission. If index fund MER’s were increased, then ETF’s would have a field day.

Vanguard CEO: High-Cost Active Management is Dead - Video | Investopedia

Ellis, Charles D., “The End of Active Investing,” Financial Times, Jan. 20, 2017

Ontario right to oppose mutual-fund trailer bans, says Primerica Canada CEO:WP
"...Calling the proposed ban “draconian,” he warned that its approval would leave many investors of modest means — “those without a large amount to invest who rely on commissioned advice without an upfront fee” — unable to receive advice from an advisor. “When this sort of drastic market intervention is proposed, it is appropriate for the minister of finance to step in, to look at the concerns and weigh the policy options to ensure a balanced policy outcome.”.."
https://m.wealthprofessional.ca/news/mutual-funds/ontario-right-to-oppose-mutualfund-trailer-bans-says-primerica-canada-ceo-249396.aspx?utm_source=GA&utm_medium=20181017&utm_campaign=WPCW-Newsletter-Opener&utm_content=&tu=. Investor advocates argue that clients without a large amount to invest can readily access robos , credit unions and banks without pre- paying for conflicted advice and without being locked in for 7 years in an actively -managed mutual fund. Such clients would also avoid all the dirty tricks that can ( and have been) be played with DSC sold funds. Such a product is clearly not in the best interests of families struggling to save for retirement. Professional advisors are unlikely to recommend DSC sold funds but fund salespersons might. The biggest beneficiary of DSC funds is the salesperson. Caveat Emptor . NOTE: If for some reason you change firms, you will have pre-paid the lion's share of the advice fee ,so your new Rep may want to alter your holdings so that he / she receives compensation related to his / her efforts. That portfolio adjustment can be expensive.

Deferred sales charges: Stealth wealth killers - The Globe and Mail

Investor Protection Takes A Step Backward - High Rock Capital Management
Article shows how the DSC Mutual fund abuses Canadian families saving for retirement.

IIROC fines Branch Manager for deficient supervision of DSC funds
In this case, the Rep often sold mutual funds with deferred sales charges (DSC) and then repurchased similar funds, requiring clients to pay redemption fees and it reset the early redemption schedule on the newly purchased mutual funds. ($125,402 in redemption fees ere triggered)  The Rep also unnecessarily charged switch fees for the trades, which some clients said they weren’t told about. Clients were charged $367,459 in switch fees. 

Toothless investor Protection

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