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Financial Advisor Costs and How to Choose One

Written by Jessica Steer
Sometimes, organizing your finances can be tricky, but this is where a financial advisor can help. With that in mind, though, you want to be sure that you pick the right one to help you make the necessary decisions.
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    When choosing a financial advisor, you want to be sure they specialize in the financial areas you’re interested in, as well as offer you relevant financial guidance. It’s also important to consider what they cost. Each financial advisor will have a different rate, so you should also consider this. 

    What a Financial Advisor Does

    The term financial advisor is actually very broad. They don’t just assist with one part of your financial planning; they help in many different areas, including:

    • Investments
    • Estate planning
    • Tax planning
    • Budgeting
    • Short-term and long-term savings goals
    • Planning for retirement

    When we refer to a financial advisor, there is a broad range of people this could include. You could be talking about someone who works at your financial institution, an insurance agent or even a stock broker. These people all help guide you when making decisions regarding your financial future. 

    Financial Planners

    Slightly different from financial advisors, financial planners are there to help you create a sustainable plan to reach your long-term financial goals. While a financial planner can also be considered a financial advisor, they focus more on:

    • Creating budgets
    • Saving money on taxes
    • Retirement investments 
    • Setting up your estate
    • Investment management

    Financial planners are often specialized as well. This means they only focus on certain areas and are meant for specific areas of financial planning. They don’t focus much on broad financial plans. For example, if you're looking to plan out your estate, you would see a financial planner that specializes in this area.

    Cost of Financial Advisors in Canada

    You may be wondering exactly how much does a financial advisor charge? Well, in Canada, financial advisor fees are based on the individual as well as the company they work for and how they choose to arrange their financial advisor’s fee structure. Some have compensation structures based on percentage fees, while other compensation structures are based on an hourly rate. The financial advisor fee structures can range between 0.5% to 3%, while hourly rates range from $0 to $350. Even though these advisors offer excellent advice and can help you increase your savings dramatically, part of your profits do end up paying the advisors. It’s important to remember that the fees can also be based on what your assets under management (total investment portfolio) are.

    Account Management Fees

    If you have account fees that are percentage-based, not hourly, your fee depends on how much you’re investing. These are also referred to as commission-based advisors. While client fees range from 0.5% to 3%, those with lower investments tend to pay the higher percentages. Those who are investing anywhere from 5-7 million would have a lower fee of 0.5%. If you’re investing an amount of just $50,000, then financial advisors typically charge 3% in fees. While these percentages may seem small, let’s take a look at what they would look like. 

    Let’s say you’ve invested $5 million, and your annual fee is 0.5%. If this is the case, the annual amount you would pay your financial advisor is $2,500. Alternatively, if you’ve invested $50,000 and your fee is 3%, you would pay the annual amount of $1,500. With these kinds of account management fees, the more you invest, the cheaper it is. 

    Advisors With Hourly Fees

    Alternatively, from account management fees, there are advisor fees that some fee-based advisors charge. With fee-based advisors, you pay flat fees for each hour you work with them. What the hourly rate is depends on your financial advisor. Many of them charge $0, while other financial advisors charge up to $350 - $400 per hour. The price of the advisor depends on which financial institution or investment firm they work for as well as those financial advisor’s services. Different services have different costs, and each financial advisor offers various services. 

    How much you end up paying really just depends on how much you meet with your fee-based advisor, so a smart strategy is to plan out everything before you call to reduce your cost. That said, though, this tends to be the more affordable option because you’re only charged when you meet with the advisor, not on your investments. 

    Fee-only advisors are great options for those looking for some investment advice to get started but can actively manage their investments on their own. The fee structure of a fee-only financial advisor is ideal for those looking to have more control over the fees they pay as well. It can seem like a lot up front, depending on how the fee structures work and what your financial advisor charges, but it can be much less than the accumulated fees you would pay over time out of your investments. 

    Other Fees You Pay on Investments

    When you decide to invest in Canada, it’s important to remember that your advisor fees aren’t all you should think about. Whether you have a commission-based financial advisor or a fee-based financial advisor, you still need to consider the actual fees of your investment. Different investments have different fees, so let’s take a look at a few. 

    Management Expense Ratios

    One of the most common investment fees is MERs, also known as management expense ratios. The fees paid out of an MER are administration fees, legal fees, overhead fees and advisor salaries. This, however, is separate from your financial advisor fees. 

    It’s important to remember that MER fees don’t come out of your profits; they come out of your net financial assets. This means that even if you don’t earn any money on your investment, you still have to pay your MER. You should be considering the MER fees and your advisor fees to determine the total cost.

    Trade Commissions

    While not all account managers do this, some account managers charge a commission when they perform a trade on your behalf. Those who don’t charge commissions roll their commission fee into your MER. 

    If account managers charge a commission fee, they could charge a few different types. 

    1. Front End Load: These types of commissions are charged when shares are purchased in the fund. The commission amount will come out of the net amount you invest. 
    2. Back End Load: This commission is charged when shares are sold. The commission amount decreases over time, so holding these shares longer is better. 
    3. Level Load: These types of commissions happen over time. Typically, it’s an annual percentage that’s charged to your account.

    If you’re working with a financial advisor who does charge commissions, conflicts of interest can occur when your advisor starts receiving commissions based on their recommendations. While this isn’t common, it is something to be mindful of. 

    Short-Term Trading Fees

    While there are forms of short-term investments, advisors prefer you to make long-term investments. This is mainly due to the fact they’re less work, and it makes advisors available to take on way more clients. Many advisors will still do short-term trades, but some charge extra fees for short-term investments. 

    Registered Account Fees

    Registered accounts, such as Tax-Free Savings Accounts and Registered Retirement Savings Plans, can charge additional account management fees. That said if those fees are charged and what they are are based on your financial institutions. Each one will have different fees. 

    Financial Planner Designations

    Since we’ve already discussed that financial advisor is a broad term for anyone who can help you with your finances, let’s take a look at financial planners. As you know, financial planners are financial professionals who are more specialized than financial advisors, but they also have different designations. These designations are:

    • Certified
    • Personal 
    • Registered

    Each of these different designations points to a different level of financial education. As long as a financial planner has one or more of these designations, they’re qualified to help you make financial decisions and assist with investing strategies. That said, which one you choose will depend on your individual financial situation. Using a vetted financial advisor can take some of the stress out of the process. 

    Certified Financial Planner

    In order to be a financial planner, you don’t have to be certified unless you’re in Quebec.  That said, when you’re looking for a financial planner, it’s recommended to look for a certified financial planner. A certified financial planner in Canada will be recognized by the CFP marks that will come after a certified planner's name. In Canada, there are actually over 17,000 CFPs. 

    Personal Financial Planner

    Personal Financial Planners, or personal financial advisors, are different from CFPs. This designation was initially meant to cover those who work for a financial institution. Now, PFPs are considered to be bankers as well as those who are investment advisors and mutual funds representatives. You’ll usually find a PFP at your financial institution, and they typically charge low to no fees. 

    Registered Financial Planner

    Registered Financial Planners (registered investment advisors) in Canada are considered to be qualified professionals. In order to become an RFP, you must:

    • Have at least 3 years of financial planning experience
    • Have a bachelor's degree or equivalent from an accredited institution
    • Already have a PFP or CFP designation
    • Provide character references

    This is considered to be one of the most qualified financial planners you can have. Not only do they have experience, but they also have the necessary qualifications. For this reason, though, they can also be slightly expensive. However, you’re going to get qualified advice. 

    Best Ways to Find a Financial Planner

    When you’re looking for a financial planner in Canada, it’s important to know that all wealth management and mutual funds advisors must be certified. As long as they’re certified, you’re able to look them up on the national registry. Also, you can look up certified financial advisors through the CFP website. 

    Best Ways to Find a Financial Advisor

    When it comes to looking for a financial advisor, there are many different ways to find one. There are many different kinds of advisors, and they can be found through:

    • Financial institutions
    • Credit unions
    • Accounting firms
    • Insurance companies
    • Independent financial planning companies

    The best thing to do before you make any decisions is to look at some reviews. Talk to friends and family and see if they have any recommendations. You can also look for different advisors near you and look up their credentials. From there, you can determine which advisor best fits your financial needs. 

    Financial Advisors for Those Who are Low-income

    Just because you don’t have a lot of money doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from financial advice. In fact, there are plenty of options to see a financial advisor for those who don’t have a lot of extra funds. Some of these options are:

    • Your bank or credit union
    • Through your workplace retirement plan
    • An online broker
    • Free consultations
    • Through the FPAC (Financial Planning Association of Canada)

    While many people don’t realize this, if you have an account at your local financial institution, you can meet with a financial advisor and they can help you to create a plan to meet your financial goals. There are no fees that come with this. Same with your workplace retirement plan. Many of them offer some options for financial planning as well. 

    Many financial advisors will also provide a free consultation before they start charging fees. If you’re in the market for an advisor, this is a great way to find out if they work for you and get some financial advice. 

    Online brokers typically have much lower fees than traditional brokerages. For this reason, they have become popular with those looking to invest their money. In some cases, it’s even free. If you don’t want to go through an online broker, you can go through the FPAC. They have a list of Canadian Financial institutions that offer free financial advice to those who need it. 

    Things to Look For in an Advisor

    When it comes to choosing the right financial advisor, there are a few questions you may want to ask, such as:

    • What’s their experience?
    • What’s their education level?
    • How long have they worked for?
    • How long has the firm been in business (if it’s a private company)?
    • How does the advisor’s fee structure work?
    • What financial products are they licensed to sell?
    • How do they decide on appropriate investments?
    • How will they communicate with you?
    • How can they help you?
    • How often will you meet with them?

    These are just a few to begin with. There may also be more questions that pertain specifically to your financial situation. Remember, though, that just because you meet with someone doesn’t mean you have to choose them to be your advisor. You can keep searching until you find the best fit. Investing can be scary, so it’s important that you’re comfortable with the person who’s handling your money. 

    Are Financial Advisors Worth it?

    This is a difficult question to answer because it depends on what you’re looking for from an advisor and how much they’ve helped you. If you find a good advisor who helps you make smart decisions with your money, it could turn out to be an excellent investment. As we mentioned, though, not all advisors are skilled in the same financial fields, so you need to choose your advisor based on your individual needs. 

    When You Should Look for a Financial Advisor

    You may be wondering why you would look for a financial advisor. Well, they can help you if you’re looking into:

    • Tax Planning Services
    • Retirement Planning Services
    • Budgeting
    • Investment Advisory Services

    Really, financial advisors can help you in any way, including creating a comprehensive financial plan. They’re especially great if you’re looking for a neutral opinion on your finances. It can be challenging to look at them objectively, and financial advisors can help you with that. 

    Alternative to Using a Financial Advisor

    Instead of traditional human financial advisors, many people choose to go with Robo-advisors instead. Robo-investors have been around since 2008 and have revolutionized investing. It’s made it not only more affordable but much more convenient. You no longer have to go in person to make changes or start investing; it’s all right there at your fingertips.

    Robo investors are also good for those who start investing and then don’t want to mess with it any further. The algorithms in these programs do all the work for you, so you don’t need to do anything. They also require almost no human supervision by you or a financial advisor.

    Choosing a Robo Advisor in Canada

    In Canada, there are plenty of Robo Advisors to choose from. Let’s take a look at a few of the most popular and what their advisory fees are. 


    One of the most popular robo-advising options out there is Wealthsimple. It’s not only the first financial robo advisor in Canada, but it also has some of the lowest management fees at just 0.5%. They also don’t require any minimum account deposits. 

    With Wealthsimple, there are three different types of investment portfolios of Exchange-Traded Funds you can choose from. These are conservative, balanced and growth. Each of these will grow over time, so they’re meant to be long-term investments. You can then choose to invest them into either a TFSA or an RRSP.

    The most commonly used account with Wealthsimple is the basic account, which includes everything we’ve discussed. That said, they do offer two more options that interest some clients. These options are Black and Generation. The Black account requires a minimum deposit amount of $100,000 and gives you access to other offers, including financial planning sessions. Account management fees are also lower with the Black account, at only 0.4%. The Generation account includes everything that the Black does, but you’re required to have a minimum deposit of $500,000. This account does include an advisor team and personalized reports. 


    Moka is a newer robo-advisor platform to help you with your investments. They’ve been around since 2017, and how it works is it rounds up your pennies on everyday purchases and invests the remaining amount. 

    Getting started with Moka is pretty simple. All you have to do is create an account. Once you’ve done that, you can choose either the standard plan or the Moka 360. The standard plan is only $3.99 monthly for your robo-advisor fees, plus you can deposit and withdraw as much as you like. Moka 360 is similar, except you pay $15 per month (plus ETF fees), and you have access to ETFs, TFSAs and much more. 


    Questwealth differs slightly from the other two robo advisors we’ve previously discussed. A good portion of this program is automated and involves a passive approach to investing. However, minimal human interaction is still involved, and some humans are conducting the buying and selling of securities. Some people prefer to have some component of a human advisor.

    One of the draw factors to Questwealth is that they have one of the most competitive rates around, with just 0.25% in fees on your first $100,000 and 0.20% in fees after that. Another significant difference with Questwealth is that they have a minimum deposit amount of $1,000.

    Once you get started, you’ll be asked to fill out a questionnaire. Based on your results, you’ll be placed into a portfolio category. The different options are:

    • Aggressive
    • Growth
    • Balance
    • Income
    • Conservative

    From there, you can decide whether you prefer a TFSA or an RRSP to invest the funds into. 

    Final Thoughts

    Finding a financial advisor or a financial planner can be challenging. There are plenty to choose from, but you need to verify that the one you choose is educated in the services you're looking for and can provide you with the knowledge you need to succeed. Since different advisors specialize in such a vast amount of areas, it’s recommended that you do your research and ask questions before you choose an advisor. Another thing you also need to consider is the cost. 

    While some are commission-based financial advisors, others have hourly rates, and some don’t charge anything based on the service you’re looking for. When looking for a financial advisor, you can speak with your financial institution first or take recommendations from friends and family. Online research is also an excellent way to find someone in your area who can help you get started. If you prefer a more hands-off approach, you can also choose to go with a robo-advisor. Either option, though, can help you meet your personal finance goals. 

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