The Players

When you need a will, you see a lawyer and when you want to buy property, you turn to a real estate agent. So, who do you see if you want help with financial planning or want to buy or sell an investment? You could just go online and use one of the many do-it-yourself services. However, going that route could prove problematic and you would have very little recourse if any problems occurred.

When you need or want help, there are a wide variety of financial services professionals to turn to for expert advice and support. Financial services professionals may provide services or products in one or more of the following areas:

  • Financial plan preparation
  • Debt and lending
  • Retirement plans and planning
  • Saving, investing and investment products
  • Life, health and other insurance
  • Tax preparation and planning
  • Will preparation and estate issues
  • Life events (such as marital status change, real estate transactions)

The complexity or simplicity of your finances dictates which of the many professionals (or others) are best suited to help you. When your needs are event-driven, such as having your will or income tax and benefit return prepared, the service and payment is relatively straightforward. Conversely, the range of services and fee structures when investing your money is anything but straightforward.

The client-advisor relationship usually takes time to establish and tends to be ongoing; it isn’t easy to change service providers, at either the firm or the individual level. Careful research and due diligence are required before the relationship is initiated. Once engaged, don’t expect the relationship to take care of itself; your active participation is needed. Ask questions, stay informed, monitor your progress and don’t be afraid to investigate alternative courses of action if your needs change or your advisor doesn’t suit you anymore.

The following table outlines the various players in the financial services field. Before you contact one, prepare a list of your various needs first, then select the professionals you require from the following list.

Who They Are

Where They Operate

Financial and customer service representatives of banks and trust companies

Branch-based and wealth management services

Insurance agents and brokers

Independent and bank-owned insurance companies


Full-service and online brokerages

Mutual fund dealers/salespeople

Independent and mutual fund company dealers

Financial planners

Independent, fee-for-service or affiliated with any of the above companies

Investment counsellors

Portfolio and investment management companies


Chartered accountant firms and independent consultants

Lawyers (estate, family and real estate law)

Law firms, professional corporations and partnerships

Call centre representatives

Plan administrators of employer benefits and retirement savings plans, banks and brokerage firms

Real estate agents/brokers

Real estate brokerages


Found within your social network, often with no formal training


Do you have a licence to operate? Are you ready, willing and capable for the job you need done?

The following table shows the range of players who may consider themselves financial planners and the ways they are compensated for their services.

Financial Planners


Bank or trust company employees

No up-front cost: fees are built into the products they sell

Chartered accountants


Insurance agents

Commissions on the products they sell


Commissions, a wrap-up fee or some brokers are fee-only

Mutual fund sales representatives

Up to 8.5% commission on the products they sell

Registered or certified financial planners

$125/hour + commission or up to $375/hour with no commission

Investment counsellors

Fee for assets under management


Fee for service provided (billable by the hour)

The Alphabet Soup of Financial Services Designations and Licences

Financial services can be a confusing alphabet soup of designations and licences. A little knowledge and a willingness to ask what it took the advisor to earn or hold his or her “letters” will make you a more savvy client.

A designation is earned through accredited processes; however programs leading to designations vary widely (such as, the number of courses required, the study time, whether there is a requirement for work experience, and so on). Requirements to retain the designation also vary widely between the granting associations regarding continuing education, standards of practice and adhering to a code of ethics

Holders of designations may have a greater level of specialty knowledge than those who do not hold the designation. Keep in mind, a licence is not a designation, it is a permit granted by an organization or regulatory body to carry out specified activities, which may include selling products. It is also proof that the holder has successfully completed a course or passed an exam in a specific area (such as, mutual funds, life insurance, real estate).

Letters to Look for, Websites to Check

The financial services designations described in the table below require the holder to have put in far more effort than taking a weekend course or paying an annual fee. Time, effort, years of study, work experience and/or continuing education hours are all required to obtain and maintain these designations.

Visit the association websites to compare and contrast designations. Look for a consumer education section for hints and available resources to help you choose the right advisor. The Financial Planning Standards Council (FPSC) and Institute of Advanced Financial Planners (IAFP) organizations also have "Find a Planner" search engines to help you find a list of members in your region.

You may come across a third financial planning designation, the Personal Financial Planner (PFP).  Originally developed by the banking industry to train their employees, it is now offered through the Canadian Securities Institute. It does not have its own website.

Any of these professionals can help you in the development of a long-term investment plan. There will be varying degrees of experience and competency in tax planning, investing and estate planning.



Professional Licence/Title

Web Site

Financial Planning

Financial Planning Standards Council (FPSC)

CFP: Certified Financial Planner

Institut Québécois de Planification Financière (IQPF)

F.Pl.: Financial Planner

Institute of Advanced Financial Planners (IAFP)

R.F.P.: Registered Financial Planner



CLU: Chartered Life Underwriter


CFA Institute

CFA: Chartered Financial Analyst

Canadian Securities Institute

CIM: Chartered Investment Manager


Chartered Professional Accountants

CPA: Chartered Professional Accountant