My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant and a partner with a National Accounting Firm in Toronto. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are written solely in my personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which I am affiliated. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humor/sarcasm. You've been warned.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Dynamics of the Investment Advisor/Accountant Relationship

I have several clients in common with Pat O’Keeffe, First Vice-President and Investment Advisor at CIBC Wood Gundy. Pat and I have often discussed the dynamics of the relationship between the investment advisor (“IA”) and the accountant (“CPA”), and why our relationship works while other IA/CPA
relationships fail. One of Pat’s responsibilities with Wood Gundy is continuing education, in which he is charged with the responsibility of improving the quality of service the IAs offer and to increase their knowledge on all aspects of being a leading edge advisor to higher net worth clients. Pat thought it would be instructive for me to speak to his advisor group in downtown Toronto (which I did a few weeks ago) to provide an accountant’s perspective on the dynamics of this relationship. I summarize my talk in today's post. [Note: I use CPA above because that is my designation. I am not purposely slighting other accounting designations, so please do not send me nasty emails].

I understand some aspects of this post may come off as arrogant, as I am telling IAs what to do and how to act. However, I know I don’t have all the answers. Please also understand I was asked to speak to the CIBC Wood Gundy advisors from a CPAs perspective and this is my interpretation of the relationship and I am blunt (and some would say a bit arrogant :).

You may be asking yourself, why the heck should you care about the IA/CPA relationship? I suggest that my expectations of an IA should become the minimum expectations you have of your IA.

Although I do not discuss this today, if you have a team of advisors, you need to ensure your IA, CPA, lawyer, insurance agent and banker all integrate their advice into one efficient coordinated plan. If your advisors operate at cross purposes, while trying to protect their own fiefdom and fees, you are the ultimate loser in this battle of professional egos.

How the Ideal IA/CPA Relationship Should Work


During my presentation, I suggested and it was agreed upon by the CIBC advisors present, that the ideal IA/CPA relationship should be as follows:

• Client centric – The best interests of the client should always be the first priority

• No turf battles – Many financial issues have an investment and tax component. It is important the IA does not overstep their expertise and provide tax advice to cut out the CPA, while the CPA needs to stay within their tax and advisory expertise and not attempt to provide investment advice. I know I have a good relationship with an IA when they call me for tax or financial advice on clients I have no vested interest in; because they know I will help them with their client. This also works the other way where I can call an IA for an opinion on what another IA is doing or for an explanation of an insurance product, etc.

• Proactive – Whether the IA has a new insurance idea or the CPA thinks a prescribed rate loan is appropriate, the IA and CPA should work together to ensure they are providing proactive advice before the client hears it at a cocktail party or seminar put on by another IA or CPA.

• Financial Hero’s – In a strong IA and CPA relationship, the synergies of the relationship should result in both parties becoming hero’s in the client’s eye. For example, an IA recently referred me a client that was not a good fit for the firm she was using. By working together with the IA and because of my knowledge and experience in working with owner-managers, we were able to not only lower the client’s fees, but provide more practical and proactive income tax advice. The client was very pleased with both of us.

The Accountant is the Trusted Advisor


During my presentation, I suggested to the IAs that some studies have concluded that the CPA is the client’s most trusted advisor. I further suggested that whether they agreed or not with that assertion, they needed to understand and acknowledge that dynamic. Although, I work very well with many IAs, over the years I have had reason to suggest to a few clients that their IAs were weak and should be replaced. In most cases they have replaced their IAs. My point here; if you are an IA, you should try and work with your client’s CPA, as it is in your own interest to have them as an ally as opposed to an enemy.

The Grey Areas of the Relationship


The following issues are often contentious and can cause a fracture in the IA/CPA relationship:

1. Who is responsible for determining the adjusted cost base of a personal tax client’s investments?

Most CPAs feel it is the IAs responsibility in all cases for personal clients. During my presentation, there was full agreement by the CIBC advisors on this point. The reason for this is unless an CPA is specifically engaged to track a client’s stock investments, they have no idea what stocks and bonds their clients are buying throughout the year and they have no reason to track such.

2. Who is responsible for determining the adjusted cost base of a corporate client’s investments?

The IAs again felt this was their responsibility. I surprised them by stating that in this case I felt we had a joint responsibility, since for corporate clients, CPAs track the ACB of the client’s investments when we prepare their financial statements.

3. Who is responsible for providing information to complete the T1135 Foreign Income Verification Form?

As I have discussed several times on this blog, the new reporting requirements that force taxpayers to report individual stocks held in Canadian Institutions that do not pay dividends (postponed until 2014 as per the recent transitional announcement) will be a massive issue next year. IAs told me they consider the determination of the fair market value of foreign stocks held during the year, their responsibility. However, they noted that should the rules not change for 2014; the systems of all Canadian Financial Institutions will need to be tweaked to provide reporting on the dividend exception issue.

4. Who is responsible for Income Tax Attributes?

I suggested it was the CPAs responsibility to provide the IA any capital loss carryforward information and RRSP and TFSA contribution limits. However, I told them I thought it was the IAs responsibility to contact the CPA to confirm this information before making any of these contributions.

How to Lose the Accountant as Your Advocate


During my presentation I suggested to the IAs that the following actions or inaction could alienate their client’s accountant:

1. Give the CPA a hard time when they ask for duplicate tax slips. We are only asking because the client did not receive the slip or has misplaced the slip.

2. Don’t provide the CPA adjusted cost base information or realized capital gain/loss reports. As noted above, in my opinion, this is clearly the IAs responsibility.

3. Don’t assist with flow-through information. Flow-through limited partnerships are a strange animal. They start under one entity and are converted into a mutual fund typically a couple years later. CPAs often have a hard time following the conversion process because (a) the share conversions are never one to one, so it is hard to know which flow-through was converted to which mutual fund and (b) it is very time intensive work sorting this out and CPAs do not have time to waste on this during tax season.

4. Practice income tax. In prior years I have had a couple clients' IA transfer stocks with huge unrealized capital
losses to their RRSPs. The result, the tax-loss is denied and lost forever. I have also had IAs suggest to clients that they purchase very large quantities of flow-through shares without discussing their suggestion with me. Clients can become very upset with their IA when I prepare their income tax return and tell them they owe substantial minimum tax because of the excessive flow-through purchase. I have also seen IAs make transfers for probate purposes without considering the income tax costs amongst many other transgressions.

How an IA can Lose a Client


I suggested to the group that the following acts may cause them to lose a client:

• Not taking into account the client’s area of business. For example, should your asset allocation be heavy in REITs if the client’s personal corporation holds significant rental properties?

• Cause a RRSP or TFSA over-contribution because you did not confirm the contribution limits with the CPA. I don’t think IAs understand how upset clients get when this happens and what a huge strike this is against them over such a small issue.

• Have client pay tax on capital gains when the client has large unrealized losses. In November, I touch base with many of my client’s IAs, or they call me, to discuss whether there is an opportunity to tax loss sell. Although it may make investment sense to not sell stocks with unrealized losses, IAs need to speak to their clients in November or December to explain their rationale for not selling; so the client is not upset in April when they incur a large income tax bill.

• Don’t review annual returns with clients. Most IAs are very good about this, but if you ignore your client and don’t have at minimum a yearly meeting, know that I am asking my client if they have reviewed their returns for the year with you. If  they say no, I will usually figure it out myself and then compare the returns to index returns. 

Finally, if you're an IA, the reality is I like many other CPAs; prefer to work with other quality advisors, whether they are IAs, lawyers, valuators, bankers etc. For both yours and your clients benefit, you should strive to be one of those quality advisors.

The blogs posted on The Blunt Bean Counter provide information of a general nature. These posts should not be considered specific advice; as each reader's personal financial situation is unique and fact specific. Please contact a professional advisor prior to implementing or acting upon any of the information contained in one of the blogs.

2 comments:

  1. While I don't do investments, I do run into cases where there's some crossover. I have a simple rule of thumb:

    Insurance advisors offering expert-level accounting and tax advice is as bad an idea as the reverse of that.

    I've seen the reverse as well. I even had a client change their insurance plan based on the advice of a lawyer. I think they lawyer had been reading on the internet about life insurance or something. I offer clients what they want, not what I want, but there's a note in that client's file with the lawyer's information.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Glenn

      I think part of being a good advisor is knowing what you know and staying out of the financial areas we are not expert in. But some advisors egos do not allow for that and it usually gets them in trouble.

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