Choosing who puts your money in the stock market

Stock broker - stock image

When you decide you want to invest on your own in the stock market, you face a decision every investor has encountered. You have to choose whether to use a discount broker, a full-service stock broker, or a portfolio manager. This decision is no formality; it will play an important role in the way you approach your investments.

Here is how the three choices stack up:

  • Full-service investment advisor: This is the traditional stock broker (although brokers also sell bonds, mutual funds and other investments). Stock brokers are now more commonly referred to as “investment advisors.” But in fact, most brokers or investment advisors are commissioned sales people who make investment recommendations that you can accept or reject.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with this arrangement, of course. But it can introduce conflicts of interest that can influence your brokers’ recommendations, and you should be aware that this might not always work in your favour.

    For instance, your broker’s income is proportional to the frequency of your trading, but increased trading is likely to cost you money. Commission rates vary among investments, which gives brokers an incentive to sell the investments that pay the highest commissions. But a general rule is that the riskier an investment, the more commission a broker earns for selling it.

    In addition, brokers have no “fiduciary relationship” with their clients. They are not legally required to do what’s best for the client. They are just supposed to try to make sure that the securities they sell are “suitable” for their clients. “Suitable,” of course, can cover a wide range of desirable and not-quite-so-desirable securities.

    A good stock broker is one who understands investing and who has the integrity to settle conflicts of interest in the client’s favour. Good stock brokers can provide an effective and economical way to manage your investments. It is well worth your while to take the time to find a broker you can trust.

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  • Discount stock broker: Unlike full-service stock brokers, discount brokers simply carry out buy and sell orders for their clients, and charge lower commission rates than full-service brokers. You pay even lower commissions if you trade stocks online, instead of placing orders over the phone.

    The main drawback of using a discount broker is that it gives you unlimited opportunity to make costly mistakes on your own. The clerk who takes your order won’t recognize, much less warn you, if they see you’re about to do something you’ll regret. In contrast, good full-service brokers will try to talk you out of bad ideas.

    Discount brokers are your best choice if you make your own investment decisions. Why pay extra for full service you don’t need or use? But if you use a discounter, you may want to secure outside sources of investment advice (such as our newsletters), if only to serve as a second opinion on your decisions.


How did you select the person through whom you were going to invest? By word of mouth, by doing your own research, or some other way? What would you recommend to someone who is making this choice for the first time?
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  • Portfolio Manager: Portfolio managers take a more active role than brokers. Instead of simply presenting you with investment advice that you can accept or reject, they generally make and carry out investment decisions for you, for a fee. Consequently, portfolio managers are more stringently regulated than full-service or discount brokers. In particular, portfolio managers must maintain a fiduciary relationship with their clients. Rather than simply choosing suitable investments, they must always try to do what’s best for the client.

    The best portfolio managers take pains to eliminate conflicts of interest between themselves and their clients. However, some portfolio managers rely on brokers to find clients. This can reintroduce conflicts of interest that you hoped to avoid by dealing with a portfolio manager instead of a broker.

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  • Lorraine

    After I had been cheated over and over with full time brokers I decided to do it on my own. The one that didn’t cheat me did nothing. I ask accountants if I should continue or let someone else do it and they say keep on. If bank does it you will
    only make 2% after fees

  • Allen C.

    During a period of four years while our investments were with a full-service broker, I subscribed to Pat McKeough’s four newsletters. Over time I came to appreciate and respect Pat’s conservative investment philosophy and decided to take control of the securities in our TFSA(s), my wife’s RSP, our non-registered joint account, as well as a second non-registered account (used to manage a grandchild’s assets). All holdings tracked and analyzed as a single portfolio, following Pat’s sage three-part strategy with the securities spread across Pat’s five investment categories.

    Although I’m fortunate in being able devote adequate time and attention to this activity in retirement at present, I have every confidence in Pat’s portfolio management services. Indeed, he will be the first person to whom I turn when and if circumstances prevent me from overseeing this area of financial importance.

    I am so pleased to have discovered Pat McKeough and his TSI investment publications. His recognitiona as one of North America’s top securities analysts is well earned and well deserved.

    Allen Stoolmiller, Ph.D.
    Prince Edward Island, Canada

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