Reynolds’ book a Dr. Phil pill for investors

Benj Gallander and Ben Stadelmann
Friday, June 24, 2005

Summer’s here and the time is right for enhancing one’s life away from the office. So come on, every guy and every girl, grab a book and head to the cottage, balcony, park bench or sidewalk cafe.

Maybe you don’t want to stray too far from the subject of investing since the S&P/TSX composite has pierced 10,000 again? There is more available than books that trumpet the virtues of the latest firecracker investment or stroke yet another corporate megalomaniac’s ego. Drill deeper and hit granite with John Lawrence Reynolds’ The Naked Investor: Why Almost Everybody But You Gets Rich On Your RRSP.

If you count yourself as a Canadian investor — particularly at the lower end of sophistication — who values advice from a financial adviser, this book will surely strengthen an already good relationship, and empower the individual to rectify a bad one. Call it a Dr. Phil-pill for investors.

Mr. Reynolds is also an accomplished writer of fiction, but this work is the polar opposite of a “whodunit” murder mystery. The intent is to reveal truths in their rawest forms. Each chapter begins with a true personal anecdote — or, in business jargon, a case study — of an investor’s plight at the hands of one or several advising agents in the investment industry.

Each account invariably ends with the loss of a significant amount of wealth, and little to no support from a self-regulated industry that has no mandate to compensate. Those who delight in schadenfreude may feel satisfied at first, but then awake to the discomfort of being unsure of their own financial relationships.

David Wilson, the incoming head of the OSC stated, “The financial-services business that I’ve lived in for such a long time is populated by a vast majority of honest and straightforward people in the financial-services business who are trying to make a living.” Therefore, some in the industry might be offended to be painted by Mr. Reynolds’ broad brush and would suggest he is unfairly focused on a statistically insignificant number of misfortunes. You know, the Donny Osmond defence: one bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl.

While there are miscreants in any profession, the author challenges the entire institutional structure of the financial industry in Canada as being asymmetrically beneficial to two of the three main protagonists: the adviser and the investment provider. The individual investor’s best interests are shown to be systematically relegated.

Yet, our author makes it clear that keeping one’s wealth in Canada Savings Bonds or savings accounts is a very poor strategy. He acknowledges that many investors want and need unbiased financial advice for which they would gladly pay a fair price. The reader is provided with information that is not readily available to consumers, and that will create a smarter investor who can properly discuss vital issues such as disclosure, compensation, independence and objectivity.

We learn that the relationship one forges with a financial adviser should be unlike any other business relationship, as monitoring one’s financial health is a perpetual affair. The onus is placed squarely on the investor to seek out a principled partner. These people may not have huge marketing budgets, making that task difficult and time-consuming, but it’s worth it.