Leon Mercury, a retired barrister, and wife Margaret were reasonably happy with their broker but wanted to develop long-term financial plans and never feel as if they were being sold to. And they wanted all the details looked after, with minimal phone calls to corroborate decisions. To get that, the former Winnipegers, who now live on Vancouver Island, entered into a relationship with David Christianson at National Bank Financial (formerly Wellington West Total Wealth Management) in 1996.

“We wanted someone to look after our interests. David has instructions to give us a stable portfolio and I joke he’s a full-service bank. [His firm] does our income taxes and handles everything financial,” says Mercury. “He was the only financial advisor we talked to. He had a good reputation and when we saw him the vibes were there. Our impression of him has never changed.”

Mercury says the parameters and priorities of his investments are discussed, but he avoids doing Christianson’s job for him. “If [one of my legal] clients ever second-guessed me, I’d tell him to find someone else,” says Mercury. “I tell David, ‘If I have to second-guess you it’s not working.’ ”

Greg Christie (see “Be there when I’m old,” right) recounts similar experiences with his advisor, Elizabeth Harding of Macquarie Private Wealth.

“The degree of communication is exactly what we expect; we’re not getting hounded every week. If something is relevant, she contacts us and we discuss it. In most cases we’re going to go ahead. She’s our advisor and understands what we’re trying to achieve.”

But not every advisor merits that degree of delegation.

“When a manager takes on an account, the client expects it to be fully managed. When it’s time to sell, sell. When it’s time to buy, buy. Don’t expect the client to tell you,” says Doug Norris, a retired VP at an engineering, architectural and survey materials firm who lives in Toronto’s Harbourfront neighbourhood.

“During one period when mining stocks tanked and never came back, I was concerned because there were a lot of them in my managed account. I wound up getting hit for a capital gains tax of $40,000. He’d been selling stuff as needed but he didn’t harvest the capital losses. He didn’t make the sales on the things that would have generated those losses.

“I got an apology but in the meantime I’m out $40,000.”