Deferred Sales Charges (DSC) Is Just Another Hidden Cost Built Into Mutual Funds

September 29, 2014 Posted by admin

If you see the letters ‘DSC’ next to a Canadian mutual fund that you own, you can rest assured that you are getting hosed…’DSC’ refers to Deferred Sales Charges or fees that an investor has to pay over and above the actual fund’s management fee.

A deferred sales charge is a “penalty” that the investor has to pay if and when the investor decides to withdraw his/her money. Often it can be as much 6% of the original amount of the investment.

For instance, take an investor who buys $10,000 of a mutual fund with a deferred sales charge. Let’s say, the market as a whole does well over the course of a year but this particular fund loses 10%. Not surprisingly, the investor wishes to withdraw his money due to the fund’s poor performance. If the investor withdraws his money, he will be hit with a penalty and his investment will be further depleted upon withdrawal. Assuming a 5% penalty on the original investment, the investor is left with $8,500 or a loss of $1,500.

Interesting enough, while the investor winds up with a loss of 15%, the fund company actually does quite well. First, over the course of the year it earns a management fee. In Canada, the average management fee for mutual funds is 2.5-3.0%. So assuming a fee at the low end of 2.5%, the fund company makes $250. It then makes another $500 from the deferred sales charge.

All in, the fund company makes $750. Not a bad pay day for a fund that just underperformed the market.

Of course, the investor could limit his losses by keeping his funds invested with the mutual fund company. In this way, he would save the $500 in deferred sales charge. That would make the fund company very, very happy. Indeed, the fund companies are counting on it. They know that most investors are unlikely to move their investments out if they are forced to pay a penalty.

It really is quite incredible that the big banks are able to get away with this kind of unethical behaviour. In fact, many funds sold by bank financial advisors fall into this category. Unfortunately, the average investor just does not know where to look for pricing information. It certainly is not well publicized by the fund companies for obvious reasons. And unfortunately, our Canadian government has no interest in exposing the mutual fund industry for what it is, unlike Australia or Britain where mutual funds are much better regulated.

The Deferred Sales Charge is just one more way for the Canadian Mutual Fund companies to keep fees hidden from their customers.

Jeff Kaminker Portfolio Manager, CFA, MBA, P.Eng

Jeff Kaminker is a licensed Portfolio Manager for Frontwater Capital based in Toronto, Ontario.

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