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Know what they know

Why not take the same course your broker took?

As we work our way through these glorious dog days of summer, ads for the ubiquitous back-to-school sales can’t be far off. Today most of us think of back-to-school time in terms of getting the kids ready for another academic year.

But if you’re like me, you still get a lingering feeling every autumn that you, too, should be taking up something that will give your brain a different workout than it’s become accustomed to. You get this need to learn something—anything—especially at back-to-school time.

I live by what I say. Last year at this time, I got a hankering to give my grey matter something different to work on. Since I read about investments every day, another investment course wasn’t for me.

Instead, for whatever reason, I chose to learn Spanish. I’ve been at it constantly ever since—speaking, writing, listening, reading and watching TV—save for the odd break at Christmas and Easter. Beginner I and II classes are behind me, as are Intermediate I, II, III and IV, and Advanced I. This week I start Advanced II, and there’s only Advanced III to go after that.

It’s been a thrill to learn about the culture, the people, the literature, and the language itself. What’s more, this learning has created new ways of thinking—different paths to memory, for example—that have been useful in my other pursuits as well.

For you, a course on investing might satisfy this urge, and pay monumental dividends over time to boot. But which course, how, and where? I gave you some options in a previous column.

But this week, Mr. V.S. wrote to me with a more pointed question. He said, “One of your latest articles encouraged me to ask you for your advice. I would like to become a do-it-myself investor. Before I start investing I’d like to thoroughly study as much as possible about investment.”

“Since my job takes a lot of my time and involves a lot of travel I could only study it by a textbook or maybe taking a distant / part time education course.  I tried to purchase the Canadian Securities Course (CSC) textbook from the Canadian Securities Institute but they require me to enroll in the course. And there are some subjects in the course that I don’t need, like “relationship with clients”. So I’d like to find out what options there are on the market.”

“Could you please recommend the most complete and comprehensive textbooks on investing available for purchase in bookstores or online, and the best part-time/distant education courses on investment.”

My answer to Mr. V.S. is this. I’ll tackle the latter part of your question at a later date, because I don’t think that’s your best option right now.

As for your main question, which I read as “give me the name of the best book or course out there,” I have a two-part answer.

First, the best book I’ve ever seen as a first text on investing is, unfortunately, no longer in print. It was called How to Invest in Canadian Securities and was published for many years by the Canadian Securities Institute. Perhaps your local library (or your brokerage firm’s library) still has a copy you can borrow. It’ll be a bit out of date on some subjects, like tax, but the bulk of it is timeless, excellent, and unbiased.

Failing that, your best choice is still the Canadian Securities Course. Enroll in the course, get the book, and just don’t write the exams. Or do write them, to gauge how much you’ve learned.

In the meantime, you’ll be reading the exact same material that investment advisors going through their licensing process are reading. Effectively, you’ll know as much as they do.

The CSC text is a bit technical, but it is also completely unbiased in the sense that it doesn’t favour one investment product over another. On the other hand, bias is a particular problem at many free public seminars.

And why not read sections like “relationship with clients?” Why not find out from the inside what advisors are being taught about how to handle you and your money?