When you decide to start saving for your retirement with an RRSP account, you will choose if it will be a "managed" (or "directed") RRSP account or a "self-directed RRSP" account. There are two main differences between the two types of accounts:
1) The nature of the investment product shelf
Managed (or Directed) RRSP's
With a Managed RRSP - you are basically limited to GIC's (Guaranteed Investment Certificates), Canada Savings Bonds and a limited selection of Mutual Funds. There is usually no annual account administration fee - and to be blunt, the level of investment advice you will receive from the advisors will be adequate to get started and that's about it. The investment decisions will be based mostly on your answers to a standardized questionnaire.
I don't know if the name is as fitting as it could be. There are many investors who will setup a discount brokerage account for their RRSP's and these are very much self-directed RRSP's in the truest sense. But there are many investors who will work very extensively with a professional financial advisor for the care and management of self-directed RRSP's as well. I think the main difference is more that you have a virtually unlimited product shelf for your investments. You can hold GIC's and Canada Savings Bonds, a much wider variety of mutual funds from third party companies, stocks, bonds, and even physical gold these days. There are very few investment products that you cannot hold in a self-directed RRSP these days.
So, you can have a self-directed RRSP and have someone else manage (or help you manage) your account and provide advice etc. That is why I don't think the name is as well suited as it can be - you don't have to have any more involvement than with a managed RRSP. So again, it's more a decision of what type of investments you want to hold for your account - not the level of involvement you want to have with creating and managing an investment portfolio.
(Having a discount brokerage account [which can be for RRSP's OR non-registered accounts] is for those who are comfortable choosing the actual investment products themselves.)
Self-directed RRSP accounts will almost always have an annual account administration fee - which is normally $100 - $125 + GST per year. Financial institutions will say that the fees are standard and cover the extra costs associated with the extra tax reporting associated with a registered account - but I suspect once one of the big banks eliminates the annual fee - the rest will follow in short order. (They make plenty of money in the fees associated with investment management as it is).
If you are working with an advisor - and your account is large enough - you may be able to have the annual account adminstration fee waived for your self-directed RRSP account. Certainly, if your household investable assets are $100,000 or more - there should be no account adminstration fees!
A final note: you can have as many RRSP accounts as you like - some can be managed, and some can be self-directed. But note that all the limits and rules applies not to each account, but to all accounts viewed as a whole. In other words, if your allowable RRSP contribution room is $10,000 - you could have 10,000 RRSP accounts with $1 contributed to each or 1 RRSP account with $10,000 contributed to it. :)
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