Banks are getting savvier about finding ways to sell their products.  More and more Canadians are turning to online sources for financial advice, and banks are getting in on the act by engaging customers on their websites and social media channels.

One approach the banks have used for years is to conduct a survey about a topic like household debt, or budgeting, and then spin the results into a story where their subject expert makes recommendations using the banks’ products as a solution.

Unfortunately, a survey like this one doesn’t tell us much, but it does help promote and sell products for the banks.

Related: How To Make A Better Personal Budget

Can You Trust Advice From Your Bank?

The latest trend is for banks to use their expert staff to offer advice to consumers online.  This is an interesting way to provide value for their customers, but it does seem dangerous to trust a bank that’s selling products to give impartial advice.

For example, there’s BMO’s adviceDirect, a new online service for self-directed investors who want more detailed advice and stock recommendations than the typical online trading account offers.  Investors need a minimum of $100,000 in assets to use the account, which charges a fee of 1% per year.  Will the advice be impartial, or is this a gimmick to create more trading activity within self-directed accounts?

Related: How Index Funds Compare To Equity Mutual Funds

RBC’s Advice Centre takes a canned approach to advice by telling you what they want you to hear.  The site is set up to offer advice on banking, home ownership, investing and business.  But it doesn’t take long to see that most of the advice on this site leads to buying RBC products and showing how RBC can help.

Fortunately, some banks and financial institutions have figured out that the best way to offer value online is to give expert, unbiased advice in an environment that makes people feel comfortable.

Here are two sites that you can trust for solid advice:

Brighter Life

Brighter Life, which is owned by Sun Life Financial, aims to share ideas with Canadians about money, health, family, work-life balance, and retirement.  There’s great content posted frequently on a wide variety of topics written from different perspectives.  They also have a good resource in their tools and calculators page.

Sun Life Financial sells insurance and investments, and there’s no doubt that Brighter Life is part of an overall strategy to sell more products.  However, you won’t find Sun Life products and recommendations littered throughout this site.  What you will find is solid financial information and advice you can trust, and it’s written in an engaging style that will keep you coming back for more.

TD Helps

What started out as a niche online community hosted by mortgage expert Farhaneh Haque, TD Helps has evolved into a diverse community with advice on home ownership, investing, planning for retirement, saving, borrowing and how to manage your money.

Related: How Much House Can I Afford?

What sets TD Helps apart from RBC’s Advice Centre is that TD’s team of experts answer questions from actual customers in an online forum.  Unless the question is specific to a TD product or service, the responses I’ve read offered good advice without trying to sell you something.

While they can’t give buy and sell recommendations, you can still post your investing questions and get solid advice.  I found detailed responses to questions such as, “How can I sell the 5 Nortel shares that I’m still holding in my TD Waterhouse account,” and, “I’m under pressure to invest in Nova Mobile.  What’s your opinion on this stock?”

Final thoughts

You should be wary of advice you get from your bank, especially when you can see there’s a clear conflict of interest.  Too often, we hear stories about commission-based advisors recommending high-fee products that are not in their clients’ best interest.

Related: Fee Only Financial Planner Vs. Commission Based Advisor

One reason we look for advice online is because it’s a more relaxing environment and there’s no pressure to buy now.  Websites like Brighter Life and TD Helps, along with their parent sites, Sun Life Financial and TD Canada Trust understand that they can pull customers in with useful articles, or with an online forum full of advice.

The best way to sell a product is to build trust with your customers.  We’d much rather buy from someone we know and trust, who’s not trying to sell us something every time we meet.  It’s nice to know that at least some banks and financial institutions are starting to get it.

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