Find any page or article on CheckFirst as well as news releases, investor alerts, enforcement hearings, decisions and orders from the Alberta Securities Commission website.


We’ve put together a list of answers to your most frequently asked investment questions, including those sent to us on social media. Whether you’re wondering how to check your adviser’s registration or just curious about RRSP contribution limits, we’ve got the answer.

About CheckFirst and the ASC

How is the ASC funded?

The ASC is funded by the combination of revenues received under Alberta securities laws from market participants (e.g. fees) and its own investment income. The ASC does not receive any funding from taxpayers or the Government of Alberta.

How is Checkfirst related to the ASC?

This website, checkfirst.ca is the ASC’s investor-oriented website, designed to help investors increase their financial literacy and learn ways to recognize and avoid investment fraud.

What is the Alberta Securities Commission (ASC)?

The Alberta Securities Commission (ASC) is the regulatory agency responsible for administering the province’s securities laws. It is entrusted with fostering a fair and efficient capital market in Alberta and with protecting investors.

The Alberta securities laws are designed to ensure that Alberta’s capital market operates fairly and efficiently for participants and that investors have timely, accurate information on which to base investment decisions. It also ensures that those who sell securities in Alberta are registered and that they conduct themselves according to applicable laws and professional standards. More information about the ASC can be found here.

Financial literacy

What is the difference between preferred and common shares?

Preferred shareholders typically have priority payment status in the case of dividend payment and bankruptcy. The terms of preferred shares vary greatly, so always ensure you read the terms of the class of shares you invest in.

Common shares are the most common type issued by companies. It entitles shareholders to participate in the profit and growth of a company, leading to a potentially higher growth potential. With common shares, returns are not guaranteed. They also don’t have priority status in the case of bankruptcy.

Common shares have higher growth potential than preferred shares, but preferred shares carry less risk than common ones. It is important to consider your investing needs; long-term, short-term goals, risk tolerance and growth potential.

What are Non-GAAP measures?

A non-GAAP financial measure is a numerical measure of an issuer’s historical or future financial performance, financial position or cash flow that is not specified, defined or determined under the issuer’s GAAP (as that term is defined in National Instrument 52-107 Acceptable Accounting Principles and Auditing Standards) and is not presented in an issuer’s financial statements. A non-GAAP financial measure excludes amounts that are included in, or includes amounts that are excluded from, the most directly comparable measure specified, defined or determined under the issuer’s GAAP.

More information about non-GAAP measures can be found here.

What does the term net income mean?

The exact definition for net income can be different depending on what GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) you use but usually it means total revenue less expenses. Here are definitions from different accounting standards:

IFRS (public companies use this standard) – Profit or loss is the total of income less expenses, excluding the components of other comprehensive income. Profit or loss is synonymous to net income. Source: paragraph 7 of IAS 1 Presentation of Financial Statements.

ASPE (private companies use this standard) – In the case of profit-oriented enterprises, net income is the residual amount after expenses and losses are deducted from revenues and gains. Net income generally includes all transactions and events increasing or decreasing the equity of the profit-oriented enterprise except those that result from equity contributions and distributions. Source: paragraph 23 of Section 1000 Financial Statement Concepts.

What is margin trading?

Margin trading is the ability to buy stocks that you currently cannot afford in order to maximize gain if the stock price rises. Margin traders buy securities using funds borrowed from their broker. In order to trade on margin you need a margin account, but every brokerage has different account terms so ensure you read the agreement carefully. Investors can keep their loan as long as they like, provided they fulfill the obligations of their agreement with the brokerage.

Financial planning and investing

What are some common investing mistakes people make?

Even the most experienced investors can make common investing mistakes. Below are three common mistakes people make when it comes to investing.

  1. Investing before researching – It’s important to always research the investment before you hand over your money to help you make an informed decision.
  2. Ignoring risk – Almost all investments involve some level of risk, but many investors simply focus on their returns (reward). Before you invest, it’s important to be aware of the risks that can affect the performance of your investments and be aware of how much risk you are comfortable taking.
  3. Having too many or too few investments – Diversify your investments. Having too many can destroy the chance for good returns, while having too few increases risk.

Click here for more common mistakes and tips to help you invest wisely.

What’s a good way to teach children about money and investing for their future, including post-secondary education?

The best way to instill good money habits in children is to start early. If you start with simple concepts, many children can begin learning about money as soon as they have started counting. You can start by investing a short amount of time each day to talk about the many financial decisions involved in everyday activities. Often, it’s as simple as having a chat or setting up a fun activity. For more tips on how to educate your children about investing or money management, check out the Make it Count: Parent’s Guide.

How can investing in stocks help prepare for retirement? What kind of risks should be considered?

While we can’t advise you on how best to prepare for retirement, we can advise of the risks of investing. Risk is one of the most overlooked and poorly understood areas of the investing process. There are many types of risk that can affect the performance of investments, including political, economic and environmental. Your investment goals should help you determine how much risk you should take. Learn about the common types investment risks.

Why is diversification important?

Diversifying your investments balances risk. No single investment can be a top performer all the time and in all economic environments. Dividing your money into different investments can help create steadier returns in the long-term, while reducing the chances of big losses.

There are many ways to diversify your investments. You can invest in different industries and have both long-term and short-term investments. You can split them between different types of investments, for example stocks vs. bonds. Your own specific mix of investments should take into account your risk tolerance, time horizon and other factors.

Learn more about diversification and investment basics.

Can the ASC give me advice on what stocks to pick?

The ASC isn’t able to provide advice on choosing investments. This website, Checkfirst.ca, has information to help you learn ways to make informed investment decisions.

How do you pick an adviser?

Picking the right adviser is an important decision to make, as they can help you track your progress, set financial goals and choose investments. Helpful tips to help you pick an adviser can be found here.

If you have never invested before how do you start?

As a first-time investor, this is the time to lay the foundation for making educated and suitable investment decisions – do your research, discover your risk tolerance and identify your financial goals.

Whether you choose to work with an adviser or on your own, it’s important to remember that it’s your money. No matter who’s actually handling your investments, only you will know if you are comfortable with the investment choices. And it’s up to you to stay on top of your investments to make sure they keep working for you. Click here for more tips on investing basics.

What is the difference between saving and investing?

Saving is meant to simply preserve money or set it aside to protect it for when it may be needed. Investing is always done expecting a profit or some sort of growth in the value of the amount of money that is put in.

Where can I learn more about how the stock market actually works?

While there are numerous books, articles and websites out there to learn about how the stock market works, the ASC has developed a course in conjunction with Chinook Learning Services in Calgary and Metro Continuing Education in Edmonton called Investing 101. This course will help new investors gain basic knowledge of a range of investing topics including: the stock market, investing and compound interest, types of investments, tax considerations and investment scams.

More information can be found on our Investing 101 classes and events page.

Investment accounts and products

Which is better to start with, an RRSP or TFSA?

The ideal response is – maximize contributions to BOTH! But, for many people that’s not realistic.

There’s no simple way to determine if an RRSP or TFSA is best to start with. RRSPs are great to reduce your taxable income. But, if you’re in a lower tax bracket, TFSAs may be a better account to save in. If you need flexibility to fund financial goals aside from retirement, like a home renovation, it’s better to save in a TFSA. And, if you expect to earn a generous pension, the combined income from that and your RRSP withdrawals could drive you into a higher tax bracket in retirement than when you were working.

This is an area where it may be helpful to work with a qualified professional, as they can customize the calculations for you. Click here for more information on RRSPs and here for TFSAs.

Will TFSAS be taxed as income?

Typically, interest, dividends or capital gains earned from investments in a TFSA are not taxable, either while held in the account or when withdrawn. However, there are some circumstances where taxes may be payable with respect to a TFSA. Check out the Government of Canada’s page on Tax Payable on TFSAs to determine when taxes are applicable or for more general information on TFSAs.

What is the maximum TFSA limit for 2020?

The Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) limit for 2020 is $6,000. For more information of past TFSA limits, click here.

What is an RRSP?

A registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) is a type of account that you can use to build savings for your retirement. You can hold a wide range of investments in an RRSP, including cash, mutual funds and stocks. Contributing to an RRSP also has tax-saving advantages and it is a tax-sheltered account. Generally, income tax must be paid on funds that are withdrawn from an RRSP. Click here for more information on RRSPs.

What should I do if I’ve accidentally over-contributed to my RRSP in a certain year?

Information on exceeding your RRSP deduction limit can be found here.

What are ETFS?

An ETF is an “exchange traded fund”. ETFs are a security that tracks an index, a commodity, bonds or variety of assets (stocks, oil futures, gold bars, foreign currency, etc.). ETFs are traded like a common stock on the stock exchange where the price changes throughout the day as they are bought and sold. ETF shareholders receive a proportion of the profits, such as interest earned or dividends paid. ETFs are typically highly liquid and have lower fees than mutual funds because they are passively rather than actively managed.

What happens if my kids don’t use their RESPS?

Unless otherwise specified in the terms of your plan, an RESP account can stay open for 35 years before it expires. If your kids don’t use their RESPs, it may be possible to transfer the funds to a different account, such as an RRSP.

Can RESPS be used by multiple people?

There are two types of RESPs – individual and family plans. With either type you can apply for the Canada Education Savings Grant (CESG), and other government grants. An individual plan has one beneficiary while a family plan can have multiple. Whichever plan you choose, ensure that you understand the restrictions and withdrawal terms of each account type.

What are binary options?

Binary options are an “all or nothing” wager on how an underlying asset will perform in a limited amount of time. Investors can have as little as 60 seconds to predict the market’s minute-by-minute fluctuations, which makes investing in binary options extremely risky, even for seasoned investors. Visit our binary options page for more information

Is it safe to invest in cryptocurrencies? (e.g Bitcoin)

Cryptocurrency offerings, such as Bitcoin, can provide new opportunities for investors to access a broader range of investments. However, they can also raise investor protection concerns, such as the opportunity for fraud, decentralization, security and technical issues and tax implications. If you are considering a Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency offering, ensure you understand what you are getting into and know the risks involved before handing over your money. More information on cryptocurrency offerings can be found here.

Investor protection

What are the steps I should take to make sure I am investing with a good firm and or adviser?

Before choosing a firm or adviser, a great first step to help you make an informed decision is to check registration. With limited exceptions, in order for a firm or individual to sell securities or derivatives, or offer investment advice in Alberta, they must be registered with the ASC. You can check the National Registration Database to see for yourself if they are registered. Registration helps to protect investors because securities regulators will only register firms and individuals that meet certain proficiency, integrity and solvency requirements.

Click here for more steps to help you make an informed decision.

Does investing with a registered salesperson/company guarantee that what I am investing in is not a scam?

No, but it is a critical first step. Beyond that, you also need to be aware of the red flags of fraud, do your own research and ask the right questions before making a decision to invest. To help you recognize a potential scam, read our Red Flags of Investment Fraud information sheet.

I want to reduce my chances of losing money to a fraudulent investment. How do I know which ones are legitimate?

Asking the right questions can help you make an informed decision and help to determine whether an investment opportunity is right for you. Find out if the individual or company offering you an investment is registered by checking their registration here. You can also look up current or previous enforcement actions to see if there is any disciplinary history for an individual or company offering you an investment.

How do I know if an investment opportunity might be a scam?

With any investment, it’s important to ask the right questions and do your research: check, protect, then invest. When considering an investment opportunity you should always start your research by checking three things— check to ensure that the person or company selling the security is registered, check their enforcement history and check online news about the person or company. If an investment seems too good to be true, trust your gut, it might be a scam.

What are the signs of elder financial abuse?

Scam artists are aware of how the natural aging process affects seniors, which may make them one vulnerable to investment fraud. Scam artists prey on seniors by exploiting their worries and dreams about retirement, leaving a legacy for their families and outliving their savings. To combat this vulnerability and increased risk, the ASC has developed a collection of senior-focused resources to help seniors spot and stop elder abuse.

What's the difference between an advisor and an adviser? Why the difference?

Generally anyone, regardless of what title they use, who is in the business of selling or providing advice about an investment that is a security (i.e. a mutual fund, stock, bond, derivative, option, etc.) must be registered under the Securities Act (Alberta). Persons who are registered under the Securities Act (Alberta) are licensed to sell you products sold by the investment firm they work for, and are obligated to provide you with advice on the suitability of those products for your circumstances. You can check registration here.

How can I find out if an adviser is registered?

With limited exceptions, an individual or company who is selling securities, derivatives or offering investment advice in Alberta must be registered with the  ASC.

You can check registration for free on the ASC website or contact the ASC at 1-877-355-4488 or inquiries@asc.ca to find out if an individual or company is registered.

Why is registration important?

With limited exceptions, in order to sell securities or offer investment advice in Alberta, you must be registered with the Alberta Securities Commission. And don’t just take someone’s word for it, you can check the National Registration Database (www.aretheyregistered.ca) to see for yourself. Checking registration is free and it helps to protect investors because securities regulators will only register firms and individuals that meet certain proficiency, integrity and solvency requirements.

Market regulation and enforcement

What sort of regulation is there in Alberta for the emerging number of cryptocurrencies?

Many cryptocurrency offerings involve the sale of securities. Securities laws in Canada will apply if the person or company selling the securities is conducting business from within Canada or if there are Canadian investors. More information can be found here.

How do I report suspected insider trading?

If you have serious concerns about potential breaches of the Securities Act (Alberta) you can file a complaint with the ASC. Please include enough detail so we can determine what actions might be necessary. You can find more information and the complaint form here.

What does the ASC do when it receives a complaint?

The ASC reviews and assesses complaints made against people or companies involved in the capital markets in Alberta. If the actions of these persons or companies suggest possible breaches of Alberta securities laws, further investigation may be warranted. Documents will be reviewed, investors and others may be interviewed and evidence will be gathered and analyzed to determine whether one or more breaches have occurred. A formal hearing may then be initiated, where a tribunal will rule whether breaches took place and, if so, whether to impose administrative sanctions to protect the public and deter non-compliance with regulatory requirements. In the appropriate circumstances, the ASC can also prosecute individuals or companies in the Provincial Court of Alberta.

How do I find out if there have been complaints or investigations about a person or company?

As with other regulatory or enforcement agencies, the Alberta Securities Commission will release information to the fullest extent possible, while ensuring the processes of investigations and examinations, and the conduct of proceedings are not prejudiced.

Under the Securities Act (Alberta), the Commission cannot comment publicly as to the existence, status, or nature of an investigation being conducted. This is intended to protect the integrity of the investigation, ensure the complaint process is not used to affect the market and be fair to those who are the subject of investigations.

If enforcement action has been taken against a person or a company this information is a matter of public record and available from the Enforcement Orders database or Scheduled Proceedings.

Can I make an anonymous complaint?

We must be able to contact complainants for more information, so we strongly urge complainants to provide contact information. Further, the identity of complainants is kept confidential to the extent permitted by law. While we do not prohibit anonymous complaints, it is rare that we can take effective follow-up action on complaints that are submitted anonymously. You can file a complaint with the Alberta Securities Commission on their online investor complaint page.

I have a complaint against my investment dealer, adviser or mutual fund salesperson. What should I do?

If your complaint is of a minor nature and does not reflect on the integrity of your adviser or salesperson, talk to them. If this does not resolve the matter, or if your complaint is of a serious nature, send a written complaint to the firm that employs the individual you are dealing with. Request a meeting with the branch manager or compliance officer of the firm to discuss your concerns. If the matter still remains unresolved, file your complaint with the following:

If the investment adviser or salesperson is employed by a member firm of the Canadian Investment Regulatory Organization (CIRO), which had temporarily been known as the New Self-Regulatory Organization of Canada, and/or was a member of the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC) or the Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada (MFDA), you should file your complaint directly with CIRO. Visit its website to search whether the firm is a CIRO member.

If your dealer/adviser or salesperson is employed by a firm that is NOT a CIRO member, or you are unsure who to contact, file the complaint with the ASC.

What regulatory steps are being taken to improve transparency regarding how fees and funds are managed?

Recently, we’ve engaged in consultations with investors and industry on the option of discontinuing embedded commissions and on targeted reforms that enhance the client-registrant relationship, check out the CSA Consultation Paper 81-408 Consultation on the Option of Discontinuing Embedded Commissions. You can always find recent regulatory developments listed here.

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