Couch Potato for Hire

January 14, 2013

In the three years since I launched Canadian Couch Potato, I’ve received countless e-mails from readers. Often they’re baffled by the ETF choices available today. Others are unsure how to determine an appropriate asset mix, or how to spread their investments across multiple accounts. Some are simply overwhelmed by the idea of becoming a do-it-yourself investor and have asked if they could hire me to help them get started. I’m now able to answer yes.

I am pleased to announce that I have partnered with PWL Advisors in Toronto to offer a unique service for DIY index investors. For a flat fee, budding Couch Potatoes can now work with me and two licensed advisors—Justin Bender and Shannon Dalziel—to design and implement an ETF portfolio at a discount brokerage. And for investors who want a little more help, we also offer an ongoing service for a low quarterly fee. You can read the details by downloading our brochure.

DIY with help?

People often ask why anyone would need an advisor to set up a Couch Potato portfolio when the information is readily available online. But that’s like asking why a homeowner would hire a contractor to renovate their basement when you can learn to hang drywall by watching YouTube.

The simple fact is, it’s just not as easy as it sounds, and mistakes are expensive: believe me, I have seen dozens of them first-hand. Analysis paralysis is also as costly as it is common, so there is enormous value in having someone help with the difficult decisions at the beginning. Finally, new DIY investors also need the tools and training to learn to maintain their portfolio going forward—and that’s not something a financial planner can help you with.

Our new service doesn’t just provide advice: it’s much more hands-on. We actually walk you through all the trades so you can gain experience without the risk of costly errors. We help you exchange Canadian and U.S. dollars at rock-bottom rates, and we make sure your portfolio is designed to keep taxes to a minimum. Then we provide you with custom spreadsheets and a comprehensive handbook—co-written by Justin and me—to help you manage your own portfolio online. It includes step-by-step instructions for rebalancing, tax-loss harvesting, and many other techniques. There’s nothing else like it anywhere in Canada.

The seed is planted

You may be wondering how this partnership came about. Just before Christmas in 2011, Justin and Shannon asked if I would help them do a little charity work. In exchange for a donation to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), they helped four investors get out of their expensive mutual funds and set up low-cost, tax-efficient ETF portfolios at a discount brokerage.

Sensing an idea for an article, I asked for permission to contact these new Couch Potatoes and  interviewed them for an article called Renovate Your Portfolio, which I wrote for the June 2012 issue of MoneySense. After it appeared, Justin and Shannon were flooded with inquiries from investors across Canada who wanted to know where they could sign up. So they decided to make the do-it-yourself service a regular part of their offering. Eventually they had so many requests they needed another body, and that’s when we starting talking about joining forces.

I’m not licensed (yet), so I can’t advise clients about specific securities, nor can I help them execute trades—Justin and Shannon will look after that part. However, I will consult personally with investors to determine their goals and needs, and I’ll offer my advice and experience where appropriate.

A new beginning

I’ve been looking for an opportunity like this for some time. Over the last couple of years I’ve completed the core curriculum for the Certified Financial Planner exams, which I plan to write this year. However, in order to earn the CFP designation, you also need experience in the industry, and being a financial journalist doesn’t count. I wasn’t sure how I could get that experience: many investment shops are downright hostile to indexing, and few advisors are interested in DIY investors. But after months of discussion, I’m confident this arrangement with Justin, Shannon and PWL Advisors is the perfect fit. Our investment philosophies are almost identical, and our skills are complementary.

I’m looking forward to working directly with investors for the first time, and setting them on the road to being successful Couch Potatoes. If you’d like more information about our service, don’t hesitate to contact me or Justin Bender directly.

{ 104 comments… read them below or add one }

Canadian Couch Potato January 19, 2013 at 10:29 pm

@Noel: Thanks for recommending the service, and for a good question. Taxable accounts are considerably more work to maintain, because we’ll be looking for tax-loss harvesting opportunities—indeed that’s one of the biggest advantages of the service, since it’s something few DIYers do successfully. We also help with calculating the investor’s ACBs so they can accurately report their gains or losses.

Justin Bender January 20, 2013 at 10:41 am

@Noel – in addition to tax-loss harvesting, we also track the adjusted cost base (ACB) of all ETFs held in their non-registered accounts – we have found the values posted by the discount brokerages to be suspect…all DIYers who have non-registered accounts would be well advised to either track it themselves (which would be difficult for the average investor) or find someone to track it for them.
Asset location also becomes much more complicated for investors who are accumulating in their registered and non-registered accounts. After helping investors set-up a tax-efficient portfolio, it can quickly become tax-in-efficient if they do not maintain it.
In my opinion, the ongoing service is best suited for DIY investors with non-registered accounts – most investors with only registered accounts (i.e. RRSPs and TFSAs) should feel comfortable going forward without us after the completion of our service (but we are always there to provide ongoing help, just in case they would still prefer a helping hand for a reasonable cost).

Jerri Rue January 28, 2013 at 6:20 pm

I was lucky to be accepted as one of the first four investors offered this service with Justin and Shannon thanks to Dan and the Canadian Couch Potato. I had tried for several years to move my portfolio into ETF’s, but I kept getting bogged down and quitting. Justin and Shannon’s help was absolutely worth every penny for me. They made me do a lot of the work independently, but they also walked me through the process, teaching me as we went along, so I would be able to continue on my own. Everything outlined in this brochure is exactly what they do.
I think offering a service to help with the follow through is brilliant!! I think you guys are amazing and I am sure this will truly benefit any investor who hires you.
Congratulations!!
Jerri Rue

Jeff February 8, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Is your handbook and/or spreadsheet for sale?

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