ShareOwner: Canada’s First ETF Robo-Advisor

Back in February I wrote about the rise of robo-advisors, the online services that allow you to build an ETF portfolio that’s maintained by a computer. These services are already operating in the US, and several are in the works in Canada, including the start-ups Nest Wealth and Wealthsimple. But the first to market has turned out to be ShareOwner, a well-established firm better known to dividend stock investors.

I wrote about ShareOwner more than four years ago, and my review at the time was quite negative. They charged a $79 annual fee for RRSPs, their trading commissions were on the high side, and their menu of ETFs was mostly confined to niche products. But the firm has a new owner in Bruce Seago (a veteran of the online brokerage business) and a revamped offering. Their newly announced Model Portfolio Service has a lot of promise for ETF investors seeking a low-cost, low-maintenance solution.

Here’s an overview of how it works. When you open an account, you can select one of ShareOwner’s five model portfolios, or you can create your own from a list of almost 50 ETFs. The menu is dominated by plain vanilla, broadly diversified funds, including ETFs from Vanguard’s Canadian and US lineup, as well others from iShares and BMO. It’s also good to see only one to five choices for each asset class, so the options are not overwhelming.

After you’ve selected your ETFs, you set a target allocation for each one. You also select rebalancing thresholds, which must be between 10% and 50% of the target. For example, you might choose a 30% allocation to the BMO Aggregate Bond Index ETF (ZAG) and a rebalancing threshold of 25%. Since one-quarter of 30% is 7.5 percentage points, the holding will be rebalanced if it falls below 22.5% or climbs higher than 37.5%.

Once a month, all your idle cash—whether it’s from distributions or new contributions—is automatically invested in whichever asset classes are furthest from their target allocation. And if any asset class has drifted outside your thresholds, the algorithm will trigger a sale of an overweight asset class in order to rebalance the portfolio.

Unique features

There’s a lot to like about the ShareOwner offering. Let’s start with no minimum account size and no administrative fees. The annual cost is 0.50% of your portfolio’s balance on accounts up to $100,000, and a flat $40 per month on larger accounts. That all-in cost includes the scheduled monthly trades (if you want to make a purchase or sale immediately rather than waiting for the next monthly rebalance, a $40 commission applies). If you assume ETF management fees are 0.25% and you make only the scheduled monthly trades, the all-in cost would be a very competitive 0.75% or less.

If all you want is the ability to buy ETFs with no commission, you can already do that at Questrade or Virtual Brokers and avoid a monthly fee. But there is huge value in ShareOwner’s automatic rebalancing service. Even if they have the time and inclination, very few investors have the discipline to maintain their strategic asset mix. (How many were selling US stocks and buying bonds last year?) With the Model Portfolio Service, you can simply set up a preauthorized contribution and remove the need to make frequent decisions about where to deploy your cash.

ShareOwner also has a unique feature that sets it apart from all other online brokerages: you can hold fractional shares. If you want to buy $1,000 of an ETF trading at $21.87, you’d normally have to buy 45 shares for $984.15 and have $15.85 left over. But at ShareOwner you can purchase 45.7247 shares for exactly $1,000. So no matter how small your account, you can add small allocations to asset classes such as REITs or emerging markets, which wouldn’t have been cost-effective if you were paying commissions and limited to buying full shares.

Taken together, these features make ShareOwner’s Model Portfolio Service similar to building a customized index mutual fund.

How to make the most of it

If you’re thinking about using ShareOwner’s service to build a Couch Potato portfolio, I’ll make a couple of suggestions.

First, the five model portfolios seem well designed on the equity side, with a good mix of Canadian, US, international and emerging markets, as well as REITs—very similar to what you’d see in my Complete Couch Potato. But I’m less enamoured with the fixed income ingredients, which include preferred shares, unhedged US bonds and emerging markets bonds. Your fixed income holdings should be about lowering a portfolio’s volatility, and those asset classes won’t accomplish that goal. I’d recommend using the customization feature and replacing these with investment-grade Canadian bonds only.

Another caveat: ShareOwner, like most brokerages, does not allow investors to hold US cash in registered accounts. So if you include US-listed ETFs in your portfolio your money will be converted to US dollars with a built-in spread, which is not disclosed. For that reason, I’d suggest investors avoid US-listed ETFs altogether and stick with the Canadian equivalents.

Finally, resist the urge to tinker. The Model Portfolio Service is remarkably flexible in allowing investors to switch from one portfolio to another at any time, and that can turn anyone into a market timer or a tactical manager. Investors would be better off sticking to their long-term targets and pretending that feature doesn’t exist.

If any readers try ShareOwner’s service, please send me your thoughts or share your feedback in the comments section below.

42 Responses to ShareOwner: Canada’s First ETF Robo-Advisor

  1. Trevor June 9, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Dan, have you tried any modelling of the benefits of more frequent re-balancing than annually?

  2. Canadian Couch Potato June 9, 2014 at 10:37 am #

    @Trevor: I haven’t done that research, but others have. There’s no consensus, but what I have seen suggest full monthly rebalancing is probably too frequent.

    However, it’s important to remember that’s not what’s happening with the ShareOwner service. Idle cash is invested in whatever is furthest below its target, which is always going to be better than leaving it sitting in the account. And as long as you set your rebalancing thresholds at 25% or so, only big market movements are going to trigger a full rebalance.

  3. Richard June 9, 2014 at 10:55 am #

    Trevor, the studies I’ve seen suggest that there’s no benefit to rebalancing more than once per year. Markets can have a trend for a while so if you sell out after a month of gains you are more likely to lose on further gains than protect your profits. I have even seen suggestions that rebalancing once every 2 – 4 years could work best but once a year or when there are major changes works for me.

  4. Darren June 9, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

    @Richard: there may be benefits to market timing strategies like this, but this is probably the wrong blog to be pushing it. I suggest that the main problem with frequent rebalancing is transaction costs.

  5. DMDave June 9, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    https://advisors.vanguard.com/VGApp/iip/site/advisor/researchcommentary/article/IWE_InvComRebalancingAct

    ” Vanguard research found that sticking to a rebalancing plan has a greater impact on risk-adjusted returns than the rebalancing strategy itself.
    Rebalancing is a contrarian exercise. Advisors can serve a particularly valuable role coaching clients to stay the course.
    The low-interest-rate environment doesn’t change the important role of bonds as diversifiers of equity risk in balanced portfolios.”

  6. Ross June 9, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

    Congrats ShareOwner … Great to see such innovation in Canada. At 0.75% fees, or less, then ShareOwner seems priced between the worlds of index mutual funds (e.g. Tangerine) and self-directed ETF management. Will be interesting to see retention of ShareOwner customers over time, as they learn. Perhaps people will stay. Perhaps it may act as a bridge, or training platform, for investors new to ETFs and moving from mutual funds eventually to self-directed ETFs. Regardless, good luck ShareOwner!

    @Trevor, I’d expect that frequency of rebalancing would be impacted by:
    – Size of portfolio (impact of transaction/fx costs)
    – Volatility of market (degree to which portfolio is out-of-balance)
    – Opportunity cost of investor (time and mindset … as per recent CCP article then there’s a wonderful mental release in not-even-thinking-about-portfolio)
    – Confidence of investor in investment strategy (if comfortable of risk-reward appropriate and believe in passive strategy then perhaps more inclined to roll-the-waves, up and down)
    – Discipline of investor (it may take a deep breath to sell ‘up’ securities and buy ‘down’ securities)

    My frequency of rebalancing has decreased over time. Annual strikes me as a good compromise between needless tinkering and portfolio allocation. That said, I rather suspect that portfolio rebalancing with any reasonable frequency is a whole lot better than none at all (as I think suggested common in prior CCP articles). Beware of the challenges of diminishing returns … http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diminishing_returns

  7. Sean June 9, 2014 at 12:55 pm #

    I’d be interested to know how tax efficiency is managed with ShareOwner – ensuring that the right asset classes are held in the right account types (bonds and US equities/dividend producers in RRSP, Canadian equities/dividend producers in non-registered, growth equities in TFSA etc.). If I’d have to choose different model portfolios for different accounts to maintain the correct overall portfolio in a tax-efficient manner, it would reduce the attractiveness of the service.

  8. Canadian Couch Potato June 9, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    @Sean: My understanding is that each individual account is managed separately, so any asset location decisions would be the investor’s responsibility. This touches on one of the limits of robo-advisors: tax management cannot be automated, except perhaps for some tax-loss harvesting opportunities (Wealthfront does this, for example). The automated model is excellent for a simple RRSP, but if you have multiple accounts (especially taxable accounts) then it’s less likely to add value.

  9. Richard June 9, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    @Darren I’m not suggesting market timing. This is for rebalancing to a fixed allocation. Of course we don’t have to do what has worked best in the past but I’m not in a rush to adjust things every 3 months. Anyone who rebalances regularly will get some benefit. The last study I looked at showed something like an extra 0.5 – 1% per year from rebalancing. The risk of being off by a few months is not very large compared to this. Again that suggests that rebalancing more than once a year is extra work for no gain. If you put monthly contributions into the asset class that is furthest behind you could easily wait even longer.

  10. Steve June 9, 2014 at 5:01 pm #

    @CCP:

    “Another caveat: ShareOwner, like most brokerages, does not allow investors to hold US cash in registered accounts. So if you include US-listed ETFs in your portfolio your money will be converted to US dollars with a built-in spread, which is not disclosed.”

    This is not actually an issue, unless ShareOwner has changed their practices recently. Based on experience holding USD ETFs in a ShareOwner RSP account some years ago – when ETF XYZ paid a distribution of, say, USD 100, the notional amount of the distribution converted to CAD would appear in the account holdings, BUT when the distribution was reinvested in ETF XYZ (for free, per ShareOwner’s quasi-DRIP program) the full USD 100 was reinvested … so there was no actual conversion and thus no spread. I also seem to recall it was possible to link a USD bank account to the ShareOwner RSP account, from which the money to settle purchases would be directly transferred as required. The end effect was to have a USD RSP without ever explicitly holding USD in the account as such. However, it would be necessary to verify if all that is still the case today.

  11. Paul N June 9, 2014 at 5:39 pm #

    @ Ross

    As per our exchange in February,

    http://canadiancouchpotato.com/2014/02/10/will-robo-advisors-ever-come-to-canada/comment-page-1/#comments

    this is a fairer investment model. It rewards you for giving them more of your money rather then taking more of it in fees , as your AUM rises. (for the same amount of work).
    Maybe the new owner is a Scotsman? 🙂 This is more of what I was trying to outline in my posts there.

    CCP – Thanks for taking the time to write a review about this product. I happened on it a week ago and was interested in it.

  12. Jas June 9, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

    @CCP:
    Will Shareowner keep track of the ACB for taxable accounts, and if yes, will it be reliable?

  13. Canadian Couch Potato June 9, 2014 at 11:06 pm #

    @Steve: It’s possible that the Model Portfolio Service works differently from regular ShareOwner accounts. I asked Bruce Seago about this specifically, and unless I misunderstood, what I wrote was accurate.

    Here’s what it says on the ShareOwner site: “If you make a trade involving a security which is denominated in a currency other than the currency of the account in which the trade is to settle, or receive a payment to your account in a currency other than the currency of the account, a conversion of currency may be required. In all such transactions and at any time a conversion of currency is made, we will act as principal with you in converting the currency at rates established or determined by us. We may earn revenue, in addition to the commission applicable to such a trade, based on the spread or mark up applied by us to the spot rate charged to us when we purchase or sell currency in the market.”

    @Jas: I’m afraid I have no way of knowing how accurate their ACB tracking will be.

  14. Steve June 10, 2014 at 12:43 am #

    @CCP:

    [Quoting CCP quoting the ShareOwner site]: “If you make a trade … or receive a payment to your account in a currency other than the currency of the account, a conversion of currency MAY be required.” [emphasis added]

    The “may” depends on the circumstances – speaking from direct experience with USD denominated ETFs in a ShareOwner account, I think the confusion concerns the idea of “holding” USD in accounts:

    1) Automatic reinvestment of USD ETF distributions – where the cash is only notionally credited to the account in CAD, but in reality is held by ShareOwner in USD, aggregated with USD from distributions received by all other holders of the same ETF, to be reinvested collectively at the same time through the ShareOwner DRIP program = there is NO conversion, and the full USD amount of the distribution is subsequently reinvested in all cases.

    (Note that if an account holder cancelled the automatic reinvestment service for that USD distribution, the cash would be actually credited to the account and available to be used for other purposes, and in that case there might be a conversion to CAD with the relevant spread/ fees).

    2) Deposit of funds to an account to buy ETFs, withdrawal of funds from an account pursuant to the sale of ETFs, transfer of funds between ShareOwner accounts, or the use of funds from the sale of one ETF to buy a different ETF (as in rebalancing in the new ShareOwner MPS) = where there is a USD component to the transaction, MAY have a conversion (and thus spread/ fees) depending on the circumstances.

    The difference in effect is between 1) where there is NO actual movement or holding of USD in individual accounts, only a notional accounting entry while all the USD distributions are actually held aggregated for the monthly collective DRIP reinvestment; and 2) where there IS actual cash flows between funds or accounts, and so there are actual segregated USD amounts.

    If you were to ask ShareOwner about USD conversion in the above terms, the answer would likely be what I’m suggesting as regards the non-conversion of fully-reinvested USD ETF distributions.

    It would also be interesting to specifically ask if it is possible to link a USD bank account to be chosen as the source of funds when setting up the purchase of a USD ETF (one can choose account cash or an external linked account as source) and thereby avoid CAD-USD conversion for that purchase. Again, as with ETF distribution reinvestment, this is not about actually holding USD in the account (but in this case I’m not sure if it is possible). IF this is possible, one could buy, hold, and reinvest all distributions from a USD ETF with no conversion at all.

  15. Steve June 10, 2014 at 1:01 am #

    @CCP:

    My most sincere apologies!!!

    … I forgot to add a very important point: given the monthly rebalancing inherent in the new MPS, mixing CAD and USD ETFs in the same account WOULD likely result in currency conversions upon reinvestment as you suggest, since the reinvestments would be among multiple different ETFs, not within the same one (in effect my case (2) above).

    For that reason, instead of suggesting one “avoid US-listed ETFs altogether”, I’d vary that simply by suggesting that the MPS be kept to a single currency, either all CAD or all USD, to avoid conversions (a custom MPS of USD funds for one’s foreign equity allocation for example). My assumption here is that consistent with their practice with normal reinvestments (my case (1) above), ShareOwner would NOT convert USD upon reinvestment in an all-USD ETF account. Whether an all-USD MPS account would be of much practical benefit is another matter!

    My prior post was concerned with the usual form of ShareOwner USD conversion practices, which seem to still cause confusion – you are right that the MPS introduces a new wrinkle.

  16. Nathan June 10, 2014 at 5:38 am #

    @Steve: Although if you’re going to have a separate ShareOwner account for CAD and USD funds, presumably manually re-balancing between the two yourself, it wouldn’t be too much of a leap to simply own a 3 fund portfolio (VXUS + CAD equity + bonds for example), and save the 0.5%.

    For someone who wanted to have a completely auto-pilot portfolio though, this is looking like a good new default suggestion to me. Not _quite_ as simple as tangerine, but should be just as easy to deal with once set up (at least in a registered account), and significantly cheaper, especially when you get into 6 figures.

    That said, an automatic purchase plan with 4 TD e-funds is 100% hands-off too, and just requires a very straightforward annual rebalance. Honestly not sure which of the two I’d recommend at this point. Probably both! Choice is good.

  17. Tristan June 10, 2014 at 9:40 am #

    @Nathan: I think it’s a bit complicated for someone starting off to have a seperate US$ ShareOwner account and manually rebalance. Besides, you would have to have a another source of US$’s, or open a brokerage account to do a Norbert’s Gambit to convert currency inexpensively, assuming ShareOwner allows a link to a US$ account.

    I think I would rather accept the expensive currency conversion charges at ShareOwner, or stay with TD e-funds or Tangerine until ShareOwner makes VUN, XEF and XEC available in their menu.

  18. Dave C June 10, 2014 at 9:58 am #

    @CCP: I noticed that the balanced model portfolio on ShareOwners site splits the equity side of the portfolio equally between Canada, US, International, Emerging Markets and REITs. This gives greater weighting to emerging markets and REITS when compared to your model portfolios. Is this something you would recommend changing or is it a relatively minor detail that won’t significantly effect returns?

  19. Canadian Couch Potato June 10, 2014 at 11:26 am #

    @Dave C: I might quibble with some of the choices, but exactly how you divide the equity subclasses isn’t likely to have a huge effect over the long term.

    @Ryan: Well, there’s no such thing as an after-tax loss, or after-tax volatility, so only expected returns would be affected. But that would be highly dependent on the individuals situation. You can definitely make that part of your financial projections, however, and we do that with clients.

  20. Nathan June 10, 2014 at 4:58 pm #

    @Tristan: I agree; that was sort of my point. 🙂 ShareOwner makes sense if you want autopilot. If you’re going to split it into two accounts to avoid large currency conversion fees, you might as well just own ETFs directly. (I suppose I should have just written that. Was trying to share multiple thoughts in one comment!)

  21. Steve June 11, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

    Thanks Dan – I’m glad you pursued this and posted. It sounds like you’re pleasantly surprised with the offering from Shareowner. I hadn’t dug into the details, but it sounded reasonable when I read about it.

  22. Matt June 12, 2014 at 10:50 am #

    I currently have a TFSA with Questrade and deposit my yearly TFSA allowance using that to rebalance at the end of each year. As you mentioned, this is at no cost.

    With ShareOwner’s, could I set an automatic monthly contribution of 1/12th of the TFSA allowable contribution for that year? Would you expect the 0.5% added cost be offset at least by having my money in the markets sooner as opposed to a lump sum contribution at the end of the year done myself for free? In my case, it sounds like it would be less work with possibly an even better return anyways? I’m pretty lazy, but willing to put in my little bit of work once a year for 0.5%.

    Thanks for another great article, Dan.

  23. Canadian Couch Potato June 12, 2014 at 11:01 am #

    @Matt: Yes, you can set up a monthly contribution in any amount you wish. Would the regular investment offset the 0.5% fee? That’s impossible to predict, but I’m inclined to think there is real value in the imposed discipline. There has been a lot of research suggesting that index investors tend to underperform the benchmarks simply because the make the same behavioral mistakes active investor do.

  24. Matt June 12, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    I think I figured out my own question. Any “extra gains” would be only on the contributions made earlier in the year and although they may be nice, I would be paying 0.5% on everything in the account which is worse at this point. The articles people have posted on rebalancing frequency are interesting as well though.

  25. Jake June 12, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

    I’m sticking with TD E series. They are easy to buy and have been around for a long time delivering index returns less a small fee and returns better than managed funds.

    I read that managed funds can handle downturns better as they have control over the fund. However if I invest in a balanced fund the fund manager can’t one day go from a balanced fund to an all fixed income fund can he even if the fund manager thinks a big equity downturn is likely or vice versa?

    I assume if we pay an advisor than they should move your money from a more risk fund to a secure fund but as we saw a few years ago many folks who have advisors lost big money.

    what exactly do we get for advisor fees for?

    i questioned my old advisor about the high MER’s compared to the index funds. his reply was I should look at the ruturns more so than the MER’s and gave me what the prior years returns were. however when i informed him of the returns of the index returns which were higher and less MER’s he told me it may be time for someone else to look after my money, which made me smile. advisors seem to get rude and turn against you when you know more than they want you to.

    i wouldn’t mind paying more if i’m getting more but that is usually not the case.

    also it makes me laugh when guys post past performance on managed funds that outperformed the indexe and say couch potato index investing doesn’t works. however they don’t seem to want to post the managed funds that will outperform the indexes in the future so we all can invest in them. i know with an index fund i will get that return minus the small fees in the future, with managed funds you have no clue what you’re going to get.

  26. Ross June 17, 2014 at 1:17 pm #

    @PaulN, hello again. Nice to hear from you. Alas I cannot comment on whether the new owner of ShareOwner is a Scotsman … there’s one or two in Canada (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_Canadian) … but I digress 🙂

    Pricing for robo-advisor services strike me as a curious topic. I suspect it may be determined by a) the definition of target market for the intended services, b) the level of market segmentation that is commercially viable, c) competitive advantage, or not, against incumbent or substitute solutions.

    I explored this topic earlier this year – as you rightly noted – from the perspective of a potential service provider (a story for another day!). The related costs are far from trivial. And, as was commented by others earlier this year, Canada is a rather smaller market than the US so economies of scale may be less accessible.

    The sheer diversity between AERs of CPP-style portfolios and mutual funds makes for a curious environment. But there is arguably more afoot than just price. Advisors, whether fee-only or otherwise, should (I hope) be offering services well beyond selecting securities. Consumers, whether CCP-advocates or otherwise, vary materially in their financial literacy and service needs. And I see risks in sustainable advantage. Let’s say that RoboAdvisors gain initial commercial traction … great. Could they meaningfully scale? Tangerine could, in time, lower fees to drive growth … or, more brutally, Vanguard/peers may be tempted to extend their current functionality from US to Canada … like mutual fund wrapper (https://investor.vanguard.com/mutual-funds/) or all-in-one funds (https://investor.vanguard.com/mutual-funds/vanguard-fund-options) or otherwise.

    I don’t know whether $/yr or %/AUM, or fixed vs scaling, or otherwise is best. I suspect that finding a balance between competitive advantage and commercial viability may be delicate. If each customer is paying $79 per year then it will surely require rather a lot of customers to cover the presumed fixed costs. If pricing too low then I suspect that service providers will simply die after initial equity/grant capital is depleted. Therefore ShareOwner, in my view and given significant existing core business, may have greater potential to execute than a startup. Will see.

    I wish ShareOwners and their peers every success, both in regards developing innovations and a nurturing a sustainable business. The Canadian consumer should applaud them … and the International investment titans (e.g. Vanguard, Blackrock) that have brought, and continue to bring, competition to the investment industry in Canada.

  27. Be'en September 14, 2014 at 10:31 pm #

    Hi Dan

    Any particular company stand out from the three mentioned here: Shareowner, Nestwealth and Wealthsimple? Maybe it’s too early to tell which one stands out with regards to the scope, flexibility and pricing of their offerings.

    Just curious to know which one you would recommend, if you had to.

  28. Canadian Couch Potato September 15, 2014 at 9:19 am #

    @Be’en: It’s way too early to tell. I have met the Wealthsimple team and I’m impressed with their combination of technology and investment experience. I’ll be writing more about them soon. But, really, it’s all about the client experience and it’s just not possible to know how the firms will differ in that respect until they have a year or so under their belts.

  29. Paul N September 15, 2014 at 7:24 pm #

    @Be’en

    http://www.moneysense.ca/invest/build-an-etf-portfolio-with-an-advisers-touch

    By coincidence a related link on the subject I saw today. Enjoy!

  30. Be'en September 15, 2014 at 9:32 pm #

    @Dan and @ Paul N

    Thanks..

    I think any one of these should be ideal for my kids who are yet to start a savings program of any sort.

  31. Sue November 15, 2014 at 9:46 pm #

    Hi Dan
    I came across another robo-advisor like program in National Bank. “Invest cube”
    Do you know much about this that you can offer us all your opinion!
    Sue

  32. Canadian Couch Potato November 16, 2014 at 10:52 am #

    @Sue: I have looked at this program only briefly, but my first reaction is to note that the total cost is right around 1%, making it similar to that of the Tangerine funds and about double that of the TD e-Series funds. It doesn’t seem particularly appealing to me on that basis. I will look into it some more and consider a blog post on the service.

  33. Victor November 19, 2014 at 5:11 pm #

    Hi Dan:

    What do you think of these “commission-free” ETFs from Questrade? According to the literature, zero commission to purchase any ETFs listed on a North American exchange (so, not the limited “menu” ETF items like at Scotia iTrade, Qtrade, or Virtual Broker), and you only pay the “regular commission” to sell. Not sure what the “regular commission” refers to, but it seems like this is a good and less expensive alternative to the TD e-Series funds for the Couch Potato Strategy.

    Victor

  34. Reto January 8, 2015 at 2:56 pm #

    Hi Dan, Looks like Questrade just launched their own robo-advisor for Canadians (“Portfolio IQ”) back in November 2014. Any opinions on this service?

    I know a lot of your readers & followers of the couch potato strategy use these ultra low-cost brokers like Questrade (I do), so this seems like it would be an interesting option for us. Personally I found your site a few years ago and it was the perfect solution to the high fees that had been nagging me for a while. I read all of your blog posts in order, and your book. Ditched my mutual funds & adviser this summer and have started managing my own simple ETF portfolio for me & my spouse’s retirement savings. I chose Questrade frankly because it was the cheapest option at the time, seemed to work fine, and I have no great love for the big banks and their annoying fees for everything. So far I have found the couch potato method fairly straightforward; definitely worth it compared to paying someone 2% to underperform the market and sell me a bunch of funds with deferred sales charges! Still, it’s a bit of work to review & maintain, rebalance, etc., especially when spread across several family accounts (RRSP, TFSA, RESP…). I’ve always preferred to be as hands off as possible with my finances. I simply don’t find it fun to track my money and I’d rather spend my time doing other things, just not for 2% of my money every year for what, with your advice, is now a simple task. I feel like I would be perfectly happy with a middle-ground solution like a good robo-advisor, as long as it’s not significantly more cost that what I can easily achieve on my own (my current cost base is probably around 0.24% plus trading fees; Portfolio IQ would come in at 0.5% at my current combined balance).

    PS thanks for having provided all of this content, right up there with Chilton for how this can help ordinary Canadians manage their money IMO. You’re the man!

  35. Canadian Couch Potato January 8, 2015 at 6:51 pm #

    @Reto: Thanks for the comment. It’s hard for me to say anything about Portfolio IQ: it’s not very transparent, since they don’t tell you what’s in the portfolios. It’s also not clear to me how any of the robo-advisors handle the client service aspect: I think that will only become clear after they have been around for a while.

  36. Johnathan July 27, 2015 at 1:06 pm #

    Hi Dan,

    I have a question about robo advisors in general. As I’ve always understood it, the traditional strategy for asset allocation has been to be more aggressive (equity heavy) when you are young, and slowly get more conservative as you approach retirement.
    So if you are relying on a robo service to determine an asset allocation for your portfolio, and manage/rebalance it for you, it seems normal to expect it to adjust your allocation to get more conservative as time goes on, right?
    I haven’t been able to find any discussion about this anywhere.. let alone any mention on the advisors’ pages explaining their strategies. Maybe I’m searching the wrong keywords. But everywhere I read about Robo’s it almost sounds like you answer the questionnaire, they give you a magically optimum asset allocation, and they maintain it indefinitely. But a 70/30 portfolio for a 20yr old, for example, may not be appropriate forever. Am I missing something here?

    Johnathan

  37. Canadian Couch Potato July 27, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

    @Jonathan: You’re right that an asset allocation isn’t likely to stay consistent forever, but changes don’t have to occur very often: I’d say it’s worth reassessing every five years or so. If you want to make your portfolio a little more conservative you can simply contact the robo-advisor and make that request: you’re not locked into the same allocation forever.

  38. Maxwell C. August 6, 2015 at 8:25 pm #

    Just looked into this. Thought it was a bit steep, but tolerable. Then saw the other fees and noped out of there.

    https://www.shareowner.com/commissions.html

  39. Will September 23, 2015 at 5:51 pm #

    Hey,

    What do you think about the InvestCube platform from National Bank? Is 0.99% in fees too high for a basket of managed ETFs?

    Thanks!

  40. Canadian Couch Potato September 24, 2015 at 9:18 am #

    @Will: I have not locked too closely at this offering, but I don’t really understand the appeal of this option compared to simpler ones like Tangerine (the cost is almost identical) or cheaper ones like TD e-Series. I think it’s also important to understand that the portfolios include active management, so there are strategic differences as well.

  41. Lintan July 14, 2016 at 2:23 am #

    I have signed up for a ShareOwner account and am following your “suggestions” ( I know you cannot give investment advice)
    I am customization the Shareowner Stock Growth Model Portfolio and removing ( preferred shares, unhedged US bonds and emerging markets bonds. such as CPD + ZEF ) and replacing these with investment-grade Canadian bonds only.
    (for the Growth Model Portfolio I am Not sure of this part of I want keep a REIT and if I want 2 bonds investment-grade Canadian bonds ETF to replace CPD and ZEF)
    The Couch Potato Recommended Funds show both ZAG and XQB as recommend bond funds but I am not sure if there is any benefit hold them both..For the REIT it is part of the Shareowner Stock Growth Model Portfolio and since you streamline the Couch Potato I am not sure if there any reason I should hold it at all to keep things simple

    Bonds and not sure REIT % holding of my customized Portfolio
    ZRE @ 5%
    ZAG @ 10%
    XQB @ 15%

    Thank you in Advanced

  42. Canadian Couch Potato July 14, 2016 at 8:27 am #

    @Lintan: The recommended ETFs I have listed on the site are similar, so the idea is that you should just pick one: for example, ZAG or XQB but not both. REITs are an entirely optional asset class, but since you are not rebalancing the portfolio manually (ShareOwner does that for you) there is a stronger argument for including them.

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