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In this article, we’ll review the best robo advisors in Canada for 2020. By the end, you should be able to decide a) if a robo advisor is right for you; and b) which one best suits your needs.

If you want a hands-off approach to investing and a combination of a human and computer algorithm to help you invest appropriately, a robo advisor might be for you.

Robo advisors have been around for years and are popular for offering low cost, easy investing. Recently, there’s an even more competitive landscape in Canada, with robo advisors popping up across the nation.

Recommended: New customers who open and fund a Wealthsimple account with $1,000 will get a $75 cash bonus.

Is Robo Advisor Right For You?

Robo advisors are investing platforms that use a computer algorithm to design and manage your investment portfolio. This creates a hands-off approach to investing. Robo advisors tend to do things like select investments or investment classes for you, build a portfolio based on pre-defined risk tolerance, and automatically rebalance that portfolio for you.

There are definitely pros and cons to robo advisors, which we’ll outline below. They’re not for everyone. But for some investors – particularly those who want to free themselves from high fees and decision fatigue – they can be a life-saver. They can also help you reach financial independence quicker, by making objective investment decisions on your behalf.

Best Robo Advisors in Canada 2020

BrandBest ForMore Info
1. WealthsimpleBest OverallRead On
2. BMO SmartfolioHuman TouchRead On
3. Questwealth PortfoliosCompetitive FeesRead On
4. WealthBar (Now CI Direct Investing)Access to Private Investment PortfoliosRead On
5. JustwealthRESPsRead On
6. ModernAdvisorExpert-Assembled PortfolioRead On
7. RBC InvestEaseBest service offered by a big Canadian bankRead On

1. Wealthsimple: Best Overall

Wealthsimple wealthsimple is more than just an attractive website with heart-warming commercials. They’re one of the leading robo advisors in the world, with offices in Canada, the USA, and Europe. They’ve secured funding from major investment firms and collected a board of directors and leadership team with extensive experience in the field. Today, Wealthsimple has 230 employees and $5 billion in assets under management for over 175,000 global clients, making them the largest robo advisor in Canada. The short story: they know what they’re doing with your money.

Regarding their platform, there’s no minimum investment amount, and anyone can open an account. Your portfolio is invested in ETFs that span the globe, and like most robo advisors, they’ll tailor the portfolio to match your style and risk tolerance. They have three pricing tiers, which are pretty straightforward:

  • Basic (deposit up to $100,000) – 0.5% fee
  • Black (deposits of $100,000 to $500,000) – 0.4% fee
  • Generation ($500,000+ in deposits) – 0.4% fee with a bunch of additional perks

You’ll also find savings account options and features like tax-loss harvesting and financial goal-planning. Here’s another excellent reason to sign-up: new customers who open and fund a Wealthsimple account with $1,000 will get a $75 cash bonus.

Read our full review.

What we like:

  • Tons of industry experience, with access to human advisors
  • Sleek, user-friendly platform
  • Broad investment selection, including Halal and Socially Responsible Funds
  • The ETF MERs are nearly the lowest in the industry: average 0.20%, for a total cost of 0.60% – 0.70%
  • No minimum investment requirement
  • Reasonable fees at 0.50% for accounts under $100K (dropping to 0.40% after that)
  • Free tax-loss harvesting (non-ETF purchases
  • Bonus Offer: Get a $75 cash bonus when you open a Wealthsimple account with $1,000!

What we don’t like:

  • Slightly higher fees than other robo advisors, depending on portfolio value
  • Doesn’t have many unique financial tools
  • Limited portfolio options
Start Investing with Wealthsimple

2. BMO SmartFolio: Best for Human Touch

BMO SmartFolioBMO Smartfolio is brought to you by Canada’s oldest bank, Bank of Montreal (BMO). We’re starting to see more banks add a robo advisor feature to their offerings, and BMO was one of the first with SmartFolio.

A few important details to note: there’s a $1,000 minimum investment amount and fees range from 0.4% to 0.7%. Their experienced team of 17 dedicated advisors helps you select from award-winning ETFs to build a portfolio that works for your preferences and risk tolerance. In addition, the MER of the ETFs held within your portfolio will likely be a weighted average of 0.20% to 0.35% of the value of your SmartFolio account.

What’s unique about BMO SmartFolio is its investment approach. Using a hybrid approach, they use “smart beta” ETFs and have a team of advisors watching your portfolio and actively making adjustments where needed. So it functions like a robo advisor, but with a more hands-on approach behind the scenes – which is very unique for this type of product. They’ll rebalance your portfolio roughly four times per year, so you’re always on top of your asset allocation. Read full review

Bmo smartfolio

What we like:

  • A unique approach with human advisors pulling the strings
  • 300 years of combined experience of Portfolio Managers and Chartered Financial Analysts
  • Backed by Canada’s oldest bank, BMO
  • Young & Thrifty readers get their first $15,000 managed for FREE

What we don’t like:

  • Fees are higher than we’d expect – between 0.4% – 0.7% per year + average MER of 0.24%
  • The human-touch may turn off some people who want an authentic robo advisor
Start Investing with BMO SmartFolio

3. Questwealth Portfolios: Best for Competitive Fees

Questwealth PortfoliosQuestwealth Portfolios Robo Advisor Review is a robo advisor that falls under the umbrella of Questrade Wealth Management. Questwealth uses a hybrid approach and has advisors actively managing your portfolio behind the scenes, based on market fluctuations. When signing up for an account, you’ll get to align your investment strategy with a pre-defined portfolio, based primarily on your level of risk tolerance. The five portfolios are:

  • Aggressive: for high-risk investors
  • Growth: for medium to high-risk investors
  • Balanced: for medium-risk investors
  • Income: for medium to low-risk investors
  • Conservative: for low-risk investors

Each portfolio has a different blend of equity and fixed income (stocks and bonds) that will generate a different level of expected return.

You’ll need at least $1,000 to open an investment account – anything less than this will be held as cash. Fees range from 0.20% to 0.25%, based on the amount you have in deposits (which are held by a member of the Canadian Investment Protection Fund).

You’ll also have to consider the MER that’s tacked on to this fee (more on MERs below). The MERs on Questwealth’s funds average around 0.19%, but they can reach up to 0.35% if you’re looking for an SRI portfolio.

With multiple account types and expensive fund options, such as Socially Responsible Investments, Questwealth Portfolios offers opportunities for all kinds of investors.

Questwealth Portfolios Robo Advisor Review

What we like:

  • Competitive fees: charging 0.20% – 0.25% to manage your money, plus an average ETF MER of 0.19%
  • A wide variety of funds and investment options, such as socially responsible investing
  • Low minimum investment requirement ($1,000 minimum to open an account)
  • New customers receive up to $10,000 managed free for a year.

What we don’t like:

  • Actively managed: human touch may turn off some investors who want an authentic robo advisor.
Start investing with Questwealth Portfolios

4. WealthBar (Now CI Direct Investing): Best For Access to Private Investment Portfolios

WealthBarWealthBar formally rebranded as CI Direct Investing on August 5, 2020. CI Direct Investing is part of CI Financial, one of the country’s largest investment companies. Under this new brand, clients continue to have access to professionally managed portfolios and financial advice at their fingertips.

Canada’s WealthBar (Now CI Direct Investing) officially launched in 2014 and has since grown to be a registered portfolio manager in all Canadian provinces and territories with more than $450 million in assets under management. WealthBar (Now CI Direct Investing) offers low-fee online investment portfolios and portfolio management, while also providing unlimited access at your fingertips to financial advice from human advisors. Clients can open an account and start investing with $1,000 minimum. WealthBar (Now CI Direct Investing) has a tiered pricing structure according to the amount invested:

  • First $150,000: 0.60%/year
  • Between $150,000 and $500,000: 0.40%/year
  • Above $500,000: 0.35%/year

In addition, there will be a MER of 0.19% – 0.26% for the ETFs held inside your portfolio. For SRIs, the MER is higher at 0.29% – 0.37%. While slightly higher than some robo advisors, these fees are still very competitive in the industry – especially when you consider the broader investment options, better access to financial advice, and a proven track record of investment returns.

For diversification, socially conscious clients can add Cleantech to their portfolios, which puts 5% of your money into PowerShares PZD – an environmentally progressive fund with a track record for performance. You’ll also have the option to invest in a Private Investment Portfolio, which comes with a higher fee but provides greater diversity among asset classes. Read our full review.

What we like:

  • Diverse investment options (including private portfolios)
  • Financial planning tools available for every client.
  • Exceptional track record of performance in wealth management for over 40 years.
  • Personalized portfolios using industry-leading ETF providers
  • Young & Thrifty readers get their first $10,000 managed for FREE for the first year.

What we don’t like:

  • Management fee and ETF fees are slightly higher than the industry average
  • Account minimum ($1,000)
Start investing with WealthBar (Now CI Direct Investing)

5. Justwealth: Best for RESPs

Justweals_210x100Justwealth isn’t your average robo advisor. When signing up, you’ll receive a portfolio manager that will manage your investments, as well as additional services like financial planning and portfolio reviews for an extra cost.

Justwealth has a massive selection of portfolios – 70 different portfolios derived from more than 40 ETFs. According to Justwealth, they have the biggest collection of portfolios out of any robo advisor in Canada.

Justwealth takes a unique approach to RESPs by offering target-date portfolios – a portfolio that shifts its asset mix automatically over time, eventually “maturing” in the year your child needs the money for post-secondary education. This is a standout feature that sets it apart from the competition.

You can open a variety of account types, and the fee structure is straightforward:

  • 0.5% for balances under $500,000
  • 0.4% for balances over $500,000
  • $4.99/month fee for accounts under $12,000

There’s an additional average MER of 0.25%. You’re also protected up to $1 million through BBS Securities, Inc. Read full review

What we like:

What we don’t like:

  • Website and platform aren’t as intuitive as other robo advisors
  • Some may not want or need the personal advisor
  • Minimum investment of $5000 (except for RESP accounts where no minimum is required)
Start Investing with Justwealth

6. ModernAdvisor: Best Expert-Assembled Portfolio

Modern advisorModernAdvisor combines low-cost ETFs with smart indexing and technology to develop an expert-advised portfolio to meet your investment needs. In one of their most unique features, ModernAdvisor uses CFA charterholders to design your portfolio.

For those of you who may not know, the CFA charter designation is one of, if not the, highest honour anyone in the investment field can have. It’s a gruelling, three-level assessment taken over the course of a few years that develops some of the best minds in investing. The CFA Institute also focuses heavily on ethics.

Aside from having that kind of firepower behind your portfolio, ModernAdvisor has moderate fees – ranging from 0.35 to 0.50% (more on this below), but they place a deep focus on making things simple. For example, there are “no commissions, no hidden fees, no conflicts of interest.” ModernAdvisor says that they “have a fiduciary duty to our clients, that means we’ve got your best interest in mind with every decision we make.” Regarding MERs, their ETFs have an MER range anywhere from 0.06% to 0.56%. Read full review

There are two types of accounts you can create with ModernAdvisor:

  • ModernAdvisor Digital (Robo-advisor)
  • ModernAdvisor Personal

When you use the standard robo-advisor, ModernAdvisor will use their smart technology to invest your funds, like any other robo-advisor, and charge you a flat fee based on the amount you have invested. The fees are as follows:

  • Up to $10,000 – FREE
  • $10,000 to $100,000 – 0.50%
  • $100,000 to $500,000 – 0.40%
  • $500,000 to $1 million + – 0.35%

If you want a personal advisor, the fees are as follows:

  • First $500,000 – 0.89%
  • Next $2,000,000 – 0.79%
  • Next $2,500,000 – 0.69%
  • Over $5,000,000 – 0.49%
  • Minimum fee – $75/month

What we like:

  • Portfolio assembled by a CFA Charterholder
  • Heavy focus on Socially Responsible Investing
  • Ability to have a personal advisor if you’d like more attention
  • Young & Thrifty readers receive $50,000 managed for FREE for one year

What we don’t like:

  • You won’t get into a competitive pricing tier until you hit $500,000 in investments
  • Have a deep FAQ section that isn’t visually appealing, and it seems like they push you there versus contacting them directly
  • The blog content is just okay, and it’s not updated regularly.
Start Investing with ModernAdvisor

7. RBC InvestEase

RBC InvestEaseRBC InvestEase launched as a pilot program in three provinces in late 2017 before rolling out across Canada in November 2018. Since then, RBC Global Asset Management Inc. has overhauled its investment offerings after a strategic alliance with BlackRock Asset Management Canada Limited created RBC iShares ETFs – the largest and most comprehensive ETF offering in Canada with 150 ETFs and $60 billion in assets under management.

RBC InvestEase offers low-cost ETF portfolios and provides clients with access to accredited human portfolio advisors. Clients can open an account and start investing with no account minimum. Funds are invested when your balance reaches $100. RBC charges a flat percentage management fee of 0.50% for all clients for both its Standard Portfolio and Responsible Investing Portfolio. In addition, there will be a weighted average MER of 0.11% – 0.22% for the ETFs held inside a Standard Portfolio, and a weighted average MER of 0.18% – 0.30% for the ETFs held inside a Responsible Investing Portfolio.

The fees are extremely competitive for investors with less than $100,000 to invest. The only downside is the lack of a tiered pricing structure that provides a discount for larger balances, and the lack of account types beyond RRSPs, TFSAs, and non-registered accounts.

RBC InvestEase will cover transfer fees up to $200 for clients who open an account and transfer in a minimum of $15,000 from another financial institution. Read our full review.

What we like:

  • Low fees (both management and MER)
  • Security and reliability of being backed by RBC (Canada’s largest bank)
  • Best in class ETFs from RBC iShares ETFs
  • Access to accredited (human) portfolio advisors

What we don’t like:

  • No tiered pricing structure to discount larger accounts
  • Lack of account types (currently RRSP, TFSA, non-registered available)
Start investing with RBC InvestEase
Disclaimer - This content has been reviewed and approved by RBC and Young and Thrifty will receive a one-time fee from RBC InvestEase when you open an account managed by RBC InvestEase and complete qualifying criteria.

Top 3 Robo Advisor Comparison

  • Rating
  • Minimum Investment
  • Fees
  • Transfer Fees
  • Unique Features
  • Promotion
  • Review
  • WealthSimple-210-1
  • 10/10

  • $0
  • 0.4 - 0.5%/year + average 0.20% MER
  • Reimbursement for investment transfers $5,000+ after completing a short survey
  • Special perks for those who invest over $100,000; amazing interface.
  • Exclusive: Open an account with Wealthsimple and get $75 Cash Bonus
  • Visit Site
  • 9/10

  • $1,000
  • 0.4 - 0.7%/year + average 0.24% MER
  • SmartFolio will pay the transfer fees that your bank will charge you to switch over to them
  • Owned by BMO; high level of human interaction
  • $15,000 Managed for FREE for one year
  • Visit Site
  • 10/10

  • $1000
  • 0.20 – 0.25%/year + average 0.19% MER
  • Rebate up to $150 of the transfer out fee for each account you transfer to them
  • Takes a hybrid approach with its investments; rewards large deposits with lower fees
  • New customers receive up to $10,000 managed free for a year.
  • Visit Site

All Robo Advisor Comparison Chart

Here’s a quick comparison chart we’ve put together as well, so you can determine which path is best for you:

Brand Special FeaturesFees  
WealthsimpleSpecial perks for those who invest over $100,000; amazing interface.0.4 - 0.5%/year
+ average 0.20% MER
Visit Site
BMO SmartfolioOwned by BMO; high level of human interaction0.4 - 0.7%/year
+ average 0.24% MER
Visit Site
Questwealth PortfoliosTakes a hybrid approach with its investments; rewards large deposits with lower fees0.20 – 0.25%/year
+ average 0.19% MER
Visit Site
WealthBar (Now CI Direct Investing)Private Investment Portfolio options; unlimited financial advice. 0.35 - 0.6%
+ average 0.23% MER
Visit Site
JustwealthLarge selection of ETFs, RESP target date funds0.4 - 0.5%/year
+ average 0.25% MER
Visit Site
ModernAdvisorCFA charterholder-crafted portfolio; ability to get a personal advisor for an additional fee0.35 - 0.5%/year + average 0.25% MERVisit Site
RBC InvestEaseReliability and security of RBC0.50%/year + a weighted average MER of 0.11% – 0.18%-0.30%Visit Site

Other Recommended Robo Advisors in Canada
Invisor Review
Responsive Review
Smart Money Capital Management Review
What to Look For in a Robo Advisor

Here are some important things to consider when choosing a robo advisor:

Fees

Probably the most important consideration is a robo advisor’s fees. In nearly every case, the company will charge you based on the amount you have invested with them. The more you invest, the lower the fee you’ll pay. Some robo advisors have a different type of fee structure where you’ll pay a flat monthly fee.

In other cases, though, you’ll pay an annual management fee based on a percentage, which is calculated on the amount you have invested. So, for example, if you have $100,000 invested and your annual fee is 0.5%, you’ll pay $500 (100,000 x .005), or about $42 a month. Note that paying lower fees isn’t always better, as it may mean missing out on some critical features.

You’ll also want to be familiar with the management expense ratio, also called the MER. The MER is another fee added into a fund for its management. According to Cleverism, “The MER can simply be defined as the ratio between the sum of the fund’s operating costs and management fee divided by the total value of the fund’s assets under management. The MER is usually expressed as a percentage of the fund’s total AUM.”

They’ve also created a basic visual to understand the formula better:

And if you’re more of a visual learner, Cleverism also put together this video that explains the MER in a little more detail:

Fees matter: they’re the best predictor of future expected returns, so you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the robo advisor’s management fee and the MER of the ETFs used to construct your portfolio to get a complete picture of your investing costs.

Features

Aside from low fees, you’ll want to make sure the robo advisor you choose has features that make sense for how you invest. For instance, if you are investing in a taxable account, you might be interested in tax-loss harvesting, which reduces your tax impact. Other features you might run into are in-depth calculator tools, budgeting tools, and goal-setting options to help you save more money. Make sure you check out the full list of features before signing up with a robo advisor.

Humanizing Robo Investing

There’s an exciting trend occurring in the robo investing space. Years ago, robo advisors became a popular alternative to hiring a financial advisor, especially since they offer much lower fees. But some experts say that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction – making the entire process of investing robotic. Engaging with your money is an emotional experience to many, so having a “real person” within a company is essential to some investors.

Because of this, robo advisors are seeing the value in adding a human face to supplement the technology behind the robo advisor itself. For instance, Justwealth pairs you with a financial advisor. Ideally, this person will give you investment advice and talk to you about your finances, while the robo advisor continues to operate in the background and manage your portfolio.

This trend is going to continue to evolve. And you’ll start to see more and more robo advisors adding humanized components. Whether it’s the ability to call a live advisor, chat online with someone before changing your long-term financial plan, or meet a financial advisor face-to-face who simply uses robo advising technology – times are changing. You’ll have the option for more human interaction with the intent of improving the overall customer experience.

Now, many people love robo advisors because it’s hands-off and there is no need to interact with anyone. You’ll still have those options if they’re important to you, which provides an even further draw to robo advisors. For now, be on the lookout for how companies are changing and marketing their value proposition with the addition of human elements when using a robo advisor.

Are Robo Advisors Safe?

The short answer is yes. Robo advisors are just about as safe as any other investment broker, primarily because most are backed by the CIPF (Canadian Investment Protection Fund) or some derivative of it. When you choose a robo advisor, always look to see where your funds are being held – typically at a “custodian bank” – and how you as a Canadian consumer are protected. Typically they offer some type of disclaimer at the bottom of their website.

If they don’t, dig through their disclaimers. If you still can’t find any statement of where your money is held and how it’s protected, call them to clarify or avoid the robo advisor. The CIPF and their subsidiaries are there to protect your balances, up to a specific dollar amount, in case your broker or bank go under. So you’ll want to make sure that protection is there.

Outside of financial protection, read through the robo advisor’s privacy statement as well. Some companies, especially low-cost ones, make up their money by selling your information. If it’s disclosed and you agree to it, they’re free to do so. So, read the fine print and make sure you’re comfortable with the robo advisor you choose.

How Do Robo Advisors Hold Up In a Market Crash?

One benefit of using a robo-advisor that doesn’t get a lot of attention is how they help remove the human element – and more specifically human emotion – from the investing process. It’s no secret that market crashes bring out the worst in investors. They panic-sell when markets fall. They keep way too much cash on the sidelines. And they try to time the market to get back in (often too late).

Robo advisors help investors during market crashes by automatically rebalancing according to a pre-determined set of rules. This takes human judgement (and error) out of the equation and keeps the focus where it belongs – on your original investment plan.

Let’s say you have $100,000 invested in a 60/40 balanced portfolio. Stocks have fallen 20% or so, meaning your portfolio now looks something like this:

  • $48,000 in stocks
  • $40,000 in bonds

Your overall portfolio is down 12%, and, more importantly, your asset mix is out of balance. Stocks now make up just 54% of your portfolio while bonds are at 46%.

A robo-advisor will automatically rebalance by selling some bonds and buying more stocks to get you back to your 60/40 target mix. Your new portfolio will look like this:

  • $52,800 in stocks
  • $35,200 in bonds

This is a small example of something that’s going on behind the scenes with your robo-advisor all of the time. There’s a reason why rebalancing is called the only free lunch in investing.

How did Wealthsimple’s 50/50 balanced portfolio hold-up during the COVID-19 crisis? It’s down just 5% in the three months ending March 31, 2020. Not bad, considering broad stock market indices are down 25-30% in that time period.

Robo Advisor vs. Financial Advisor vs. DIY

SituationWhich to ChooseWhy
You like doing your own researchDIY with an online brokerageIf you enjoy reading up on stocks, financials, and other information pertaining to investments, you’ll want to go DIY with an online broker. Robo advisors and financial advisors take care of this for you
You don’t want to rebalance your portfolio at least four times a yearRobo advisorRebalancing means you’re re-setting your portfolio to the original asset allocation in your plan. This is a manual process unless you go with a robo advisor that does it for you automatically.
You need a high level of personal interactionFinancial advisorA financial advisor’s job is to be the point person for your investment related questions. If you need someone to walk you through investing and be there for questions and advice, go with a financial advisor.
You are a new investorRobo or financial advisorIf you’re new to investing I’d recommend a financial advisor for the same reason above - but if you’re comfortable going at it alone, a robo advisor is just as easy to get started with.
You want to invest in individual stocksDIY with an online brokerageMost robo advisors won’t allow you to invest in individual stocks - they need to be a part of an ETF.
You want a hands-off approachRobo advisorIf you really want to set it and forget it, go with a robo advisor. They do everything for you and it’s well worth the cost.

Where Does Robo Advisor Invest Your Money?

Any robo advisor will be transparent with where your money is being invested – you’ll see it in your portfolio. The main thing to think about is what your level of risk tolerance is, and what that portfolio looks like with each robo advisor. You will also want to consider any special investment requirements you have, such as Halal or Socially Responsible Investing. Once you determine your investment goals and preferences, your robo advisor will design a portfolio for you that matches those goals.

Take Questwealth Portfolios as an example: they have five different portfolios that have a different makeup of investments and corresponding risk levels. In theory, the riskiest portfolio would also generate the highest return. The lowest risk would be the safest but have a low-ceiling for possible returns.

After this is all figured out, your portfolio is put together with low-cost ETFs (exchange-traded funds). As a reminder, ETFs are essentially a basket of stocks, all rolled into one. So, for instance, a Socially Responsible ETF would contain a bunch of stocks that focus on Socially Responsible Investing.

By having several ETFs in your robo advisor portfolio, you’re instantly creating a broadly diversified portfolio that will balance your risk and help you meet your financial objectives. You’ll also get things like automatic rebalancing with a robo advisor, which saves you from having to go in a few times a year and rebalance the stocks in your portfolio.

American Robo Advisors: Wealthfront vs. Betterment

If you arrived here looking to see if you could invest in Betterment or Wealthfront as a Canadian citizen or resident, the answer is: probably not.

Unfortunately, these two pioneering robo advisors are only available to USA residents at this time. This means that Wealthfront and Betterment cannot be used to open a TFSA, RRSP, or RESP.

While it might seem advantageous for these two prominent robo advisors to come to Canada, the reality is they’d have to go through regulatory burdens and face several regional companies that have shops already set up.

It’s too bad from a consumer’s point of view because these robo advisor giants would no doubt raise the competition bar throughout the industry and work to keep costs as low as possible. On the other hand, perhaps there is something to be said for “Made in Canada” solutions.

Final Thoughts

I’m a little biased because I use a robo advisor, but I do so willingly. I have two degrees in finance, both with a specialty in investments. I know how to select a stock, but I’ve chosen not to go that path. For me to select the right portfolio and maintain it, it sucks up too much time. It’s just not worth it for me. So instead, I use a robo advisor that takes into account my preferred risk tolerance to construct and manage a portfolio that works for me.

But that’s not for everyone. Do your due diligence and make a decision that’s right for you. The one thing I’d confidently advise you to do is start investing, whether it be through a robo advisor, a financial advisor or with a DIY approach. You’re wasting time and money by not putting your dollars to work for you right now.

The original article was written by Kyle Prevost. It was updated in 2020 to reflect the latest changes in the robo advising world.

If this article interests you, you might also like:

Steadyhand and Mawer Mutual Funds vs Robo Advisors
TD eSeries Funds vs Robo Advisors
Tangerine Investment Funds vs Robo Advisors

Disclaimer: Young & Thrifty has entered into a referral and advertising arrangement with Wealthsimple US, LTD and receives compensation when you open an account or for certain qualifying activity which may include clicking links. You will not be charged a fee for this referral and Wealthsimple and Young and Thrifty are not related entities. It is a requirement to disclose that we earn these fees and also provide you with the latest Wealthsimple ADV brochure so you can learn more about them before opening an account.

Article comments

132 comments
Myriam says:

Hi!

I have just started looking into investing money instead of having it sit in my checking account. I would like to invest 5000$… that’s all, no monthly transfers for now since I also want to pay off my debt as quickly as possible.

I want to place that 5000$ in a TFSA. I’m hesitating between Wealthsimple and BMO. Wealthsimple because of the lower fees and the “non emotional” decisions that you are talking about in your article (i.e. market crash). BMO because the advisor could help me understand better the investment world and they offer a more diverse portfolio choice.

What if I would do 2500$? Does that make any sense? Making a 50-50 could allow me to compare if the Weathsimple Robo or BMO is giving me a higher return on investment with my investor profile over the years. It could help me decide where I invest my money afterwards.

What do you think about this?

Thanks for the advice!

Ricky says:

What about Nest Wealth?

Lisa Jackson says:

Hi Ricky,

Nest Wealth is a reputable robo advisor in Canada. Their pricing structure tends to benefit affluent investors with large portfolios. If you’re just getting started investing, you might want to consider a robo advisor with lower fees.

Megan says:

Is there an article about investing in cdn robo advisors as a non-resident? Pros/cons? Am cdn and still have accounts and money there but and no longer a tax resident. Have used Wealthsimple and liked it

Robb Engen says:

Hi Megan, not that I know of. Best to consult first with a tax expert who specializes in non-resident finances. You don’t want to make any mistakes with how you set up your accounts and invest.

Mike says:

Exactly what brought me here. I’m a Canadian citizen, working abroad though so non-tax resident. Was with wealthsimple but they never told me that I cannot be a non-tax resident for RRSPs, only for TFSA.

Generally I’m with RBC but seems that they’re robo-advisor doesn’t allow non-tax residents either but their normal RRSP does.

Pretty messed up. Not planning to liquidate my RRSP particularly since I will move back in a year or so but I know one thing, won’t be going back to Wealthsimple

Keith says:

I have been with another (not listed here roboinvestor) primarliy to get handle on what ETF’s they recommend. I then use my trading account to create a similar portfolio; doing the re-balancing myself. The problem I have found with mine, as well as the ones you recommend, is the over-investment in the TSX (from 25-35%) in growth portfolios. Though they do re balance for you they do not seem to change the ETF’s they recommend – they get stuck with the same % proportions of CDN vs US vs Rest of World that they started with at inception. Equity growth in the US ETF’s is going to outperform CAN ETF’s that they have chosen over the next 2+ years – so why don’t they drop their % of CAD instead of re balancing by selling performing US ETF’s and buying poor performing CAD ETF’s? So all all of your recommendations perform poorly since none offer a non-CAD equity option in their “portfolios”. My advice – find out what ETF’s are being used by the US Robo Investors and set up your own portfolio. Bottom line CAD Robo investors under perform US Robo investors and charge higher MERS. Many of the best ETF’s on the TSX are mirrored from their counterparts on the US stock exchanges – pick them.

Robb Engen says:

Hi Keith, how do you know that US equity will outperform Canadian equity for the next two years? No one can say with any degree of certainty what will happen. The best investors (and robo advisors) can do is set up a portfolio allocation and asset mix that they can live with in good times and bad. Instead of switching funds all of the time based on past performance (a guaranteed losing strategy), they rebalance by selling off some of the winning ETFs and buying more of the funds lagging behind. That’s proper diversification, which as they say is the only free lunch in investing.

Dave says:

I have been waiting for dsc fees to expire before switching to a roboadvisor. (currently with a high mer advisor company) Now covid has hit the market and I’m not sure if now is a good time to make the switch. Will I be losing value? I’m concerned about continuing to pay the high fees, especially during a downturn.

Robb Engen says:

Hi Dave, depending on the DSC schedule it might be better just to rip-off the bandaid now and make the switch. Alternatively, you get to move 10% of your funds for free each year so make sure you take advantage of that.

I’d relax about the recent market turmoil. Markets bottomed on March 23, but since then have come roaring back. A balanced portfolio is down just 3.3% for the year as of today (May 21).

You can move your investments in cash, meaning your existing firm will sell your funds and move them over to a robo advisor. There’s some risk of being out of the market for that time, but it beats the alternative of paying high mutual funds fees and never pulling the trigger.

The only thing to watch is if you’re moving a non-registered account, which has tax implications if you sell your existing funds. RRSPs and TFSAs can just move over in cash or in kind without issue.

Al says:

Is there an article about balancing your portfolio, why you would want to, what the advantages and disadvantages are, what are the philosophies, etc?

Robb Engen says:

Hi Al, I’ve written a comprehensive article on how and when to rebalance your portfolio: https://boomerandecho.com/how-and-when-to-rebalance-your-portfolio/

Essentially, rebalancing is a way for you to sell high and buy low. You sell off some of your highest performing stocks or ETFs and then buy some of your lowest performing stocks or ETFs. Many investors either do this on a time schedule (quarterly or annually), or when their asset allocation drifts away from its target mix by 5 or 10%.

Using this latest market drop as an example, stocks have dropped by as much as 20%. So you would sell some of your bonds to buy more stocks, bringing your portfolio back into balance.

Seanna says:

Is Tangerine a Robo?

Lisa Jackson says:

Hi Seanna,

No, it’s not. Tangerine is an online bank. However, they do offer investing services.

Josephine_M says:

I had my bank “looking after it” for years. The advisers drove some nice cars, while my funds did not grow that much, and there was always a great reason why the market did better than me, and “”fees are tax deductible””. Yawn. So I cashed out, 100%. No fees in past (almost) 3 years.

I’m going through gyrations with my bank and a credit union right now, and of course the expected action is that they want to manage all my money, and keep my money in their shop under all scenarios. I’m about to mention Robo investing to them, and observe the answers I’m getting.
ETF, index and ROBO are suddenly on my radar.

Comment on impossibility of market timing: every investment adviser says this, and in the next sentence they promise to beat the market because if their ‘expertise’. Now, beating the market HAS to include buy low-sell high, in my book. Everthing else can be done my ROBO. So I guess I subscribe to market timing, NOT in a short term, i.e. ‘timing’ week to week, BUT in the sense of riding the longer (10-year?) waves – like “CHRISTINE” alluded to. After the crash. If the market is down 50%, it has to go up 100% to break even … I think I can wait for that, and of course I know I won’t buy at the perfect bottom and sell at the perfect top. But I’ll ride the index back up in style. I’ll understand if people don’t agree.

Howard says:

I am 74, manage my own money,Post Grad Economics, DIY and I really understand the markets.
There is No Investment for all seasons, but there is a season for all investments, and no one can time the market, the key is correct asset allocation.
Your Mix should be based upon needs Senior Citizen with a couple of million does not need stock, Bond Income would suffice.
I am looking at Robos because if/when I croak, my portfolio must be on cruise control, my wife has no interest of experience.
I own Cannabis stocks, deal in Options, it is an interest, and I hate golf.
Learn the basics of investing, it makes you a much more knowledgable person, and if you own a home with a large mortgage, when rates hit 6-8%,which they will, then you are on a highway of future hurt.
People will borrow $500K +++ to buy a pile of bricks and sticks whose value is totally arbitrary, will need to gain at least 10% to break even when they sell, the interest is not deductible, but to buy financial products whose value is clearly defines with deductability of interest, that’s too risky???

Mike says:

Kyle, can you tell me if any of these Robo Advisors are available for Canadian Non- Residents? As far as I have read, Wealthbar does offer this. Any others?

Victor says:

Thanks for the article. Are you affiliated in any means with any of these Robo Adviser companies that might make this review biased?

Christine says:

I am *especially* concerned about jumping into any market at this time, but also know I’ve really entirely missed out on the run up for the past 10 years. But I also know that by the next 1-1.5 years the market will seriously downturn as it always will, especially after such a long bull run. Maybe the pain will be worse this time than 2008. Either way, I’m sorry I waited this long to think about getting in, but it’s too late to worry about that now. But I’m also worried about getting in now because the downturn will come soon, just don’t know when. But I don’t want to sit on the sidelines much longer, and not risk too much while starting out, waiting for the downturn.
Can I ask what you might suggest with robo advisors for us considering this? We have a good 150k RRSP room we also need to look at using up between us. 2-3k per month I hope is a good start for investing, just don’t know how to get started with a robo advisor, nor at this time in the market cycle and the wariness of that.
Considering that robo advisors are based on ETF indexes, and the indexes are bound to go way down in the next 1-1.5 years, if not sooner, I don’t know if I should stay on the sidelines for now and just build my base investment in the money market account and wait for the downturn dropout to jump in so I don’t jump in right when it goes down and lose my base investment to that?
Thanks so much, your site is a great resource!
Sorry had to split this comment in two.

Kyle says:

Trying to time the market cycle is incredible difficult Christine. There are always reasons not to invest. If you’re in it for the long haul I wouldn’t be worried too much about trying to pick the specific date!

Christine says:

Hi! Thanks for the article, very informative.
I am not a millennial per se, I am I guess what they call an Xennial, born in 1978. I only have abut 85k in money market accounts right now with my husband, earning basically nothing. I feel like I’m not where I should be given I’m almost 40. I’ve been wanting to invest but don’t even know where to start and robo advisors now sound like an option.
However, I am relatively risk averse, and would “like” to start winding down work in about 15 years, to focus on stuff we really want, which would probably still involve earning money, but not at the daily office grind which while we are comfortable, are not our dream. We earn about 150k between us with no kids so we are not poor, but we aren’t rich either. We have about 2-3k per month disposable income to invest. We will work on paying off our mortgage (220k remaining) within the next 7-8 year to free up the 1500 per month for other purposes including investing.

Kyle says:

Sounds like you’re in a pretty great spot to start investing Christine!

Judy Stevens says:

I am 73 years old and my RRSP’s are now RIF’s. Could I transfer my investments into the ROBO system? I would like to talk to an advisor if possible how do I sign up for a telephone conversation? I also have a few home based businesses so would like to invest some money in a regular market as I can no longer purchase RRSP’s.

Kyle says:

Hi Judy,

You can definitely get these folks on the phone. What I’d do is send them a quick email, or go to their websites and use the instant messaging feature and just ask for a phone call. While I have not talked firsthand to anyone investing within an RRIF I know that several of the robo advisors offer this feature. It would almost certainly be a cheaper bet the full service mutual fund advice model that many Canadians use.

Sat says:

Im 19 years old. I dont know much about trading but I have 10000 dollars on the side. Can beginners like myself use these services? Thankyou

Kyle says:

You’re a perfect demographic for these services Sat.

Stéphane says:

Hi Kyle,

First, thanks to keep up keeping up for 2 years on this blog.

So today is March 1st. Yeah, that day (for those who wonder: last day to contribute to RRSPs). For the first time in my life, I turned over 22K of my hard earned cash from my TFSA to my RRSP account, which now hold 29K and plan putting 15K/year as long as I work/can. I then looked at my bank’s brokerage arm to constitute a DIY All-Weather-ish portfolio, but the fees are outrageous (i expected this). Comparing fees of other discount brokers, one table showed Robo Advisor as a comparing criteria. Of course, I thought “hum… robots? Sound interesting”, and I wanted to know more. Google landed me here. I’ve eagerly read every words of this blog and… here I am, less ignorant, but still having two questions.

You mention DIY many times. I have yet to see how this can be cheaper than a Robo Advisor. There’s annual fees and trading fees ranging from 5$ to 10$ PER TRADE! Say my portfolio has 10 ETFs in it and re-balance it every 6 months. In the best scenario, that is 2x 10x 5$ = 100$/y plus the cents per share, the annual fees, and what not on top of that. Worst case sound to be in the range of 400$/y. That’s 1.3% on a 29K portfolio. Is this still cheaper than a Robo Advisor?

What service would you recommend for self-manage ETF based portfolio to keep fees to a minimum (or even 0 if I can dream)?

Any advice, errr… I mean “opinions” are more than welcome.

Thanks.

Kyle says:

Check out our Questrade and/or discount brokerage comparisons Stephane. You’ll see there are a few different ways of cutting your total portfolio cost down to nearly to an MER of .15%, with nearly $0 in transaction fees if you use a couch potato portfolio of ETFs. It’s more work than a robo though!

Maggie says:

Great article. In addition to cost, I would like to see a comparison on performance. Do you have that information available?

Kyle says:

Hi Maggie,

We don’t have this data for two reasons: 1) Robos haven’t been around long enough for this to be statistically significant. 2) All of these companies use some variation of a couch potato portfolio with very broad ETFs. When you adjust for your risk tolerance they will all come out very similar, and any outperformance will almost assuredly be luck as opposed to skill. I wouldn’t priortize performance at all!

Lalitha P says:

Hi, Why am I not able to use the link on this page to get promotional offer for WealthBar (20K managed free for 1 year)? It is taking me to WealthBar login page, but I don’t have an account yet. Please let me know how can I avail your promotional offer with WealthBar?

Thanks,
Lalitha P

Kyle says:

https://join.wealthbar.com/youngandthrifty/ That link works just fine Lalitha? Simply go there and get set up! Cheers.

Yao says:

Hi Kyle,

Thank you for the great info on the robo-advisors and keeping the article up to date. I checked the sites of some of them but none of them has mentioned how or if them give the consideration for withholding tax of US Foreign ETFs in different type of registered accounts. Would they automatically convert cnd to us dollar when they are buying us etf to make it more tax efficient? Have you asked them about this topic?

Thank you

Kyle says:

Hey Yao, it would all be baked into the ETFs that they already use. See this post for more details: https://youngandthrifty.ca/ultimate-5-step-guide-maximizing-index-etf-returns/

Louise says:

Great article! Im a rookie at this investment stuff, but dismayed by the banks fees and the impact they can take on my investments…. so strongly looking at the robo options. What penalties/fees do they generally charge, if say I want to move my investments again, away from them?? If I get spooked, I mean!

Kyle says:

Hi Louise. In general they charge a couple hundred bucks BUT you can almost always negotiate with wherever you move your money to, in order to have the new company cover the old company’s fees! If you use our promos you can try several robos for absolutely free.

Robert Ross says:

Nest Wealth charges a flat fee no matter how many different accounts you have with them, not per account as you stated in your article.

I asked Nest Wealth to clarify this. So in my case, I would pay $80 per month for an RRSP, TFSA and non-registered account in total. Plus a maximum of $100 per year in trading fees for all three account types above.

Kyle says:

This not true Robert – Nest Wealth gives people that click through from Young and Thrifty or AutoInvest.ca a bit of a break, but here is what it clearly states on their website: “For each account you have open, NBCN Inc. charges a custodian fee. We cover the custodian fee for your first account, and NBCN Inc. will charge you annually for any additional accounts you have open—$100 a year per registered account (e.g. RRSP, TFSA) and $75 a year per non-registered account (e.g. Cash).”

Bill Silverberg says:

You keep referring to young investors etc
I am 80 yrs old and my wife is 75
I Plan to retire In 2 years
Robo Advisors are relatively new. They have not experienced a market turn down as yet. Who knows how they will perform ?
For a person our ages would Robo Advisors make sense?
We are with a bank wealth management firm now
Thanks

Kyle says:

Hello Bill. I know exactly how the robo advisors will perform – they will get hit by the market down turn almost exactly as much as the average of the overall market. The reason we know this is that robos don’t rely on active management (they don’t pick “winners” and “losers”) but instead use broad index ETFs.

In terms of a person your age, here is what I would recommend Bill – use a robo advisor along with a fee-only advisor. This will give you high quality advice on intricate matters such as RRIF drawdowns and tax planning, decoupled from your investment decisions (no one trying to put you into certain investments just to get a commission).

Max says:

Hi Kyle,

Thanks for the response. Tangerine refers to them as Tax-Free Investment Funds.
Since I don’t have a lot of funds available to invest long-term, I would only set up an account and put in a little bit to get some experience in investing. Would that be beneficial at all or should I just wait until I graduate and have enough set aside to invest over a long period of time?

Regarding the US robos, I assume there are some legal issues with them operating in Canada?!

Kyle says:

That’s a bit of a different thing entirely Max. Before doing anything else I’d honestly just read a bit more on this site to get a feel for what different investment options are out there, and what risks are appropriate for you to be taking.

Max says:

Hi Kyle,

I’m 22 years old, still in university for 2 more years. I don’t have a lot of funds to invest and would be looking at around 1000 with irregular contributions, based on how much I can afford to invest as a student. I have no previous experience with investing, so this is a very new topic area for me. I want to look at different options available and get my feet wet, so when I graduate and start working full-time, I will have the knowledge of where to invest.
Since I already have a TFSA account with Tangerine, I was looking into their tax-free funds. After reading this article I’m now wondering, would a robo-advisor be a better option?

Also, is it not possible to use a US robo-advisor in Canada?

Kyle says:

Hey Max,

First of all – Awesome job planning for the future while still in university!

Secondly, I’m not sure exactly what “tax-free” funds would be from Tangerine? Perhaps you mean their turn-key funds which they then put inside a TFSA? Or just a high-interest savings account. If you’re simply saving for a housing downpayment or a short term goal, a basic GIC or high-interest savings account would work just fine.

If you’re looking for something more long term though, I definitely suggest looking at a robo. Check out our calculator here that shows how much fees you’ll be saving vs the Tangerine option (not to mention the advice component robos provide. And to answer your question – at the current time Betterment and Wealthfront etc, cannot provide service to Canadians (they are not set up for RRSPs etc).

Paris says:

Hi Peter,
Kyle is of course correct.
As there are multiple criteria it would be extremely difficult to compare net returns even if they were available, here are a few things to consider and how they might impact an account(s):
– what are the Client’s risk levels per account
– what are the Client’s time lines (retirement, saving for a house, kid’s education, etc.)
– Clients’s comfort level of being “in the market”
– what are the exit fees if and when, (both the Robos – most don’t have any and the Custodian’s – most do . . . but some of the Robos will cover them
– What are the fees if you transfer $$$ in from another Financial Institution . . . most Robos will cover them up to a set limit +/- $150 . . . usually though there is a minimum amount needed to be transferred in 25K comes to mind but check with each Robo
– Are there minimum account size . . . per account (RRSP, TFSA, RRIF, Cash) or is it cumulative
– Are there joint accounts available and do they count towards the minimums
– Does the Robo offer any additional ‘perks’ such as Financial Planning
– What is the response time to questions
– Is there a blog, news letter, generic financial advise
– What are the qualifications of the adviser/contact (CFA, CA, CRA, and I think there are probably a couple more).
Whew, all these questions eh ! ! !

Depending on the amount of $$$ you are looking to invest, and your time line, have you thought of using the promotions that Kyle aka Young and Thrifty has set up to try a couple of Robos ? ? ? It should give you a ‘flavor’ for the cost vs. service vs. return vs. . . . vs. . . .vs . . . . . . . .
And on that happy note, hope that give you a couple of things to ponder . . .

Potato says:

Hi Peter, to add to Kyle’s comment, the oldest robos are not yet 3 years old, so going back any further isn’t really possible.

Then how do you compare them? A conservative/balanced/aggressive archetype? That might be possible, but some of the firms will complain that their service creates individual portfolios so any archetype isn’t really applicable to them, anyway.

Plus as Kyle noted, their portfolios change over time, so how useful will looking back be? To give an anecdotal example, without naming names, one firm when they launched was building portfolios with relatively higher-cost actively managed ETFs. They noticeably underperformed a plain vanilla index portfolio that year, and switched up their portfolios to use more passive, lower-cost ETFs — indeed, just like mutual funds face pressure to become closet indexers, we’ll likely see pressure on the robos to be more passive and low cost (CCP/VoS-esque). So if you looked back and saw the poor historical return, should that affect your decision to use them now given that your portfolio won’t have those expensive, exotic funds of yesteryear?

Similarly, while they’re all based on the general idea of building you a broadly diversified, low-cost portfolio, they all have minor differences in how that portfolio looks. Some might use currency-hedged funds while others don’t, or have an even split of US to other international markets, while others have a slight tilt one way or the other. There isn’t really a right answer to any of those minor decisions, but looking back someone will have had some performance edge because of the decisions they happened to make — which very well might reverse in the next period.

Anyway, it’s not an uncommon request. But there are challenges to build such a comparison. I ballparked the cost of setting one such comparison up at around $5k/yr, and there hasn’t been any interest to pay that kind of cost for a tool with limited ability to help make a decision. Maybe one of the groups with more resources (like the G&M, MoneySense, or PWL) will build it if you ask (and maybe they can get it done for less).

Peter says:

Where can I find a chart comparing the real past net returns on the top 10 Canadian robo advisors? I’d like to see past 6 months/1 year/2 years/5 years/max.

Kyle says:

Hi Peter, there is no such chart that can exist due to the fact they all have different underlying baskets of securities. While they all subscribe to passive investing through broad index ETFs to some degree, there are some differences in how they approach this goal. These baskets have all changed over the relatively short time they have been around – and I don’t believe any of them have been around for five years. The key question you need to be asking though is why would real past net returns matter at all? Past performance is a very poor indicator of future returns!

This guide is a great way to understand what are Robo advisors. I really like the decision tree info-graphic on how to decide what is the right choice for you.

Kate Lazier says:

Hi there,
Great review. Do you know which companies offer corporate accounts? I know Wealth Simple does and BMO doesn’t but how about the others?
Kate

Kyle says:

I am not sure off the top of my head Kate. I would definitely check with NestWealth, Modern Advisor and Just Wealth though.

Phil says:

My wife (42 years old) and I (59 years old) currently have about $800,000 in Tangerine Investment Funds (locked and unlocked RRSPs, non-registered, TFSAs), mostly Balance and a couple Balance Growth portfolios. I am generally happy with their performance but as our investments increase over time, I find their MER a bit high. Would you recommend going with a robo-investor at my age. Thank you for any guidance.

Kyle says:

I really would Phil. As you get a bigger pie, those percentages take away some pretty big bucks right? Specifically I’d check out Nest Wealth and Wealthsimple’s offerings for high networth investors – BTW, congrats on building a solid nest egg!

Ken West says:

Kyle
Great article!
I am currently looking to change over my whole portfolio from RBC to BMO (robo), a fee reduction of 1.75% on ALL
holdings to less than >.7% (BMO) on the LIFF and RIFF portions and 0% on the TSFAs. I chose BMO as I like many of the etfs they have as well I can go to the local branch to see a “face” my human advisor attached to the account. I also like being able to select what funds I want in my accounts.

Again Thanks

Ken

Kyle says:

That’s a massive reduction Ken – Congrats!

Paris says:

Hi AbsNovice
In my view you are correct, there has not been a lot of reviews on JustWealth (or at least ones I’ve seen), but I can tell you from experience J/W do offer great CUSTOMER SERVICE & SUPPORT, to the point their CFO answered my email questions, on the weekend, while attending his parents (50th ?) anniversary.
Kyle’s advise is solid, however, if a person in not tooooo risk adverse, another suggestion might be to open accounts with 2 or 3 Robos, as well, open different accounts within each Robo (Investment, TFSA, RRSP, RRIF accounts). You could have different risk levels assigned to an TFSA than to an RRSP, etc.
As an aside this is exactly what I did with JustWealth, ModernAdvisor, & WealthSimple, the result is exposure to 20+ ETFs within my portfolios only 1 ETF duplicated.
All three have great websites, JustWealth maybe not quite as polished but is certainly transparent and easy to follow.
Kyle has negotiated a good starter package(s), take advantage of the reduced fees offered, discuss your timing (retirement ?) with the Robo staff and ask for their portfolio recommendations. Good luck and maybe let Kyle know your experience?
P

Kyle says:

Thanks Paris!

AbsNovice says:

just because of lowest fee over 15 year period I’m very inclined to go with JustWealth but there seem to be so little reviews available online that it makes me nervous. You did say that all these autoinvest companies are safe but because all my savings will be in their hands, it scares the hell out of me compared to a bank and that’s the reason my cash has been lying in a bank and not in any stocks though I realize that with advancing age, I must start investing right now. What’s your thoughts

Kyle says:

Hey AbN. Without knowing the rest of your financial details it’s impossible to tell what you should be doing – but if you’re reaching an “advanced age” a robo should recommend a very cautious portfolio with a health dose of bonds.

Steve says:

Great blog guys. With NestWealth, it says the assets are under a Chartered Bank. Which bank are the asset held under?

Kyle says:

National Bank Steve.

Elwood says:

Thanks for the info. I looked at Modern Advisor, but it seems it becomes hundreds of different stocks in each ETF and that is impossible to investigate. As you said, ‘ethical’ is defined by each person, and no doubt someone finds one way of gas production as more environmentally conscious than another, so it ends up in the ‘socially responsible’ category because it is the least worst option. Certainly not my definition of ethical or socially responsible.

Which always leads me back to just investing in land or real estate – the problem is that I sit with the money in a bank account until I have enough to purchase a property or land.

Thanks for your help and suggestions.

As for the recommendation to take from one area and give to another – this is exactly what creates the problem; greed before ethics.

Its like saying if one was a pedophile to continue with exploitative activities in a country where it is legal, but then donate money to a specific charity locally to make a difference. It makes no sense and continues to perpetuate the problems.

Potato says:

Hi Elwood, just to add to what Kyle has said, ethical investing can be a tricky thing to nail down. To some people, bitumen mining in Alberta is a more ethical way of producing oil than drilling in third world countries. To others, it’s worse because of the carbon footprint. Others don’t want anything to do with petroleum production. Some don’t want to invest in nuclear energy, while others would prefer that over fossil fuels.

For both Modern Advisor and Wealthsimple, the Jantzi social index is used for the Canadian portion. Odds are there will still be some component in there that you’ll disagree with, and this imperfect ethical approach will cost you in the neighbourhood of 0.4%. While it’s admirable to use every action in your life to support your beliefs, socially responsible investing may not have much of an impact.

So another way to go is to invest in plain vanilla, broadly diversified funds with minimal fees, and then take that 0.4% difference and donate it to charities and advocacy groups that will help have a more direct impact on the areas you’re concerned with.

Kyle says:

I never thought of that before John – it’s like buying carbon offsets. Interesting idea.

elwood says:

Are there robo advisors that specialize on ‘ethical’ investment? I am only interested in investing in ways that I know where the money is going and that no people or the earth are being exploited.

I would be happy to use a robo advisor, please let me know if one or more have ethical investment options.

Thanks!

Kyle says:

Hi Elwood – thanks for dropping by as always.

Judging by this Globe and Mail article, it looks like Modern Advisor and Wealthsimple would be your best bets. Let me know what you think of the offerings. I’m curious to see if their definition of “ethical” meets your standards.

Ryan Rego says:

Hi Kyle, great article! I am a millennial who has been doing some DIY investing using Questrade (buying only ETFs). Currently, I have the time and enjoy doing it myself, but I will probably use Wealthsimple when it becomes too much work. However, I had a question that I thought maybe you could answer. I know ETFs follow a more passive strategy, but when looking at their portfolio turnover, some were as high as 30-40% (e.g, iShares Core S&P/TSX – XIC, http://quote.morningstar.ca/QuickTakes/ETF/etf_operations.aspx?t=XIC&region=CAN&culture=en-CA). Any thoughts on why its so high?

Kyle says:

It simply reflects the automatic rebalancing necessary to reflect the underlying index.

Cheers,
Kyle

Alicia says:

Hi Kyle,

Loved the article as it was exactly what I was looking for- an overview of the different Canadian options. A bonus that there are perks when mentioning young and thrifty, I will continue to follow! I am thinking Robo is the way to go for me but as I am hoping to use some (in all honesty most) of the money made towards a home in the next few years & I had a novice question:

I know that the general recommendation is to invest your money for longer term to see greater returns… Do you know if there are any penalties or fees associated with pulling your money out/ planning for shorter investments? (I am leaning towards wealthsimple but am not set on this yet).

This was always a barrier for me with RRSP ect. I was hesitant to put anything of substance in, knowing that if I need the money or if the perfect home came up I would ultimately be penalized for touching it.

Thanks,

Alicia

Kyle says:

Hi Alica, your big question is actually several little questions rolled into one. You will have to ask the specific robo that you talk to about specific penalties associated with pulling money out. I’m pretty sure most of them are almost fee-free at this point – however robos are not the CRA. If you withdrawn RRSP money it counts as income – unless (and this is key) – it is to buy your first home or to go to post-secondary education. If that’s the case check out our articles on the Home Buyer’s Plan and Life Long Learner’s Plan. Ultimately what you need to do is come up with a plan (maybe with an advisor, maybe just do your own homework) on what your short-term and long-term financial goals are – and then plan accordingly.

Cheers,
Kyle

Jordan says:

New to Robo-Advisors….and new to ETFs…
I have some funds to invest…anywhere from $50k to $250k..
but am a bit fuzzy on the value of Robo-Advisors over either using my own brokerage account that does NOT charge any commissions on ETFs investing or using a commission based Financial Advisor (not associated with a bank, they would mostly put my money in Mutual funds though.. Is the value simply that ROBOs will invest in ETFs and automatically adjust the portfolio based on my risk assessment? So on a $100k portfolio I would be paying roughly $650-$1000 per year so the ROBO can automatically adjust the portfolio? If I choose some ETfs myself, some of the fees are far less than what ROBOs are charging. Is it the time needed to follow the investment that is the true value? Did I understand this correctly? What else am I missing? I am sure I echo many other passive investors. Many thanks

Kyle says:

Take a look at my section comparing Robos to DIY Jordan. Basically what you are paying for is the advice that comes with a Robo (ie TFSA vs RRSP), the easy with which you can invest (no worrying about buying and selling), and the automatic re balancing. Also, if you use our offers, you’ll be paying quite a bit less than $650 on your first $100K.

Matthew Boyd says:

Hi kyle, great read, thanks. Im new to all of this and i think the robo investing may be best for me. You certainly endorse them strongly but im very paranoid given the books ive read so far about investing (hidden fees in mutual funds etc). For that reason i have a somewhat awkward question. Do you receive an affiliate commision from any of the companies you have recommended above? If so would you mind commenting on why you would still stand by your recommendations?

I hope these questions dont cause offence im just really paranoid about choosing the right strategy (i literally have no investment experience).

Thanks again for an interesting article im looking forward to reading your ebook. All the best,
Mat

Kyle says:

Hey Matt,

No offence taken. You are certainly right to be paranoid about investing fees (I have been labelled this way myself multiple times).

When I wrote this article I was not getting any commission fees from the robos. Two robos have since offered me a commission which I have accepted. While I’m not sure legally if I can disclose the amount in each case due to some wording in the contracts, it is closer to one digit than three digits per account opened.

Here’s why I would argue you can still trust the integrity of the information:

1) If it’s not apparent which robos gave me a commission and which haven’t, then that speaks pretty well I would think.
2) I know that I could make much much more convincing people to purchase mutual funds (as you noted) so if my main goal were to become rich I wouldn’t be writing this.
3) I freely admit that I personally choose to invest in a way that actually minimizes fees to the bare minimum – but requires more work. Again, if my goal was to convince you that robos were the only way to invest I doubt that I’d include that comparison.
4) Feel free to search out the robos on your own, and that way I actually don’t get any referral fee (you also don’t get our special bonuses either). I don’t ethically mind taking compensation from robos if they offer because I know that I’m helping to grow the overall market for a product that I support and recommend to my students and friends – so if I get a small amount of the overall money flowing into a growing industry I sleep well at night.

Jay says:

Hi Kyle. Is there any plan to update this guide? Your list appears incomplete when compared to the recent globe and mail article from Oct. 12 titled “The 2016 robo-adviser guide” (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/funds-and-etfs/etfs/everything-you-need-to-know-about-robo-advisers/article32302639/). Thx – just wanted to ensure you were aware you were missing some! Jay

Kyle says:

Hi Jay, we will be updating the guide for sure. The problem at this point is honestly that I don’t think a lot of those Globe and Mail options are going to get off the ground very far, and I don’t want to overwhelm people with options. The ones that we’ve reviewed have been in the market for a while and we’re confident in their ability over the long haul. I’m keeping track of what the Globe reports though!

Bob says:

So if you put your money into the markets in 2007, you are just climbing out of your deep dark hole many found themselves in who were buy and hold ivestors. How do Robo Advisor’s protect your capital other than by basic diversification through a group of ETF’s? I know, I know, everyone loves to say it’s impossible to time the markets! I’m wondering how popular these new services will be if/when we have another meltdown of the markets?

Kyle says:

The short answer is that they won’t protect it all Bob. That being said, I’m not sure your overall views of the market are correct. You mention that people who were in the market in 2007 are “just climbing out”, but in fact if they stayed fully invested throughout the “Great Recession” then they long ago climbed out and are now flying pretty high. The average annual return over the last 20 years (which included the crash you mention and the tech crash of 99/2000) is just slightly lower than the overall average for the last 100+ years. Your question is a logical one though, basically the real question is can Robos help mitigate our “lizard brains” (check out guys like Daniel Kahneman and Robert Thaler on this) that want to cut and run when we see stock markets go down? The answer is I’m not really sure. I hope that people will listen to the humans on the other end of the computer when they show them the math behind buy and hold, but I’m not really sure they will. I guess probably about as many listened to their “in-person advisors” when the last crash happened/

geo says:

If I am a high net worth individual near retirement do you see the other aspects of full service (retirement planning, RIF’s…) outweighing the low fees of robo investing.

Kyle says:

That’s a great question Geo, and to be honest I’d say it depends on your needs. What I would do is contact a fee-based financial planner and see what they would quote you for the exact services you want. At that point you can compare to the percentage savings on your investments. I really like fee-only combined with robo package.

Brandon Jones says:

Thought-provoking article.

We are a retired couple who have a total of $750,000 in two RRIFs. We depend on that money (in combination with CPP and OAS) to provide a steady monthly income. Can a robo-advisor help in our case?

Kyle says:

I can’t see why a robo advisor wouldn’t work just fine for you Brandon. It really depends on what sort of fees your current advisor/investments are charging you if you want to make a comparison.

Lynn says:

You might want to mention that WealthSimple’s offer only lasts two years (perhaps NestWealth too). It’s not noted in article or on their link, I only found out after I went through the lengthly process of opening an account for my small business.

EC says:

You mention monthly contributions a few times in this article. Would you still advise using a robo advisor for a one-time investment of 100,000? I am no longer working but still have 20 years to invest. In other words, I no longer have the income to support monthly payments but I could transfer money in from a shitty RRSP.

Kyle says:

While I cannot recommend a specific security to you EC, I can say with certainty that in a vacuum, using a robo advisor to invest a lump sum is a great idea. It will keep your costs super low and their “light advice” would be more than enough to explain what your options were and why they would make their eventual recommendation.

Mirs says:

Thank you Kyle and Paris! I’ll look into it.

Paris says:

Mirs
For what it’s worth, I did a trial funding of a whole $5.00 (I wanted to see if I could set up Wealthsimple as a ‘Biller’ from EQ bank) and they accepted it, so you should be able to start with the $100. Advise again for what it’s worth, put in the hundred and don’t watch every day, there will be fluctuations, sit back and let it grow.
As an aside, if you have any friends interested in investing, if you invite them to check out Wealthsimple, W/S will bonus you with an additional $5000 managed free (unfortunately not $5000 cash, huge grin), don’t forget to mention Y&S when or if you sign up. If you are stuck for a ‘friend’ Kyle can probably forward my email address.
I’m doing a comparison on three Robo’s and am forwarding the info to Kyle to pass on to the blog. Good luck ! ! !

Kyle says:

Thanks for that update Paris. Seems pretty conclusive to me.

Olivier Bougie says:

Hello Kyle,

its more a personnal finance question.

currently 25yo, M, 0$ saving atm, but starting this month with a robo advisor.

i currently have 3 goals:
1-go in appartment next summer
2-buy a house 3-5years
3-retirement

Q: should I save 100% toward my house to have a higher downpayment?! OR should i open 2 differents saving account (1 for house, 1 for retirement) with 2 different risk profile?

Also is it worth investing if my horizon is only 3-5years?! or should i jsut use my bank account?!

Kyle says:

In that case Paris I’d save for both at the same it were me. I’d also keep it simple and look at saving for your house in a high-interest savings account with an online bank like the ones I wrote about here. The Home Buyers Plan is certainly the quickest route in this regard. Cheers.

Mirs says:

Hello, great article, it’s easy to understand. I’m a student, a beginner investor, and I only have $100 to play with (to learn about investing). I learned about penny stocks and then read about how risky they were, so I steered clear of them. I was thinking of acorns since it uses very little investment (no idea if it’s open to Canadians). I was wondering if there are any Canadian robo companies that used the concept of using spare change /low min investments?

Kyle says:

Most of the robos don’t have minimum deposits Mirs, I don’t see why you wouldn’t be able to transfer money to them on whatever basis you wanted with free transactions.

Olivier Bougie says:

Hello Kyle,

i am 25 YO just graduated and started a new job, i want to start investing via a ROBO advisor BUT I live in Quebec and I would really really really much like to know if there is a ROBO advisor that offer FRENCH services?! Could you adisve me on which ROBO adivsor i should take?!

Kyle says:

Hello Olivier,

Congratuations on graduation and the new job! I would recommend simply going to each of the Robo’s sites and asking them if they have a French person on staff that you could work with. I would think several of them do! If you wouldn’t mind, let us all know who you decided to go with and why – so I can answer the question for any future Quebecois!

OC says:

Thanks for the article! I’m a complete novice at this and would like your advice: For someone looking to invest about $10,000 (with monthly top ups of maybe $500) for the next 5 years or so, do you suggest opening a TD e-series account or finding a Robo Advisor? And what if there isn’t a 5 year contingency (i.e. the money would stay in there for a long time)? Thank you.

Kyle says:

Hi OC, glad you liked the article (don’t be shy about sharing it so that more Canadians can benefit). I’d definitely go with a Robo for the simple reason that you’re so much more likely to stay with something because the ease of use. They’ll also be a lot of help in answering any “novice” questions whereas the eSeries won’t be. Congrats on amassing a great little nest egg to get started!

Jonathan Ho says:

Thanks Kyle – I did just that and emailed 2 robo firms:

1) WealthSimple is currently unable to support non-residents or create accounts for Canadian expats who are non-residents. So that’s out of the question for me.

2) WealthBar can provide services and open accounts for non-residents but requires min. investment amount of $25,000 CAD and a Canadian bank account.

Kyle says:

Ok good to know. Thanks Jonathan. It be worth checking out the other options as I’m sure they are competing hard for market share right now.

JH says:

Not sure if anyone’s come across this but do any of these Canadian robos provide services for Canadian expats?
I’m not a resident of Canada anymore but would like to move my funds over to a robos.

I guess I could also do the DIY option but just curious.
Thanks!

Kyle says:

I would assume all of the robos could answer your questions JH. Personally, I’d just send them a quick email as they’ve all been great at responding ASAP. Then come back here and let us know of course!

Ben says:

Potato – which four DO offer all the provincial grants you’re talking about?

Potato says:

Not all discount brokerages offer offer the provincial grants (or the low-income bonds), and many of the robos don’t, either. It looks like ~4 of them do, and that’s going to be a selection criteria in the next version of the comparison tool (spoilers!).

Kyle says:

Wow… very interesting. That’s a massive massive advantage. When you update the tool, I will add that to this article John.

Hyacinthe says:

I remember reading that RESP opened at some discount brokerage would not always support every grant available (Federal and Provincial, if applicable). Do you know what’s the situation on this specific point with Wealthsimple an other robos?

Kyle says:

I’ve never read that before Hyacinthe. I couldn’t find anything about it when I did a quick Google search. I would have to think that because your RESP would officially be placed under the large umbrella that handles the actual accounts on behalf of these robos, that it would qualify for all of the grants available.

Jean-Fran says:

Great article. I am old enough to remember when ING came to Canada to change the rules of big banking and ended up being a ScotiaBank subsidiary. Bummer. Choosing an advisor is a long term decision, be it traditional or robo and transferring accounts is usually painful and costly, so you do want to choose wisely upfront. Do you think these startups will eventually consolidate or worse, become “hip” subsidiaries to the big firms/banks? That usually means a pressure for higher revenues and profits from shareholders, as well as quasi-monopolistic practices. Let’s hope not.

Kyle says:

I share these worries JF. Here’s my hope: that all of these companies push each other to snag as much market share from traditional wealth management in Canada. They can do this by having great customer service, better platforms, and more innovative ideas. Then, I sort of think the best long-term outlook sees 3-4 main robos breaking away and buying out the rest. The question then becomes do they in turn take the sweet sweet offer that will no doubt come their way from our banking oligopoly? That I don’t know…

Paris says:

Great article Kyle, thanks for doing it. Just spoke with ModernAdvisor, they are now offering RRIFs and willupdate their FAQs shortly, and if asked will also extend the youngnthrifty promo until the end of Aug., they also mentioned an additional 3 months using the promo code ‘Signup’, I haven’t as yet, would like to interview the other 3 Robos to see if they will match or beat the $50K MA is offering or an extended ‘free’ period. If y’er interested will update y’all later.

Kyle says:

Thanks for the update Paris. Appreciate it! Would you mind stopping back here after you’re done checking out everyone and giving us a quick rundown on why you ultimately chose the one that you did?

Sedan says:

Great Content . Love it . I am new to Canada and was not familiar with Canadian Robo Investors. Thanks for the breakdown!

Kyle says:

Thanks for stopping by Sedan! Glad you found the info worthwhile.

Dean says:

Great article and very helpful. Have you done any reviews on steadyhand.com out of Van,BC ?

Kyle says:

Thanks Dean, appreciate the feedback. I read about Steadyhand when writing this article, but they aren’t really a comparable option as they offer mainly mutual funds as investment vehicles. If you really think that anyone out there can pick mutual funds that outperform, Steadyhand might not be a bad choice – I just don’t think this is possible.

Dany G says:

Thanks

Ben says:

Any updated promo codes for the ones that expired at the end of April? (specifically ModernAdvisor but others too!)

Kyle says:

Sorry Ben, feel free to mention you’re a Young and Thrifty reader and they might toss something in!

Brian says:

Great article. While I agree with the general premise that regular investing in lost cost ETFs is better than doing nothing or investing in mutual funds I still think that there is an additional layer of complexity that is rarely discussed when comparing robo-advisors. I have compared the portfolios between companies at similar risk levels and they are widely divergent with respect to asset allocation. I think over the long term these differences will lead to performance differences that will trump fees. This is the main reason I am still sitting on the fence.

I would be interested to see a comparison of portfolios between companies. Any thoughts on which most closely approximates the ideal asset allocation. Or is it too early too tell? I feel longer term performance is still a huge wildcard.

Kyle says:

Hi Brian,

I think it’s very difficult to compare the portfolios of each of the robos without actually owning an account and having them assess your risk tolerance and overall financial situation. I mean a couple do completely customized portfolios, so without talking to them how could you compare portfolios right? Also tough to say what the “ideal asset allocation” actually is, is it not? I’ve read dozens of books by really smart people that completely disagree on what the optimal allocation level is – heck, the Ph.Ds can’t even agree on if gold/precious metals should have any place at all in a portfolio! In my opinion, all the major robos allow you diversify your dollars across a pretty wide spectrum.

Oliver says:

I’ve been using a robo-advisor (Invisor) for almost a year now, and have had far more human interaction with them than I ever did with my bank.

It’s also refreshing to feel like I’m getting objective investing advice rather than being sold whatever mutual funds my bank is trying to push on people at a given moment.

Interested to see the longer term impact these organizations will have on how people invest in the future!

Kyle says:

Thanks Oliver! Tell the folks from Invisor to get in contact with us if they want to let readers know why they are awesome!

Rob says:

Great article and totally on board.
I’ve been with Wealthsimple for over a year now, and it’s been the best financial decision I’ve ever made.
I was “managing” my own money, refusing to give 2-4% for a mutual fund at my bank. I was glued to BNN, CNBC, and my stock app on my phone. It was time consuming and emotionally exhausting, not to mention (in my case) money losing!

Kyle says:

You’re not alone Rob. IF you look at the statistical averages, it’s very difficult for individual investors to outperform their benchmark index. Glad to hear that you’ve been so happy at Wealthsimple!

christopher wicks says:

Just wondering….do any robo advisers offer RESPs yet?

Kyle says:

Hello Christopher, I’ll add your answer to the main article as soon as I hear back from the robos.

Yash says:

Do any RoboAdvisors support RDSP accounts? Complexities aside I would think that could be some significant business for RAs given it doesn’t appear there are many (if any?) really good, no/low-maintenance RDSP investments.

Kyle says:

Hey Yash, we’ve posed your question to the robos and we’ll toss the answers up into the main post.

Larry says:

I haven’t thrown in the towel yet with pushing them toward DIY. It’s just so easy to do once you get over the initial resistance.

I think I’d encounter the same trouble with follow through for getting people to use a robo advisor that I find with going the DIY route.

My other concern is the future of robo. At one time, index funds were plain and cheap. Now, many have morphed into expensive trading monsters. Will the robos change over time to boost sales and margins?

Kyle says:

I think competition will keep sales and margins in check Larry. There are still some really solid index fund options – just have to keep it plain and vanilla – look how much fees have come down on basic index ETFs over time right?

Larry says:

Great post Kyle. I especially liked:
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Kyle says:

I like that idea Larry. Just out of curiosity, are you thinking about recommending the robos in this situation?

Randy Cass says:

Kyle,
As the founder of Nest Wealth, I want to thank you for the great job you’ve done here of breaking down the new services available. Articles like this are hugely important when you realize the vast majority of Canadians are still unaware of the choices they have when it comes to investing their savings.
Education is a huge part of change and the amount of work you clearly put into this article will go a long way to helping on that front.
– Randy

Kyle says:

Hey Randy,

Thanks for stopping by! We’ll keep on keepin on. You guys keep disrupting the traditional terrible deal that Canadians are getting when it comes to financial planning and investment options!