Use the information here as a starting point in your search for the best service for your needs, then delve deeper; check out the provider’s website and chat with a representative to determine whether its fee structure, choice of account options, investment offerings and, ultimately, performance to date satisfies your expectations and requirements.
Michael McCullough is an award-winning writer, editor and content strategist based in Vancouver. The former editor of Alberta Venture and managing editor of Canadian Business, he focuses on the subjects of business and investment.
What is a robo-advisor?
When the words robo-advisor first entered the investing lexicon, it referred to a company that offered a robo-advisor tool and the platform itself. With many traditional financial institutions providing robo options today, the term refers to the technology involved. Now, essentially, a robo-advisor is a cloud-based technology platform that, in many cases, invests on behalf of a user.
There are other ways to invest online, of course. For example, with discount brokerages, you put money into an account and then you have to divvy up those funds among securities on your own. Robo-advisors, on the other hand, automatically split up the assets in your robo account (again, it could be an RRSP, RESP, TFSA or others) into various ETFs based on your risk tolerance and goals. (An ETF is a basket of securities that’s similar to a mutual fund but isn’t actively managed; often, it’s set up to track a specific market index, such as the S&P 500 Index. ETFs are also different from mutual funds in that they can be traded on the market, like an individual stock or bond.)
It’s the ease of use that’s made robo-advisors so popular. Most work in a similar way: You fill out a questionnaire to determine your tolerance levels, you then connect your bank account to the software and enter the amount you want to invest. The robo-advisor will then put your money into its funds and continually rebalance your dollars to keep your asset mix where it should be. —Bryan Borzykowski
Who uses robo-advisors?
There used to be a perception that robo-advisors were for newbie investors or those without a lot of money, but that couldn’t be further from the truth now. An increasing number of high-net-worth investors—those who don’t want to pick securities on their own—are seeing the value in using this kind of digital investing platform. In fact, many robos are now catering to this investor set, with some offering more sophisticated tax-loss harvesting, as well as accounts for incorporated professionals.
Whatever end of the income spectrum you’re on, it’s a lot more efficient to use a program that divvies up your money for you into the right buckets for your risk tolerance, and automatically rebalances when market values either climb too high or drop too low.
Robo-advisors are also ideal for fee-conscious investors, which is just about everyone these days. While fees do vary, and it’s possible to invest more cheaply by buying an all-in-one ETF than in a robo (though you’d have to do all the investing work yourself), costs are still well below the average mutual fund fee of about 2%. As ETF fees continue to fall, and with most robos using ETFs to build portfolios, robo-advisor costs could decline over time, as well.