I’ve been investing
Since the early 1980s; more seriously since the early 2000s
I plan to retire:
In no more than five years
$950,000, plus a rental property
How long I’ve had an advisor:
Two years. Before that, I was with a fee-only financial advisor for about 10 years
From fee-for-service to robo-advisor
My older brother was financially astute and I caught the investing bug from him.
I was with a fee-for-service financial advisor for about 10 years when I realized I [could do better] investing on my own. I was with one advisor for about three years, and then with the advisor he sold his business to for another seven years.
As I became more knowledgeable about investing, I became less happy that my money was in mutual funds with high management fees. I was paying 2% or 2.5% regardless of performance; if a fund earned 7%, that was a third of my profit. It didn’t make sense.
I came across an article about robo-advising and began researching the concept. I really liked the model of a researched and constantly rebalanced portfolio of ETFs, based on the algorithm for your individual risk. Annual management fees are about 0.4%, plus ETF fees.
I have about $750,000—my big bucket—invested with a popular robo-advisor, and another $200,000—my small bucket—that I manage on my own using a discount broker. The big bucket is my retirement fund, which is invested in ETFs and automatically rebalanced according to my risk tolerance, which is an eight or nine out of 10 at the moment.
The small bucket is my play money. It’s a more diverse portfolio, and more active—I average about five trades a month. I used to do 50, but it wasn’t generating returns and I wanted to become more of a buy-hold investor.
My portfolio is probably 25% or 30% individual stocks, and more specific ETFs, like a freshwater index. Managing the smaller bucket keeps me sharp, and lets me take a bit more risk. Still, I don’t invest more than 5% in a single stock. If one of my picks goes down by half, that’s only a 2.5% loss overall.
Automated investment, personalized service
I don’t like the term “robo-advisor” because it sounds as though you never interact with people, and that’s not the case.
Customer service is really important to me; I’ve spent my career in the restaurant and hospitality industry. I regularly meet with the people managing my portfolio by phone or e-mail. They respond to e-mails within hours. There’s never been a time when I’ve had a question go unanswered.
But mostly I’m looking for results, and I’m getting them: in 2015, my return was 4.98%, in a year where the TSX was down 11%. It’s not wildly sexy. But the results are better than I would’ve come up with on my own.
Susan Goldberg is a financial journalist based in Thunder Bay, Ont.