A New Service for Do-It-Yourself Investors

In the June issue of MoneySense, I wrote a feature that profiled three Canadian families who wanted to overhaul their investments and start fresh with low-cost ETF portfolios they could manage on their own. The idea for the story came about after Justin Bender and Shannon Dalziel of PWL Capital in Toronto approached me last […]



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In the June issue of MoneySense, I wrote a feature that profiled three Canadian families who wanted to overhaul their investments and start fresh with low-cost ETF portfolios they could manage on their own. The idea for the story came about after Justin Bender and Shannon Dalziel of PWL Capital in Toronto approached me last December with an offer for charity: in exchange for a donation to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, they offered to help budding Couch Potatoes put together an investment plan and build ETF portfolios in a discount brokerage account.

The idea turned out to be hugely popular with readers—not only did Justin and Shannon get more inquires than they could handle in December, they received another wave of requests after my MoneySense article appeared. This isn’t too surprising, since very few fee-based investment advisors offer services for DIY investors. And while financial planners are happy to put do-it-yourselfers on the right track, many are not licensed to even recommend specific funds, let alone help you actually build your portfolio.

Now Justin and Shannon have decided to offer their DIY service to other index investors. For a one-time fee, they will:

  • clarify your short-term and long-term financial goals
  • determine an appropriate asset allocation, based on your required rate of return and risk tolerance
  • assist you in reducing or avoiding deferred sales charges on your current mutual funds
  • suggest the most tax-efficient accounts for your investments (RRSPs, TFSAs, non-registered)
  • design a custom ETF portfolio and assist you in  making the necessary trades to implement it in your online brokerage accounts (including currency conversion)
  • provide a rebalancing schedule you can use to maintain the portfolio

The service is available to investors across Canada, as most of the work can be done by phone and email. However, please keep in mind the following limitations:

  • Investors should be in the accumulation stage of life—that is, building their wealth rather than drawing it down in retirement.
  • They must have no more than $500,000 in investable assets.
  • Investors must have relatively uncomplicated situations: business owners, US citizens, or others in special circumstances require additional planning that is outside the scope of this service.
  • The planning advice will pertain to liquid assets only (stocks, bonds, cash) and not rental properties, cottages, or similar investments.
  • Clients are responsible for collecting and supplying their personal financial information (assets, liabilities, pension details, RRSP contribution room, etc.). Justin and Shannon will provide downloadable forms and checklists to help.

The cost for the service is $2,750 (plus HST or GST). That assumes you already have a discount brokerage account and any funds you want to transfer from other investment advisors have already been moved there. If you need help with this step, too, Shannon will set up the new accounts and handle the transfers if the client agrees to make a tax-deductible $500 donation to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

I suspect that some potential DIYers will think the fee sounds high. For what it’s worth, while I was working on the MoneySense feature I saw first-hand the extraordinary amount of effort it takes to do this properly. All of the families who worked with Justin and Shannon agreed they could not have done it on their own. One of them wrote the following:

“I was feeling overwhelmed and intimidated with the DIY process by the time I found Justin and Shannon. They broke the transition down into manageable chunks, provided frequent contact and encouragement, offered understandable explanations to all my questions, never made me feel pushed or hurried into anything, and left me feeling confident that I will be able to maintain my new portfolio on my own. Their service was invaluable to me.”

Think about this way: if you have as little as $150,000 in high-cost mutual funds, you’ll recover the cost of this service in one year or less, and you’ll save thousands of dollars going forward. You’ll also avoid the costly mistakes that many new DIY investors make and get the confidence that your Couch Potato plan is on solid footing.

To learn more, contact Justin Bender at jbender@pwlcapital.com, or (416) 203-0067.

Disclosure: PWL Capital is an advertiser on Canadian Couch Potato. However, I do not receive referral fees from any financial advisor.

7 comments on “A New Service for Do-It-Yourself Investors

  1. A few points:

    1) $2750 + Taxes IS a lot of money

    2) A person making $60K a year is making $30 an hour (based on a 2000 hour work year) and say $20 per hour after tax

    3) Hence a person is having to work 137 hours to pay for this service

    4) A person could buy a few books and easily learn and do what this service offers in much less time and then save this fee

    5) A DIY investor is a do it yourself investor and therefore by definition would not use the services of a company like this

    6) The company advertises on Moneysense so for whose benefit is this article – the company or the readers?


  2. I'm an "evil" commission based financial planner, my average client has about $50,000 in investable assets, so, let's run some numbers $2,750 / $50,000 = 5.5%. Of course that's one time fee (and ignores any costs of obtaining those ETFs and their annual fees and tracking errors) but as another Canadian Couch Potato article mentions when talking about financial planning, "Another advisor I know makes a different analogy: he compares a financial plan to a compass rather than a map: it can’t tell you what’s over that next hill or around that next curve, but it can keep you pointed in the right direction." So, how often should someone be obtaining this DIY service?


  3. @Tom and Scott: It's important to acknowledge that this kind of service is not appropriate for everyone. It makes absolutely no sense if your portfolio is $50,000. However, as I point out in the article, if your portfolio is $150,000 and you are paying 2% on your mutual funds, you are already paying $3,000 every year in fees. If you are willing to put in the time to become a DIY investor but are unsure how to get started, then an investment of $2,750 may be well worth it. Going forward, your new portfolio would likely carry an annual fee of less than 0.40%, so you would save $2,400 in the first year alone and far more as your portfolio grows.

    Scott, as you know, the burden of financial planning is front-loaded: the vast majority of the work comes at the beginning. If a DIY investor needed a course correction a couple of years down the road, it would likely be a minimal expense.

    Tom, after years writing about personal finance I can tell you with full confidence that you cannot "buy a few books and easily learn and do what this service offers." It takes a lot more work than that, and there is a huge amount of inertia and fear that prevents many people from taking the first steps. After that, it may be fairly simple to make monthly contributions and rebalance annually, but getting started can be intimidating. Believe me, I have seen it personally many times.

    Finally, I need to address your final comment. PWL Capital is not an advertiser in MoneySense. It is an advertiser on my blog, which does not currently share revenue with MoneySense. I have regularly written about services and products that I think will be of interest to my readers, and this falls into that category. As I disclosed, I do not receive any kind of referral fee from this or any other similar arrangement.


  4. Cdn Couch Potato: " It's important to acknowledge that this kind of service is not appropriate for everyone."

    Similarly, it's important to recognize that for some (many?) people commission based services are better than nothing but you rarely, if ever, see that on MoneySense and other financial web sites/blogs. The first word that usually comes out of someone's mouth when talking about commission based planners is "high fees". Do you know how many people I have talked to who have no idea what an RRSP or TFSA is? My typical clients are people who are far from DIYers but many of them have a friend who has told them to avoid commission based planners because it's a "rip-off." Of course those same friends rarely take the time and effort to educate them on what they should be doing, aside from telling them to read a few books, and I have no doubt many of them would never do anything on their own. I would think those people are better off paying 2-2.5% annually on some amount of savings rather than 0% on no savings.

    Absolutely there is a lot of upfront work to financial planning, but the ongoing work and contact can be just as important to ensuring the plan is followed through on. I have no doubt the people at PWL Capital can create great plans, but are they going to be there 6 months/a year/etc down the road when the client thinks he (it's usually guys who think they know more than the market) should dump all their equities because they're down 10%? I am a big fan of Carl Richard and his book The Behavior Gap (which I had pre-ordered and even bought several copies to give to some of the newer planners at my office) . As you quoted him in a previous article, "We need to get away from this idea of financial planning as an event—or even worse, a product."

    By no means am I saying that everyone needs to use commission based services, in fact, I would say that if people are on this site then they already know more than the average person. But I think they are doing a disservice to others by telling them not to use my services simply because of fees if they are not going to take the time and effort to show them how to do it. The analogy I like to use is that of my brother who is a mechanic. He gets a chuckle every time I mention taking my car in for an oil change or other "simple" things. He says I'm wasting my money, he lives in a different city so he can't do it himself. But I have neither the time nor inclination to develop those skills but I have no doubt I'm better off paying someone to do it and having a vehicle that runs smoothly as opposed to just wanting to save a few bucks and have a vehicle doesn't.


    • @Scott: You might be surprised to hear that I agree with almost everything you've written. Investors with small accounts and no ability or inclination to invest on their own are indeed better off with a commission-based adviser if the alternative is doing nothing. I think 2.5% is hard to justify, but if they can get that down to 1.5% or so, then it's a place to start. On a $50,000 account, 1.5% is $750 a year, and it's not realistic to expect advice for less than that. If that fee includes genuinely good advice, then it's worth it. If the advisor tries to conconve them to buy seg funds with levereage, well, that's a different story.

      I also agree completely that many people who think they can manage their portfolios on their own end up messing things up. I do know that the folks at PWL have spent a lot of time coaching the DIY investors about the importance of sticking to the plan, though it remains to be seen whether they really will have the fortitude to hang on when things get tough.

      Thanks for a healthy debate.


  5. I agree with Tom. I do get tired of articles in favor of advertisers.
    Also $2750 ….. I use EfficientWealth.com who helps you for MUCH LESS than the stated $2750.
    Gee if you have $200,000 and you pay $2750 to have a program setup …. doesn't that come to 1.375% PLUS the fees for the index funds.

    So again, why is this plan better than doing your own ETF's or possibly even your own mutual funds if you select good income, dividend funds???

    Actually last year I contacted Moneysense after seeing a portfolio report that showed how much the honour roll funds made over the market.

    I emailed back and pointed out that I made several per cent more if dividend income funds.

    So when I see an I will scratch your back if you advertise …. er I mean scratch mine…. it cannot be taken as good advice just "payment" for advertising.


    • @ Scott, comparing mutual funds to oil change is kind of a desperate if you ask me. I know how to change my oil in my vehicle but choose not to do so because it’s a dirty job. But I also don’t go to the car dealership that charges me twice what a local garage charges me for the same service. Also paying $50 for an oil change where you get oil, filter and some labor is hardly the same as the service I was getting from my financial advisor when we only met when came RRSP time where he would take my check and buy mutual funds. He would print out the yearly performance of the funds and chit chat for about 30 minutes but very little had to do about financial planning or the performance of my portfloio. Never once he mentioned how the funds I was in was under performing the market. Actually, I was the one researching the mutual funds and getting out of under performing funds he had me in that charged 2.75% fees. I am now a DIY and back then I wish this service would have been available to help me out. I made some mistake getting started but I am way farther ahead today than if I would have stayed with my advisor.

      @ doc_computer, the $2,750 is a one time fee. So yes it amounts to 1.375% for the first year, but that’s less than the 2% and 3% mutual funds charges every year, not just once. And secondly you say why is this better than doing your own ETF’s; well the point of this service is to help someone get started setting up their own ETF’ portfolio. If you don’t feel you need help setting up your own ETF portfolio don’t bother with this service. This service is for the investor that doesn’t know which one are good dividend Ef’s or whether all their money should be in just one dividend Etf’s as you say, what % should be in bonds vs stocks and what % goes in Canada, US, International, etc. Some people just need guidance to get started and can re-balance with little help going forward.


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