What’s the best way to get started with index investing? That’s the question Justin Bender and I ask in our new white paper, The One-Fund Solution. In our opinion, if you’re new to self-directed investing and you have a relatively small RRSP or TFSA, the place to begin is ING DIRECT’s Streetwise Portfolios.
I’ve written about the Streetwise Portfolios before, and I often get pushback from readers. They point out these balanced index funds carry an MER of 1.07%, which is expensive compared to my ETF model portfolios, and even the TD e-Series funds. But most of this criticism comes from experienced do-it-yourselfers who forget that reading this blog means they’re among a small minority who consider investing something of a hobby. Most Canadians are not like them. Most people, even if they are good savers—and that’s the most important characteristic of a good investor—would rather watch Say Yes to the Dress than use a rebalancing spreadsheet.
My point is, rather that comparing the Streetwise Portfolios to the optimal solution, let’s compare them to the typical investor’s situation. There is more than $900 billion in mutual funds in Canada, and the average MER of a balanced fund is 2.15% (according to Morningstar’s 2013 Global Fund Investor Experience Report). It’s true this figure includes a trailer fee for advice, something you won’t get with a Streetwise account. But the sad truth is investors with five-figure portfolios typically get either dreadful advice or no advice. And in many cases they don’t need to pay for professional help. If you’re just tucking away a couple of thousand dollars a year in tax-sheltered accounts, it’s tough for an advisor to add value.
That describes the majority of investors in Canada. According to recent report from Advocis, the average client of a mutual fund advisor in Canada has an account between $64,000 and $75,000. What percentage do you think have globally diversified, regularly rebalanced portfolios that cost less than 1.07%? And if those investors are paying a 1% trailer fee, how many are receiving good advice ? I’d suggest at least three out of four would be better off simply socking away money in a Streetwise Portfolio.
Justin and I fully explain the advantages of this simple solution in the white paper, but I’ll summarize the main points here:
Easy account setup. If you already have a chequing or savings account with ING DIRECT, opening a new investment account can be done online in about 10 minutes. Even if you’re not already a client, the application process is still almost entirely online.
No need to learn how to trade. Making ETF trades is often intimidating for novices, and mistakes can be expensive. With the Streetwise Portfolios you make all your contributions and withdrawals through the ING DIRECT website, which is much more user-friendly.
A single monthly contribution. Making preauthorized monthly contributions is generally not possible with ETFs, and adding small amounts to an ETF portfolio can be inconvenient and costly. ING DIRECT clients can set up a single weekly, biweekly or monthly Automatic Savings Program with a minimum of just $25.
Automatic rebalancing. If you use multiple ETFs or index mutual funds, rebalancing requires you to monitor your portfolio and make calculations with a spreadsheet. It also means you need the emotional discipline to sell assets after they have gone up and purchase others that have fallen in value. The Streetwise Portfolios make all that unnecessary, as they are automatically rebalanced quarterly.
Client support. Some discount brokerages—including Questrade and Virtual Brokers—have enticed investors with commission-free ETFs. I’m aware many readers are pleased with these bargain brokerages, and that’s fine. But they would not be my first recommendation for investors with small portfolios and no investing experience. I’d rather send them to ING DIRECT, where the mutual fund reps have been specifically trained to answer questions about index investing.
If you’re happily investing with a portfolio of ETFs or TD e-Series funds, keep up the great work. But if you’ve never invested on your own before—or if you have a friend or family member in that situation—download our white paper and learn how you can get started in indexing investing with a simple 0ne-fund solution.