I just finished teaching an eight-week investing course at University of Toronto’s continuing studies. About 40 people attended, including some who had no previous investment experience and others who had been using professional money managers.
They agreed with me that salespeople have many hidden conflicts that taint their advice. They liked the idea of using passively managed index funds and exchange-traded funds to bring down their costs dramatically. They already had discount brokerage accounts or planned to open them imminently.
But here’s the problem. Many people don’t want to do their own investing. They want an adviser to help them create a low-cost index fund portfolio and rebalance it every year.
Do such financial advisers exist? That’s a question my students asked and I couldn’t answer.
Mutual funds are profitable for sellers because of up-front commissions and annual trailer fees. But where’s the money in selling passive portfolios to smaller investors?
I know of a few firms that have their own proprietary index funds, such as Dimensional Fund Advisors and the Croft Group’s Portfolio Index Evolution Solution. They get an income stream from manufacturing and managing funds, not just selling them.
But are there advisers who help you choose the right mix of iShares, SPDRs and Vanguard ETFs? That’s what I’m looking for. Please let me know if you find any.
Meanwhile, you can pay for do-it-yourself coaching to manage your own investments. This is something offered by Weigh House (formerly Second Opinion Investor Services). But it doesn’t recommend individual securities or make buy/sell recommendations. It just helps you make your own decisions.
This week, I met with a class member who wanted advice about her investments. At age 45, she had a “know your client form” with a 90 per cent stock allocation. Her equity funds (mostly foreign) were poor performers. Her only fixed-income investment was a high-yield bond fund. And her $200 monthly contributions went into a cash account, which paid a grand total of 25 cents in interest last month.
In my view, her portfolio was too risky and should have been rejigged after the crash. But her adviser had left the firm and she inherited another one who called her only once a year. She should have been putting new money into the stock market to take advantage of dollar cost averaging. And she didn’t need a few thousand dollars sitting in cash, rather than money market funds.
I’d love to see her take charge of her investments, but she doesn’t have the experience or confidence to do that. And with a full-time job, she probably has better things to do in her spare time.
Canada needs financial advisers to help investors succeed without costly mutual funds that can’t match the market indexes. Is there a business model for such a practice? Until that exists, I’m afraid that passive investment strategies won’t take off in a big way.