Best Robo-Advisors in Canada - 2019 Guide

A robo-advisor is a service that uses sophisticated software (and often some real people, too) to decide what types of investments you should be making and then tinker with those investments as time goes on. Even the most traditional investment management firms use algorithms to help them advise clients and balance portfolios. What robo-advising does is make that kind of automation available to the consumer directly. Some robo-advisors offer no living, breathing financial advisors at all, though most do. Because of the minimal involvement of humans, the cost of a robo-advisor is typically less expensive than a brick-and-mortar bank. Robo-advisors have become an increasingly popular way to manage personal finances and investments in Canada. Some have no account minimum. That means you can get started investing with as little as $1.

Which robo-advisor is the best? Probably the one that meets your specific needs and goals. Perks like free access to airport lounges and automatic rebalancing might be more important to some. Fees and access to a financial advisor may be more important to others. To help make choosing an investment provider easier, we did our homework to compare some robo-advisors that operate in Canada. Our comparison includes key features, accounts and pricing. Your trust is important to us. That’s why we always do our best to be fair and provide complete and accurate information. To complete your homework, we recommend visiting our competitor’s sites to continue your research.

About Canadian robo-advisors

Robo-advisors were first introduced in Canada in 2014. Since then, more and more have started in Canada. Even brick and mortar banks have launched automated investing products to compete with robo-advisors. Today, Canadians have 14 automated services to choose from.

In Canada, some robo-advisors register as Portfolio Managers. This means they’re bound by fiduciary standards — that means they have to put clients’ interests ahead of their own. Others register with the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC) and follow suitability obligations like disclosing investing risks to their clients. Assets are generally held by their custodian. Many are members of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF), which protects account assets for up to a million dollars against insolvency. Canadian robo-advisors have received tens of millions of dollars in funding since their inception. A lot of U.S. robo-advisors do not operate in Canada including Betterment, Wealthfront, the app-based Acorns, Robinhood, and Ellevest. Here’s some information about the main robo-advisors that do operate in Canada.

Wealthsimple is an online investment manager that combines smart technology with expert financial advice. We allow you to put your money in a managed portfolio (Wealthsimple Invest), do self-directed trading (Wealthsimple Trade) or put your money in a high-interest savings product (Wealthsimple Save). We’ve been in business since 2014, and have over $4 billion in assets under management.

Nest Wealth is a wealth management company that provides investors with a “smarter, quicker way to reach their financial goals.” They makes investing easy for clients by using smarter technology and proven investment principles. They were founded in 2014.

WealthBar is a registered portfolio manager and full life insurance agent in British Columbia and Ontario. The company describe itself as offering premium online investing without the premium price. It has over $275 million in assets under management.

Justwealth is an online portfolio management platform that offers exchange-traded funds to meet a variety of investment goals and risk tolerances. Each Just Wealth client works with a Portfolio Manager to determine which of the 70+ portfolio options they offer will work best for the client. They are a privately held corporation that was founded in 2015.

ModernAdvisor is an online investment manager that offers passive investing options with low management fees. They believe in offering cost-effective solutions for every level of income, with low-cost exchange-traded-funds. They offer passive investing options with low management fees. They are a privately held company that opened in 2013. They are registered as a portfolio manager in every province in Canada, plus the Northwest Territories.

Core feature comparison (automated investing)

It’s worth spending some time sorting through the features, pricing and the account minimum of robo-advisors in Canada to find the best one for your individual needs. See how Canadian robo-advisors Wealthsimple Invest, Nest Wealth, Wealthbar, Justwealth and ModerAdvisor stack up in this side-by-side comparison.

Features Wealthsimple Invest Nest Wealth WealthBar Justwealth ModernAdvisor
Overall Rating (Young & Thrifty) 4.9 4.6 Not rated. Not rated. Not rated.
Social Responsible Investing Yes No Yes No Yes
Halal Investing Yes No Yes No No
Dividend Reinvesting Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Minimum Balance to Start Investing None None $1,000 $5000 minimum on all accounts aside from RESPs. $1,000
Auto Depositing Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
VIP Lounge Access Yes (for Wealthsimple Invest clients who invest over $100k) No No No No
Management Fees 0.5% on $0-$100k and 0.4% for amounts over $100k. $20 per month for under $75k, $40 per month for $75-$150k and $80 per month for $150k and above. 0.6% on the first $150,000, 0.4% on the next $350,000 and 0.35% above $500,000. 0.50% on $0-$500K, 0.40% on investments over $500K. There is a minimum fee of $2.50 per month charged on RESPs with a balance under $25K. ModernAdvisor Digital fees are as follows: free for 0-$10K, 0.50% on $10K-$100K, 0.40% on $100-$500K and 0.35% on $500K-$1M. ModernAdvisor Personal fees are as follows: 0.89% on 0-$500K, 0.79% on the next $2M, .69% on the next $2.5M and .49% for investments over $5M. While there is no minimum fee charged on the ModernAdvisor Digital plan, there’s a minimum $75/month charge on the ModernAdvisor Personal plan.
Transfer Fees (to another financial institution) No No No Yes (a fee of $50 for a partial transfer to another financial institution or $150 for a full transfer out will be charged.) ModernAdvisor does not charge a fee to transfer an account out but their Custodian, Credential does charge a fee.
Inactivity Fees No No No No No
Financial Advice/Portfolio Review Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes (at no extra cost on the ModernAdvisor Personal plan but for a fee of $125 per hour on the ModernAdvisor Digital plan.)
Rebalancing Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Human Support Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Additional Information Get Started Wealthsimple vs NestWealth Weathsimple vs Wealthbar Detailed comparison coming soon. Detailed comparison coming soon.

Comparison of accounts offered (automated investing)

Looking for tax-advantaged accounts, the option to manage different types of retirement accounts simultaneously, or retirement plans that’ll cover you and your family? Here’s a list of the accounts that Wealthsimple Invest, Nest Wealth, Wealthbar, JustWealth and ModerAdvisor offer as part of their managed portfolios.

Accounts Offered Wealthsimple Invest Nest Wealth WealthBar JustWealth ModernAdvisor
Savings Yes No Yes Yes Yes
RESP Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
LIF Yes Yes Yes Yes No
TFSA Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
RRSP Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Spousal RRSP Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Personal/Non-Registered Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
LIRA Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
RIF/RRIF Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Joint Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Corporate Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

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Benefits of robo-investing in Canada

There are many benefits of robo-advisors. The most obvious one is that it takes out all the research, stress, vigilance and emotions that come with picking stocks and maintaining an investment portfolio yourself. Robo-advisors often use an algorithm to rebalance your portfolio so that it always stays on track. Robo-advisors generally charge a fraction of what traditional mutual fund investors pay in fees. This makes robo-advisors a great choice for both novice and experienced investors.

1. Offer low-cost portfolios

Robo-advisors tend to use exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that carry lower fees compared to mutual funds. ETFs are cheaper than mutual funds because few to no humans are required to manage your investments. Many robo-advisors pass these savings onto their clients. In Canada, you can expect to pay between 0.40-1% in fees for a robo-advisor. That’s much less than the 2.09% fees that traditional mutual fund investors pay. Beyond that, the only other fee you need to know about is expense ratios — a small fee for maintaining the ETFs in your portfolio. Many robo-advisors normally don’t charge a commission on trades — another fee-saving. Fees eat into your investment gains, which is why it’s important to keep them as low as possible. Robo-advisors are known to have low account minimums, unlike actively managed portfolios that generally require a high amount of money to get started. Some robo-advisors have no account minimum at all. This means you can get started with as little as $1.

2. Easy to use

Another big draw of robo-advisors is their simplicity. All you need to get started is to answer some questions about your financial goals, income, and risk tolerance and link your bank account. All of this can be done from the comfort of your home on your computer. And thanks to the algorithm inherent in the robo-advisor’s mechanism, you don’t have to pick out stocks yourself or learn how to best diversify your portfolio; the platform will create a personalized portfolio for you. There’s no need to monitor the market and figure out where to invest your money.

3. Provide access to a financial advisor

Robo-advisors all have 24/7 accessibility, and additionally, some provide access to a financial advisor. That’s someone who can help you set investing goals and provide helpful advice about investing, retirement or other life events. They may even be able to provide you with a full financial plan. Robo-advisors may charge extra for access to a financial advisors or include it in the base fee.

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How robo-advisors work

Robo-advisors use an algorithm to automate the investment process. They generally demystify the investment management process by creating an investment portfolio that’s broadly spread out across the entire market. This ensures diversification — a fancy way of saving all your investment eggs are not all in one basket. Diversification is beneficial because if one of your investments goes sour, it doesn’t drag down your entire investment portfolio.

Robo-advisors focus on passive investing, which aims to build wealth gradually over time. They mirror the market rather than actively try to beat it. Studies have shown that in the long run, passive investing has provided considerably better returns compared to actively managed portfolios. However, it’s always important to remember past performance does not equal future results and there’s always a risk you could lose money with any type of investing.

Robo-investing is designed for long-term investing. To potentially reap the rewards of robo-investing — plan to let your investments grow for at least four to five years or more. Robo-investing could be ideal if you’re saving for a down-payment you intend to put down in ten years or your retirement thirty years from now. If you need access to your money in the short term to pay bills, a savings investment account may be a better option rather than investing.

Although robo-advisors are a cost-effective and accessible way to start investing, they charge a small fee on your investments in order to operate. Some robo-advisors charge a flat rate but often the fee is a percentage of the amount you invest, also known as the assets under management (AUM). Investment companies behind the algorithm (despite the name, robo-advisors) are still operated by real people. Many robo-advisors are members of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF). This means that your investments are protected from insolvency up to $1,000,000.

Robo-advisors vs human advisors vs self-directed investing in Canada

If you have a complicated tax situation or a high net worth then it might be worth getting a human financial advisor. Despite the higher fees, they will create you a full financial plan that some may value despite the high fees. For example, if you’re planning your retirement, a divorce, home ownership then a human financial advisor will probably be able to give you the specific guidance on your situation. They may even tell you “yes, you should build a deck this spring” or “no, you should not sell your Air Jordan collection!”

If you’re looking to pay lower fees and invest without having to do tons of research and portfolio maintenance, then a robo-advisor might be a good choice. Some robo-advisors offer a hybrid approach giving you access to a financial advisor as well as a personalized investment portfolio. This is a good option if you want to save on fees but still want some support from an advisor.

If you want to get your hands dirty, then a self-directed approach (a.k.a. stock picking) might be right for you. Though you should know that stock picking is very risky and studies show many people who pick individual stocks fail to outperform the market.

Robo-Advisors Human Financial Advisors Self-Directed/Online Broker
Fees Typically below 0.5%. Typically above 1%. Low fees, normally per trade. Some offer commission-free trading.
Human advice Often comes with human advice and some access to a financial advisor. Some robo-advisors offer a full financial planning service for high net worth clients. Offer a full financial plan and can provide advice on your specific situation. No human advice.
Most useful for A hands-free approach to investing - perfect for people who want help with money management. Useful for people with a high net worth or complicated tax situation. A DIY approach, you have to pick your own stocks. It’s a cheap, no-frills approach to investing.
Fiduciary duty when offering advice (putting your interests ahead of their own) Fiduciary standards are not mandatory. Only robo-advisors that are registered Portfolio Managers have a fiduciary duty. An IIROC registered robo-advisor has a suitability obligation. This means they are required to follow best practices set by IIROC and have a duty to disclose investing risks to clients. Fiduciary standards are not mandatary. Only licenced advisors or registered portfolio managers are fuduciaries. No advice offered.

How to choose the best robo-advisor for your needs

Although there are quite a few robo-advisors on the market right now, finding the right one for your needs doesn’t have to be hard. As long as you keep some things in mind and don’t lose sight of your needs, risk tolerance, and financial goals, you’ll surely find an advisor that’ll fit your requirements. Here are some points to keep in mind:

1. Understand what’s important to you

This is the most important step. Know what you want to get out of your advisor by visualizing your goals. Are you planning for retirement? Are you trying to build up a nest egg, or perhaps saving for your child’s future? This will determine how aggressive you’ll want your portfolio to be. Are there certain perks, like airport lounge access, extended human support, or low fees, that matter to you? Would you like some control over what goes into the portfolio, or are you happy to just sit back and let the algorithm do the work for you? All of these questions will determine the right fit for you.

2. Do some online research

Once you know what’s important to you, it’s time to check out what’s on offer. Read all the reviews you can find, look what people are saying on forums that discuss investing and finance, and look at roundups from trusted financial publications. Once you have a shortlist of contenders that meet your requirements, look at each advisor’s past performance as well, while keeping in mind that it’s not indicative of future results.

3. Pay attention to account minimums

Choose a provider that makes sense for what you can invest now - and in the future. Some investment providers require you to deposit as much as $100,000 to get started. And, in some cases, you could face nasty penalties for dropping below the account minimum - or be forced to close your account.

4. Watch out for hidden fees

Nothing eats away at long-term gains quite like fees. And we’re talking about more than just management fees (though they’re important, too). Account transfers and trading fees can also add up. The best investment providers are upfront with what it costs to invest with them.

5. Look out for human support

When you need to make sense of a mysterious number in your monthly statement, nothing compares to talking to a fellow human. In the competition to offer the lowest possible management fees, some robo-advisors are quick to cut customer support. Before you commit to a provider, see what support is available - you never know when you’ll want it.

6. Find out if you have access to a financial advisor

No two people are alike - and neither are their financial situations. But investment platforms vary in terms of how much access you get to professional advice. Keep an eye out for providers that offer access to a financial advisor. There are only a few who offer advice when you need it, regardless of how much money you have in your account.

7. Understand how much freedom you have

Relationships end - even when you’re investing for the long term. Before you commit, find out what happens if you need to withdraw your funds or want to move on to a new investment platform - and whether there are any penalties involved.

8. Check if they’ll rebalance your portfolio

Another important thing to look into is whether your robo-advisor of choice offers free automatic portfolio rebalancing. Rebalancing a portfolio is a process by which money is moved across your investments to ensure that the performance of your portfolio reflects your original goals, or is adjusted to your new ones. It’s a process that is both necessary and tedious and quite pricey with traditional advisors, so having it included in the services is definitely a plus.

9. Find out if they do socially responsible investing

For many investors, the type of companies they choose to support is just as important as how well those companies are performing. Some robo-advisors will offer you the option to invest in your values by building a portfolio that reflects the standards of socially responsible investing (SRI). Robo-advisors that offer SRI will invest your money in ETFs from companies that engage in clean energy, companies that focus on sustainable hiring practices, have fair labor practices, or government-backed securities that promote affordable housing. If this is important for you, it’s worth checking what robo-advisors have this option.

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Questions to ask perspective robo-advisors

When choosing a robo-advisor there’s a few questions you should probably ask to make sure you choose the right one.

How is the robo-advisor’s technology improving the investment experience you may have had with a traditional bank or brokerage?

While you can’t walk into your robo-advisor’s office, throw down some documents and say, “Help me figure this out!” Many offer smart technology and human support to help you along the way. That’s a valuable service when you’re planning for an important life event such as retirement. If you are the kind of investor that wants to be able to drive to a physical location, meet your advisor in person and shake their hand — robo-advisors might not be for you. If you want to speak to an advisor by phone from your own home then a robo-advisor with access to a financial advisor could be an ideal option. The digital connection that robo-advisors offer has been proven extremely effective at helping people overcome financial challenges in the past. Find out how the robo-advisor uses smart technology to manage your investments.

What kind of accounts do they offer?

Any good robo-advisor should make clear the types of accounts they offer right on their homepage. Common accounts offered are traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and SEP IRAs, as well as personal and savings accounts.

  • RRSP: A Registered Retirement Savings Plan is designed to help Canadians save for retirement. The money you contribute is what’s called “pre-tax.” That means that you can subtract the amount you contribute from your income and pay less in income taxes.
  • TFSA: A Tax-Free Savings Account that allows you to hold investments and cash. Any earnings and withdrawals are tax-free. Unlike an RRSP you can take the money out at any time without paying tax on the money.
  • RESP: A Registered Education Savings Plan is a fantastic tool for people who want to save for their kid’s education. RESPs are government-regulated accounts and offer tax-free investment growth.
  • Personal account: A Personal account offers added flexibility to withdraw your money at any time for any reason. Earnings are taxed so you would most likely have this type of account once you’ve maximized the contribution room in your registered accounts like a TFSA or RRSP.
  • Joint account: A Joint Account is similar to a personal account, except that it has two owners. Joint accounts often make things simpler. No more dividing bills or writing checks to your partner.

What are its fees and pricing?

Every company has its own advisory fee structure. Expense ratios (the total amount of your balance used for account-management purposes) typically range from 0.40% to 1% of the account balance. Some robo-advisors charge a flat fee for certain services, such as retirement account management. Annual fees can be zero for low balances (say, $5,000 or less) but can be thousands for higher balances. And look out for any “zeros”—as in zero account fees—which can be deceptive. You will be paying for a robo-advisor’s services somehow. So make sure you find out exactly how. It’s important to look at the total cost of managing your portfolio. Any good robo-advisor should be clear and upfront about their fee structure and total costs.

What are the investment options?

What kind of investment approaches does it offer? Does it offer a conservative approach? A growth approach? A balanced approach? Does it offer options for the investor interested in socially responsible investing—an increasingly common way to invest, especially among younger investors. Although most robo-advisors invest primarily in exchange-traded funds, there are robo-advisors that use more customized approaches that involve buying individual stocks. Another question: Which asset classes are represented by the ETFs the robo-advisor invests in? Stocks, bonds, etc. How many ETFs do portfolios typically contain? Does the robo-adviser offer tax loss harvesting, a feature that uses investment losses to create tax savings?

What are others saying about the robo-advisor?

You can ask friends and family about their experiences with robo-advisors, of course. A more fruitful approach might be reading review sites and social media. Search Twitter for mentions of specific companies. Keep in mind that Twitter searches can be as misleading as they are useful. People tend to air their grievances on Twitter when they are most upset. The format is perfect for desperate pleas. Check the replies on such Tweets. Did the company offer to help solve the customer’s problems? Read online reviews and compare overall ratings. What do people like or not like? Check Apple App Store reviews, industry trade publication reviews, and blogs. There are dozens of sites that compare robo-advisors in detail—reviewing account fees, expense ratios, and minimum balances. Pay special attention to when the information was published as this is an ever-changing segment of financial planning with new services appearing all the time.

What kind of customer support do they offer?

Who can you talk to if you want advice? Do they have the same credentials/qualifications you would find in the traditional advice channels? Some robo-advisors offer support, and others do not. The question is: Does the robo-advisor have the level of support you need? This is arguably the single most important factor when deciding which robo-advisor you’ll choose. A real person in a real office who (really) wants to help you achieve your financial goals may not be something you need all the time, but if you need it, you really need it. Get on the phone with your prospective robo-advisor (if that’s possible) and ask how available its human advisors are. The level of service you get during that call could indicate how your interactions with its advisors will be.

Do they offer additional benefits?

Find out if they offer rebalancing, tax loss harvesting, or dividend reinvesting. What about lower fees if you invest more? Are there any perks if you keep your account above a certain amount?

What happens to my investments if the robo-advisor goes under?

To be clear: while it’s unlikely that your robo-advisor would become insolvent — it’s possible. There are guidelines that your robo-advisor must follow that create protections for the company itself. Should the firm fail and they’re part of the CIPF there are protections in place. Your funds up to a million dollars remain your funds.

How transparent do they make investing?

Do they make it easy for you to determine how you’re performing, what you’re paying, what you’re investing in, and how you’re doing with contributions to retirement accounts? Ask to see a sample of this kind of information. Do you understand it? Is it easy to read? There’s an even simpler way to check for transparency though: by reading the content on their website. Of course, it’s going to be promotional. They want your business, after all. But it should also be infused with a certain frankness. You should get a sense that the robo-advisor has committed to certain investment approaches while eschewing others. You should receive real information right up front. Not just slogans. No matter how guided by algorithms, a robo-advisor should still seek to earn one thing above all else: your trust.

How to get started with a robo-Advisor

In keeping with the ethos of simplicity, signing up for a robo-advisor is incredibly easy. It can be done from the comfort of your own home, and requires little more than an Internet connection and a clear idea of what kind of services you want.

  1. Sign up: Once you know which robo-advisor you want, start by entering your email and a password that you’ll use to access your account. This is how you’ll enter your account from now on.
  2. Fill out a risk survey: Once you’ve signed up, the robo-advisor will ask you to answer a series of questions, which will help the algorithm create a personalized portfolio and investment strategy for you. The questions will be about your age, your average salary, how soon you want to access your money, and your risk tolerance.
  3. Make a transfer: Once you’ve completed the survey and the robo-advisor has created a portfolio for you, it’s time to link your existing bank account to your new robo-advisor account and make a transfer. Some robo-advisors will ask for a minimum deposit, while others will let you deposit as much as you want to start with. Once the money is transferred, the robo-advisor can start investing and managing your money.
  4. Set up regular deposits: In order for your portfolio to work effectively, you’ll have to invest on a regular basis. The easiest way to do this is to set up automatic recurring deposits. Think of it as a way of paying your future self a set amount every month. You can always go into your account to adjust as needed.

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Why Wealthsimple?

If you’re not already convinced about choosing Wealthsimple as your robo-advisor here’s a few reasons why you should start investing with us.

We do the work for you

Using Wealthsimple is, well, simple. In just a few minutes, we’ll build you a custom portfolio that makes sense for your risk tolerance and investment timelines. And we’ll do the maintenance for you, with automatic rebalancing and dividend reinvesting. All you have to do to get started is answer a few simple questions.

No account minimums & low fees

We’re the first investment company in Canada to eliminate account minimums. That means you can start investing with as little as a dollar. Our fees are also low. We charge 0.5% on 0-$100,000 and 0.4% on anything above $100,000. Plus, you can make a withdrawal any time you want. So you can always count on your money being there when you need it.

Personal touch

You’ll have access to our friendly financial advisors regardless of how much you invest. They’re standing by to answer your questions and provide support whenever you need it. All you have to go is drop us a line by phone, email, or even Skype.

More than 150,000 people love using Wealthsimple

See the reviews for yourself:

  • 1.5k ratings Apple app store
  • 2019 Top Robo Advisor (NerdWallet)
  • 5 Stars - Simple.Thrifty.Living

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Methodology

The information on this page was compiled by Wealthsimple in May 2019. In order to uncover competitor information, we looked at our competitors’ websites, press releases, and third-party sites. The information collected relates to features, accounts, and pricing. The guide is only intended for Canadian investors. It’s important to note that the general information within this guide is not specific to your personal situation.

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