Before we dive into our Best Canadian Robo Advisor picks for 2021 let’s take a step back to decide if robo advisors are the best fit for you.
Looking to get into investing but not sure how to start?
Or maybe you are an experienced investor, but are looking for a passive investment strategy that requires little effort on your part?
Canada’s robo advisors are unquestionably the easiest, most user-friendly way to automatically take a part of your paycheque each month, and turn it into a diversified investment portfolio!
Canadian Robo Advisors Quick Comparison
As robo advisors gain popularity more and more are popping up across the country. There are literally dozens to choose from but, in my opinion, these are the best robo advisors in Canada:
Best Robo Advisor in Canada
$50 Cash Bonus on First Deposit
$1000 for Canadian residents
Best For Canadian Expats
$10,000 Managed For Free
Best Big Bank Robo Advisor
Best for large accounts
Up to $500 based on initial deposit amount
Wealthsimple – Canada’s Best Robo Advisor
Wealthsimple is my top pick for the best robo advisor in Canada and I’m not the only one who thinks so. If you read any robo advisor reviews in Canada, you’ll see Wealthsimple consistently comes out on top.
Why? Read our full Wealthsimple Review (which includes a unique promo).
The simple combination of beautiful & efficient app and website, very low fees, and an ever-expanding group of services in addition to the core Wealthsimple Invest model.
Wealthsimple is considered to be one of the best robos in the world. They have offices in Canada (this robo advisor is based in Toronto), the USA, and Europe, currently managing more than $5 billion in assets. They clearly know what they are doing.
They are also easy to use and accessible to everyone thanks to the no account minimum which makes them the best investing firm for small investors. Pricing is straightforward (there are 3 tiers depending on your deposit amount) and there is a variety of ETF options with low MERS (around 0.20%). They also offer both socially responsible and halal investing options.
Questwealth Portfolios – The Cheapest Robo Advisor
Questwealth is considered to be a hybrid robo advisor which means they have more of a human aspect to them than a traditional robo. As an investor, you get to choose from 5 different portfolios depending on your risk tolerance: Aggressive, Growth, Balanced, Income, and Conservative. They also offer socially responsible investing options.
What makes Questwealth one of the top robo advisors Canada is their fees. Questwealth Portfolios have some of the lowest fees on the market. Management fees are 0.2-0.25% per year and the average MER is 0.19% (although MERs for SRIs are higher). So if you are someone who wants a robo with rock bottom fees, Questwealth might be your best pick.
Personally, I’m not a fan of their active management philosophy, but that’s just me. You can Learn more about Questwealth Portfolios in our review page.
CI Direct Investing – Best For Canadian Expats
CI Direct Investing was formerly known as WealthBar, but rebranded in August of 2020.
They are currently the only robo advisor in Canada that caters to expats which makes them a standout. Keep in mind, account minimums increase significantly (to $25,000) for expats but since it’s the only option, it’s worth it.
CI Direct makes it incredibly easy for expats to invest using a robo investor while abroad. On top of the $25,000 account minimum mentioned above, you will need an account statement from a Canadian bank account, an electronic document issued by either a Canadian government agency or cell phone or utility company, your SIN, any foreign tax or ID number that you have been issued, and a signature.
You don’t need a Canadian address and you only have to worry about paying the same taxes as you would anywhere else as a Candian non-resident. If you have any concerns, there is always an advisor available to answer any questions you may have. Like a couple other robo advisors on this list, CI Direct operates as a hybrid robo and offers investors unlimited financial advice. As for portfolios, CI Direct offers five options ranging from conservative to aggressive.
Take a look at my CI Direct review to learn more.
BMO SmartFolio – Best Option Out Of The Big Banks
BMO SmartFolio is our pick for best robo advisor at a Canadian big bank. As they are one of Canada’s big banks, many Canadians feel really safe using the BMO robo advisor because it combines the tried and trusted with the new technology and algorithm.
As such their account fees are a little higher than other robo advisors I recommend on this list.
Another important factor to consider with BMO SmartFolio is that you can keep your whole “financial life under one roof” so to speak. Online banks have a lot of perks – there is no denying that – but, there is also a lot of value in simplicity and a sense of security in keeping your chequing, mortgage, loan, and investments all in the same place.
If you know and trust BMO and have been a customer there for years, then that is definitely a factor worth considering when choosing a robo advisor in Canada. It’s a lot easier to keep tabs on all of your financial information and accounts at one place (or on one app!) than to continually toggle back and forth between multiple institutions.
Learn more about BMO Smartfolio by reading our detailed review.
RBC InvestEase – Good Option For Quebec Residents
RBC is another big Canadian Bank with a robo advisor that is worth noting. RBC’s robo advisor is relatively new; it rolled out Canada-wide in 2018 (yes, you can use this robo advisor in Quebec!).
RBC collaborated with BlackRock Asset Management Canada Limited and created RBC iShares ETF which is the largest and most comprehensive ETF offering in the country. With more than 150 ETFs, they have quickly become a powerhouse when it comes to Canadian robo advisors.
RBC InvestEase doesn’t have the lowest rates on the market and the lack of account options leave a lot to be desired. However, they make it really easy and straightforward, plus, have the bonus of having a well-known reputable name behind them which makes them a popular choice.
We prefer Smartfolio when it comes to the head-to-head clash of big bank robos, but try them both out if you want to compare for your own preferences.
2021 addition: read our JustWealth review!
What is a Robo Advisor and Should I Use One?
A robo advisor is a digital investing platform that offers automated investment services that require very little human supervision. However, that doesn’t mean your funds are being managed by a robot, but rather by an algorithm that has been created and is run and monitored by very knowledgeable professionals. You pre-select the rules that the automated computer program follows, and you can change those rules at any time.
Using a robo advisor is simple. You add money to your account (whenever you choose) and it is invested into exchange-traded funds (ETFs) based on your chosen risk level. You can do everything from adding money to your account to tracking your process online via the website or app.
Robo advisors have been around for several years now and are increasing in popularity.
For a long time, robo advisors were marketed to young people who were just starting to invest. However, that’s no longer the case. Robo advisors can be beneficial investors of all ages, and are a superior option to traditional mutual funds in both fees and investing strategy.
Robo advisors are ideal for those who are more interested in a set it and forget it type of strategy. One of the biggest draws for robo advisors is that, because they are automated, they are often quite inexpensive and require low or no minimum opening balance.
Canada has dozens of robo advisors to choose from. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ type strategy and there are several things to consider.
How to Choose The Best Robo Advisor For You
In the robo advisor comparison above I’ve listed what I believe are the best choices when it comes to the best Canadian robo advisors for 2021. However, while I highly recommend you read through the mini-reviews above, there are a few other things you need to consider when choosing the best robo advisor for you.
Robo Advisor Fees In Canada
As mentioned earlier, part of what makes robo advisors so popular is that they are much cheaper than using a financial advisor. This has nothing to do with quality. A robo advisor isn’t the ‘cheap’ option. Rather, robo advisors are able to cut costs because they are automated and don’t have the same costs when it comes to things like human labour.
Other factors that play a role in the lower fees are the lack of overhead costs that brick and mortar type businesses have to deal with as well as the fact that robo advisors have lower profit margins.
Of course, there are still fees to be mindful of when choosing a robo advisor. These include management fees which are charged by the robo advisor itself. You will also have to pay the Management Expense Ratio (MER) which is charged by the ETF.
Robo advisors’ management fees are typically quite low. For example, Questwealth Portfolios is one of the best investment firms for low fees since their management fees start at 0.2% versus Wealthsimple, whose management fees start at 0.5%.
That being said, you get what you pay for and I believe that this saying is very accurate when it comes to Questwealth. Yes, they are the cheapest options on the market but it’s not nearly as user-friendly as Wealthsimple and they also use active investing rather than passive investing.
As for MERs, they tend to vary a little more depending on how much you choose to invest and what you choose to invest in. MERs usually range from 0.1%-1.5%.
Keep in mind, these are fees you would have to pay a traditional financial advisor as well. Plus, they would charge additional fees on top of this.
Without a doubt, robo advisors are more cost-effective than financial planners, however, fees between robo advisors can still vary quite a bit and are something to keep in mind when looking into robo investing in Canada.
Canadian Robo Advisor Investment Returns
Next up you need to consider returns. Keep in mind, since robo advisors usually rely on passive investing in ETFs, you aren’t likely to see any huge returns, or a big difference in robo advisor investment returns between competitors. Robos traditionally rely on passive investing (hybrid robos such as Questwealth are more active).
Now, according to The Millionaire Teacher author Andrew Hallam in his article for the Globe and Mail, history and studies show that humans are pretty good at sabotaging their investments, even those who think they are going to rely on a passive strategy. For this reason, robo advisors are considered incredibly valuable – they take that temptation out of our hands meaning a better chance at higher returns.
Compare that to mutual funds, which are actively managed and completely open to that temptation. I’ve already made it clear that I’m not a fan of mutual funds at all, but this is part of the reason why. We’ve seen time and time again that people have this assumption that they can beat the market with these tweaks based on what they hear on the news or their own personal biases. But the fact is this does more harm than good. Research shows that passive management outperforms active management.
The Human Aspect
Next up you want to consider the human aspect. For some individuals, the fact that there is very little human involvement isn’t an issue at all. However, some find that daunting and would prefer a more human touch. Some robo advisors have adapted to this and incorporated more human elements into their offerings.
Keep in mind, just because a robo advisor doesn’t offer face-to-face human interaction doesn’t mean that there is nobody to talk to. There are still advisors to speak to via email, phone, or online chat. They are there to help you get started, help you determine your risk tolerance, and to answer any of your questions. You aren’t completely left on your own, assistance is there if you need it. However, on the same page, if you don’t need the assistance you don’t have to use it.
In my experience, the folks behind the screen at robo advisor offices can help answer all but the most niche/advanced questions that Canadians have. For example, they can answer any TFSA vs RRSP questions, but perhaps aren’t yet ready for your income trust “tax management” follow ups.
Robo Advisor Account Types
You will also want to take a look at the different account types offered by the robo advisors as some have more choices than others. If you are just looking for a robo advisor for your TFSA, or a robo advisor for your RRSP, then you have a lot to choose from. But, if you are looking for something more specific, like a robo advisor for your RESP, then make sure to check and make sure that type of account is offered.
A few robos, such as RBC Invest Ease, only offer a couple of basic account options. On the other hand, my top pick, Wealthsimple, has the most account options. All of which are very easy to open and start.
Halal, SRI (Social Responsible Investing, and Tax Loss Harvesting)
Some robo advisors also offer different types of investing. This includes socially responsible investing (SRI) which is an investment strategy that considers both your financial return, and social/environmental impact. There is also halal investing which follows Islamic principles.
You may also be interested in a tax loss harvesting robo advisor. This is when the algorithm deliberately tracks any potential losses that might happen in a calendar year, and then use those to offset any capital gains and taxable income. Keep in mind, tax loss harvesting isn’t allowed for retirement accounts.
Canadian Robo Advisor Promotions
Finally, it’s always worth your while to keep an eye on any promotions being offered by robo advisors. Similar to how credit cards offer occasional incentives and bonuses for people to sign up to their cards, robo advisors also have added perks to entice you to choose them. Typically, when it comes to robo advisor promotions, you’ll see cash bonuses or some of your investment (up to a certain amount) managed for free for a period of time (normally a year).
A promotion on its own isn’t enough to validate choosing a specific robo advisor, as you can see from this list, there are several other factors to consider. But, if you can get some extra perks thrown in then you may as well take advantage!
Robo Advisors vs Mutual Funds vs Human Financial Advisor
So, how do robo advisors stack up against mutual funds and human financial advisors? Let’s dig in a little more.
Robo Advisor vs Mutual Funds
When considering robo advisors, which offer automated ETF trading versus mutual funds there are a few things you will want to take note of.
First of all, fees. As discussed above robo advisor fees for MERs range from 0.1%-.7%. For mutual funds, you are looking at a minimum of 2% for those same MERs. That’s a pretty significant difference. Also worth noting, minimal investments for mutual funds are significantly higher than those required for robo advisors.
Of course, it’s not all about fees and funds. Another thing to note is that robo advisors do the managing for you whereas with mutual funds they need to be managed by humans; either yourself or with a financial advisor.
Robo Advisor vs Financial Advisor
The most obvious difference between using a robo advisor vs a financial planner is the human aspect. You don’t need to talk to a human at all when you use a robo advisor. With a financial planner, having those face to face (or over the phone) conversations is essential.
Another key point which I have already discussed above is the cost. Robo advisors do tend to come out cheaper. That’s not to say they are always the cheapest options, but typically speaking financial advisors charge higher management fees and have additional fees that you don’t have to worry about when you use a robo advisor.
Another noteworthy point is what both of these options actually do for you. Robo advisors are for investment management, but it’s not personalized. You won’t have someone to discuss goals with and figure out your best options based on where you are in your life. Any financial planning and strategies fall under the realm of a financial advisor.
Robo Advisor Pros and Cons
One of the reasons why I’m such a fan of robo advisors is because they allow easy access to investing. Many Canadians are turned off from investing because they either don’t know how and think they need to be an expert, or they assume they need a big chunk of cash to get started.
To be honest, you can’t blame people for thinking like this. Investing isn’t taught in school and the media portrays investors as suit-wearing businessmen with fancy corner offices. For years, investing has been marketed as an activity for the wealthy.
However, that is not the case. As Wealthsimple’s ads show, robo advisors make investing accessible and easy for everyone. Minimums are low. Investing is automated. It’s straightforward without any of the intimidating factors.
Now, robo advisors are great, but they aren’t perfect. There are definitely a few downsides to robo advisors that, perhaps, will be rectified in the future but, for now, are something to be aware of. Here’s a breakdown of the main pros and cons of robo advisors.
|Super easy to get started||While robo advisors do answer 98%+ of the personal finance questions that Canadians have, they don’t offer full financial planning.|
|You can fully automate the wealth-building process. Just “set it and forget it”||Slightly more expensive than managing your own passive ETF portfolio through a Canadian discount brokerage.|
|Questions answered quickly and efficiently – no need to meet up in person.|
|Low Investing Minimums|
|Robo advisors are not ‘one size fits all’|
|Very easy to use|
Robo Advisors In Canada – FAQ:
Do robo advisors beat the market?
No. They will closely match the market but they will not beat it. Keep in mind though, academics have found that active fund managers rarely beat the market either (less than 10% of time over longer time periods). Trying to “beat the market” is a fairy tale that your advisor will try to use to get you to buy expensive mutual funds.
How much money can you make with robo advisors?
As mentioned above, robo advisors aren’t going to beat the market. However, they are still profitable. How much you make will depend on several factors including your risk level.
Let’s use an example. Say you invest $1,000 today. Then every month for the next 30 years you add an additional $200 to that investment. At an interest rate of 8%, compounded monthly, that means that in 30 years from now the total value of your investment will be over $300,000!
As you can see, you don’t need to beat the stock market to make money. You just need the average return.
Are robo advisors safe?
Safety is always a concern when it comes to finances, especially managing them online. However, it’s important to realize that robo advisors are as safe as any Canadian bank. Think about it, they need to protect you and earn your trust to get your business-how else would they make money?
Robo advisors use bank level security, industry-standard backup programs and firewalls. You can also check to see what outside source is protecting your finances as well. Robo advisors, like banks, also insure your money with outside sources. For example, Wealthsimple investments are insured by the Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF) for up to $1 million per account.
Of course, you need to remember that these are investments and no investment is ever 100% safe. Your portfolio will always depend on how the market performs.
Robo Or Discount Broker – Which One is Better?
I get asked this question all the time, and the answer is it really depends on a lot of different factors. Read my Questrade vs Wealthsimple comparison article for a deep analysis of both options and who can benefit the most from each.
As you can see, when it comes to choosing the best robo advisor online there are plenty of factors to take into consideration. As I’ve stated, my top pick is Wealthsimple which is consistently one of the best performing robo advisors in Canada. However, I suggest you take the time to compare different aspects of each of the robos above to determine which is the best option for your needs.
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