BMO SmartFolio Review 2023

BMO SmartFolio Review
  • Investment Strategy
  • Website and Mobile Usability
  • Fees
  • Socially Responsible Options
  • Big Bank Convenience
  • Safety/Security
  • Investor Education

BMO SmartFolio Review Summary:

BMO was one of the first of the Big Banks of Canada to launch a robo advisor service. This was good news for BMO customers who were looking for a low-cost, simplified investment strategy. BMO SmartFolio utilizes the investment power of Nesbitt Burns, BMO’s own investment firm, to manage SmartFolio customer’s portfolios.

I have to hand it to BMO for being ahead of the Big Bank pack when it comes to providing a robo advisor service, but it’s still more expensive than my top pick for robo advisors in Canada: Wealthsimple. Canada’s robo advisor scene is heating up, with other big banks such as RBC offering its own robo advisor service, RBC Investease.

While BMO might not beat out Wealthsimple’s extremely low cost robo advisor service, it’s far better than Investease. For those of you who value low cost above all and don’t mind learning how to DIY your own investment portfolio, check out our BMO InvestorLine Review.

In this BMO SmartFolio review, you will find out all about BMO’s robo advisor service, including what it is, how it works, what portfolio options are on offer, how much it will cost you in fees, and some of the disadvantages to consider before investing with BMO SmartFolio.


  • Excellent long term investment strategy (Easy Indexing)
  • Very low fees relative to mutual funds
  • As easy as investing gets
  • Best big bank robo advisor
  • Great overall platform


  • Slightly more expensive than investing with BMO Investorline or Wealthsimple
  • No socially responsible options
  • No direct control over weightings of index funds (like you’d have with a DIY Canadian online broker account)

I’m a huge fan of robo advisors, and BMO’s robo advisor: SmartFolio is no exception to that.

If you’re not familiar with robo advisors the basic idea is that you will determine your overall risk tolerance, and that BMO will set you up with an automated portfolio using big broad index funds that spread your investment risk out over thousands of companies and bonds.

For example, the average Canadian 45-year old investor might fit pretty well into a portfolio that is 60% equities and 40% bonds. BMO SmartFolio would let his investor quickly and easily send a chunk of their paycheque each month, and have it efficiently split up between Canada’s 60 biggest companies (a TSX 60 index fund), the 500 biggest companies in the USA (S&P 500 index fund), as well as hundreds of companies throughout the rest of the world. 

Then 40% of that monthly contribution would get split up into bonds generated by the world’s biggest companies and countries. As the value of these assets grows or shrinks, SmartFolio will automatically sell some of what is doing best, and buy some of what is doing worst. (aka: “Buy low, sell high”).

What is BMO SmartFolio?

BMO SmartFolio is a“hands-­free” digital portfolio management service. You can open an account with as little as $1,000 and based on your risk tolerance, you are aligned to the model portfolio that best suits your investing needs.

 How it Works

First you complete an investor profile by answering a series of personal and investment questions (10 multiple choice questions) and then you will be presented with a recommended model ETF portfolio (this is free). Each model ETF portfolio has an asset allocation of equity and/or fixed income that aligns to your investment objectives. There are 5 model ETF Portfolios (ranging from the least risky to the most risky, i.e. having the smallest percentage in equities to the largest).

  • BMO SmartFolio Capital Preservation Portfolio;
  • BMO SmartFolio Income Portfolio;
  • BMO SmartFolio Balanced Portfolio;
  • BMO SmartFolio Long Term Growth Portfolio; and,
  • BMO SmartFolio Equity Growth Portfolio.

BMO expert portfolio managers monitor the model ETF portfolios every day. Where and when required, they rebalance the model ETF portfolio to keep the client on track with their investment objectives.

My Personal Investment Profile

To provide a more comprehensive review, I signed up for BMO SmartFolio to get a sample portfolio for my risk profile.  I completed the 10 questions which started with some questions about income, investment knowledge and investment timeline.  The survey then finished with a few questions on the amount of volatility you can tolerate. Based on my information, SmartFolio determined that I should have an Equity Growth Portfolio consisting of 90% equities and 10% fixed income.  When the actual portfolio came out, it was actually 95.99% equities and 4.01% fixed income. Here are the positions that they recommended for me:

Equities 95.99%

  • BMO S&P/TSX Capped Composite Index ETF (ZCN) 29.82%  (MER: 0.05%)
  • BMO MSCI EAFE Index ETF (ZEA) 10.25%  (MER: 0.20%)
  • BMO Emerging Markets Equity Index ETF (ZEM) 8.11% (MER: 0.25%)
  • BMO Global Infrastructure Index ETF (ZGI) 7.87% (MER: 0.55%)
  • BMO S&P 500 Index ETF (ZSP) 10.26% (MER: 0.10%)

Fixed income 4.01%

  • BMO Mid-Term US IG Corp Bond Hedged Index ETF (ZMU) 4.01% (MER: 0.25%)

While I’m comfortable with the equity exposure and some of the chosen ETFs, it’s still a bit too complex. For my real indexed portfolios, I basically hold four positions, Canadian equity, US equity, International equity, and a bond index.  So if I were to put together a portfolio of this nature, I would keep: ZCN, ZEA, ZEM, ZSP, ZMU and dump the rest.  This would also reduce the overall MER as well.

BMO SmartFolio Fees

This is the big question that always comes to mind when evaluating services like BMO SmartFolio. Let’s take a look at what they charge for their service.

  • Minimum account size: $1,000;
  • First $100,000: 0.70%;
  • Next $150,000: 0.60%
  • Next $250,000: 0.50%
  • $500,000 and greater: $0.40%

So what does this all mean in dollars and cents? Let’s look at some portfolio size examples:

Account SizeAdvisory Fee Paid Annually
$5,000 $60
$10,000 $70
$25,000 $175
$50,000 $350
$100,000 $700
$250,000 $1,600
$500,000 $2,850
$1,000,000 $4,850

Note that the annual advisory fee does not include the management expense ratio that ETFs charge.  Although most BMO ETFs are reasonably priced, their website states that the anticipated weighted average MER of a portfolio will be between 0.20% and 0.35%.

The Benefits

Here are some of the benefits of BMO SmartFolio:

  • You have access to ­constructed portfolios comprised of BMO’s reasonably priced ETFs based on your own risk profile;
  • Portfolios managed by BMO experts and effortless investing on your part;
  • Relatively affordable compared to mainstream active management;
  • Active monitoring and rebalancing; and,
  • Full transparency into holdings, performance and transaction history;


  • Clients are forced to use BMO ETFs. I’m not saying that it’s a deal breaker as most have reasonable MERs, but it would be nice to have some choice.
  • Costs overall are higher than Wealthsimple’s.
  • User interface is not as advanced as Wealthsimple’s.
  • Doesn’t offer the equivalent basket of perks for high-net-worth investors that Wealthsimple does.

Final Thoughts

BMO SmartFolio is a solid robo advisor service considering it’s coming from one of Canada’s Big Banks. It might give current BMO customers added convenience and more peace of mind to have everything in one place.

 As far as being the best robo advisor service in Canada? It’s not quite there.

When compared to Wealthsimple, customers pay .20% less than they would if they had a SmartFolio account of less than $500,000. Once it hits half a million, the portfolio management fees would be the same. 

However, that’s not the only difference. Wealthsimple’s portfolios aren’t limited to only BMO ETFs, so you will get a bit more diversification if that is what you’re after. Find out more about what else Wealthsimple offers, and why it’s consistently rated one of Canada’s best robo advisors and compare my BMO Smartfolio Review to my in-depth Wealthsimple Review.


FT is the founder and editor of Million Dollar Journey (est. 2006). Through various financial strategies outlined on this site, he grew his net worth from $200,000 in 2006 to $1,000,000 by 2014. You can read more about him here.
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3 years ago

The community of the disabled is not well served. BMO Investorline does not offer the Registered Disability Savings Plan. Too bad. Other discount brokers do- TD and NBDB.

7 years ago

This might make sense when setting up monthly rrsp contributions?

At $10 per trade on investor line – if I scaled the number of etfs down to 4 (canadian, usa, global, fixed) per month – that amounts to $40 per month = $480 per year.

Anyone have any suggestions on how to DIY monthly contributions on the cheap? I suppose I could just do lump sum contributions 1-2 times per year but then I’d lose out on dollar cost averaging benefits.

Any tips?

7 years ago
Reply to  Phokus

Use the TD e-series funds: TDB900, TDB902, TDB909, TDB911. Every year, sell the funds and buy ETFs.

7 years ago

Not too sure about the other robo type advisors but BMO could not, at this time, transfer my RRIF into their SmartFolio even though my RRIF was comprised of BMO funds. ‘Perhaps later in the year’, they said.

7 years ago

I don’t like how it only allows BMO ETFs. That being said, I wonder when the other banks are going to copy BMO on this

7 years ago

National Bank Direct Brokerage also has a system like that. I looked at it about a year ago and decided it wasn’t a good deal.

7 years ago

It looks like your recommended portfolio is 50% canadian. That is way too much.

Mel Kruger
7 years ago

why would anyone want to pay an advisor to buy and administer
ETF’s, ? It appears to be a vehicle for BMO to peddle their ETF’s
and for advisors to collect fees for doing very little, if anything.

7 years ago

Perhaps you can review Larry Berman’s Two BMO Tactical (Dividend and Global) funds. I like the fact that he seems to be actively balancing the allocation according to market conditions, not just risk profile, etc.

7 years ago

Does this tool eliminate trade-commission fees?
If yes – with a monthly contribution distributed evenly among the predetermined allocation – the annual fees seem well worth it for those starting out.
If no – yowsers!

7 years ago

It appears total cost would be about 1% for a $100k account or 0.78% for a $1million account. Charges like that are why I left a Full Service Broker. But at least the FSB wasn’t investing in ETFs.

One way to reduce cost if this sort of thing interests you, is to open a $100k account. Then if you have $1million, invest the other $900k your self in exactly same way. That would reduce cost to 0.1%.

The fixed income part of this plan would be invested in bond etfs. Not in actual bonds or GICs with fixed interest and maturity. Not a way I would want my fixed income invested.

So even although, as we age, I am interested in partly moving to a less hands on approach, I consider this just a money grab that is aimed at taking advantage of those without the knowledge or inclination to manage their own affairs.

7 years ago
Reply to  Graham

Your suggestion to “invest the other $900K yourself” makes it seem like you are totally missing the point of these robo-advisor services. They are an alternative to DIY, not meant to be used in conjunction with DIY. The idea behind them isn’t solely to just get someone else to pick your ETF allocation for you, it’s to completely manage all the buying, selling, and rebalancing, so that the investor doesn’t need to do anything or make any decisions. It’s not targeted at those who are smart enough to do their own purchasing and rebalacing, it’s as you say: a money grab aimed at those who don’t have the knowledge or inclination to manage their investments. I disagree that it’s “taking advantage” of them, it’s simply a service you can opt to pay for if you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself. Look it as more like changing the oil on your vehicle. People pay a very high premium to have someone else do it, but it’s actually quite easy to do yourself, if you have the knowledge and inclination!