Now that Wealthsimple Trade has launched, and the robo advisor service has gotten so popular, I figured that it was time to take a serious look at the service.
If you’re the TLDR type, then this Wealthsimple review might be a bit lengthy for your tastes. Feel free to navigate using our table of contents to jump around.
Below, you can find my Wealthsimple review summary and rating:
Wealthsimple Robo Advisor: Scoreboard
Website and Mobile Usability
Fees & Costs vs Mutual Funds
Halal & Socially Responsible Investing Options
Advice and Personal Finance Help
Wealthsimple is the largest robo advisor in Canada. Thanks to a simple onboarding process, easy to use platform, and $0 account minimum, it’s a favourite among Canadians. Plus, for new customers, Wealthsimple will pay any transfer fees for those who want to switch over. However, while these factors all contribute to making Wealthsimple one of the top robo advisors in the Canadian market, there’s a whole lot more to this company that has allowed it to earn my stamp of approval.
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Why is Wealthsimple Canada’s Leading Robo Advisor
There’s a reason why Wealthsimple is Canada’s biggest and most popular robo advisor. However, before I dig into what makes Wealthsimple such a standout in its field, let’s first take a second to explain what a robo advisor is and Wealthsimple’s approach as a robo-advisor.
Intro: What is a Robo Advisor?
The first thing you need to know is that a robo advisor, despite the name, is not a robot. The investment process is automated (after you set it up the first time) however, that automated process is created, run, and monitored by a team of very knowledgeable financial professionals who are also available for customer service and financial advice.
Robo advisors have come to light over the last few years as a middle-ground for Canadians who are looking for an alternative to the big brick-and-mortar banks but are not comfortable using DIY methods. The goal is to create an easy-to-use investing process that will allow clients to make the most of their money without the hidden fees and costs often associated with traditional banking methods. Perhaps the best part about robo advisors in my opinion is that they allow Canadians to setup a quick and easy way to automate their investing using an index-based philosophy..
The Wealthsimple Approach
The Toronto-based team behind Wealthsimple (wealthsimple.com) describes its mission as the following:
We provide world-class, long-term investment management without the high fees and account minimums associated with traditional investment managers. We invest your money in a globally diversified portfolio of low-cost index funds modeled after the same Nobel Prize-winning research used by the world’s savviest investors. Our cutting-edge technology helps you earn the best possible return on your money, while also lowering your tax bill.
This means we do things like automatic rebalancing, dividend reinvesting, and tax loss harvesting services that most people couldn’t afford until now or found too time-consuming and tedious to do on their own. Our financial advisers are always available when you need them. They can help plan your financial milestones and answer questions you might have about potential risks or what sort of investment accounts you should have.
The Nobel Prize-winning research they are referring to is the Modern Portfolio Theory done by Harry Markowitz. Wealthsimple is quick to tell users that their approach is based on this tried and tested work. If you are familiar with ‘couch potato investing’, then you’ll have an idea as to how Wealthsimple manages your money. We’ll dig more into how it works later on in this Wealthsimple review.
The Team Behind Wealthsimple
As mentioned above, robo advisors are backed by financial experts who create and monitor the algorithms. Additionally, there are financial experts to reach out to with any customer service inquiries or, even for financial advice.
While robo advisors have been around for a couple of years now (Wealthsimple started in Toronto in 2014, and was founded by Michael Katchen), many Canadians are still hesitant to switch to one because they are still categorized as new. It makes sense, ‘new’ isn’t always a word you want to associate your hard-earned money with, however, you can breathe easy with Wealthsimple knowing that this particular Canadian robo advisor is “powered” by Power Financial - one of Canada’s largest and wealthiest companies. As of 2019 Power owned 89% of Wealthsimple and had invested over $200 Million in the company! Plus, Canada’s largest robo advisor has grown up before our eyes and really isn’t that young anymore.
Wealthsimple Review: How it Works
To get started with Wealthsimple you can have an online, email, or phone discussion with an advisor to discuss what they think is the best option for you taking into consideration your goals and risk tolerance. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, remember that the Wealthsimple representative you are speaking to is an advisor and while they may not be able to answer everything off their head (mainly when it comes down to the more detailed, complex questions), they will answer your questions with your best interests at hand.
One of the reasons I’m such an advocate for Wealthsimple is because as a Portfolio Manager, they have a fiduciary duty, meaning that the company and their employees legally HAVE to give you advice and recommend investments with your needs and best interests in mind. Strangely enough, this is not mandatory of all financial advisors in Canada, and many people at big banks that recommend mutual funds have no fiduciary duty to you at all!
Once you have chosen your account (for example, RRSP or TFSA), your funds will be split into several different asset categories including both Canadian and international equities, real estate, and bonds.
Wealthsimple Investing Approach and Returns
As I mentioned earlier our Wealthsimple.com review, the robo advisor approach is basically an automated form of couch potato investing. For those who aren’t familiar with this term, couch potato investing is a passive investing strategy that relies on building a diversified, low-maintenance portfolio. The goal is to deliver high returns at a low cost and has been shown to reduce typical investor costs by up to 90%. Not only does this strategy save you money, but it has also been proven to beat the vast majority of mutual funds and “money experts” that traditionally handle your investments in Canada.
The couch potato strategy (which has also been called index-investing or passive investing) is not new. It’s been around for ages, but is becoming more and more popular in part thanks to robo advisors like Wealthsimple, who allow everyday folks, rather than just finance experts, to build and maintain these types of portfolios.
Personally, I’m a strong believer in taking this type of approach to investing, and I’m a fan of how transparent Wealthsimple is when it comes to their investment strategies. When asked what kind of returns to expect, Wealthsimple responded with the following:
While Wealthsimple makes it clear that expected returns are impossible to predict (this is the truth for any investor, don’t let someone try to convince you otherwise), they go an extra step in their transparency to show you how your investments are performing and what your returns actually are in their monthly statements and in your online account.
Wealthsimple Socially Responsible and Halal Investing
Investors may also be interested to know that Wealthsimple offers Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) as well. Socially responsible investing is becoming more and more popular these days, especially among millennials.
To clarify, socially responsible investing is a type of investing that allows you to put your money towards companies and businesses that align with your environmental and social values. A Wealthsimple SRI portfolio will include the following ETFs:
- Low Carbon (CRBN): Global stocks with a lower carbon exposure that the broader markets.
- Environment (XEN): Canadian stock that prioritize environmental and social concerns.
- Cleantech (PZD): Cleantech innovators in the developed world
- Government Securities (ZFM): Canadian federal bonds with AAA rating
- Human Rights (VIDI): Global stocks with a positive record on human rights and corruption.
As of June 16, 2020, Wealthsimple has also launched its own responsible investing funds. Prior to this, Wealthsimple offered third-party responsible investing ETFs. However, as Canadians become more aware of their investments and more driven towards ensuring that their investments better reflect their values, there has been an increased interest in responsible investing.
Wealthsimple saw this interest as a new opportunity and, earlier in the year, filed a prospectus to launch their own. They were given the approval and hit the stock exchange market on June 16th. Makenzie Investments, which is Toronto-based, will act as the trustee, manager, and portfolio manager of these funds.
The two responsible investing funds are:
Wealthsimple North America Socially Responsible Index ETF: Which invests mainly in Canadian and American equity securities. The management fee is 0.2% and it has been designed to replicate the Solactive Wealthsimple North America Socially Responsible Factor Index.
The Wealthsimple Developed Markets ex North America Social Responsible Index ETF: This focuses on European, Asian, and Australian equity securities. The management fee is 0.25% and it has been designed to replicate the Solactive Wealthsimple DM ex NA Socially Responsible Factor Index.
I’ll admit that socially responsible investing isn’t at the top of my priority list, however, I do agree that it is a good concept and think it’s a great way to entice younger generations to become more involved in their money decisions. Of course, people tend to be more involved with SRI portfolios because some of the companies may not be up to your personal standards, so that is something to keep in mind. Additionally, there is an added premium to SRI, about 0.2% MER since it is much more niche. However, it’s great to know that the option is there should that be important to you.
As well as socially responsible investing, Wealthsimple also offers Halal Investing. This portfolio is optimized for performance by using companies that align with Islamic law. This means no businesses that profit from gambling, weapons, tobacco, or other restricted industries. Additionally, this type of investing will not include any businesses that obtain a significant percentage of their income from interest on loans. All investments are screened by a group of Shariah scholars to ensure that they are up to the expected standards.
Hallal portfolios include 50 stocks chosen based on the designated required principles as well as their ability to be optimized for diversification. Examples of these stocks include Pfizer Inc, Canon Inc, and Johnson & Johnson. As with other Wealthsimple investment portfolios, the goal of Halal investing is to minimize risk and maximize reward and, if you are wondering about the fees, there are no additional fees to Wealthsimple’s halal investing, it follows the same fee structure as other Wealthsimple investments.
Wealthsimple Review: Costs and Fees
Wealthsimple.com currently has three different levels: Basic, Black, and Generation. I’ll dig more into these in a minute, but when it comes to fees, the Wealthsimple management fees differ depending on which of these levels you choose. It will either be 0.5% or 0.4%.
Now, on top of the Wealthsimple management fees you need to include the MERs of the underlying ETFs. The total MER for your investment in a basic portfolio will be 0.5%-0.7%.
If you are looking into socially responsible investing (SRI), as mentioned previously, you will have slightly higher MERs, around 0.25-0.40%. This would then bring your total fees (management fees plus MERs) to 0.65%-0.90%.
ETFs are known for having significantly lower MERs than mutual funds. To compare, consider Wealthsimple’s overall fees (0.5%-0.7% for non SRI accounts) versus actively managed mutual funds which are more like 2%-2.5%. That means the average Canadian is paying 3-4 times as much for their mutual fund investments, than they could be paying for an objectively superior investment product!
Now that you have an idea of the Wealthsimple costs and fees, let’s take a look at the different Wealthsimple levels.
The Wealthsimple Basic Account is for clients who have up to $100,000. This account has a 0.5% fee which includes trading, account fees, rebalancing costs, and transfer fees. It’s a simple account, nothing too fancy. That being said, the fees are competitive compared to other robo advisors on the market, plus you also get financial advice included as part of the package.
The Wealthsimple Black account is a premium service for clients who have more than $100,000. If you have this account, your management fee drops from 0.5% to 0.4%. It may not seem like a lot, but trust me, that adds up quickly over time!
Black account holders receive all the benefits included in the basic account: trading, account fees, rebalancing costs and transfer fees, and free expert advice.
However, Wealthsimple Black members also get a few additional perks including:
- Tax loss harvesting: this can be tricky to figure out on your own, but if it makes sense for you, the Wealthsimple team will use tax harvesting strategies to create tax savings in your portfolio. For those who are unsure of how this works, essentially they will sell any investments that have lost their value, put in a tax deduction, and then buy a similar asset. It’s not for everyone, but if it applies to your financial situation, this can also save you quite a bit of money.
- Financial planning sessions: book a 1 on 1 call to talk to an expert advisor about your financial strategy or plans for retirement.
The Wealthsimple Generation account is the top tier, and is for those who have deposits of $500,000 or more. This plan has the same features as Wealthsimple Black: trading, account fees, rebalancing costs and transfer fees, free expert advice, 0.4% management fee, tax harvesting, financial planning sessions, and VIP airport lounge access.
On top of the above perks, a Wealthsimple Generation account also comes with two additional benefits.
- 50% off the Medcan Comprehensive Health Plan: This includes an annual check up, up to 15 diagnostic tests, same day (or next day) appointments, travel health support both in Canada and abroad, and genetic tests. This 50% discount will save you over $2000.
- Personalized financial report: the Wealthsimple team will help you strategize your financial goals and draw up plans for retirement, ways to preserve your wealth, and can analyze your cash flows and make financial projections to better help you manage your money.
Both the Wealthsimple Black and Wealthsimple Generations platforms are excellent values. The 0.4% MER means that costs are quite reasonable, and if you think about it, the tax harvesting feature alone can save you enough to cover that 0.4% fee. Plus, as a traveller, I can really appreciate the airport lounge pass. After all, who doesn’t want to feel like a VIP?
Another thing to note, if you are thinking of switching over to Wealthsimple from your current bank, Wealthsimple will cover all of your transfer fees.
Wealthsimple RRSP Accounts and TFSA Accounts
Wealthsimple offers a range of account types including:
Most Canadians are just looking for the easiest way to investment money within a registered account. It is incredibly simple to open a Wealthsimple RRSP, TFSA, or RESP account. It can be done completely online, is almost instant, and after hooking up your chequing or savings account, you can conveniently set up an automatic contribution that puts your savings on autopilot.
No more worrying about RRSP season and last minute investment decisions. Just a safe, simple, proven investment strategy that you can set and forget about until you’re ready to make a large-scale change. While Wealthsimple obviously offers a wide variety of accounts, these three registered accounts represent the total investing activity for many Canadians, and are a main focus for Wealthsimple.
If you have any questions about how the Wealthsimple RRSP or TFSA work, their online chat feature (or their old school phone assistance) will be able to efficiently answer any questions you might have about where to contribute or how to use the platform. About the only questions their first line of assistance might struggle with is in-depth niche topic help for something like investment trusts. (If you don’t know what an investment trust is, don’t be alarmed - it’s very unlikely that you’ll ever need to.)
Wealthsimple High Interest Savings Account
Interestingly, Wealthsimple was the first Canadian robo advisor to offer a High Interest Savings Account (HISA). Personally, I’m not the biggest advocate for using HISA’s for long-term savings (such as retirement), however, for short-term goals like a vacation or buying a car, a HISA is a great option.
Right now, Wealthsimple offers a 2% interest rate for their high interest savings account. That’s a flat fee; it’s not a promotional rate, it doesn’t go away after a certain period of time, 2% is what you get. Additionally, there’s no minimum balance requirement (great for those just starting saving), and you’ll get unlimited transaction fees. That 2% is about 1.95% higher than what you’re likely getting in your big bank chequing account, and 1.5% higher than what many big bank “savings accounts” offer.
While there’s no doubt that the Wealthsimple HISA is a good choice, one of the best advantages to Wealthsimple offering so many account options is that they make it easy to keep all of your savings and investments in one place, which in turn for you makes it easier to manage and keep track of.
The Wealthsimple App
Speaking of the Wealthsimple App, it’s actually pretty amazing. Launched in December of 2014, it was the first app of its kind; an app designed with the specific goal of making investing easier.
Wealthsimple describes their app as having a ‘financial advisor in your pocket’. The app allows you to get in touch with your wealth concierge at the tap of a finger, plus you can easily add funds, keep an eye on your asset allocation, and view your performance.
On top of creating an easy and streamlined app, Wealthsimple also prioritizes privacy in their app. They go above the simple ‘create a password’ and allow users to use either TouchID or set a unique 4 digit passcode (for iphone) or lock pattern (for Android). This is true for both the Wealthsimple App and the Wealthsimple Trade app.
Wealthsimple Review: Is it Safe?
Because Wealthsimple is a still a somewhat new name to people, the most common question I get asked is, “Is Wealthsimple Safe?”
Wealthsimple is as safe as any banking and investment option in Canada. They now have more than 100,000 clients from all over the world!
First of all, Wealthsimple is an online business. If they didn’t protect their customers, it would be an instant death for the company. As for how exactly they protect their clients? Wealthsimple uses bank-level security including a 128-bit SSL certificate. For those who are unsure of what this means, essentially it’s a program that will ensure that your personal information and passwords don’t get seen by prying eyes.
Secondly, Wealthsimple indicates that they also use industry-standard backup programs and firewalls. These will prevent any large-scale problems from occurring as well as work towards backing up information automatically multiple times a day, every day of the week.
Thirdly, your money invested with Wealthsimple is also protected by outside sources. When you invest with Wealthsimple, your money is insured by the Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF) up to $1 million per account. On top of that, if you have a HISA with Wealthsimple, your money is insured by the Canadian Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC) for up to $100,000 (there is optional coverage for up to $800,000 per account, however, in my opinion, if you are keeping that much money in a HISA you may want to rethink your financial strategies).
Finally, we need to remember the team behind Wealthsimple. These are career professionals who have years in the industry with reputations to uphold. The fact that these individuals have lent their names to the company also instils a strong feeling of trust. Additionally, Wealthsimple is made up of registered portfolio managers that have a legal fiduciary duty to clients. This means that, by law, they have to give recommendations based on the client’s best interest.
With Power Financial running the Wealthsimple show, there is no doubt that this company is in it for the long haul and is incredibly safe! It should be noted that no investment company can guarantee the safety of investment returns. So within that narrow definition of “guaranteed investment performance” than Wealthsimple - as well as every other investment entity out there - is not 100% safe. Your portfolio will always be subject to the general performance of the market, and anyone that promises you different is probably trying to illegally sell you something.
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Wealthsimple Review: Summary
Wealthsimple isn’t the only robo advisor in Canada, but I can honestly say that as of today they are easily the #1 choice in most situations. Here’s what I think makes Wealthsimple stand out in the field enough to be worth considering:
- Wealthsimple is the largest robo advisor in the country
- Wealthsimple has a $0 account minimum
- Wealthsimple is CIPF-insured up to $1,000,000.
- Their website and app are incredibly user friendly
- Wealthsimple will cover your transfer fees to switch over to them
- Wealthsimple offers easy to understand interactive statements that break everything down for you
- Wealthsimple is partnered with the Mint App
- Wealthsimple allows you to invest in fractional shares
- Wealthsimple automatically re-invests dividend income from your investments back into ETFs that have fallen below the portfolio target you originally set
- Wealthsimple offers HISA accounts
- Wealthsimple offers socially responsible investing (SRI) and halal investing
In other words:
Here’s the simple truth: Wealthsimple is the quickest and easiest way to take a piece of your paycheque every month, and automatically invest it into a diversified portfolio of ETF options from around the world. I love the investment strategy, I love the simplicity of it. It’s not as cheap as opening a Questrade account and building your own ETF portfolio or purchasing an all-in-one ETF, but it is MUCH cheaper than traditional Canadian investment options.
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Wealthsimple Trade - The No Fee Discount Brokerage
Everything we have discussed so far in our Wealthsimple review has been looking at an automated portfolio of basic index ETFs, and would be comparable to other Canadian robo advisors. However, if you are interested in trying to manage your own portfolio you might be interested Wealthsimple Trade. With this option, you make the decisions of how to invest; what to buy and sell on the stock market.
A brokerage account is where you will hold the money that you use to buy/sell stocks. Brokerage accounts with financial planners tend to cost more as you are paying for their investment advice and management skills. Online brokerage accounts, however, have much lower fees and allow you to buy/sell from the comfort of your home. Wealthsimple Trade would be broadly comparable to Questrade as far as “apple-to-apples” comparisons go - although they have a ways to go before they challenge for my #1 discount brokerage award.
With Wealthsimple Trade, you can buy and sell thousands of stocks. It’s a relatively new platform, and still has a few bumps that they are sorting out and adding to, but one of the major draws of Wealthsimple Trade is that it is $0 commission, which means that they do not add any fees to buying and selling stocks. Most other online brokerage accounts charge for trades, so this factor definitely makes Wealthsimple stand out in the pack. If you are wondering that the catch is, and how Wealthsimple Trade actually makes money if they don’t charge commission, know that Wealthsimple does charge a +1.50% base conversion fee when you make US trades which. Considering that other brokerages charge about 2% on foreign trades, is very reasonable.
On top of the 0$ commission structure, Wealthsimple Trade also has a no account minimum, which makes it extra enticing to those who think they want to dabble with their own portfolios. However, it’s important to remember that this option is for those who know what they are doing. Buying and selling stocks just because someone told you to is not a smart investment technique. That being said, having the freedom to make your own investment decisions can lead to a bigger reward. Just remember to treat it as an investment, not a gambling experiment.
Wealthsimple Trade has its own app, so you will need to download it as well as the original Wealthsimple app that you already use. However, your bank account will still be linked which means you can get started right away.