You can cut fees and commissions to nearly nothing if you're a DIY investor, but there are exceptions.
The most notable is the do-it-yourselfer who invests in mutual funds through an online brokerage. Unless the funds are D-series (think of D as in DIY), it's likely there are advice fees buried in the fees they charge. The Series A or B version of an equity fund might have a management expense ratio of 2.25 per cent. A full percentage point of that amount goes to the selling firm and, if applicable, adviser through what's known as a trailing commission.
Trailers are OK if you have an adviser providing useful services. But they're a money grab if you're a DIY investor because online brokers are prohibited from providing advice to clients. Securities regulators have been taking a look at the practice of online brokers selling mutual funds with trailing commissions and are expected to issue guidance later this year.
But there's some onus on investors here as well to make smart purchases. If you want a mutual fund, try to find something suitable in Series D. With most of the trailing commission chopped away, a D-series equity fund's MER might come in around 1 per cent. Not all fund companies offer this option, but there's enough selection now to satisfy people who can't find anything they like in the world of exchange-traded funds, with their much lower costs, or individual stocks and bonds.
Mutual funds have been losing market share among DIY investors and now account for 7 per cent of holdings at online brokers, according to the winter 2018 retail brokerage and distribution report from Strategic Insight. Just under two-third of assets were in stocks, 15 per cent was in cash, 9 per cent was in ETFs and 5 per cent was in bonds and guaranteed investment certificates.
D-series mutual funds have been around for a little over 10 years, but it's only recently that they've been given much attention by brokers and fund companies. This may be a reflection of the growing scrutiny of fees by investors, and the stiff competition on fees posed to fund companies by the ETF business. The Strategic Insight report says that just under 20 per cent of fund assets at online brokers are in D-series products.
There are good reasons to add a mutual fund to your DIY portfolio – no costs in most cases to buy or sell and access to proven managers or firms with proven strategies. Just be sure you're buying a D-series fund so you're not paying for advice your broker can't actually provide.