Portfolio-building 101 requires you to find an investment that's easily understood, reasonable on fees and solid on returns.
Exchange-traded funds will work, and so might cheap bank index funds like those sold by TD and Tangerine (formerly known as ING Direct's Streetwise funds). Another option is the D-series Canadian dividend mutual funds offered by BMO Mutual Funds and RBC Global Asset Management.
You could do a lot worse as an investor than to walk into the branch of any big bank and put some money in its Canadian dividend fund. All banks have them and they're delivered solid returns or better by investing in the kind of big blue chip stocks that have been market all-stars in recent years. The advantage of the BMO and RBC funds is that they're available in a D-series version for do-it-yourself investors. D-series funds have significantly lower fees than conventional funds to reflect the fact that unitholders operate on a self-serve basis and receive no advice. Both funds are best bought through their respective related online brokerage firms – BMO InvestorLine and RBC Direct Investing.
RBC Canadian Dividend D has a management expense ratio of 1.24 per cent, compared to 1.78 for the regular version of this fund. Lower fees mean higher returns. Over the five years to May 31, RBC Canadian Dividend D made 12.2 per cent and the regular version of the fund made 11.5 per cent. BMO Dividend is brand new, but its target MER of 1.21 per cent undercuts the 1.80 per cent charged on the mainstream version of the fund.
There are comparable dividend ETFs with fees that are half these levels. But because they trade like stocks, you'll pay at least $9 a trade to buy or sell them. As with all bank mutual funds, the Series D versions of BMO Dividend and RBC Canadian Dividend are sold on a no-load basis, which means no cost to buy or sell.
Also, the minimum investment for these funds is $500, which means they're ideal for a young person to start out as an investor. In fact, a young investor could easily run for a few years with just this sort of fund. Next step: Diversify with some bonds and global equity funds. We'll have to see if the D-series options from BMO and RBC have anything to offer here. Their Canadian D-Series dividend funds are worth a look, though.