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They're in their 70s with a low six-figure portfolio invested in bank mutual funds. They would like to switch to ETFs.

Welcome to my world. More and more, I'm hearing from readers who want in on the low cost of exchange-traded funds. My response: Are you sure?

Nothing against ETFs. I've been telling investors about their benefits for more than 20 years. There were two TSX-listed ETFs back then (they were actually called index participation units at that time); today, there are roughly 570. This growth reflects the strong, steady growth in demand for ETFs, which are vastly cheaper to own than mutual funds in many cases.

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The problem with ETFs is that some investors see them as a miracle solution that you buy and switch on to get endlessly strong returns. The truth is that ETFs are a very useful investing tool that yields good results only to those with some investing expertise. Here are some questions to ask yourself if you're thinking of switching to ETFs:

How are my mutual funds actually performing?

Don't automatically dismiss a mutual fund because its fees are higher than ETFs. Sure, there are billions invested in high-fee junk funds – it's a scandal, really. But some mutual funds deliver consistently strong returns, one notable example being the Canadian dividend funds of some big banks. Use the fund profiles on Globeinvestor to compare your funds to the appropriate benchmarks.

Can I build a diversified portfolio?

You need to find a suitable mix of bonds and Canadian, U.S. and international stocks suited to your age, investing requirements and ability to live through stock market ups and downs.

Will I be able to choose the right ETFs?

There are roughly 570; you need three to six for a diversified portfolio.

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Do I understand the costs?

The management expense ratios for ETFs are as low as 0.06 per cent these days, which makes for a stunningly low cost of ownership. But there are usually commissions to be paid for trading ETFs -- $10 at most online brokers to buy or sell.

Am I ready to buy and hold?

ETFs can be bought and sold at any time during the trading day, which makes them super easy to dump in knee-jerk reaction to a terrible stretch for the markets. The low cost of ETFs means nothing if you're going to trade in and out on emotion.

If your commitment to becoming a DIY ETF investor is wavering, consider a robo-adviser. You get a low-cost ETF portfolio with an additional fee of roughly 0.5 per cent that covers full portfolio management. Robo-advisers are where a lot of the ETF investing wannabes should be looking.

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