The cost of DIY investing has dropped like a stone in the past year or two, but the cost of using an adviser has been a lot more stubborn.
Still, some progress has been made in reducing the fees associated with having an adviser run your portfolio for you. Thank the exchange-traded fund industry for that. Intense competition between ETF providers has lowered the cost of investing in these products to the point where a simple but effective portfolio could cost you all of 0.15 per cent on an ongoing basis (read more on that here). This in turn has reduced costs for the clients of advisers who use ETFs.
Let's say you have a fee-based adviser who charges 1 per cent of the value of the assets in your account on an annualized basis. If we add the fees for that simple ETF portfolio, we get an all-in cost of 1.15 per cent. That's quite reasonable if you get the full package of advisory services, including a financial planning overlay for your investments.
Fee-based advisers can also use F-class mutual funds, where costs have been reduced by stripping out compensation for advisers. But you could easily pay a management expense ratio of 1 per cent or more for an F-class equity fund, which means an all-in cost of 2 per cent or more when you add in the advice fee. That's just the kind of expensive advice that makes investors open to the cheaper option of DIY investing.
Let's be careful about comparing DIY costs with have an adviser, though. DIYers are on their own, with no financial plan or ongoing portfolio monitoring. A good adviser gives you those services, and that's why you pay the 1 per cent. If you're not getting enough help from an adviser to justify the fees he or she gets, then move on. Find a better adviser, or consider the DIY route and perhaps buying yourself a consultation with a fee-only financial planner who sells advice, not products.
Just to recap the decline in DIY investing costs, some bank-owned brokers now charge just $10 for anyone to trade stocks and ETFs, and some firms offer at least a limited menu of commission-free ETFs. Advisory firms haven't really responded to this trend of falling costs, but cheap ETFs do help.