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Me and My Money

'I'm not trying to win with long-shots' Add to ...

Shelley Johnston, 46


Pension specialist and adviser

The portfolio

Counsel Portfolio Services' funds: Canadian Dividend, Canadian Growth, Canadian Value, U.S. Growth, U.S. Value, Global Small Cap, Global Real Estate.

The investor

A CFP, Shelley Johnston is guided by the big picture. "Returns are important, but you have to take other things into account. Are you paying off your debts? Are you buying fancy cars? Are you planning for the future?" she asks. "People are retiring and coming to us because they have a package, yet they still owe $150,000." She's also an advocate of tuning out the "market noise."

Her approach

Ms. Johnston puts her money into the same investments she uses for her clients, funds run by Counsel Portfolio Services, which itself hires outside money managers to run its funds. One feature she likes is that the holdings in each fund rarely overlap those of other Counsel funds, keeping diversification intact. "If you are putting an asset allocation together, that can make it or break it." She also likes the fact that Counsel Portfolio Services can rebalance portfolios every quarter. "Once we choose an asset mix we stick with it, and that helps with the volatility in the markets and to stabilize the portfolios."

Her asset allocation

Right now Ms. Johnston is about 30 per cent in fixed income and 70 per cent in equities, with 15 per cent of that in a dividend fund. For her clients, she doesn't like to see them with less than 20 per cent in fixed income. "I strongly believe in the need for downside protection. I'm not trying to win with long-shots." She also has a small portion in Counsel's real estate and small cap funds.

Best move

Making regular contributions to her RRSP and other savings accounts. In 2008, she notes, many people got so nervous about the markets they didn't make their regular contribution, thus missing out on a major equity sale. "There were days I was concerned, but the markets always rebound, and you have to think long term, and take emotions out of the picture."

Worst move

Bre-X. Ms. Johnston had just begun working for her first investment firm when her adviser suggested putting some money into the gold company that turned out to have falsified its drilling results. The upside? "That's when I went back to principles of financial planning," she says. "Thinking long-term, having a diversified portfolio, and not chasing hot stocks."


Ms. Johnston is a client of Strategic Coach, a company that provides assistance and coaching to entrepreneurs. She applies some of those teachings to her portfolio, including the notion of reviewing everything every three years. In addition, she regularly breaks her portfolio down to assess dangers and how to mitigate them, along with unearthing opportunities. "The idea is to stay positive, be proactive and stay the course."

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