Summer holidays can offer time for reflection, so perhaps there’s no better opportunity to give some thought to your investments.
Maybe you’re working with an advisor, thinking you could do better on your own, or perhaps you’re a DIY (do-it-yourself) investor contemplating seeking professional help.
Either way, your decision may hinge on the cost of advice compared with the time and effort of doing it on your own, says Josh Olfert, a Winnipeg investment advisor with Haven Wealth Management.
“I really do enjoy DIY investing, and I respect and encourage it – for the right people,” says the former DIYer, who started investing in his teens.
But to become competent, you must be able to put in the time to educate yourself, he adds. “The money you intend to save through DIY can become exponential losses if you lack it.”
After all, investing acumen doesn’t come from natural talent. Rather, skill comes from doing a lot of homework – largely driven by an affinity for investing. And not everyone has that, he adds.
“The difference between DIY and professional investing is the same as any other vocation.”
For example, fitness, golf and auto maintenance can all be done DIY or with a pro. With learning to golf on your own, a key advantage is that you don’t have to pay a pro. With DIY investing, you can also save on fees you might otherwise pay to an advisor.
And fees are a big concern, according a recent survey by Fidelity Investments titled “Retirement 20/20,” which found fees are among the top three questions advisors field from their clients.
Generally speaking, fees are higher when an advisor manages your money than when you do it on your own – though advisory costs decrease if you have more money to invest. But like golfing, the money paid for guidance can lead to better performance, Mr. Olfert adds.
Still, many DIYers do pay for some professional help when they invest in funds, along with commissions for trading. But these costs are generally much lower, especially for those using index funds – preferably exchange-traded funds (ETFs), which can have management costs of less than 0.1 per cent of your investment. Moreover, a number of online brokers offer commission-free ETF trades, making the strategy even more cost-efficient.
DIYer Justin Lee, who co-founded the YouTube channel Young Guys Finance, is among the many proponents of the low-cost ETF strategy because it can circumvent a lot of fees you may not even realize you’re paying.
An accountant in his day job, Mr. Lee points to controversial trailer fees – embedded commissions in mutual funds paid to the advisor, presumably for helping you to research a fund suitable to your needs. He argues that trailer fees may not be worth the advice you’re getting from an investment professional you may hear from only once or twice a year.
He says investors today have so many resources at their fingertips to help them invest on their own: books, blogs, websites, online brokerages and a growing universe of ETFs providing broad diversification in one investment.
Investing doesn’t have to be complicated, either, Mr. Lee contends. In fact, the Vancouver resident uses a strategy involving three ETFs in his portfolio – a Canadian index fund, an international (excluding Canada) index fund and a Canadian bond index offering.
The advantages of buying ETFs that passively mirror indices are their low cost, several times less than what a mutual-fund advisor, or even a personalized portfolio manager, may charge. Additionally, most active investment advice underperforms benchmarks, Mr. Lee says. Consequently, a strategy emulating index performance is likely to do just as well, if not better, than most portfolios guided by a professional.
By the same token, DIY strategies that require individuals to pick stocks are likely to underperform, too. After all, if pros fail to beat markets, then how likely is an amateur to do it?
Despite the advantages of DIY, you can’t dismiss the total value package of professional advice.
In fact, many Canadians value it quite a bit, the same Fidelity survey suggests. About six in 10 Canadians go to their advisor for help with investments, and many are happy (73 per cent) with that relationship.
Investment advisor Adam Hennick, with Hennick Wealth Management in Toronto, says helping investors find the right investments is just one of the services investment professionals provide. “Advisors help you to develop a plan; they help you stick to your plan, and they hold your hand through times of adversity.”
Quite often advisors protect clients from making emotional, knee-jerk decisions when markets are soaring and when they’re down.
“I have clients call me and say ‘I’m very worried. The market is going to crash. Why don’t we sell everything?’ ” he says. “Talking them off that ledge can be a 45-minute conversation, and I don’t think those people are built for DIY.”
Mr. Olfert agrees that one of the more challenging issues for DIYers is managing uncertainty. “Without having someone to back up your decisions, or at least provide feedback … it is difficult to stay the course.”
When you’re on your own, no one can stop you from buying high, investing in highly speculative stocks on advice from a co-worker, or capitulating and selling everything during a market correction.
“It’s easy to second-guess yourself when you’re not 100-per-cent confident,” Mr. Olfert says.
The unending uncertainty is what led Kyle Trach of Winnipeg to switch from being a mostly DIY investor to a client of an advisor. After taking a number of losses – high-risk stocks, namely – "I was kind of feeling discouraged, and then I started asking ‘Is there a better way?’ ”
Meeting with an advisor confirmed his suspicions. The 24-year-old railroad worker’s portfolio was not well-diversified, holding mostly U.S. blue chip, cannabis and gold stocks. That led to white-knuckle volatility and lackluster performance, he says.
“I personally haven’t had that experience where I needed to be talked off a ledge, but ‘assurance’ is a good word – I definitely feel more comfortable with an advisor.”
Mr. Trach still manages about a third of his money because he enjoys it. But now he doesn’t feel like he is “treading water.”
And perhaps his example is a happy medium. Dabble in DIY, and work with an advisor.