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One of the big challenges in the online brokerage business is the client who opens an account, adds cash and then does nothing. Nobody wins in these situations – brokers generate no fees or commissions, and clients let their money idle unproductively in cash.

Starting out as a DIY investor can be intimidating. You mean to start a portfolio, but you keep second-guessing yourself and end up letting your money earn nothing while sitting in cash. This outcome is obviously on the mind of a reader who wondered about getting some help with portfolio-building. “If one opens an online account with an online broker, would it also be desirable to hire an independent financial adviser to review and advise on the appropriateness of the portfolio, say twice a year?”

I think it would not be desirable to do this. If you’re going to consult an adviser twice a year, you may as well let the adviser manage your portfolio. A better idea: Get a consultation on building a portfolio and then take over yourself. Follow-up consultations every few years make sense if you have changed circumstances.

Or, use a robo-adviser to build and manage your portfolio for you. You’ll get a customized portfolio of low-cost exchange-traded funds at a cost of roughly 0.7 per cent or less, including advice and fees associated with your ETFs.

If you prefer the online brokerage route, consider using a balanced ETF as an investment until you gain confidence. Balanced ETFs come with varying mixes of stocks and bonds, so it’s easy to find one that matches your risk profile. Just add money to a balanced ETF and sit back – the company offering the funds will keep your holdings rebalanced for you. Balanced ETFs are a great long-term investing option, by the way. You don’t need to get more complex.

Fee-for-service financial planners – paid a flat or hourly fee rather than through fees generated by selling and managing investments – are a good option for a consultation on portfolio-building. They can discuss asset allocation and the pluses and minuses of various investment categories, but many cannot recommend specific securities. Here’s a primer I did recently on finding a fee-for-service planner. Included is a link to a national online directory of planners.

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