Investment companies do show clients personalized returns, and you’d think advisers would go over these numbers with clients individually. What’s often missing from these communications is context to help investors understand not just how much their account went up or down, but how it performed comparatively.
In a submission to the Carrick on Money newsletter’s Q&A section, a reader mentioned that his managed account with medium risk has had a return of 6.4 per cent over the last five years. He asked how he could determine if this is a good return compared to other managed accounts and DIY investors.
To help assess returns, investment companies would ideally provide clients with a blend of stock and bond market indexes that corresponds to their personalized portfolio mix. Indexes are the best benchmarks because you can buy into virtually all the most followed ones using exchange-traded funds with minimal fees. If your portfolio can’t beat ETFs, just buy ETFs.
A quick and easy way for any investor to compare their returns is to use the results of asset allocation ETFs, which are fully diversified portfolios wrapped into a single fund. There are conservative, balanced, growth and all-equity asset allocation ETFs – choose the one closest to your portfolio and use it as a benchmark.
The reader with the 6.4-per-cent five-year return didn’t specify a portfolio mix, but his mention of medium risk suggests using a mix of 60 per cent stocks and 40 per cent bonds. The oldest asset allocation ETF with this blend is the Vanguard Balanced ETF Portfolio VBAL-T, which made 4.8 per cent on an average annual basis for the five years to Oct. 31. For a portfolio closer to 80 per cent stocks and 20 per cent bonds, try the Vanguard Growth ETF Portfolio VGRO-T. For a 40-60 portfolio, there’s the Vanguard Conservative ETF Portfolio VCNS-T.
Benchmarking your personal investment returns only works if you match up the end dates correctly. Stock and bond markets are volatile enough that five-year results can vary substantially from month to month. Example: VBAL made 4.2 per cent annually for the five years to Sept. 30.
The reader who asked about his returns appears to have done well in the past five years, a period of sharp ups and downs for the markets. Why didn’t his adviser and investment company show him the good news?