7 Best Robo Advisors in Canada (2020): Who Gets the #1 Crown?

Best Robo Advisor Canada
Last updated Sep 7, 2020

If you’re looking for an easy way to invest in exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in Canada, you must take a close look at robo-advisors. It’s an exciting tech solution for the complicated task of investing. 

Robo-advisors should serve two primary goals for you, the consumer; to make ETF investing easier and at a low cost.

In the past couple of months, I’ve taken apart over a dozen robo-advisors in Canada and looked closely at what’s inside and written detailed reviews. The results were surprising. Certain companies impressed me and others disappointed.

Here’s my in-depth guide to the best robo-advisors in Canada that should help you choose which one is right for you.

My Top Picks for Best Robo Advisor Canada

Read below for details on how I came up with these rankings.

#1: Questwealth  

Lowest Fees by a Wide Margin 

Actively Managed Portfolios

Online Live Chat Support

Tax-Loss Harvesting

Reputable Questrade Brand

#2: Wealthsimple

Best Overall Products

Most Assets Under Management

Reputable Brand

SRI and Halal Investing Options

Beautiful Design

#3: ModernAdvisor

Best Trial Offer

 Easy to Use Platform

10 Different Risk Portfolios

Advanced Financial Planning

Online Live Chat Support

How to Choose the Best Robo Advisor Canada

As robo-advisor companies are relatively new and offer a similar product, choosing the best one can get tricky. Here are my picks for the most important factors you should judge when choosing a robo-advisor in Canada. 

1. Fees

Robo-advisor investing is usually a long-term commitment. That is why having low fees is crucial in choosing a robo-advisor in Canada. A 0.2% fee difference per year might not seem like much. But that small amount stretched out over a long time can add up to several thousands of lost dollars in fees.

Here’s a lesson to learn about robo-advisor fees from the active vs. passive investing argument. The main criticism against Canadian mutual fund companies in recent years has been the huge fees that it charges for active management, often over 2.0% per year. 

As you can see from the below chart, the majority of actively-managed funds underperform the market in Canada, in large part due to the excessive fees they charge.

The bottom line is that investment fees matter tremendously to your returns, and that should apply to robo-advisors as well. It’s a big reason why I have BMO at a lower ranking in my robo-advisor rankings because its fees are so high, which should negatively impact it in the long-term.

2. Performance

Everyone is concerned with robo-advisor performance, but I want to caution against judging a company by its past returns. Robo-advisor performance is challenging to rank and predict between companies for the following reasons:

  • Many robo-advisor companies are relatively new, so don’t have a lot of performance data that you can analyze.
  • It’s tough to compare apples to apples. Some robo-advisors have different methods of investing. For example, Questwealth is not a truly passive robo-advisor and uses active-managers, and Nest Wealth has personalized portfolios for each investor.
  • Even if one robo-advisor has consistently outperformed another one over the past few years does not mean that it will continue to do so in the future.
  • Since all robo-advisors are investing in ETFs, it’s nearly impossible to predict which one will have the best performance in the future.

You can compare the asset selections and what the weightings to things like geography and market cap size of each robo-advisor company are and see which one you like the most. But again, you can only gauge what you believe will have the best performance in the future, which is a tough forecast for anyone to make.

Here is where portfolio fees will come into play again. It’s one factor that is predictable and controllable between robo-advisors. The lower the fees, the better the chances that the long-term performance of a robo-advisor will be comparatively higher. 

3. Portfolio Selection

You have to make sure that the robo-advisor has a portfolio that is right for you, depending on what type of investor you are. 

Example: After doing an investor questionnaire, David determines that he is an ultra-conservative investor and needs a 90% fixed income portfolio. Some robo-advisors might not have the right portfolio for him. 

Each robo-advisor has its own investor questionnaire that will place you in one of its categories. While they are mostly fine, you can go the extra mile and double-check this with a third-party, such as this Vanguard Investor Questionnaire.

After you figure out what type of portfolio is right for you, check that the robo-advisors you are targeting will have something well-suited for you. 

If you’re concerned about the ethics of investing in companies, you will also want to see if the company offers Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) options, but be aware they usually come at a higher cost.

4. Customer Service and Financial Advice

Best Robo Advisor Canada

A big reason you should choose a robo-advisor over a do-it-yourself (DIY) strategy is the financial advice and customer service you get with a robo-advisor. 

Whatever your preferred method of communication is, whether through phone, email, or online live chat, you have to make sure that the robo-advisor you choose has that available. 

Example: I prefer online live chat, so my robo-advisor should have this option.

Take advantage of the support helplines. Before choosing your robo-advisor, try emailing them for questions, or call them for advice before buying. See which ones get back to you the quickest, or have the most helpful staff and support. 

1.Questwealth Review: Super-Low Fees

Questwealth Review
Read the full Questwealth review here

Fees: 0.20% to 0.25%, plus 0.17% to 0.22% MER (0.37% – 0.47% total)
Wealthawesome Score: 4.9 / 5 
Number of Portfolios: 5
Customer Support Channels: Phone, email, online live chat
How to Open an Account: Link

Questwealth is the robo-advisor for Questrade, Canada’s leading online broker. It was a close call between Questwealth and Wealthsimple for the number 1 spot, and you can’t go wrong with either. 

Where I feel Questwealth wins is on its shockingly low fees. At 0.20% – 0.25% it’s about half or less than its main competitors! And while fees are not guaranteed to predict which robo-advisor will have the best performance in the long run, it is undoubtedly a huge factor to consider. 

The incredible thing is that Questwealth somehow achieves this while having actively-managed portfolios. This means that they don’t follow a set-and-forget passive ETF strategy that most robo-advisors do.

The main argument against active-management is high-fees, but if Questwealth can have people actively managing its funds at somehow half the price of other robo-advisors, fees of active management is not a negative point then. 

Questwealth has a selection of five different portfolios, which is an adequate amount to cover most investors’ needs. I also love the fact that Questwealth has online live chat so I can communicate with them when I’m too busy to call and don’t want to wait for an email. 

If you ever decide to become a DIY investor, Questwealth is owned by Questrade, Canada’s most well-known trading platform, so it would be an easy transition. 

Pros

  • Industry-leading low fees with active management
  • Access to online live chat
  • Offers Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) portfolios
  • Free tax-loss harvesting
  • First $10,000 managed free
  • Affiliated with reputable Questrade brand

Cons

  • Actively managed portfolios are not proven to outperform passive portfolios.

Invest With Questwealth Here

2.Wealthsimple Review: Worth the Hype?

Fees: 0.40% to 0.50%, plus 0.16% to 0.17% MER (0.56% – 0.67% total)
Wealthawesome Score: 4.8 / 5 
Number of Portfolios: 3 main ones (excluding Halal and SRI)
Customer Support Channels: Phone, email, no live chat

You might have seen some of Wealthsimple’s clever commercials that feature well-known celebrities. This has helped propel the company to become the largest robo-advisor in Canada in terms of the number of customers and the size of assets. But aside from its flashy marketing, let’s see what else makes Wealthsimple special.

With fees of 0.4% – 0.5% per year, Wealthsimple fees are average compared to its competitors. But where I feel that Wealthsimple outshines its competitors is its ease of use and its broad product offerings. 

Investing should be made easy, and Wealthsimple lives up to it’s “simple” name. You can be set up and investing within minutes, and it has a friendly and trusted brand that will be enticing to beginner investors, which many robo-advisor investors are. 

Wealthsimple also has the most impressive lineup of any other robo-advisor, in the likelihood that you want other products. In addition to Wealthsimple Invest, the company has recently launched Wealthsimple Cash, which operates like a high-interest savings account. 

And if you ever decide to make the change to a DIY investor, the company also recently launched a zero-commission online broker platform called Wealthsimple Trade. Having different products for evolving customer needs is important, as most people prefer to deal with one company and find it tedious to split up their services with multiple companies. Anything that makes investors’ lives easier is a big plus.

Where I think Wealthsimple lacks is that it only has three main portfolios, a conservative, balanced, and growth portfolio. This will not be enough to cover a wide range of different investor types. Some people may see this as a benefit, though, as it keeps things simple.

Pros

  • Broad product offering
  • Well-known and trusted brand
  • Easy to set up and start investing
  • Acceptable fee structure
  • First $10,000 managed free

Cons

  • Only 3 main portfolios available
  • No online live-chat available

Wealthawesome.com readers get the first $10,000 managed for free with Wealthsimple. 

Invest With Wealthsimple Here

3. ModernAdvisor Review: Beginner’s Choice

Modernadvisor review
Read the full ModernAdvisor review here

Fees: 0.35% – 0.50%, plus 0.25% average MER (0.55% to 0.75% total) 
Wealthawesome Score: 4.5 / 5 
Number of Portfolios: 10 Risk Level Portfolios
Customer Support Channels: Phone, email, online live chat

ModernAdvisor is a Vancouver-based company and a fantastic choice for beginners for a couple of reasons. The first is that your first $10,000 is managed for free with the company. This is a pretty common offer with robo-advisors. But what sets ModernAdvisor apart for beginners is its no-risk $1,000 trial period where you can earn real returns. 

Example: Jason starts a free trial and invests $1,000 of ModernAdvisor’s “trial” money. At the end of the 30 day trial period, his investments are up 10% and are now worth $1,100. He decides to fund the real $1,000 with his own money and keeps the $100. 

Example: Kathy starts a free trial and invests $1,000 of ModernAdvisor’s “trial” money. At the end of the 30 day trial period, her investments are down 5% and are now worth $950. She decides not to fund the $1,000 and doesn’t lose any of her money.

This free trial period is unique, and I haven’t seen it offered by any other company. It’s basically a free call option on your first $1,000. It’s a neat entry point for those who are not sure about investing with robo-advisors. 

You get to see how the whole robo-advisor process works without risking any of your own money, and yet you can reap all the gains and none of the losses when the 30-day trial is over. You’ll get to see the daily shifts in your $1,000, and at the very least, you’ll learn more about investing and ETFs.

I also like how ModernAdvisor has 10 different portfolios based on your risk profile. This is a large number of portfolios and should cover the majority of investors in Canada. 

It’s not just for beginner investors, either. The advisors at most robo-advisors generally give basic advice and aren’t suitable for people who need complex financial advice. However, with ModernAdvisor, you have the option to pay an additional fee for a dedicated Certified Financial Planner (CFP) for your account, who can walk you through more complicated scenarios such as retirement, insurance, and mortgages.

ModernAdvisor has a good fee structure but not quite as low as Questwealth, and not as an impressive product lineup as Wealthsimple, which is why I have it ranked as the 3rd best robo-advisor in Canada.

Pros

  • $1,000 free trial period funded by MoneyAdvisor is like a free no-risk call option for investors
  • Adequate fee structure 
  • Have the option for paid premium financial advice for larger accounts
  • First $10,000 managed free

Cons

  • Average ETF MERs are high

Invest With ModernAdvisor Here

4. Justwealth Review: Limitless Customization

Justwealth Review
Read the full Justwealth review here

Fees: 0.40% – 0.50%, plus 0.20%-0.25% MER (0.60% to 0.75% total) 
Wealthawesome Score: 4.4 / 5 
Number of Portfolios: 70 Portfolios
Customer Support Channels: Phone, email, online live chat

Justwealth entered the robo-advisor space in Canada in 2015. If I were to sum up Justwealth in one word, it would be “choice.” If you ever find you don’t have a suitable portfolio choice at another robo-advisor, chances are Justwealth has you covered. With over 70 different ETF portfolios, you’re bound to find something that suits your risk profile. 

Have a child? You can start a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) Target Date Portfolio. Want to invest in U.S dollars? You can open a U.S. Dollar Portfolio. There are also tax-efficient portfolios for your non-registered accounts and income portfolios for retirees. No other robo-advisor gives you this much choice with just it’s basic service. 

After you fill out the initial online questionnaire, based on your response to its questions, it offers you a portfolio for you. If you have any questions, they have trained financial professionals that will help walk you through this process and choose the right portfolio for you. 

You’ll also get a dedicated portfolio manager for your account that you can call at any time, and financial planning is offered to all customers if you need to work out some financial goals that you are trying to meet. 

Pros

  • Simple fee structure
  • Many choices with 70 different portfolio options
  • USD investment accounts available for Canadians
  • RESP option for parents
  • Registered Portfolio Manager for each account

Cons

  • $5,000 minimum account balance except for student, fresh grad, and RESP accounts
  • If less than $12,000 in account balance will be charged a flat fee of $4.99/month
  • No Socially Responsible Investment options

Invest With Justwealth Here

5. Nest Wealth Review: High-Net-Worth Investor Top Pick

Nest Wealth Review
Read the full Nest Wealth review here

Fees: $20, $40, or $80 a month, plus MER (0.13% for balanced)
Wealthawesome Score: 4.4 / 5 
Number of Portfolios: Customized For Each Person
Customer Support Channels: Phone, email, no live chat

Nest Wealth has two big differences that set it apart from other robo-advisors. The first is its unique flat fee structure, which can be confusing but is good for affluent investors. I’ll give an example of how much fees you will have to pay at each level of investment:

Example for Fees: 
$10,000 invested = $240 / year in fees (2.4% annual fees) + MER
$50,000 invested = $240 / year in fees (0.48% annual fees) + MER
$100,000 invested = $480 / year in fees (0.48% annual fees) + MER
$300,000 invested = $960 / year in fees (0.32% annual fees)  + MER
$500,000 invested = $960 / year in fees (0.19% annual fees) + MER
$1,000,000 invested = $960 / year in fees (0.096% annual fees) + MER

As you can see, if you have a large amount of money to invest in a robo-advisor, with its flat fee structure, Nest Wealth can’t be beat. But if you have less than $50,000 to invest, I wouldn’t bother with Nest Wealth as the fees will be too high. 

Nest Wealth also has a strange “trading” fee that other robo-advisors don’t seem to have, and that’s difficult to forecast ahead of time. The company has said it will cover the first $100 in trading fees per year, but it is possible to go over that amount.

Besides its fees, another difference about Nest Wealth is that it doesn’t have cookie-cutter portfolios and instead customizes it to your needs. The benefit of this is that this approach could help satisfy your needs better than other robo-advisor companies. A downside of this is that it makes comparing portfolios to another robo-advisor difficult. 

Nest Wealth is obviously targeting high net worth investors. If you don’t have a large amount to invest, avoid Nest Wealth, but if you do, consider the company closely. 

Pros

  • Flat fee is great for wealthy investors
  • Low MER fee of 0.13% for a balanced portfolio
  • Customized portfolios for each individual investor

Cons

  • No mobile version yet
  • Only suitable for wealthy investors
  • May have to pay annual trading fees if over $100 per year

Invest With Nest Wealth Here

6. BMO Smartfolio Review: Big Bank Top Choice

BMO Smartfolio Review
Read the full BMO Smartfolio review here

Fees: 0.40% – 0.70%, plus 0.25%-0.35% MER (0.65% to 1.05% total) 
Wealthawesome Score: 4.1 / 5 
Number of Portfolios: 5 Portfolios
Customer Support Channels: Phone, email, online live chat

Bank of Montreal (BMO) needs no introduction. You’ll see one on every corner in Canada, probably next to a Tim Hortons. BMO is one of the Big Five Canadian banks with a $48 billion market cap. 

BMO is the big bank in Canada that has probably embraced ETF investing the most. They have a robust ETF lineup, which is being used by millions of Canadians. After you fill out an online questionnaire with BMO Smartfolio, they will place you into one of its five portfolios, all of which hold only BMO ETFs. 

Investing is about trust. There are few things in life more intimate than trusting someone or some company with your money. Some people need that big brand recognition and the comfort of seeing bank branches on every corner. If that’s the case with you, BMO is a great choice for you.

However, that feeling of trust comes at a steep price. With a 0.7% management fee for the first $100,000 invested, with very high ETF MERs, you will be paying more than the majority of robo-advisors if you invest with BMO Smartfolio.

If you need that big brand recognition and are ok with paying for it, then BMO Smartfolio can be a good choice for you. If not, choose a lower-priced but just as secure robo-advisor. 

Pros

  • Security and trust of a Big Five Canadian bank
  • Great support options with live chat available

Cons

  • Very high fees and ETF MERs could hurt your long-term returns.

7. Wealthbar Review: Canada’s 1st Robo-Advisor

Wealthbar Review
Read the full Wealthbar review here

Fees: 0.35% – 0.60%, plus 0.19%-0.26% MER (0.54% to 0.86% total) 
Wealthawesome Score: 4.0 / 5 
Number of Portfolios: 5 Passive ETF Portfolios, 4 Active Private Portfolios
Customer Support Channels: Phone, email, online live chat

Wealthbar is the robo-advisor that started it all in Canada and has a unique approach to investing.

Wealthbar gives you the option for either five passively managed ETF portfolios. Where things get interesting are you can choose between four actively managed private portfolios that are managed by Nicola Wealth, a reputable investment management firm based out of Vancouver. 

This will get you access to investments normally not available to the average investor, such as private equity or other alternative investments.

It comes at a cost though, as Wealthbar’s management fees start out at 0.6% per year, plus the MER of the investments. If you decide that it’s worth it to get access to these private portfolios, Wealthbar can be a good choice for you, but I don’t see it being worth it for the passively managed portfolios when there are other lower-cost options available.

Pros

  • Access to private portfolios not normally available to investors
  • First $5,000 managed for free

Cons

  • Higher fees than most robo-advisors

Invest With Wealthbar Here

Robo-Advisor ETF Investing Alternatives

Are robo-advisors right for you? It depends. Let’s go over the different ETF investment options. 

1. Discount Broker / Trading Platform

If you are willing to put in the time and effort to get educated, you can build your own ETF portfolio using a discount broker. You won’t have to pay any management fees on your investments, so it will be the cheapest option. There are a couple of ways to build your own ETF portfolios:

  • Buy multiple ETFs that you will need to rebalance after some time to meet your desired asset mix. This is usually the cheapest way to build an ETF portfolio.
  • Buy an all-in-one ETF portfolio such as Vanguard VGRO or Vanguard VBAL that you won’t need to rebalance.

2. Robo-Advisor

We went over robo-advisors in depth in this review, so I hope you know the value they provide for the fee you are paying for them. You’ll get access to a human advisor that you can call or email, and your portfolio will be automatically built and rebalanced for you. 

It’s an easy way to start investing in ETFs at a reasonable price if you don’t want to have to worry about learning about ETFs. A lot of investing comes down to ease of use and maintaining discipline, and it doesn’t get much easier than robo-advisors. 

3. Traditional Financial Advisors

There are some traditional financial advisors that will offer ETF investing. But I would beware of this choice. First of all, they will almost certainly try to push you towards higher-priced mutual funds first. 

Then, they will have to charge you a management fee for building your ETF portfolio, usually in the range of around 1% per year, unless you find a fee-based advisor. Robo-advisors are a much cheaper option than this. I don’t recommend using a traditional non-fee based financial advisor.

Conclusion: Best Robo Advisor Canada

The crown for the best robo-advisor in Canada goes to Questwealth. Looking back on the factors I was using to judge robo-advisors, Questwealth comes out head and shoulders above every other competitor for the most important factor, which is fees. 

The low fees should help impact it positively in terms of performance over the long-term as compared to its competitors. Along with the solid portfolio selection, the strong reputation with its parent company Questrade, and the online live chat availability has helped raise Questwealth to my number one ranking.

You can start investing with Questwealth here.

Best Robo Advisor Canada

If you liked this article…

<a href="https://wealthawesome.com/author/christopher-liew/" target="_self">Christopher Liew, CFA</a>

Christopher Liew, CFA

Creator of Wealth Awesome

A Canadian CFA Charterholder with 11 years of finance experience and the creator of Wealthawesome.com. Read about how he quit his 6-figure salary career to travel the world here.

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2 Comments

  1. chloe

    is questwealth part of questrade?

    Reply
    • Christopher Liew, CFA

      Hi Chloe, Yes, Questwealth is owned by Questrade. It used to be called Questrade portfolios but it was recently rebranded as Questwealth.

      Reply

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