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CI Direct Investing Review 2021 (formerly WealthBar): Trading Platform in Canada

Last updated Jun 1, 2021

If you want to spend very little time investing but also need some guidance to build your portfolio, you must take a look at robo-advisors.

Robo-advisors are an affordable and hands-off way to invest in exchange-traded-funds (ETF).

I used to work for CI as an investment wholesaler, back when it was known mostly as a mutual fund provider. I’m glad to see that CI bought Wealthbar and turned it into CI Direct Investing to offer a robo-advisor choice to its customers.

I’ve used and reviewed several of the best trading platforms in Canada over the years. I was excited to take a look at my former employer to see how it stacks up.

Let’s take a look at whether CI Direct Investing is a good choice for you or not.

Our Verdict
CI Direct Investing

CI Direct Investing

Robo-advisor

CI Direct Investing is a platform offering robo-advisor services along with financial planning solutions to help you make better financial decisions.

Pros

  • Access to highly diversified exchange-traded funds (ETF) portfolios
  • Free financial advice
  • Automatic rebalancing
  • Dedicated financial planner
  • Low-cost ETF portfolios

Cons

  • Charges higher fees than competitors
  • Minimum $1,000 deposit to open an account

What Is CI Direct Investing?

CI Direct Investing

CI Direct Investing (formerly WealthBar) is one of the best robo-advisors available in Canada right now, and it boasts a reputation of being the first robo-advisor in Canada.

The Vancouver-based robo-advisor was initially launched as WealthBar in 2014 by co-founders and power couple Tea and Chris Nicola. Tea worked as a financial advisor while Chris began working in the financial world for his father’s wealth management company.

The co-founders formed WealthBar with support from John Nicola, the owner of Nicola Wealth. CI Financial Corp. announced that it had completed its acquisition of WealthBar in January 2019 and subsequently rebranded the platform as CI Direct Investing.

CI Direct Investing is a robo-advisor product comparable to many other and more popular robo-advisor products in Canada. It offers an edge over other investment platforms by giving you access to excellent financial planning tools available to every client and a wide range of investment options that include private portfolios.

Features And Benefits Of CI Direct Investing

This section of my CI Direct Investing review will discuss the important features and benefits you should know about the platform. It will give you a better understanding of what you can expect while using CI Direct Investing and whether it could be a suitable platform for you.

Accounts Offered By CI Direct Investing

CI Direct Investing, formerly known as WealthBar, offers several different account types that you can open with the platform. Each account type offers different features, and you can choose to open an account that aligns with your investment needs and financial goals.

Here are the accounts offered by CI Direct Investing:

  • Non-Registered accounts
  • High-Interest Savings Account (HISA)
  • Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA)
  • Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP)
  • Spousal RRSP
  • Retirement Income Fund (RIF) / Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF)
  • Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) 
  • Locked-In Retirement Account (LIRA)
  • Life Income Fund (LIF)
  • Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP)
  • Corporate Investment Account
  • Trust Accounts
  • Charitable Organization Investment Accounts
  • Group TFSAs and RRSPs (offered to business owners for their employees)
  • Individual Pension Plans
  • Personal Pension Plans

Remember that you need to deposit a minimum of $1,000 to begin investing with any of these account types through CI Direct Investing.

Portfolios Offered By CI Direct Investing

exchange

This section of my CI Direct Investing review will discuss the different ETF portfolios offered by the robo-advisor side of the platform.

CI Direct Investing offers several ETF portfolios that you can consider investing in, depending on your risk tolerance and financial goals. It has the edge over its peers because it offers a wider range of ETF portfolios, from standard ETF portfolios to Private and Impact portfolios.

Aggressive ETF Portfolio

CI Direct Investing’s Aggressive ETF portfolio is suitable for you if you have a medium to high risk tolerance, have a long-term investment horizon, and are comfortable with most of your capital invested in equity securities and real estate.

Growth ETF Portfolio

CI Direct Investing’s Growth ETF portfolio is suitable for you if you have a medium risk tolerance, have an intermediate-term to long-term investment horizon, and are comfortable with having most of your portfolio consist of equity securities, real estate, and alternatives.

Balanced ETF Portfolio

CI Direct Investing’s Balanced ETF portfolio is suitable for you if you have a medium risk tolerance, have an intermediate-term investment horizon, and prefer a diversified portfolio that offers a good mixture of equity securities, fixed-income assets, real estate, and alternatives.

Conservative ETF Portfolio

Are you looking for a relatively safer portfolio that can provide you with your capital protection? CI Direct Investing’s Conservative ETF portfolio is designed for investors with a short-term or intermediate-term investment horizon. You might prefer it if you prefer most of your portfolio to consist of fixed-income assets and equity securities.

Safety ETF Portfolio

CI Direct Investing’s Safety ETF portfolio is ideal for you if you have a low risk tolerance and do not mind having most of your portfolios to consist of fixed-income assets and securities with low risk and low returns.

CI Direct Investing differs from most of the popular robo-advisor platforms in Canada in terms of portfolios you can choose. You can also invest in a range of private portfolios through CI Direct Investing, including:

  • Aggressive Private Portfolio
  • Balanced Private Portfolio
  • Safety Private Portfolio

These private portfolios can offer you access to private pooled funds managed by Nicola Wealth Management (NWM). You can learn more about these private investment pools by going to the NWM website.

CI Direct Investing also lets you invest in three different impact portfolios if you are looking to make socially responsible investments. Its socially responsible investing portfolios include:

  • Conservative Impact Portfolio
  • Balanced Impact Portfolio
  • Growth Impact Portfolio

CI Direct Investing also offers Halal investment portfolios on request if you are looking for investment options that align with your moral values and financial goals. The sheer diversity of investment portfolios available with the platform make it quite attractive for many investors.

The Cost Of Using CI Direct Investing

This section of my CI Direct Investing review will discuss the costs you can expect to incur while using the platform by highlighting the different fees it charges.

Like many robo-advisors, CI Direct Investing comes with different pricing tiers. The platform has a multi-tiered pricing system that charges fees based on your portfolio value with CI Direct Investing.

The fee you pay the platform includes transaction costs, administrative costs, and financial planning service fees. If you use a tax-deductible account with the platform, you can deduct the fees on your tax returns.

Here is a look at what the multi-tiered fee structure looks like:

  • Account balance less than or equal to $150,000 = 0.60% per year
  • Account balance between $150,001 and $500,000 = 0.40% per year
  • Account balance higher than $500,000 = 0.35% per year

The annual fees charged by CI Direct Investing do not include the Management Expense Ratio (MER) for the underlying ETFs and funds in your portfolio. Your MER fees with CI Direct Investing can differ, depending on your portfolio type and investment choices with the platform.

Here is a look at the average MER fees you can expect to pay while using CI Direct Investing:

Investment PortfolioAverage MER
Aggressive ETF Portfolio0.25%
Growth ETF Portfolio0.26%
Balanced ETF Portfolio0.26%
Conservative ETF Portfolio0.19%
Safety ETF Portfolio0.16%
Aggressive Private ETF Portfolio1.40%
Balanced Private ETF Portfolio1.55%
Safety Private Portfolio1.00%

Private portfolios used to be available only to very wealthy investors with millions in investment capital. However, the private ETF portfolios offered by CI Direct Investing allow investors with lower account balances access to these private investment pools. Still, that comes with the drawback of higher MERs.

These private investments are typically available only to investors with $1 million or more in assets and offer hedge-fund-like portfolios. However, CI Direct Investing’s ties to Nicola Wealth enable access to a diversified asset pool that includes real estate and infrastructure holdings—something you cannot expect with other robo-advisor platforms. It could be worth paying the premium fees for using the private portfolios with the robo-advisor.

Access to Exclusive Investment Portfolios

Access to private ETF portfolios managed by NWM is one of the biggest advantages of working with CI Direct Investing. These private pools can provide you with access to specialized hedge-fund-like portfolios that are usually only available to wealthy investors.

With CI Direct Investing, you can access these exclusive portfolios without having the premium account balance typically required for them.

Access To Financial Planning Experts

JustWealth review

CI Direct Investing offers a substantial advantage over all other robo-advisor platforms. It creates a balance between technology and human experts by giving you access to a Certified Financial Planner who can help you achieve your financial goals. The fees you pay for the robo-advisor already cover the expenses of consulting with the financial planner.

Your investments will be managed and rebalanced automatically with CI Direct Investing. However, you can seek advice from a human financial expert to help you review and customize your portfolios with CI Direct Investing to suit your needs better.

Socially Responsible Investing

If you are a socially conscious investor, you can add CI Direct Investing’s proprietary Cleantech to your portfolio. This add-on will let you invest 5% of your capital into an environmentally progressive fund called PowerShares PZD. Cleantech lets you support environmentally conscious companies that also offer an excellent performance track record.

High-Interest Savings Account

CI Direct Investing announced that it was launching a new high-interest savings account in September 2020. HISAs make saving money a more convenient affair. The account does not come with fees, minimum balance requirements, or withdrawal charges.

You can set up automatic deposits to this account to create a safe space for parking extra funds that you can use as emergency money or save cash for big purchases. Your HISA with CI Direct Investing will earn 0.5% annual percentage yield (APY), and the account does not come with limitations that most similar accounts offered by other providers have.

Insurance

CI Direct Investing is also a licensed insurer that sells independent insurance, and they are a Full Life Insurance Agent in British Columbia and Ontario. If you live in British Columbia or Ontario, you also have the option to purchase a suitable life insurance policy through CI Direct Investing.

Is CI Direct Investing Safe And Legit?

CI Direct Investing is owned by one of Canada’s most substantial investment firms since it bought WealthBar and rebranded the platform. Its parent company, CI Financial Corp., has been operating at a high level in Canada since 1965.

The robo-advisor product is a registered portfolio manager. Your cash and other assets stored in your CI Direct Investing account are held by custodians who are members of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF). CIPF membership means that your funds are protected for up to $1 million in your CI Direct Investing account.

The robo-advisor uses high-quality security measures to protect your account, including advanced login features and industry-standard encryption. It means that CI Direct Investing is safe and legit.

CI Direct Investing Alternatives and Competitors

This section of my CI Direct Investing review will compare the robo-advisors to some of the closest competitors and alternatives available in Canada to help you get a better idea of whether the alternatives are better suited for your investment goals and financial objectives.

CI Direct Investing vs. Wealthsimple

Wealthsimple is the most popular robo-advisor in Canada that launched around the same time as WealthBar (now CI Direct Investing), and it has been growing rapidly over the years. It offers lower fees along with several other features and benefits that make it an attractive platform. 

Wealthsimple does not offer private portfolios like CI Direct Investing, but it offers you an edge by removing the minimum balance requirement to begin investing with the platform.

You can check out my detailed Wealthsimple review to learn more about the platform.

CI Direct Investing vs. BMO SmartFolio

BMO SmartFolio is the robo-advisor arm for the Bank of Montreal, the oldest bank in Canada. BMO SmartFolio was among the first robo-advisor platforms launched by traditional banks when they began pivoting to offer online investment management services to compete with Wealthsimple and its peers.

BMO SmartFolios is more expensive than most robo-advisors, including CI Direct Investing. It has a tiered pricing structure like CI Direct Investing and offers you the peace of mind that comes with having a renowned financial firm manage your portfolio.

You can check out my detailed BMO Smartfolio review to learn more about the platform.

CI Direct Investing vs. Questwealth 

Questwealth is the robo-advisor product offered by the most popular discount brokerage firm in Canada, Questrade. Questwealth, like Wealthsimple, is another popular and low-cost solution for hands-off investors, offering custom portfolios to align with your investment goals.

Questwealth offers one of the most competitive fee structures in the Canadian robo-advisor industry, giving you a far more affordable alternative to CI Direct Investing. It also offers excellent promotions to encourage more people to sign up.

For instance, opening an account through this link will help you get your first $10,000 with Questwealth managed for free for a year.

You can check out my detailed Questwealth review to learn more about the platform.

Conclusion

CI Direct Investing offers you the advantage of using customized ETF portfolios that consist of low-cost ETFs and premium portfolios previously available only to wealthier investors.

It offers a decent multi-tiered pricing structure like other robo-advisor products and lets you enjoy hands-off investing with peace of mind.

The comparatively higher fees with CI Direct Investing make the more popular robo-advisor platforms seem more attractive. I usually am very tough on fees. and higher fees like this usually make me give a robo-advisor a lower score.

However, its comprehensive financial planning tools and access to financial experts make it worth considering to those who need more guidance. To round off my CI Direct Investing review, I give it a Wealth Awesome thumbs up for those who need more in-depth financial planning. You can check out CI Direct Investing here.

CI Direct Investing Review 2021
Christopher Liew, CFA

Christopher Liew, CFA

Author Bio - Christopher Liew is a 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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