When it comes to affordable investing, robo advisors just might be the way to go. They offer an easy, low-cost option for investors of all levels of experience.
WealthBar formally rebranded as CI Direct Investing on August 5, 2020. CI Direct Investing is part of CI Financial, one of the country’s largest investment companies. Under this new brand, clients continue to have access to professionally managed portfolios and financial advice at their fingertips.
They’re based in Vancouver, BC and have recently partnered with CI Financial, one of Canada’s largest investment managers. WealthBar has more than $450 million in assets under management and is a registered portfolio manager in all Canadian provinces and territories.
So, what does CI Direct Investing have to offer and how does it compare to some of the other top robo advisors in Canada? Keep reading this CI Direct Investing review to find out.
CI Direct Investing accounts
CI Direct Investing offers several different account options for your investing needs including:
- Spousal RRSP
- Group savings accounts (RRSP & TFSA)
- RESPs for Quebec residents
- Spousal RRIF
- Trust accounts
- Charitable organizations
- Individual pension plans
- Personal pension plans
Each of these accounts requires a minimum investment of $1,000.
CI Direct Investing fees
CI Direct Investing fees are divided into three tiers and are as follows:
- Up to $150,000: 0.60% annually
- The next $350,000: 0.40% annually
- Above $500,000: 0.35% annually
On top of these fees, you will also need to pay the ETF MERs which range from 0.19-0.26% for ETF portfolios and 1.00%-1.55% for private investment portfolios.
If you have read through my other robo advisor reviews such as JustWealth, Wealthsimple and Nest Wealth, you’ll notice that CI Direct Investing fees are on the higher end. Although this is one of the biggest pitfalls of this Canadian robo, I don’t consider it to be a breaking point as the difference is pretty minimal. More importantly, CI Direct Investing fees are still much lower than what mutual funds charge.
If you’re looking to transfer your RRSP to another financial institution, CI Direct Investing will cover transfer fees (up to $150) if you are transferring investments of $25,000 or more. Plus, they won’t charge you to withdraw from your investments (taxes still apply).
CI Direct Investing review
As I mentioned earlier in this article, CI Direct Investing (formerly WealthBar) is the OG when it comes to robo advisors in Canada. So, if that’s the case, then why don’t they seem to be as popular as other Canadian robos such as Wealthsimple? Well, the higher fees are a big part of it. However, despite the higher cost, CI Direct Investing still does have some standout features that set it apart from other robo advisors.
One of the biggest differences between CI Direct Investing and other robos is that it is actually a hybrid. So, what does this mean? It means that CI Direct Investing offers automatically managed portfolios online, and human advisors whereas the majority of robos rely solely on algorithms.
As a CI Direct Investing client, you get unlimited access to a dedicated portfolio manager to help you with financial aspects including financial planning and tax optimization. They don’t work on commission, so you can rest easy knowing that their advice is genuine and relevant to your needs. You can reach the portfolio managers easily by scheduling a phone call, through the chat option online, or by email. CI Direct Investing customer service is definitely a standout feature that is applauded by many users.
This human touch aspect would explain the slightly higher fees, however, it also adds a lot of comfort and a feeling of security for many investors who would otherwise be hesitant to try a robo advisor.
CI Direct Investing offers 8 different portfolio options for investors which are as follows:
- Safety ETF
- Conservative ETF
- Balanced ETF
- Growth ETF
- Aggressive ETF
- Safety Private
- Balanced Private
- Aggressive Private
The private investment portfolios are the real standout for CI Direct Investing. Previously, these types of portfolios were only available to the ultra-wealthy.
Additionally, CI Direct Investing does have Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) options. Investors can opt into a Cleantech add-on for any portfolio. If you choose this option, 5% of your investments will go to hydro, wind, and solar energy. Impact investing and Halal investing portfolios are also available upon request.
Like all businesses, CI Direct Investing has its pros and cons, here’s a quick breakdown of the standouts for both.
- Human aspect
- 8 portfolio options including private portfolios
- No withdrawal fees
- Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) option
- Higher fees than most other robo advisors
- Minimum investment of $1,000.
How CI Direct Investing compares to others
So, how does CI Direct Investing compare to other robo advisors in Canada? Let’s take a look.
If you are looking strictly at cost, CI Direct Investing definitely comes up short thanks to its higher fees. For comparison, Wealthsimple’s management fees range from 0.5%-0.4% with MERs coming in around 0.2%. That may seem small right now, but it can add up pretty quickly. Granted, for accounts over $500,000, WealthBar does have the advantage with a 0.35% rate.
In this CI Direct Investing review, I also touched on the fact that CI Direct Investing does have SRI options. While this is a definite pro for many, the extent of their SRI options will leave many investors wanting more. That 5% towards renewable energy sources is pretty dismal compared to, for example, RBC InvestEase which prides itself on its Responsible Investing Portfolios and places a heavy focus on choosing companies with high ESG factors and removing other companies that don’t align with SRI standards.
That being said, when it comes to the human touch and customer service, CI Direct Investing really does come out on top. The unlimited access to financial advisors is a stand-out feature and WealthBar clients are constantly applauding CI Direct Investing’s customer service.
CI Direct Investing is one of the pioneers in the world of Canadian robo advisors. It’s thanks to companies like Wealthbar that so many Canadians are able to invest with minimal effort today. Unfortunately, in a few aspects, CI Direct Investing has fallen a bit behind. This is readily apparent in their higher fees and limited options for SRI. However, as a hybrid robo advisor, CI Direct Investing has maintained an exceptional standard for customer service. The human aspect that they provide is, for many, worth the extra cost in fees.
At the end of the day, if you are looking for a robo advisor with a human touch and aren’t too fussed about SRIs, then CI Direct Investing might be the best Canadian robo advisor for you.