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How ‘online’ is anything, really?

How ‘online’ is anything, really?

Getting started with online investing.

Yes, technology is everything. Nobody believes that more than me, IMO. But there are some times when human contact is inevitable. In those cases, efficiency helps.

Let me tell you a story of an experience I’ve been having recently. It involves BMO SmartFolio, an online portfolio management service, which is a product of Nesbitt Burns. I am being compensated to test this platform. But… clearly, opinions are my own. I’m 42 and life’s too short to say things anyone makes you say. I guess my contacts at BMO Nesbitt Burns knew where my thinking was on that. They wouldn’t have come to a blogger that tells it like it is unless they wanted to me to ummmmm…. tell it like it is. I already like that confidence! 

So that’s the disclosure out of the way.

Back to my story.

I think you reach a point in your life when you’ve got no time for drama. Where you need for things to work exactly as they say they will. Right?!

And, to my mind, that involves the interwebs.

More than my share of awkward, if well-meaning, customer service calls that felt like they would go on till the end of the world have taught me that people complicate things! If I never had to speak to another person again, I’d be okay. The more a process involves boxes to check off, that would then have technology do its thing and magic up happiness for me, the more interested I am in hearing about it.

So when I started to hear the buzz on robo-advisors, I was interested. Very interested. Artificial intelligence meets dealing with money?! What’s not to like? 😃 I am still trying to find an app that can actually scan a crumpled receipt… so I’m all over anything that can bring tech and money together efficiently.

When the lovely social media peeps from SmartFolio called to ask if I’d like to try out the online portfolio management platform, I said yes. I asked them if it was the same as a robo-advisor. They said that while it is a digital service, calling it a robo-advisor service would be doing it an injustice because there are legit portfolio managers involved. Like real human people that look at things and make them all come together.

Oh dear. I tried not envision explaining myself over-and-over to people and duplicating all that box-checking with my voice. Shudder.

But here’s where I was pleasantly surprised!

I hopped on their website (And a competitive one at the same time, you know, just in case). What?? I need context; how else would I decide if I thought something was any good or not?

Here are the things that stood out for me.

Firstly, I liked that each of the questions had an explanation. They asked the question, and they said why they were asking it. Also, there’s a note up front about how many questions there are and how long it was all likely to take. Which is 👍 👍 if you’re anything like me and get antsy about open-ended tasks that can be a time suck.

Like this. Simple, to the point, and the no-clutter, whitespace look is a definite win.

The first snag I hit was when we got to the final page, and the eSignature option wasn’t available anymore. Mildly irritated, I used the chat button to find out why that was. Surely a service that bills itself online anything shouldn’t need printing and snail-mailing. But alas it does; for very good reason.

I had picked a type of account (there are many) that is a joint account. Now in a joint account, I’m assuming everything needs to be extra verified. If not there isn’t a lot to stop one account holder from doing whatever they wanted, without checks or balances. It’s part of the regulatory framework that nobody loves, but guess what? I’ll take it. Because it comes with a side of protection for me. It’s similar to how I don’t love when I need to trek it to the office and then trek my child to her class every time she’s late to school, but I do it because I’m contributing to an overall safe environment for my child, and I’d have it no other way. I feel the same way about my money.

So I stoically sucked it up. Printed off the sheets and signed them, (I thought) and off they went to the address in question.

(The good news is none of this applies to any individual account. You sign online and are golden.)

The day after they received the forms, I had a call from a SmartFolio advisor. That’s right, an advisor. Not customer service. An actual investment advisor. He called to say that I’d missed a spot that needed signing. (Which was entirely my bad 🙈) The signature spots are marked with large blue arrows, so you’d have to be a totally not-into-paperwork-person, like me, to miss it.)

The greater purpose of the call was to check some details with me. I had misunderstood a question, and he’d picked up on it straightaway. (‘How long do you plan to keep your money invested?’ to which I’d answered a shorter period because this is a new account and I assumed they meant in SmartFolio, and I didn’t want to be committing quite yet.) The advisor said that the question was about keeping the money invested and not so much where. Regardless of whether it was SmartFolio or elsewhere, if I planned to save for retirement and didn’t plan to retire for over 10 years, the portfolio that I would get would be different. He adjusted things, and I got a significantly changed portfolio from what I had based on my sketchy understanding of the details.

This to me is their selling point. The fact that SmartFolio calls itself an online investing platform ‘with a human touch’ is clever!

Why? What does online investing with a human touch mean?

Well, this! If you interpret anything inaccurately in any way, there’s someone on it to make sure it isn’t all going pear-shaped. They have a team of 17 investment professionals put on the job to keep an eye on things, allocate, rebalance and generally make sure your money is doing what it’s meant to do.

At first, I had no idea why you’d need people. Shouldn’t your technology be able to do all of this? But after my experience, I’m thinking this is not a bad idea at all. Because there’s ALWAYS people involved. You for instance. Answering all the questions. What happens if you’re stuck for some reason? Efficiency helps. And I’d say SmartFolio’s got it pretty right so far in my book. Can’t wait to see more and demystify this genre for non-financial people, like me, who are still pretty savvy, know what they want, and how to handle their tech.

Lastly today, I’d like to tell you a little about why I am doing this, so you have some context (besides the fact that I’m being compensated 😁). If you follow this column, you know that I am a solopreneur, mom to a young child, and a relatively recent immigrant to Canada.

At a certain point in the self-employment journey will come security. I promise. You heard it here first. 😃 There will come a day when blind panic about whether you’ll make the bills will slowly be replaced by confidence that this is your chosen way of life. After that day you start making plans, and it’s the best feeling! Whether those plans involve figuring out how you want to get to the price tag that is retirement, like me. Or blowing it all up on the most amazing year-long trip around the world as you write sumptuous pieces that people can’t get enough of; like my dreams… It’s worth giving your money goals some thought. That’s what I’m doing here, and I hope you’ll join me on this journey as I share my learnings.

Next stop, I’m on a quest to find out a bit more about how this all works and figure out exactly what an ETF is and why it’s used. As well, I’d like to know a bit more about what the risks and downsides of all this might be.

BTW they have an extensive FAQ, live chat support – by advisors, and, phone support. Plus there’s a secure emailing system through which they communicate to keep things safe. There’s a lot of info on there, but since I have access to them, I’d like to go beyond the literature and bring you extra value if you, like me, might be considering this. So keep reading? I’ll shout out on social as I have fresh information. Follow me? Tweet or Gram @socialsusandiaz For more information on the service, hop onto

Note: This post is sponsored by Nesbitt Burns, on behalf of BMO Smartfolio. All opinions are my own.

Carrots and Peace
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