The Value of Simple. The how to say goodbye to high fee investing book.

Late to the party I recently read The Value of Simple: A Practical Guide to Taking The Complexity Out of Investing. The author is John Robertson, a scientist who holds a PhD in Medical Biophysics. By day he is a science writer and editor. He is also a passionate investor and educator. And thankfully, he wrote this how-to book …


The Value of Simple is true to its title. Mr. Robertson shows how simple it can be to take control of your investments and keep more money in your pocket. Of course it starts with identifying the major ‘problem’ in Canada in that we pay the highest mutual fund fees in the developed world. Thanks to the power of negative compounding those high fees could eat up to 30%, 40%, even 50% or more of your investment wealth over the decades. And Mr. Robertson certainly agrees with me that Canadians are paying dearly for those high fee funds and they are not often receiving any advice in return. Here’s my article Why pay your bank or advisor when they are not offering any advice?

From page 9 of The Value of Simple.

This commission is supposed to pay for their advice and assistance in helping you create a financial plan. However, many people you see across the desk from you at a bank or investment firm are actually in a sales role and don’t provide any help in overall guidance or long-term planning, or provide poor, self-serving advice. The conflict-of-interest where they only get paid if you invest in mutual funds they have to sell means that they may recommend investing even if paying your debt might be in your best interest instead.

We have a problem, but Canadians also have many lower fee solutions and simple paths to sensible investing.  The book provides a nice outline of the investment basics before showing you, step-by-step, how to access the low fee options.

Tangerine Portfolios 

Mr. Robertson is a big fan of the Tangerine Portfolios. As you may know, for over 5 years I was an advisor working on these index-based portfolios. These can be a wonderful option as they are managed portfolios with a MER of 1.07% with no transaction costs. Investors simply need to sign up at Tangerine (it’s an easy online on-boarding process) and then complete the investor profile. You can add monies on a regular schedule with a PAC, that Pre-Authorized Contribution.

Here’s my review of the Tangerine Portfolios, and don’t forget the Big Juicy Dividend Edition.

TD e-series

In step-by-step fashion, The Value of Simple also shows you how you can invest in the TD e-series funds. To create a balanced portfolio the fees would be .42%. On Tangerine vs TD e-series Mr. Robertson offers …

Tangerine is, simply put, as easy as investing gets … The simplicity is great, but the MER is double that of the TD e-series funds (yet still half the cost of typical funds). As your assets grow this cost difference will become more noticeable.

As the book outlines, there is more complexity with the e-series but you are rewarded with lower fees for doing some of ‘the work’. And again, the step-by-step outline shows you how easy is can be to purchase the TD funds. Mr. Robertson also demonstrates the portfolio rebalancing process. This is a how-to book, it literally shows you what buttons to press.

Canadian Robo Advisors

This is another wonderful option for Canadian investors that combines digital and human advice with low-cost automated managed portfolios. Once again, you can simply set up that PAC. The all-in fees are in the range of .40% to .80%. You can see this site for reviews of the leading Canadian Robo Advisors. They are all quite different and it’s important to find the ‘right Robo’ for you.

Investing in ETFs

ETFs offer the lowest MERs available , but require a bit more effort and a few more steps to enter your orders.

The Value of Simple stays true to the theme and lays out a core portfolio suggestion that would be very similar to that of the Tangerine Portfolios with ‘just’ the 4 building blocks.


The book suggests Questrade as the discount brokerage destination of choice. At Questrade investors can purchase ETFs at no cost. Once again The Value of Simple will take you through the step-by-step process for setting up your Questrade account. The book then goes on to show you (literally with images) how to set up your portfolio, how to trade, and how to rebalance. Mr. Robertson shows you what buttons to press.

You’ll also see how easy it can be to do that Norbitt’s Gambit move to avoid US currency conversion charges.

Keep in mind that we now also have those game-changing one ticket asset allocation portfolios. With one ETF you can get a complete balanced and rebalanced portfolio at the required risk level.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Don’t sweat the small stuff a popular self-help book from 1997 could have been the sub-title. It’s a popular theme. It’s not going to be a life changer if you’re investing in 40% US or 25% US markets. Do you buy a Canadian listed US ETF or save the 15% US withholding taxes and buy US-listed ETFs in a US dollar RRSP account? That’s a minor event in the grand scheme of things. The most important consideration is that you invest in a low-cost portfolio and invest on a regular schedule.

Keep it simple. Keep it cheap. 

Many Canadians are intimated by the investment process. The Value of Simple takes a seemingly difficult process and makes it simple. On which path to take to lower fees you might have a read of Should you create an ETF portfolio or go Robo? And there is the option of using a fee-for-service advisor. Of course it’s very important to develop a financial plan and to know ‘what goes where’ to create tax efficiencies in the accumulation stage and in retirement. We should not discount the value of advice – at the right cost of course.

Some options on that front are Spring Financial Planning, Money Coaches Canada, PWL Capital, Objective Financial Partners, Vave Financial Planning and Caring for Clients.

And after original publication John Robertson offered up this link to more fee-for-service advisor options and more background on the fee for service model.

Thanks for reading. Kindly hit those share buttons for Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. You can Follow Cut The Crap Investing at the very bottom of this page. To join in on the fun on Twitter, I’m at 67_Dodge.

Contact me, Dale @ or better yet, leave a message.

You can read John Robertson’s latest on his blog

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