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Millennials fuelling growth of robo-advisers’ RRSP businesses

To lure in even more money from the tech-savvy generation, some robo-advisers are offering innovative product partnerships.


The number of Canadians expected to make RRSP contributions by the Feb. 29 deadline is expected to decline slightly from last year. But that trend won't be felt among robo-advisers.

The automated portfolio managers are seeing a surge in business for their registered retirement savings plan accounts, bolstered by the popularity of the new platforms among millennials. To lure in even more money from the tech-savvy generation, some robo-advisers are offering innovative product partnerships.

A recent Bank of Montreal study found that 61 per cent of Canadians will be making a contribution to their RRSP accounts before the end of this month, down from 64 per cent last year. The amount that Canadians are anticipating to contribute has only marginally changed – to $3,984 from $3,738 last year.

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Since January, one of the largest robo-advisers in Canada – Wealthsimple – has seen individual RRSP contributions increase fivefold compared with the entire second half of 2015, chief executive Mike Katchen says. He expects to see further growth in RRSP accounts this month after it teamed up with fintech lender Borrowell to offer investors access to an online RRSP " top up" loan.

Clients can apply for an online loan with Borrowell and once approved be directed to Wealthsimple to invest the funds. The partnership could lead to investment loan options outside of a registered account.

"If we see the sort of traction we're expecting, we'll build tighter integration in the future," Mr. Katchen said.

Online portfolio manager WealthBar has similar results so far in 2016, receiving 10 times the number of applications for RRSP accounts than what executives saw during the 2015 RRSP season, many of them coming from millennial investors.

"Millennials are opening RRSP accounts as the longer time horizon allows them to take advantage of the current dip in the market," says Tea Nicola, co-founder and CEO of WealthBar.

"Higher-income millennials are opening RRSPs to save a little on tax, especially if their immediate goal is not necessarily a home purchase."

Randy Cass, CEO of Nestwealth, says his platform will open more new accounts in February than any prior month since it launched in 2014. Just prior to the RRSP season, Nestwealth expanded services to Manitoba and Alberta last November.

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Previously, it was only operating in Ontario.

"As markets are more uncertain and returns get compressed, dramatically reducing fees becomes vitally important and front of mind for investors," Mr. Cass said.

This is the first RRSP season for Invisor Investment Management Inc., which launched last May and includes low-cost mutual fees in addition to exchange-traded funds. Approximately 60 per cent of accounts that have been opened since inception have been RRSPs accounts (including spousal and locked-in retirement accounts, or LIRAs).

One upside that online portfolio managers can provide investors is not allowing RRSP money to sit dormant in a savings account.

"Contributing is just the first step," said Robert Armstrong, vice-president of BMO Global Asset Management. "It's also important to take into consideration how you manage that money once it's in your RRSP."

According to BMO, many Canadians lack understanding of the specifics of an RRSP, including how to contribute to a plan and the amount one can contribute. Only 20 per cent of Canadians know which investments can be held within an RRSP.

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"Unlike some RRSP plans, our clients are instantly placed in an investment portfolio that is most suitable to them and their risk profile," says Navid Boostani, CEO of ModernAdvisor, the newest platform to join the robo-adviser industry last month. "Many younger Canadians are put into guaranteed investment certificates and high-interest savings accounts for their RRSP and these are options that don't even keep up with inflation."

ModernAdvisor is taking a niche approach, offering investors access to socially responsible portfolios, in addition to their core ETF portfolios. The portfolios could be a big draw for millennial investors, as Mr. Boostani says they have a higher tendency to be concerned about environmental issues than their parents.

To draw the interest of younger investors, ModernAdvisor will launch an investor-welcoming program later this week. The campaign allows potential clients to experience investing with $1,000 of "borrowed" funds for a three-month period. If users decide to become an active client, any gains accumulated over the three-month period are deposited into the new account.

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About the Author
Globe Investor Reporter

Clare O’Hara is a reporter at The Globe and Mail. Prior to that, Clare spent eight years as a staff writer at Investment Executive, a national newspaper for financial service industry professionals. More


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