22 min Read
12 Dec 2017

Written by Damien

Damien is one of the most widely quoted money and investment experts in the national press and has made numerous radio & TV appearances. He created MoneytotheMasses.com while working in the City when he became disillusioned with the way the public were left to fend for themselves because they could not afford financial advice.

More about Damien

Wealthsimple review – Is it the best choice for investors in the UK?

Wealthsimple reviewIn this independent Wealthsimple review I analyse the Wealthsimple proposition and look at Wealthsimple's investment performance , fees and compare Wealthsimple vs NutmegMoneyfarm, Scalable Capital and Wealthify. As part of this review I also visited Wealthsimple's central London offices to grill them over their investment process, their proposition and their ethics. The review is broken down into key parts and you can jump to a relevant section using the jump links in the sidebar (or via the Contents Menu above if you are viewing this on mobile). However, I suggest that you take your time to read this Wealthsimple review from beginning to end as I make important observations throughout when comparing the service against other robo-advisors in the UK.

Who are Wealthsimple?

Wealthsimple is an online investment manager (often referred to as a robo-advisor) which was first launched in Canada in 2014 and subsequently launched in the UK in September 2017. In the UK Nutmeg is the robo-advice firm with the largest market share. However, with the exception of Nutmeg, most of the of the robo-advisors now available in the UK have come from abroad. For example Moneyfarm launched in the UK after successfully establishing itself in Italy while Scalable Capital hails from Germany. The UK market has a huge potential appetite for cost effective managed investment propositions offered by robo-advice firms online. The UK DIY investment market is dominated by platforms such as Hargreaves Lansdown where investors can choose their own funds from a range of thousands. However robo-advisers offer a range of off-the-shelf portfolios managed by their investment experts and computer algorithms which makes them ideal for investors (particularly novices) who want to invest while keeping costs low yet who don't have the time or expertise to run their own portfolios. As an aside if you do you use an investment platform such as Hargreaves Lansdown and would like help in deciding which funds to invest in as well as learning more about investment markets then 80-20 Investor will interest you.

Wealthsimple continues the trend of successful overseas robo-advice firms launching in the UK, but this time it is coming from the West, namely Canada and the US. Whenever I look underneath the bonnet of a robo-adviser I look at how sustainable their business models potentially are. Robo-advice firms charge very low fees so have incredibly slim profit margins. In order to eventually run at a profit they require a large volume of customers and/or substantial financial backers. In the world of online wealth management it is a race to £1bn AUM (assets under management) as this is generally accepted to be the point when their business models become profitable. While Wealthsimple has only recently launched in the UK, in the US Wealthsimple's AUM is in excess of £750m (which is over $1bn) and has grown its customer base to over 40,000 clients in Canada and the US. That's no mean feat in a competitive market such as the US which has been dominated by low cost platforms such as Vanguard. In addition, the Power Financial Group, one of the world's largest financial companies, has backed Wealthsimple with $100m of investment. So in that regard I have little concern over Wealthsimple as a company to invest with, of course your investments are ring-fenced and protected anyway in the unlikely event that the company went bust, which is the same for any robo-advisor regulated in the UK. While the brand is not well known at present in the UK it will be soon as it is launching large-scale TV and cinema advertising featuring Hollywood actors and music stars in an attempt to widen its appeal to include millennials.

How does Wealthsimple work?

Minimum investment

Wealthsimple has no minimum investment amount and its low fee strategy will prove attractive to a range of investors which we discuss later.

What is the Wealthsimple sign up process?

Opening a Wealthsimple account is slick and easy as you would expect. When you start you are presented with a multiple-choice questionnaire asking why you are planning to invest, as shown below (click to enlarge):

 

Once you have selected a reason you are taken through a short multiple-choice questionnaire asking some basic information about your investing experience and personal circumstances. This is similar to most of the other robo-advisers in the UK but it has a slightly more streamlined feel to it. The questions asked include those listed below and are standard fare for any robo-advisor:

  • How long are you looking to invest for?
  • What's your monthly income after tax?
  • What are your monthly outgoings?
  • Do you anticipate any negative changes to your income or outgoings in the near future?
  • What's the combined value of any investments and cash you have?
  • How much debt have you got?
  • How much emergency cash do you have?
  • How much investment experience do you have (if any)?
  • How you wold react to a number of suggested investment scenarios?

You are then presented with a recommendation screen like the one below which is based upon how you answered the questionnaire (click to enlarge).

Wealthify recommendation

 

Interestingly Wealthsimple does not screen users out if investing in unsuitable for them, like services such as Scalable Capital and Wealthify do. For example if you do not have an emergency cash fund Wealthsimple will warn you on the recommendation screen that investing isn't for you but it doesn't stop you proceeding. Having said that the way this issue is addressed by Wealthsimple vs Scalable Capital's screening method amounts to much the same as you can still go back and change your answers to the Scalable Capital questionnaire in order to proceed anyway. However, what I love about the Wealthsimple approach is that you are now presented with a portfolio to invest in which lists the exact funds they recommend. No other robo-advice firm does this, preferring to only tell you the specific funds once you invest, so I applaud Wealthsimple's transparency. This may be in part because Wealthsimple can not publish its investment performance data because it has an insufficient track record. However by showing the third party funds that they will invest in on your behalf this theoretically allows a new customer to research the performance of the underlying investments separately. This is exactly what I do later in this article. Below is the exact portfolio of funds that Wealthsimple recommended for me as a medium risk profile (click to enlarge).

Overall the portfolio is well diversified across assets globally and certainly isn't US focused which is a criticism that can be directed at its US peer Vanguard in relation to its Lifestrategy funds. Wealthsimple use exchange traded funds (ETFs) and low cost mutual funds in order to keep costs low. All investments are then regularly managed and rebalanced to ensure the asset mix remains in line with the client's goals. So at this point I strongly suggest that you use the Wealthsimple tool, as I have done, to see the portfolio they recommend for you (they run a total of 9 portfolios). It takes minutes and there is no obligation on your part because to get to this point you don't even have to give them your email address.

Wealthsimple medium risk portfolio

You can choose to register with Wealthsimple and ultimately have the option to invest in the portfolio via a Wealthsimple Stock and Shares ISA, Junior ISA (which is an exciting and rare option among robo-advisers) or via a general trading account outside of any ISA wrapper.

If you decide to invest you can monitor and manage your Wealthsimple account online or via its smartphone app. After having a hands-on look at the app I can confirm it's easy to use (you can even make additional contributions through it which is ideal for the self-employed) although it won't necessarily win any design awards, but that's not really the point. What I do like is Wealthsimple's commitment to providing personal finance articles within its app and online to help educate customers. These can range from interviews, to money saving tips or even financial planning and it gives users a reason to engage with their Wealthsimple account on a regular basis.

What products does Wealthsimple offer?

Wealthsimple offers the usual Stocks and Shares ISA and general account like its peers but more notably it also offers a low cost a Junior ISA account. Robo-adviors have been slow or reticent to offer their services via a Junior ISA because of the low annual contribution limits (£4,128 for the 2017/18 tax year). In their race to acquire assets under management they have tended to focus on Stocks and Shares ISAs (with their annual contribution limit of £20,000). Also most allow new customers to transfer their existing ISA portfolios across too so they can be managed by the new robo-advisor. While most robo-advisers are planning to launch a pension product, a Wealthsimple pension is apparently in the pipeline, only Nutmeg currently offers a pension product so they are dominating that area of the market.

Given Wealthsimple's lack of a minimum investment threshold the service lends itself perfectly to those looking to invest for their children via a Junior ISA. Also transfers into a Junior ISA (or indeed the general investment account or Stocks and Shares ISA) are straightforward and free of charge.

Wealthsimple is one of only a few robo-advisors offering Socially Responsible Investing (SRI). This means investing in companies that reach a certain threshold of social responsibility. Examples of ETFs used with SRI include companies with low carbon exposure, gender equality in senior leadership and those supporting local initiatives.

How does Wealthsimple manage its portfolios?

Wealthsimple will regularly manage each client's portfolio by rebalancing the assets held to ensure that they stay on track to reach their financial goals. Every client is different in their investment timeframe and goals and therefore have different investments in their portfolios, this is know as asset allocation. To keep the investments in line with each client's investment goals this asset allocation needs to be monitored regularly. Of course, this is pretty standard for any robo-advice proposition.

What is Wealthsimple's investment strategy?

Wealthsimple's investment strategy is split into three categories.

Diversification - spreading investments across different asset types is a key driver of portfolio performance. Wealthsimple invest in global equities and bonds providing a wide range of choices to create the best portfolio for each client (as shown in my example earlier).

Passive management - which principally involves investing in low cost funds or ETFs that track specific investment markets.

Client control - portfolios are created for each individual client bearing in mind their investment goals and attitude to risk.

What are Wealthsimple's fees?

Wealthsimple has a low cost fee strategy with the first £5,000 invested free for the first year and 0.7% per annum beyond that. This annual fee is reduced to 0.5% for clients who invest more than £100,000. There is an additional fee of around 0.2% which is charged by the underlying funds. This underlying fee is on a par with the likes of Nutmeg and Moneyfarm as shown in the next section.

Fees are calculated on a daily basis using the closing balance on your portfolio for each day. The charges will be accrued and applied to the client's account on a monthly basis.

How does Wealthsimple's fees compare to other robo-advisers?

One of the key attractions of robo-advisors is the low fees charged for managing a client's investments, but these fees do vary across the various advisors.

Wealthsimple charge an annual fee of 0.7% (first £5,000 free in year1) This annual fee is reduced to 0.5% for investments over £100,000. In addition to this there is an ETF charge averaging at 0.2% per year.

Scalable Capital charge an annual fee of 0.75% on the total amount invested, with no reduced fee for larger investments. In addition there is an ETF charge averaging at 0.25% per year.

Nutmeg charge an annual fee of 0.75% on its fully managed service but this drops to 0.35% for any assets over £100,000. In addition there is an ETF charge averaging at 0.19% per year.

Moneyfarm charges a maximum annual fee of 0.7% reducing to 0.4% for investments over £500,000. In addition there is an ETF charge averaging at 0.3% per year.

So you can see that Wealthsimple has pitched its charges in line with its competitors so there is not much to choose between them although there are cheaper alternatives than Wealthsimple for investors with sums over £100,000, namely Nutmeg. It's also important to stress that there are no exit fees so if you decide to transfer your money away from Wealthsimple in the future you won't be penalised.

Wealthsimple portfolio performance

As Wealthsimple has only just launched in the UK it does not yet have a 12 month performance history, which is the minimum the FCA require before a robo-advisor can publicise their performance data. However, using the medium risk portfolio above I can backtest how the portfolio would have performed by analysing how its constituent parts performed. Of course this is only a rough guide because Wealthsimple has the benefit of hindsight when building its portfolios. If we assumed that the portfolio had remained unchanged over the past year (which it would inevitably not have done) then the Wealthsimple medium risk portfolio would have returned 10.71% which is on a par with other discretionary managed propositions out there.

Wealthsimple v Nutmeg v MoneyFarm

Of course what investors really want to know is how Wealthsimple's performance compares to Nutmeg and Moneyfarm, two of the leading robo-advice firms in the UK. The table below shows the actual performance of the Moneyfarm medium risk profile versus Nutmeg's and my notional Wealthsimple portfolio over the last year to end of September 2017 (which is the date of Nutmeg's latest performance figures). Don't forget that the Nutmeg and Moneyfarm's figures are actual returns achieved by customers and Moneyfarm in particular performed well. I have carried out a full review of Moneyfarm and its performance here.

 Investment % Return from Sept 2016 to Sept 2017
Moneyfarm medium risk profile 7.50%
Wealthsimple medium risk portfolio 7%
Nutmeg (portfolio 6) 6.40%

The chart below shows the potential performance of Wealthsimple vs an equivalent Vanguard LIfestrategy portfolio with a 50% equity split. Again bear in mind that the Vanguard figures are actuals and the Wealthsimple is notional (with the added benefit of hindsight on their part)

Wealthsimple vs Vanguard Lifestrategy performance

Does Wealthsimple provide any other service?

Interestingly Wealthsimple customers are able to talk to an adviser should you want to. This could be to ask questions about setting up an account or requesting full blown investment advice, the latter Wealthsimple can provide at an additional cost via its qualified investment advisers. This is a hugely underplayed part of the service and I think Wealthsimple should make more mention of it in its marketing as other robo-advisors don't offer this. A lot of UK consumers are interested in investing online and many would welcome the flexibility and comfort of knowing that there is a human at the other end of a phone

What protection is there from Wealthsimple going bust?

All assets are held securely by a custodian and protected under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) up to a limit of £50,000.

Conclusion - Who should consider Wealthsimple?

Wealthsimple is an interesting addition to the world of robo-advisers and its simple low cost fee strategy certainly makes it one to consider when investing. Its fees, portfolio and investment methodology is on a par with its peers. I particularly like its Junior ISA product which gives access to low cost investing. All accounts can be seen at once via its app, so if you have a Stocks and Shares ISA and a Junior ISA you can view them at the same time. Wealthsimple's service is based upon sound ethic principles which has proved hugely successful in the US and will almost inevitably do so in the UK given its financial backing. The lack of past performance history may deter some but as my analysis shows there's nothing to set alarm bells ringing. Wealthsimple is very cost effective and offers the ability to speak to an investment adviser if you wish too. Wealthsimple's proposition is ideally placed to attract millennial and older seasoned investors alike who want someone to mange their money for them. The fact that there is no investment minimum and it offers a junior ISA product makes it a good solution for those wanting to dip their toe into the online investment (robo-advice) world before committing larger sums.

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