My portfolio of ETFs

Everywhere I go, I have people asking me how I invest my own money and what kinds of things I invest in. I’ve never had a problem sharing what I do, so I thought it would make sense to write about it.

The history

I came into the financial industry right out of University and worked for a big insurance company as their Retirement and Investment Specialist. I spent over 5 years, teaching insurance agents and brokers about the merits of segregated funds and started investing in those segregated funds myself almost 30 years ago.

Later, I ventured into business as a financial advisor who sold GICs and Mutual Funds to clients. My first book, Mutual Fundamentals, was a research based book on how to pick top quality mutual funds. Right or wrong, I felt that picking mutual funds needed to be empirically based as opposed to being based on intuition, gut or instinct. I developed a rating system called the Fund Filter and it got quite a bit of media attention, interest and success. As a result, my portfolio also switched my portfolio from segregated funds to mutual funds.

In 2007, I sold my business and gave up my license to sell financial products to build my current business that puts financial education programs into the workplace. Instead of selling products, my focus is on education and teaching.

Welcome to the world of ETFs

As an empirically based investor, I could not help but be influenced by the amount of research on low cost, passive investing. Even some of my own research lead to the conclusion that Fees do matter and the lower the fee, the higher the probability of higher returns.

If you are a fan of low cost passive investing, you’ll be drawn to the merits of Exchange Traded Fund (ETFs). That’s where most of my portfolio is invested today.

What is an ETF?

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs), are similar to mutual funds in that they hold a basket of stocks, bonds or other investments. The difference between an ETF and a mutual funds is how they are bought and the fees associated with them. Unlike mutual funds, ETFs are bought and sold on an exchange, like stocks.

The origins of ETFs began primarily with passive index based products. In other words, most EFTS were simply mirrors of common market indicies like the TSX, S&P500, MSCI, etc.

Today, the ETF market has grown dramatically and now there are actively managed ETFs with managers just like mutual funds.

What ETFs I own?

Before I disclose the ETFs I own, I must give a huge plug to Dan Bortolotti for all of his great information on the topic of ETFs. His website Canadian Couch Potato and his book The Moneysense Guide to the Perfect Portfolio was very influential and helpful. If you are wanting to learn more about ETF investing, I highly recommend his site and his book.

So, here’s my RRSP portfolio:

iShares S&P/TSX Small CapCanadian Small CapXCS0.60%0%
Vanguard International StockInternational EquityVXUS0.08%15%
iShares MSCI WorldGlobal EquityXWD0.47%15%
BMO REITReal Estate Investment TrustZRE0.61%10%
BMO Aggregate BondCanadian BondZAG0.09%20%
Vanguard TSXCanadian EquityVCN0.06%15%
iShares High DividendCanadian DividendXEI0.18%5%
ishares Gold BullionSpecialtyCGL0.55%5%

It’s nothing fancy and there is little guesswork in the positions. I keep about 40% of my RRSP portfolio in fixed income investment. The rest is in equities.

My TFSA is also invested at Questrade and also in ETFs but it’s definitely more growth oriented.  I have no plans to take money out of my RRSP so my hope it to take advantage of the longer term Tax Free Growth. 

Here’s my TFSA Portfolio:

iShares S&P/TSX Small CapCanadian Small CapXCS0.60%5%
Vanguard Growth PortfolioAll-in-one ETFVGRO0.25%50%
iShares Balanced PortfolioAll-in-one ETFXBAL0.20%25%
iShares Canadian Value IndexCanadian EquityXCV0.55%10%
iShares Emerging MarketEmerging MarketCWO0.71%7.5%
The Bitcoin FundSpecialtyQBTC1.95%2.5%

As you can see, I have made a concerted effort to hold core positions in 2 All-in-one ETF solutions and then play in some riskier investment options like Bitcoin, Emerging Markets and Small Caps.  I call this a CORE and EXPLORE investment strategy.

Where do I buy ETFs?

For me, I use a ‘do it yourself’ platform through Questrade.

Questrade is an online discount brokerage platform to buy stocks, bonds and ETFs. I love the fact that I can buy any Canadian or U.S. listed ETF absolutely commission-free with no minimum holding period.

For those that are interested, here is a review of Questrade

I only pay commissions when I am ready to sell my ETFs. If you are interested in buying ETFs yourself, there are other discount brokerage providers so shop around but I have not had any problems with Questrade.


  1. Tim

    Hey Jim,

    I was just wondering why the allocation of capital to MSCI world and Vanguard International stock when you could have build a portfolio much cheaper with XEF (MSCI EAFE Ishare) with MERs of just .200 and also avoid a foreign withholding tax drag on on your RRSP and TFSA accounts.

    Am I am missing something that is glaringly obvious? Please, would love your perceptive on this issue.

    • Jim Yih

      Thanks Tim, I will look into this

      • Meg

        What did you figure out here? Do you still recommend these ETFs?

      • Fred Friedenheistezl

        Thanks Jim

    • Nick

      Any update on this?

    • Robert Fraser

      I don’t think and have not personally encountered any withholding taxes at my brokerage (RBC DI) on any of my ETF’s held within my RRSP.

      I have personally encountered a 15% withholding tax on dividends from US listed ETF’s held inside my TFSA and RESP accounts. Did not experience any withholding taxes on any capital gains within any of the aforementioned accounts. I have filed appropriate form with my brokerage stating my citizenship and residency (which is Canadian).

  2. ashley

    I was wondering what the advantages were of investing in a variety of etfs in an RRSP

  3. sal

    Hi Jim
    I am a fan of ETFs…. We are 61 and low to medium risk tolerance.
    How would you tweak your ETF portfolio to fit our risk tolerance.
    Appreciate your input.
    Cheers, Sal

  4. Kathi

    I have the same question as Tim. Is there a 15% withholding tax for your ETF portfolio that impacts your ultimate returns?

  5. Mark McCormick

    Hi Jim,

    You didn’t mention your TFSA portfolio. It would be interesting to see how it differs from your RRSP.



    • Rozalyn Allan

      Hi Jim. Thanks for this very helpful information. I have the same question as Mark. Would you mind sharing the breakdown of your TFSA portfolio? And which ETFs do you hold in your non registered accounts? I know which ETFs I would like to invest in, and overall portfolio allocations, but struggle to understand which ones I should hold in RRSP, TFSA and non registered accounts. Thank you!

  6. Bill G

    I started with a Couch Potato 5 fund mix when I started with ETFs. I’ve since moved to all-in-one funds. VBAL, VGRO and VBAL depending on the account. I”m using Horizon swap ETFs in my non-registered account. I find the simplicity is worth the MER difference.

    • Mike Candu

      I’ve been thinking about going with an ” all in one” ETF as well like VGRO. Haven’t pulled the trigger yet but I’ll probably go that route at some point.

  7. Kris

    I’d also like to see your holdings in your non-registered account. As of now, I have all US and International ETFs in my RRSP, Canadian stocks only in my TFSA and Canadian ETFs in my cash (non-registered) account. I also bought some non-dividend paying ETFs for growth in my US cash account with the hopes that it will not incur any taxes, other than when I sell them in retirement (when my overall income will be lower anyway).

  8. Rob Rider

    Very Canadian focused. You can also easily invest in the US mega caps via something like XQQ.TO

  9. John

    Wondering what you think of XCS Canadian Small Cap, which has had dismal performance since 2009 inception except maybe last year or so.

  10. A. Anthony

    Hi Jim,
    VGRO in your TFSA has an MER 0.25 only.. but Moneysense shows it as having a Current Mgmt Fee0.22% and an MER 0.25% = 47%. Please confirm which one is accurate.

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