RBC Royal Bank’s myFinanceTracker Review

For some time now the RBC Royal Bank of Canada has offered an on-line, web-based personal finance application called myFinanceTracker. This is actually Yodlee presented through the RBC’s Online Banking web-site, with a bit of branding and curating. I’ve taken it for a test drive on a few occasions and have a bit of experience with it, Yodlee and Mint as well. Here’s what I think of myFinanceTracker so far…

Understanding your personal spending, income, and expenses is essential today. With so many ways to make and spend money it’s no longer as simple as cashing your paycheque and making sure you don’t run-out before your next pay-day.

Budgeting

On-line and off-line software help us see where the money is coming from, where it has to go, and where it ends up. Most of these applications do a basic job identifying your sources of income and then provide a simple aggregation of your historical spending. Predicting (i.e.: budgeting) is usually just done by copy & pasting your past spending into future periods.

MyFinanceTracker allows you set spending limits or goals in various categories but doesn’t help you save for specific bills or expenses. This is sometimes referred to as envelope budgeting – the principal of setting aside a portion of the required amount from each pay cheque so when the amount is due you have it; or setting aside a set amount and not spending in that category until you have enough money in the envelope to cover the full amount.

None of the software I’ve tried has this feature.

Yodlee’s Features

As I said, myFinanceTracker is based on Yodlee. Yodlee is a direct competitor to Mint except their focus is selling the service to financial institutions who then provide (or re-sell) it to their customers. There is a consumer version offered directly by Yodlee as well though. RBC has based their offering on Yodlee Production version but with the Classic dashboard – not the newer, more app-styled, dashboard.

They’ve also included the FinApps store, but they don’t offer any apps other than built-in ones that come from Yodlee.

Terms of Service Violations

This one of the things that bugs me the most. If you read your Electronic Access Agreement or Terms of Service or essentially your contract from your financial institution it includes a clause that says “don’t share your password with anyone! EVER!” At the RBC that’s in Part B, Paragraph 15, it says:

You must always keep your Passwords and Personal Verification Questions strictly confidential. You must not disclose your Passwords or Personal Verification Questions to anyone.

Admittedly in the same section they say you can share your credentials with an aggregator (like Yodlee or Mint) but they make it clear they consider that on par with handing your credit card to street junkie!

Now hypocritically in Part C, Paragraph 5 of the same agreement they turn-around and expect you to hand over they keys to all your other financial accounts like we walk around with our PIN’s tatooed on our foreheads!

So basically they’re saying trust us, but don’t trust anyone else.

Data Sovereignty

This one’s so simple it really scares me! Yodlee is based in the USA. That’s where everything happens, and that’s where the RBC is sending all your financial data so it can be displayed as a nice animated pie-chart in myFinanceTracker.

Except our neighbours to the south have enacted a number of laws (or at least tried to) that make me uneasy. Not the least of which is the Patriot Act. But in general, the notion of shipping my financial information to another country where, by definition, I’m a foreigner who doesn’t have the same right as a national seems like a bad idea.

In Canada our banks are subject to Canadian privacy laws and the oversight of our provincial and federal regulators, and industry groups. Yodlee (or Mint) are under no obligation to observe any of these rules. And in-fact as a foreigner you have little to no recourse against them or the American government.

RBC must keep Canadian’s data in Canada where it is subject to Canadian jurisdiction.

Conclusion

So in the end, I’m very disappointed with RBC’s myFinanceTracker. The core features are rudimentary; the advanced features of Yodlee are not yet implemented and there’s no evidence they will be; they expect you to violate your contracts with your other financial providers; and they’re shipping all your financial data to the United States!

And it’s Flash-based! Adobe themselves have (essentially) killed Flash so I’m really not that interested in investing my time in something that’s not going to evolve – and certainly won’t ever make it to any mobile devices!

If there was some way for me to opt-out of myFinanceTracker I would. Until then though I refuse to use and would discourage anyone else from using it!

Cross-posted on 2FatDads

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What’s the Best On-Line Portfolio Manager to Track my Investments, part 4 of 5

I’ve previously looked at what other sites like the big portals and popular news outlets have to offer investors who want to track their portfolios. But there’s two other important players: the financial services web sites who are typically at the root of the financial data, and the brokerages where we hold our portfolios. In this part I’ll see what they have to offer.

Financial Services

These are companies that are actually in the money business, they provide a portfolio manager as a courtesy or add-on to their primary business.

Barchart

Like the name implies this company specializes in charting the underlying financial information; and there’s a lot of impressive stuff you can do with their charts! And there’s even more technical information for those who invest by the numbers. There’s not much fundamental information though, like dividends and yields are missing. The site also has a very 1990’s feel to it – except for the charts, although beautiful they don’t quite fit into the surrounding site.

Morningstar

This is another name everyone who’s ever looked for the slightest financial information has run across, they are everywhere. And they’ve very generously made a lot of their information available on their web site with very nice quotes, charts, and other detailed financial and historical information. For the amateur the amount of information can be overwhelming, but you get a sense of what the professionals deal with.

And since Morningstar makes their money selling subscriptions to the pros the advertising on the site is minimal and most of the space is given to data and charts.

TMX Money

Let me get this off my chest: Why does the Toronto Stock Exchange – the primary source – ship us off to another company when we want to lookup TSE stock quotes?! Admittedly they’ve outsourced to Quotemedia, who turn numbers in works of art, but it still bothers me. The actual functionality is basic but the data is all there, amidst a fair bit of advertising though.

 

Brokerages

This is where the transactions really happen, so they’re listed here as a point of comparison since we’ve already established that you wouldn’t leave your banking homepage open on your computer all day long. A big difference with these portfolios is that you’re a paying customer, so there’s no advertising (apart from the occasional self-promotion) and you often get some premium features you’d have to pay for elsewhere.

Bank of Montreal Investorline

The BMO Investorline site provides clear but basic asset tracking information and has recently added some nice graphing features to track trends and mark dividend payments. The site is easy to use and the recent GUI upgrades provide a brighter look and feel . That said, some of the tabs still have almost a beta look to them and one can only hope they are not quite finished with their current overhaul.

In the gallery, if you look closely at the chart screen shots of BMO Investorline and the Financial Times we can see the look almost identical, so either they’re using the same provider or same underlying tools to generate the charts. Either way, Investorline has not make their portfolios as nice as the Financial Times has.

Qtrade

They’ve received numerous, well-deserved, accolades for customer service and innovation. The web site works very well and the portfolio has a comprehensive set of views. The quotes and charts are standard fare but since you’re a paying customer you do get more information than aforementioned free portfolios.

RBC Royal Bank Direct Investing

RBC’s on-line portfolio is probably one of the oldest in existence – or at least it feels that way. The on-line banking web site is making great strides towards the 21st century but the brokerage still seems stuck in the 90’s. Once you’re there though, and you’ve forgiven them for not looking like an Apple or Google web site, you’ll find plenty of information from Thomson Reuters that is well laid-out and accessible.

So what we’ve seen here is the portfolio managers from the brokers and from the companies supplying the financial data are not much better (or worse for that matter) than any one else’s. There’s no real advantage to using your broker’s portfolio and there’s the big disadvantage of leaving the site open and exposed for an extended period of time.

In the final installment I’ll summarize all my reviews in a categorized table and leave you with my final conclusions.

Part 1 – Introduction
Part 2 – Calculating Returns and The Portals
Part 3 – News Outlets
Part 4 – Financial Services and Brokerages
Part 5 – Comparison Table and Conclusion

Cross-posted on 2FatDads

Disclaimer The material in this article does not constitute advice and you should not rely on any material in this article to make any decision or take any action.

An open (rant) letter to Canadian banks

Right after my daughter was born we opened an RESP for her, a family RESP as we were planning to have more children. We opened it at TD Canada Trust because the MER on their e-Series funds is practically non-existent.

And all was good (well almost, read Mike Holman’s blog or his book
for details on the convoluted process of opening an RESP at TD for e-Series funds).

And then our son was born and we dropped by the bank to add him as a beneficiary to the family RESP. Unfortunately we stopped there and I didn’t follow-up closely enough with TD.

Now I have an issue with TD and issue with banks in general over their handling of RESP’s!

Even though our Family RESP is converted to an e-Series account and my daughter’s investments are all e-Series investments it appears that my son can’t invest in e-Series funds until I convert his account as well!!! WTF?! Do they have meetings at TD to brainstorm ways of making things complicated for their customers?! Do they think this is good for business?! Are they just throwing darts at a board without considering the over-all user experience!?

There were a few other blunders and fails on their part (TD couldn’t spell RESP if you tatooed it on your forehead). So one of my new year’s resolutions (motivated in part by bigcajunman’s saga) was to do away with TD.

The rest of our accounts are with RBC and they also have some really low cost funds so I figured it was a no-brainer to move over there. I visited RBC today and found out that they too split a Family RESP into separate individual sub-accounts for each child! So I can’t pool all my money and simplify my investments and have more flexibility (i.e.: you often need over $1,000 initial investment which is easier when all your money is pooled).

Hey, listen up Canadian banks: if a dumb-ass klutz like me can add a column to a spreadsheet called “Beneficiary” and write my daughter’s or son’s name in there when I make a contribution (or a withdrawl) then why can’t your fancy-shmancy computers do that too!? Why do you force me to have separate accounts?! While the money is “in” the RESP why can’t it just be one big pool?! The government only needs to know going-in and coming-out who the beneficiary is – not while the money is in the account!

So at this point I need to weigh the value of continuing my battle with TD or moving to the same structure but with better customer support at RBC. Any third options out there?

UPDATE Jan 6, 2011: A friend who understands this finance stuff better than me has explained that pooled is the wrong term to use when referring to funds in a Family RESP. Investopedia defines pooled funds as:

Funds from many individual investors that are aggregated for the purposes of investment, as in the case of a mutual or pension fund.

The advisor at RBC that I had been dealing with also left me a voice-mail correcting his earlier statement and confirming that a Family RESP does indeed combine all the contributions so they can be invested together and I can benefit from the flexibility and simplicity. So it looks like I’ll be moving our RESP over to RBC in the end!

UPDATE Jan 10, 2011: The folks behind @TD_Canada have contacted me through Twitter (via Direct Message) so I’ll let you know if leads to anything. The core issue I’m having though is the structure of their Family Plan RESP and I’m not sure that can be resolved quick enough for me – but we’ll see!

UPDATE Jan 11, 2011: I’m talking to a few folks and re-reading my post. I don’t think I made it clear that although TD Canada Trust has an overly convoluted process to open an e-Series RESP and their customer support is un-prepared for e-Series and RESP questions the ultimate issue the way they structure a Family RESP: each child’s investments are separate. So if you contribute $500 for one child and $500 for a second child you will have to invest each $500 separatelyNOT as a $1,000 single investment. Although it’s a Family RESP and you can (theoretically) transfer money between the kids this separate investment arrangement makes things complicated and reduces your flexibility as each child will need to have enough funds to make the minimum initial purchase when you want to start putting money in a new mutual fund (for example, when the kids get older and the investing horizon gets closer).

Cross-posted on 2FatDads at An open (rant) letter to Canadian banks