Investors in Canadian mutual funds pay a steep price for underperformance. In a 2015 Morningstar report on mutual fund fees, Canada ranked dead last among 25 nations – with expense ratios on equity mutual funds averaging 2.35 per cent in Canada versus an average of 0.84 per cent in the United States.

Couple that with another sobering statistic: Canadians held $1.23 trillion in mutual funds as of October 31st, 2015.

Morningstar also found that about $37 of every $100 invested in equity mutual funds sold in Canada are in closet indexers: funds which are supposed to be actively managed but actually “hug” the market benchmark.

Related: How to get started with an index portfolio

Most consumers believe that you get what you pay for but, when it comes to investing, higher costs don’t correlate with better returns. In fact, academic research tells us that lower-cost funds outperform higher-cost ones over the long term and that the best predictor of future returns is the expense ratio.

I put that to the test when I looked at four TD e-Series funds – which happen to be Canada’s lowest cost index mutual funds – and compared them to TD’s more expensive (and more widely sold) mutual fund cousins:

e-Series fund name 10-year annual return % 10-year growth of $10,000 Management Expense Ratio (MER%) Total fund assets (millions $)
TD Canadian index e-Series 5.36% $15,865 0.33% $1,141
TD Canadian Bond Index Fund 4.54% $15,554 0.50% $663
TD U.S. Index Fund 8.27% $21,757 0.35% $1,058
TD International Index Fund 4.80% $15,756 0.51% $465
Total 5.74% $68,932 0.42% $3,327


Mutual fund name 10-year annual return % 10-year growth of $10,000 Management Expense Ratio (MER%) Total fund assets (millions $)
TD Canadian Equity Fund 4.82% $15,113 2.17% $2,919
TD Canadian Bond Fund 4.25% $15,092 1.10% $12,703
TD U.S. Large-Cap Value Fund 6.27% $18,176 2.38% $1,319
TD Global Shareholder Yield Fund 4.61% $15,046 2.55% $816
Total 4.99% $63,427 2.07% $17,757

The verdict:

An investor who contributed $10,000 into each of the four TD e-Series funds 10 years ago would have $5,503 more today than an investor who put the same amount into TD’s more traditionally-sold family of mutual funds.

Not only that, the e-Series investor pays just $287 per year in fees today due to the portfolio’s low 0.42 percent expense ratio. That’s nearly one-fifth the cost of TD’s actively managed mutual fund portfolio.

RelatedMy advice to switch out of mutual funds draws ire of industry group

So if an investor can make more money and pay less fees by investing in a portfolio of index mutual funds, why do the four actively managed mutual funds outsell the e-Series funds by more than a 5-to-1 margin?

That’s a question more Canadian investors need to ask of themselves and their advisors.

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