Can I be honest with you?
I, just like any perfectly normal human being, *might* have succumbed into the temptation of greed and started throwing money at StashAway without having done my fair share of homework (yikes!). To be fair, I’ve heard so many great things about the app and I wanted a piece of the action too.
In fact, I did it not just once, but twice! At the time of writing, I have two portfolios with StashAway.
Throughout my very short journey with StashAway, I’ve been through some incredible ups and not-so-incredible downs. I figured that this endeavour of mine can be a helpful reference point for people who wanted to have a realistic and transparent view on the app’s performance.
If you’ve always wanted to try it out but is still on the fence, keep reading cause I’m about to go completely naked (financially, mind you) and share some of my biggest wins and blunders with StashAway.
Don’t worry, full disclosure here. I’m not sponsored by the company in any way so rest assured that I’ll keep it real. The only monetization you’ll see from me is my referral code to get a management fee waiver on both yours and my portfolios if you do decide to join StashAway. I can’t say no to a free stuff, especially when it’s mutually beneficial!
Without further ado, full transparency mode… ON.
What is StashAway?
For those who have never heard of StashAway, they are a Singapore-based digital wealth manager that helps people to build their long term wealth through a simple and low-cost online platform. Unlike traditional mutual funds, they are a Fintech startup that uses a robo-advisor instead of a high-paying fund manager to manage their funds.
In short, it’s an app that uses artificial intelligent (AI) to help you invest.
How? Well, it’s a long story and I can’t cover it in this article alone. But if you are keen on learning about the algorithm, I’m in the process of writing a supplementary post about this. Feel free to subscribe to the blog and I’ll notify you when I drop the article!
The company was founded in 2016 and eventually found its way to Malaysia two years later, where it made history as StashAway became the first robo-advisor approved by the Securities Commission in Malaysia. In November 2018, StashAway officially launched its services to Malaysians (hurray!).
What kind of portfolio do I have?
At the time of writing this article, I have two portfolios with StashAway and I named them…
- “The Slow and Steady” portfolio, started on the 3rd January 2020.
- “The Mountain Hiker” portfolio, started on the 25th February 2020.
As you can probably tell from the name already, they are two very contrasting portfolios and I feel that I need to quickly highlight some of the key differences between them before we compare how they perform relative to one another.
I’ll pinkyswear that we will get to the juicy performance review very soon. But for now, we need to talk about the risk index and asset allocations.
One of the key differences between the portfolios is the risk index, which is just a way how StashAway quantified a vague concept of risks into numerical numbers.
Technically speaking, StashAway’s risk index is an implementation of the Value at Risk metric. It uses crazy math and simulations to come to the conclusion that the portfolio will have a 99% probability of not depreciating more than the risk index’s percentage each year.
For example, a portfolio of RM 10,000 with a 12% risk index will have a 99% probability of not losing more than 12% of its value (ergo RM 1200) in a year.
The lower the risk index, the safer the portfolio.
One great thing about StashAway is that we can adjust the risk index anywhere from 6.5% to 36% to suit our liking. In my case, my portfolios have a risk index of 12% and 30%.
Befitting the name, “The Slow and Steady” portfolio is the more stable and conservative portfolio with a 12% risk index as rated by StashAway.
On the other hand, “The Mountain Hiker” is the more volatile portfolio with a 30% risk index.
I guess if we really wanted to see contrasting results, I should’ve opted for the two ends of the spectrum, i.e one portfolio at 6.5% and another at 36%. But regretfully, my fragile heart wouldn’t allow me to ride the two extremes so I guess we’ll have to work with what we’ve got. Sorry!
Asset allocation refers to the selection of asset classes (i.e Equity stocks, bonds, gold, and/or cryptocurrencies) for your portfolio. We may want 60% in stocks, 30% in bonds and 10% in cryptocurrencies in our portfolio; Or, 20% in stocks, 60% in bonds and 20% in gold, etc.
Therefore, asset allocation is, so to speak, the practice of strategically mixing non-correlating assets together to strike a balance between risks and returns to suit your risk appetite.
Asset allocation is a pretty big deal.
In fact, and I quote StashAway, “Several long-term studies have concluded that asset allocation is responsible for between 80% to 96% of a portfolio’s return profile.” Source.
If that’s true, I thought it would be interesting to observe how StashAway tackles asset allocation for my “Slow and Steady” and “Mountain Climber” portfolios.
To cut you some slack on the details, I noticed that “The Slow & Steady” portfolio has close to 50% exposure to bonds while also having relatively more holdings in protective assets like gold (about 15%), which makes sense that it only has like 12% Risk Index.
On the other hand, “The Mountain Hiker” puts almost of the portfolio’s money (about 90%) in various assortment of primarily U.S based equities. A good portion of that goes to the small-cap funds and Technology sector, which is generally regarded as higher risk securities and henceforth the 30% Risk Index.
It’s worth pointing out that these asset allocations can and will change from time to time because of how StashAway’s algortihm — Economic Regime-based Asset Allocation (ERAA) works.
Be that as it may, I’ve taken the liberty to include the snapshots of our portfolio’s distribution (in excruciating details) so you lovely people know what it looks like.
Lo and behold.
|The Slow & Steady||The Mountain Hiker|
|Precious Metals (GLD)||14.90%||8.01%|
Confused? Me too. I probably only understood about 0.5% of what I just wrote when I was writing it.
Fortunately, StashAway includes a “more info” link to each assets listed here. And so begin my conquest to dive deeper into each of these index funds, at least until I have a general idea as to what kind of securities these Exchange-traded funds are tracking.
It was a heck lot of reading.
Of course I shouldn’t just hog all these “good fun” to myself. How unfair would that be! Some of you might be interested after all, am I right? 🙂 Here comes the dreaded wall of text — a summary of each assets in my portfolios. Skip to the next section if you’re not interested.
U.S. Equity Sectors
- iShares Core S&P Small Cap ETF (IJR)
IJR tracks the investment results of an index composed of about 600 small-capitalization U.S. equities. Each of these companies included in the index have market capitalization ranging from $600 million to $2.4 billion. The index as a whole has a median market cap of $1.13 billion and they make up roughly 3% of the total U.S. stock market.
- Technology Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLK)
XLK tracks the mid and large-cap technology securities from the S&P 500 portfolio. At the time of writing this article, it includes all of the big names associated with technology such as Microsoft Corp, Apple, Visa, Intel, and etc.
- Consumer Staples Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLP)
Consumer staples are essential products that people are unable or unwilling to substitute out of their living expenses regardless of their financial situation. Stocks in this sector, such as food, tobacco, personal & household products just to name a few, tend to be more resilient in “bad times”.
The XLP ETF tracks consumer staples stocks drawn from the S&P 500, which are nearly all large-cap companies and they include names like Coca-Cola Company, Procter & Gamble Company, Walmart Inc., and many more.
- Health Care Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLV)
XLV tracks large-cap health care stocks from yet again, the S&P 500 index. These include (but not limited to) sectors such as Pharmaceuticals, Healthcare Equipment, Healthcare Providers from big names like Johnson & Johnson, UnitedHealth Group Inc., Merck & Co. Inc.
- Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLY)
In contrast to consumer staples, consumer discretionary are goods and services that are considered non-essential by consumers, but desirable if their financial ability allows them to purchase. We are talking about Hotels & Entertainment, Textiles & Apparels, Automobiles, etc.
XLY tracks mostly large-cap consumer-discretionary stocks from, you’ve guessed it, the S&P 500. They feature (but not limited to) giants like Amazon, Home Depot, McDonald’s, NIKE, Starbucks, etc.
- iShares Core S&P 500 ETF (IVV)
IVV is one of the three ETFs that tracks the 500 largest cap U.S. stocks selected by the S&P Committee. Some of their larger holdings include Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Berkshire Hathaway.
- Vanguard FTSE Europe ETF (VGK)
VGK tracks the performance of small, mid and large-cap stocks from developed European countries like the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, Germany, and many more.
It has a large portion of its holdings in companies like Nestle, Roche Holding AG, Novartis AG, Royal Dutch Shell plc, and HSBC Holdings plc.
- Vanguard Total International Bond ETF (BNDX)
BNDX tracks the performance of non-USD denominated investment-grade bonds (mostly A grade and above). Although it’s categorized under Corporate Bonds by StashAway, I think it tracks significantly more Government Bonds based on what I’ve found through Google. Might need a bit more clarification on this.
But anyway, the top holdings are government bonds in countries like Germany, U.K., France, Italy and many more.
- iShares Floating Rate Bond ETF (FLOT)
FLOT tracks the performance of floating rate corporate bonds from small-, mid-, large-cap U.S. corporations while only allocating a small percentage to government bonds. The bonds typically have maturities within 5 years. Some of its holdings include Goldman Sachs Group, AT&T, Wells Fargo & Company, Morgan Stanley, etc.
- iShares J.P. Morgan USD Emerging Markets Bond ETF (EMB)
EMB tracks USD-denominated government debt issued by emerging market countries with more than $1B outstanding and at least two years remaining in maturity. Some of its holdings include the Government of Kuwait, Russia, Uruguay, Qatar, Peru, Colombia, etc.
- iShares TIPS Bond ETF (TIP)
TIP tracks the investment results of Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Treasury Inflation Protected Securities Index which is mainly made up of inflation-protected U.S. Treasury bonds.
That was a mouthful to say but the keyword here is “inflation-protected”.
These U.S. Treasury Bonds are inflation-protected because its principal amount changes according to the inflation rate as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
If CPI increases, the principal amount of your bond appreciates. Vice Versa. This way, your investment is said to keep pace with inflation by paying you back the inflation-adjusted principal upon maturity and also coupon payments along the way.
Close to 90% of the index’s holdings are in the U.S. Treasury Notes.
- Precious Metals with SPDR Gold Trust (GLD)
GLD tracks the gold spot price, minus the expenses and liabilities, by using gold bars that are stored in London vaults. It is the largest ETF to invest directly (and only) in physical gold. All in all, it’s just a great way for investors to gain exposure to gold without having to manage the risks associated with safekeeping physical gold under your bed.
- Cash (USD)
This is just cash denominated in USD that our portfolio is holding. Currencies such as the USD, Swiss Franc, and Yen are generally regarded as safe havens because investors like to stash up on these currencies when they don’t know what to do with their money during uncertain market times.
Is StashAway making me money?
Alright, this is what we’ve been waiting for.
All of that risk index and asset allocation sounds really impressive. But what about the results? Am I personally seeing any positive gains on my investments? Is the app making me money?
We’re about to find out.
I do have to stress that past performances do not always indicate future returns. What we have here is not the absolute representation of StashAway algorithm’s performance but merely a glimpse into my personal experience with the said investment vehicle.
As always, I urge everyone to do their due diligence prior to committing their hard-earned money.
The Slow & Steady Portfolio (12% Risk Index)
This is the very first portfolio I have with StashAway. I started with RM 300 initially, followed by a lump-sum deposit of RM 7,500 just a few days later.
Along the way, I did set-up recurring deposits of RM 300 ~ RM 500 per month and just let the portfolio run its course. There might be some additional deposit here and there but for the most part, that’s how much I put into StashAway. Refer to “Net Deposit” for the amount I’ve invested.
|Date||Net Deposit (RM)||Market Value (RM)||Returns (%)|
|3 Jan 2020||301||299||-0.67%|
|3 Feb 2020||7,801||7,781||-0.26%|
|3 Mar 2020||8,101||8,202||+1.24%|
|3 Apr 2020||10,026||9,701||-3.24%|
|3 May 2020||10,401||10,523||+1.17%|
|3 Jun 2020||10,901||11,285||+3.52%|
|3 Jul 2020||11,526||12,272||+6.47%|
|3 Aug 2020||11,901||13,085||+9.95%|
|3 Sep 2020||12,401||13,366||+7.78%|
|3 Oct 2020||13,026||13,880||+6.56%|
|3 Nov 2020||13,526||14,783||+9.29%|
|3 Dec 2020||14,026||14,943||+6.54%|
|3 Jan 2021||14,401||15,380||+6.80%|
|3 Feb 2021||15,026||16,215||+7.91%|
|3 Mar 2021||15,526||16,153||+4.04%|
|3 Apr 2021||15,901||16,881||+6.16%|
Thoughts on “Slow & Steady” in April 2020
On 23 Feb 2020, I invested a total of RM 8,101 up to date and the portfolio managed to climb to a high of RM 8,425, achieving a handsome amount of ~4% return for less than 2 months of investing.
The portfolio was climbing steadily, just like its name, and I really liked the numbers that I was seeing. FYI, this was the point in time where I have decided to create “The Mountain Hiker” portfolio.
However, things started to take a turn for the worse as the COVID-19 pandemic started to affect economic activities around the globe. On top of that, the oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia threw another punch at the market, exacerbating the issue.
My portfolio went from hero to zero, or should I say… below zero, like negative returns. On the 3rd of April, the portfolio stands at -3.24% loss.
Sure, a negative return is always unattractive and it hurts mentally. But in the grand scheme of things, I feel that it’s doing a decent job despite the adverse market.
My logic is that if I’m only seeing a -3.24% loss during one of the worst times for the market, imagine what it can achieve when the market is doing exceptionally well?
Therefore, I remain hopeful and optimistic.
All in all, I’ve always viewed index funds as a long term investment instrument. Similarly, StashAway is not some get rich quick scheme and that there will be some risks involved, especially in turbulent times like this.
But as long as the asset allocation looks solid, I’ll stick to my plan of investing for the long term (~10 years horizon) and keep dollar-cost averaging. Hopefully, we will be able to see a slow and steady growth for the portfolio.
Updates on “Slow & Steady” in September 2020
Just recently, I got a notification from StashAway that they have re-optimized my portfolio asset allocation from 50% bonds, 34% equity, and 15% gold to 52% bonds, 27% equity, and 20% in gold.
I like that they are increasing allocation to gold to capitalize on the gold price hike. It’s possibly a good defensive move too, considering the market fundamentals seems very weak right now but the market remains irrationally bullish, in my humble opinion.
The only question I have right now is whether the algorithm will be able to know when to let go of gold. I find it very interesting to see how it will unfolds!
The Mountain Hiker Portfolio (30% Risk Index)
I kick-started “The Mountain Hiker” with a lump-sum deposit of RM 8,000 to match what I had in “The Slow & Steady” portfolio.
Similarly, I did set-up recurring deposits of RM 300 ~ RM 500 per month and just let the portfolio run its course. There might be some additional deposit here and there but that’s about it.
|Date||Net Deposit (RM)||Market Value (RM)||Returns (%)|
|25 Feb 2020||8,000||7,888||-1.40%|
|25 Mar 2020||10,550||9,062||-14.11%|
|25 Apr 2020||11,300||10,962||-2.99%|
|25 May 2020||11,675||11,568||-0.92%|
|25 Jun 2020||12,300||12,564||+2.15%|
|25 Jul 2020||12,800||13,763||+7.52%|
|25 Aug 2020||13,175||14,515||+10.17%|
|25 Sep 2020||13,800||14,519||+5.21%|
|25 Oct 2020||14,300||15,773||+10.30%|
|25 Nov 2020||14,800||16,488||+11.41%|
|25 Dec 2020||15,300||17,246||+12.72%|
|25 Jan 2021||15,675||18,686||+19.21%|
|25 Feb 2021||16,300||18,856||+15.68%|
|25 Mar 2021||16,800||19,676||+17.12%|
|25 Apr 2021||17,300||20,937||+21.02%|
Thoughts on “Mountain Hiker” in April 2020
Let’s address the elephant in the room. Yeah, the results are not exactly stellar. At the time of writing, my portfolio has lost close to 14% of its value.
But in StashAway’s defence, I did go all in and enter the market at its all-time highs which is immediately followed by one of the steepest stock market plunges in decades. Most equities stock, no matter how promising, would’ve gone down anyway.
In hindsight, I realise that I should’ve staggered my investment out instead of investing in lump-sum. If I had invested RM 1,000 per month over a 7 months period instead of lump-sum, I would’ve picked up some really cheap stock bit by bit during the market downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. That way, I would’ve come out way ahead when the market finally recovers.
Would’ve. Should’ve. Hindsight is always 20/20.
All things considered, I feel that the portfolio’s asset allocation has been on point and is doing what it is supposed to be doing. The 30% Risk Index means that the portfolio is not supposed to lose 30% of its value in a year. Thankfully, it hasn’t reached that point yet.
Even though it’s a really rough time for the global economy as a whole and we are seeing individual securities dropping 30%… if not 50% in value, the portfolio is hanging in there, hovering at only ~15% loss.
I used the word “only” quite casually there but I guess it’s all about the perspective. Relatively speaking, the portfolio is doing a fantastic job. At the end of the day, I’ll give StashAway the benefit of doubt and sit it out a bit longer, see where it will take me. I’ve always intended to stay invested for at least a decade anyway.
Passive investing is a marathon, not a short sprint.
Will this be the right move to make? Will I lose all my money or make it big? Nobody knows. Only time will tell.
Updates on “Mountain Hiker” in September 2020
HALLELUJAH. It’s the green! I repeat, it’s in the green!! I’m stoked that this portfolio finally turned positive once again. In fact, the returns already raced ahead of the Slow & Steady Portfolio.
StashAway re-optimized the portfolio from 90% equity and 8% gold to 75% equity, 20% gold and 4% bonds. I have a feeling that maybe the recent upward trend on gold has something to do with the crazy returns.
That said, I try to balance my excitement with a bit of skepticism because deep down, I know that these are just paper gains. If I let myself to be consumed by hopeful optimism, I might get disappointed when the portfolio tanks again.
I’m well aware that having such a high equity allocation, especially in small cap companies is going to introduce volatility within the portfolio. If it can go up quick, it can definitely come down quick. I’d like to be mentally prepared for that so I don’t panic when it happens.
Overall, the game plan remains the same—10 years it is. So whatever gains and losses that I’m seeing now is irrelevant. Although I have to admit that it’s a littleeeee bit cool to see it go up.
A Quick Comparison
This is just a side by side, surface-level comparison between the two portfolios.
A quick reminder. “The Slow & Steady” portfolio started on the 3rd Jan 2020, while “The Mountain Hiker” portfolio started on the 25th February 2020.
|Date||The Slow & Steady||The Mountain Hiker|
P.S. For those who are interested in how the funds are doing, just give me a buzz in the comment section. I’ll try my best to come back and update the returns so everyone can have a better picture to see how StashAway performs over the long term.
My 2 Cents
All in all, my experience with StashAway has been a really positive one so far. The management fee’s significantly lower than mutual funds. It’s straight-forward to use, and the returns seems to be working in my favor.
I’ve tried some other “passive investing” method but this is by far one of the best investment instruments that I would recommend to (a) absolute beginners or (b) those who just don’t want to deal with the complexity and nuances of investing on their own.
But hey, that’s just my humble opinion.
If you plan to try out StashAway, feel free to use my referral code to sign up so both of us can get RM 30,000 managed for free for 6 months. No hidden terms and conditions clauses, just a win-win situation. You can read more about their referral programme here.
Anyway, let me know what you guys think. I’m sure the readers will appreciate a variety of opinions! Have you tried stashing away some of your spare cash into StashAway? Compared to mine, what was your experience like?