ETF Edge

Here's the No. 1 thing this retirement pro is telling his clients right now

How to use ETFs to boost your long-term gains

Savings matter.

That's the No. 1 idea Stadion Money Management's Will McGough, the firm's chief investment officer for retirement, is promoting among his clients as he tracks what he calls a burgeoning "'savings more' crisis."

That's because McGough, whose firm invests its $3 billion in assets under management almost exclusively in exchange-traded funds, believes the act of saving matters much more than even picking the right portfolio.

"Saving is by far more important than what your investment mix is going to be," McGough tells CNBC's "ETF Edge." "The more people can save today, the more compounding will play off in the future."

Compounding refers to growing the value of a given asset by allowing it to appreciate via stock market gains or increasing interest. And, for McGough, letting that process play out will benefit long-term investors much more than the occasional rally.

"Saving's No. 1. Investments are No. 2," he said on Monday.

And at a time when the median retirement account balance for investors 65 and older at Vanguard, one of the largest investment firms in the world, is just $58,000, McGough's message hits home.

"Having a long-term view is very important to us," he said. "We're not looking at year-over-year returns."

In that framework, McGough's firm precisely allocated its exposure, with 65% in U.S.-based equities and 35% in international stocks. Its split between developed and emerging market investments is 80% to 20%, respectively.

"For this bull market, we definitely like the U.S. and large-cap stocks," McGough said. "Why would you bet against the largest U.S. companies [versus] the rest of the world? Right now, even with the volatility and the marcro backdrop, they're holding up well."