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Discount Broker Weekly Roundup – August 30 2013

If Yoda were watching the discount broker activity this past week, he’d probably say: ‘a slow news week this was not’.  Going into the long weekend there’s quite a bit of activity to report from Canadian discount brokers.

In this week’s discount broker roundup we look at the big news coming out of a major player in the Canadian discount brokerage industry, an extension of a commission-free ETF trading offer, whether social media matters to investors and an upcoming educational event of interest to options traders.

Interactive Brokers Canada Gets a Bit More Canadian, Eh?

In what feels like one of those big, end of season plot twists, the discount broker landscape in Canada underwent another seismic shift this past week when Interactive Brokers Canada announced to its customers via email that starting in mid-September, they are going to transition their clearing operations from the US to Canada.   Several Canadian investor forums were alight with speculation as to what this move means and whether Interactive Brokers Canada is paving the way to offer registered accounts, something that would definitely rattle more than few nerves with their competitors.  This post (thanks to ‘Mark77’ for posting the message) has an interesting glimpse of what the Interactive Brokers Canada move might mean.

Online Brokerage Interactive Brokers Canada Announcement

For now though, shifting their back office operations to Canada instead of through their US affiliate means, most importantly, that the pattern day trading rule will be removed and that margin requirements can, in theory, be eased.  This is definitely great news for active traders (especially those with less than $25,000 in their trading accounts).

For other interesting perspectives on the Interactive Brokers Canada announcement, here are links to forum posts discussing it:

Canadian Money Forum

Financial Webring


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National Bank Direct Brokerage Extends Commission-Free ETF Trading Offer

National Bank Direct Brokerage announced yesterday that their offer for commission-free ETF trading has been extended out until the end of October of 2013.  The commission-free ETF offer was first mentioned back in April where it was explained in detail.

Some strings attached

To recap, there are a few conditions attached to this offer (full conditions are available here), investors need to pay attention to. For example, the deal requires a minimum purchase amount ($5,000 per trade) and the trade hold time needs to be at least one day.  In addition, the commission-free ETF deal applies only to Canadian ETFs and clients who are eligible for this offer can trade these ETFs commission-free for three months from the point of enrollment.

It is important to note that commissions will be charged at the time of trading an ETF and eligible trades will have the commissions refunded at a later date. For those considering the deal, pay close attention to the reimbursement schedule as repayment dates can be as late as March 2014.

With the extension of this deal out to October, National Bank Direct Brokerage joins Qtrade, Questrade, Scotia iTrade and Virtual Brokers in offering commission-free ETF trading offers. To learn more about commission free ETF trading, check out the following link for the special series on commission-free ETFs.

Company Number of Commission Free ETFs Minimum Trade Amount Hold Period (minimum) Details Link
All Canadian ETFs (>250) $5000 1 business day National Bank Direct Brokerage Commission-Free ETF Plan
60 $1000 1 business day Qtrade Commission-Free ETF Plan
All ETFs* (only buys are commission-free) $0 None Questrade Commission-Free ETF Plan
50 $0 1 business day Scotia iTrade Commission-Free ETF Plan
All ETFs* (only buys are commission-free) $0 None Virtual Brokers Commission-Free ETF Plan

More than just commission-free ETF trading…

The announcement for the extension of the commission-free ETF deal also contained two other interesting tidbits.

National Bank Direct Brokerage reported that their client transaction activity increased  9% between February to July of 2013 when compared to the same time in 2012.  This is significant for two reasons. The first is that no other Canadian discount broker really reports their transaction activity so it is interesting to note National Bank’s choice to do so.  Second, the reported increase provides some level of confirmation to the data points that show investor activity returning to stock markets.

Another interesting hint dropped in the news release is that National Bank Direct Brokerage will be officially launching its new website in September.  Along with other discount brokers, National Bank Direct Brokerage has been upgrading parts of their website this past summer including a facelift to their education section.  The “soft launch” for the new website was the end of July. The latest improvements show that National Bank Direct Brokerage has been ramping up its use of video, social media and user experience principles to create a much more modern web experience for self-directed investors than some of their competitors.

*Editor’s Note: The original post mentioned that a new website would be launched by National Bank Direct Brokerage in September when, in fact, the official launch of the website rolled out at the end of July will take place in September. There will be no additional upgrades/features added to the website for the official launch.

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Online Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – August 23 2013

As September draws nearer, Canadian discount brokers are polishing up their websites and marketing campaigns to get ready for the increased activity in the stock markets that tends to happen at the end of the year.  This past week, there have been some notable updates in the homepages and advertising campaigns of a couple of Canadian discount brokers. In addition to the discount broker activity picking up, forum activity has also continued to increase and I highlight a post about regulations investors should know about when considering non-Canadian dividend paying stocks.

Getting Freshened Up

As summer winds down, self-directed investors begin to pay more attention to the stock markets as well as to online discount brokers.  Ahead of this pickup in interest, several discount brokers have freshened up their homepages, key sections on their website and their marketing campaigns.  The trend of upgrading was started a few weeks ago when National Bank Direct Brokerage’s website added a number of elements to its new homepage.  This past week changes were spotted at RBC Direct Investing, Disnat and Qtrade.

Online Investing: Everybody’s Doing It

Following up on their campaigns comparing online investing to shoe shopping and vacation planning, RBC Direct Investing has launched another in the series of focusing on how “easy” online investing is (see screenshot below).  In the latest iteration, the angle appears to be that everybody seems to be online these days so why not invest online while you’re there – that is, of course, if you can tear yourself away from Facebook and Twitter long enough to spend time researching.

Investing Online from RBC Direct Investing

Taking a Friendlier Approach

Qtrade’s discount brokerage homepage also got a bit of a touch up recently with the stern looking investor fellow being switched out in favour of a much friendlier set of images of people having fun (see screenshot below) and the best online broker awards that Qtrade Investor has received.  With the Globe and Mail online brokerage awards around the corner, Qtrade’s previous accolades in this area are highlighted front and center and are likely to be a topic of conversation again when the reviews come out later this fall.

Online Broker Qtrade Investor - Friendlier People

The Colour of Money

Disnat’s long running $300 commission credit offer got a bit of a paint job recently. The new ad (see screenshot below) has a multi-coloured ‘gift card’ feel to it and almost makes the term ‘commission’ seem a little more fun than it should – almost.

Disnat Commission Credit Offer Gets Colourful

 Investor Forum Chatter

Slowly but surely investors are coming back to the investing forums with lots of interesting questions, experiences and ideas to share.  This week there were several conversations that dealt with dividends from US stocks/ETFs the confusion that arises from withholding taxes.

Although it doesn’t go into all of the rules/regulations behind receiving dividends from foreign sources, the following thread started by ‘SandsofTime’ on the RedFlagDeals’ forum asks about a W8-BEN form at Questrade and it highlights some important points for investors to keep in mind when considering non-Canadian dividend paying stocks. Another older article by the Globe and Mail here provides additional information on the subject.

RedFlagDeals Investor Forum Form Question

That’s it for this week’s discount broker round up.  Have a great weekend!

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – August 16, 2013

As we officially cross through the halfway mark of August, interest in the markets is picking up on the forums and the discount brokerages are busy planning their September promotions.

In this week’s roundup, I recap the most recent addition to the mobile trading platform reviews; I look at a couple of brokerages gearing up for back to school; I look at which brokerage has made it easier to access registered accounts and finally I round off with some interesting conversation threads spotted on some investment forums.

Qtrade’s Mobile Website Review

This past week, the review of Qtrade’s mobile trading platform was released.  Along with a video walk-through of the mobile trading website in action, there is also a review of some of the key features of the website for mobile traders to keep in mind.  Interestingly, there was a neat article by Chuck Jaffe of MarketWatch that highlights some of the perils of having access to your trading account on your mobile phone.

Back to School Savings

With back to school on the minds of many parents, several discount brokerages are hoping that some of the savings from all of those back to school sales gets redirected into RESPs.

Throughout the week, Questrade has been trumpeting their latest promo to chip in $50 in free trades when opening a new RESP on TV as well as on Twitter.   They weren’t alone, however, with National Bank Direct Brokerage also participating in the RESP reminders earlier in the week.

Access Granted

Scotia iTrade sent out a notice to clients letting them know that it is now possible to withdraw funds from a registered account electronically instead of having to go through a client representative.  Accessing the money is a bit of a double-edged sword because while it is more convenient to transfer the money, clients need to be cautious with the transfer of funds and remember the restrictions and/or fees that come with moving money out of certain registered accounts.

On the investing forums

This past week the forum activity appears to have picked up with questions about strategies, new ETFs from Vanguard and options trading.  Interestingly there was also a post last week asking about where to find out information about Canada’s best discount brokerage but if you’re reading this article then you already know where to look 😉  Amongst all of the conversations a couple of interesting threads jumped out.

The first was an interesting question was posed on the financial webring forum earlier this month about starting to invest with an advisor. The conversation has turned into a great snapshot of the transition from advisor to do-it-yourself investor for many of the respondents

Another interesting post mentioned the customer service experience when dealing with Questrade over the phone.  As unexciting as it may sound, there are many forum posts that have mentioned the challenges individuals have encountered when dealing with their discount brokerage on the phone, with Questrade customer service catching its fair share of heat (see the topic name of the thread for example).

It was interesting to note that someone had a positive experience and then posted something positive about it demonstrating that sometimes doing things well gets noticed.  For those interested in learning more about the client service experience at discount brokerages, earlier this summer I did a special piece on Dalbar Inc, a company that specifically measures & works with discount brokerages to improve client experiences via telephone.

That’s it for this week in the discount brokerage space. Hope you all have a great weekend and enjoy what’s left of the summer!

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Mobile Trading Review – Qtrade

This mobile trading website review covers the major features of Qtrade Financial’s MobileWeb as well as some of the strengths and limitations for self-directed investors looking to trade on the go on this platform. Access to the mobile website is possible by pointing a mobile browser to

As with the previous mobile trading reviews, a video walk-through was done (see below) to demonstrate what it is like to navigate through the different portions of the mobile website as well as what it is like to look up a quote.

Given the large number of features on the mobile trading website, the video is a bit long. For viewers who wish to skip to the conclusion/summary, simply go to the 23:50 mark in the video.


The review of the mobile trading website was done using an iPhone 4S and with a 4G internet connection. A screenshot (below) was taken before the test to illustrate the connection speed, which came in at 3.3 megabits per second (Mbps) on the download and 0.54 Mbps on the upload.  The test was conducted from downtown Vancouver and the signal was about ¾ of full strength.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – August 9, 2013

This week’s discount brokerage roundup will be short and sweet as we continue to cruise through August. In this roundup, a major US discount brokerage comes under fire for how it handled client orders, the mobile trading landscape gets a little clearer for some investors and a little bumpier for others and lastly the marketing machinery looks to be heating up ahead of September with discount brokerages getting creative.

Going with the flow?

One the major discount brokerages in the US, E*trade Financial, caught a bit of flak from investors as it quietly announced that it was under investigation from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for how E*Trade has been routing customer orders.  For some good context and explanation, check out this article form Businessweek.

Mobile Trading Reviews Get Rolling

This past week saw the launch of the profiles on mobile trading platforms offered by Canadian discount brokerages. The two discount brokerages covered this week were Disnat (with the Disnat Classic platform) and National Bank Direct Brokerage.  Click the following link to follow the series on mobile trading at discount brokerages.

Coincidentally, RBC’s latest mobile app was launched earlier this week however it looks as though some Blackberry users have had a few hiccups in working with the new app. Reactions across Twitter were mixed but it looks like iPhone users are pleased with the new version.

“Ad”ing some creativity

The discount brokerage marketing machinery looks like its revving itself up.  This cheeky advertisement from Interactive Brokers recently launched and is a bit of a departure from their cartoony ads from years past:

In addition to commercials, several Canadian discount brokerages are pitching in as sponsors for Options Education Days presented by the Montreal Exchange.  Spotted on the list of event sponsors in Montreal & Toronto are:

  • CIBC Investor’s Edge
  • Disnat
  • Interactive Brokers
  • National Bank Direct Brokerage
  • TD Direct Investing
  • Virtual Brokers

To learn more about their options pricing plans, check out the options pricing comparison section.

That’s it for this week, hope everyone has a wonderful and safe weekend!

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Mobile Trading Review – National Bank Direct Brokerage

Like several of its discount brokerage peers, National Bank Direct Brokerage has opted to use a mobile-friendly website to enable users with mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets to access and manage their investment accounts.  As such, no special apps are required in order to access the mobile trading features of a user’s online brokerage account. The mobile website can be found at when accessed with a mobile device browser.

In this review, I walk through the various features of the National Bank Direct Brokerage mobile trading website.  The video below provides an in-depth walk-through of the features of the website in action as well as a demo on what placing a trade on their mobile platform is like.  As it goes into quite a bit of detail, the video is a bit long so if you are interested in seeing the walk-through on placing a trade, you can skip to 17:33 to view it.


For this review, I used an iPhone 4S with a 4G internet connection and conducted the test from downtown Vancouver.  Although I was downtown, the signal strength in my particular location was about 50% – 75% full so my internet connection may have resulted in a slower browsing experience.

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Mobile Trading Review – Disnat Classic

This review covers the mobile trading website ( for Disnat Classic as tested on an iPhone 4s with a 3G internet connection and a demo trading account. To access the video review, click on the video player below.

Disnat offers several different account types for investors of different activity levels.  Disnat Classic is typically for less active investors whereas their Disnat Direct offerings are geared towards active traders.

As it is a mobile website, Disnat Classic’s mobile trading platform is lightweight and performs well in terms of loading speed and executing requests.  The biggest constraint on speed is really the internet connection.  With an iPhone 4s and a less than full 3G connection, load times for pages were acceptable.

Trader’s Lens Webcast – Episode 2: Disnat Classic Mobile Website Review

My overall impression of the Disnat Classic mobile website is that it is definitely functional and intuitive to navigate. It handled order entry, account information look-ups and quote fetching well.  The text links were a more descriptive choice than just using icons alone to navigate and the menus at the bottom of each screen made navigating between sections of the mobile site very easy.

There was, however, room for improvement in the research, support and options trading areas.

While the information was able to be retrieved quickly, there were pieces of information that would have been more useful when looking up a stock quote for example.  Items such as multi-timeframe charts or extra information on a company (fundamental and/or technical) are helpful to have when making decisions around entering or exiting a trade.  Also missing from the mobile trading area of the website was a help/contact us link which would be very helpful for supporting new users.

As such, the Disnat Classic mobile website tool is much stronger at managing existing positions and monitoring accounts than it is at conducting research or opening new positions (especially options positions).  Users can expect a nimble site that has essential features, intuitive choices and fast load times however the current site doesn’t offer many of the extra features present on several other discount brokerages’ sites.

To learn more about Disnat’s mobile platform, you can check out their page here.

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Mobile Trading Reviews – Discount Brokerages’ Mobile Platforms

The term “mobile trading” doesn’t mean the same thing today that it did a few years ago. As little as 5 years ago, the notion of trading on the go would have typically been thought of as something you would do with your laptop, palm trees swaying in the background.  Today, however, an entirely new reality around mobile trading has emerged.  Smartphones, superphones, phablets and tablets have, for the time being, come to define what it means to truly do anything mobile.

Instead of the fabled island escape where an investor could sit on the beach to trade, today’s mobile investor wants to be able to be able to trade with one device amidst the realities of a busy life.  With sufficiently powerful devices and increasingly fast wireless internet, the ingredients for supporting the new kind of mobile trading are now here.  Whether discount brokerages have kept pace is another story.

Keeping up with the technological Jones’

For investors considering making mobile trading part of their money management lifestyle looking at the mobile trading platforms available from discount brokerages  provides an almost evolutionary snapshot of the attempts (or lack thereof) of discount brokerages to keep pace with technology and consumer trends.

At last count, 10 Canadian discount brokerages offered some kind of mobile support ranging from the ‘mobile-friendly’ websites which were built to make trading accessible to early phone-based web browsers to the latest dedicated apps for the most popular devices and mobile operating systems.  Unlike 5 years ago, those brokerages that don’t support mobile trading in some dedicated fashion are now in the minority.

To help self-directed investors make sense of the mobile trading experience, we’ve put together a series of reviews of the mobile trading platforms offered by several discount brokerages.  These reviews will walk through the app itself and provide viewers with an impression of the mobile platform’s user experience when researching stocks, ETFs or options, obtaining quotes, placing a trade, managing accounts and accessing news.

To access the mobile trading reviews, click the links below:

Mobile trading review – Disnat Classic

Mobile trading review – National Bank Direct Brokerage

Mobile trading review – Qtrade Financial

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – August 2, 2013

As we officially launch into August, there is a lot of “behind the scenes” action that discount brokerages are up to in order to get ready for their busy season in the fall.

This week’s roundup features some updates on current discount brokerage deals, a couple of interesting upgrades to discount brokerage websites that were spotted and reports showing that investor participation in US markets continues to increase and a transaction between the owners of two major online brokerages.

Deal me in, again.

Being the beginning of the month, we have updated the discount brokerage deals section for August.  A couple of noteworthy deal extensions were spotted including an extension of the “Refer-a-Friend” offer by Scotia iTrade until the end of August as well as the extension of the commission-free ETF trading offer by National Bank Direct Brokerage (which we cover in depth here) until the end of October.

It’s time to put on makeup; it’s time to dress up right

Two of the major bank-owned online brokerages rolled out some cosmetic improvements to their websites recently in the hopes of making their content more accessible to investors.

The first upgrade was spotted at National Bank Direct Brokerage on their homepage and in their educational sections.   The new layout includes a video by their President, Nancy Paquet, as well as improved events listings and an improved link into their education centre.  There will be an in-depth look at the improved education centre in a follow-up posting, however the new layout of the investor education center section contains much of their existing material but in a much cleaner and user friendly presentation.

Upgrades to the investor education sections at TD Direct Investing were also recently rolled out.  The in-depth feature on this improvement (available here) showcases the improved way in which investors can now find out about and connect to investor education seminars via TD Direct Investing’s website.

With both TD Direct Investing and National Bank Direct Brokerage stepping up their investor education sections, other brokerages that currently provide substantial investor education seminars or content will likely be looking to see how they improve on their offering to try and maneuver around these developments.

Investors Trickling Back In

While it’s difficult to know exactly what retail investor is like given the recent market performance in the US, the data on trading volumes from Interactive Brokers continues to signal improved participation, at least state side.  The July figures for trading volumes at Interactive Brokers paint a mixture with trading volume increasing 13% year over year but actually declining 12% compared to June.  Margin-loan balances and customer equity showed increases on both a yearly and on a monthly basis.