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Is Eight Enough? Credential Direct Drops Commission Pricing

The price war between Canadian online brokerages just got a little hotter as Credential Direct announced a major shift in its pricing structure and a substantial commission price drop.

Effective July 9th the standard commission per online equity trade at Credential Direct is $8.88. That is a significant drop from their previous standard commission price of $19 per trade and also a reduction in price from their previous ‘best price’ of $9.95. To boot, it is also strategically positions Credential Direct as a lower cost alternative to many of the $9.95 standard commission offers that are currently in play across the online brokerage space.

Drop it Like it’s Hot

The new pricing structure offered by Credential Direct is almost a complete overhaul from its predecessor.

First, the distinction between “active trader” and “standard user” has been removed. That means that all clients, regardless of trading activity level, are offered the best possible price on an online equity trade commission and online options trade.

Another major change is that all online equity trades are $8.88 regardless of the price of the stock/ETF being traded. This is especially welcome news for those who like to dabble in low dollar value shares, ‘penny stocks’ or junior companies where the size of the orders can be quite high. Under the previous commission schedule, non-active users could pay up to $250 per trade depending on the size of the order and the price of the stock.

In many ways, the new pricing plan was the result of a major shift at the beginning of the year from many of Canada’s large bank-owned brokerages. What is particularly interesting, however, is that Credential Direct didn’t just match the offers – they actually bid underneath them.

How Fortun-8

Another interesting touch was the choice to use all 8’s in the pricing. The use of then numbers seems like a clever way to add some cultural appeal to the many East Asian investors that see the number as a sign of good fortune. Given the significant footprint Credential Direct has in British Columbia the new pricing may indeed prove to be self-fulfilling.

Of course other institutions, that focus heavily on connecting with East Asian or Chinese clientele, such as HSBC InvestDirect, have incorporated the number 8 into their pricing schedules for similar reasons (and another example of a ‘fortunate’ coincidence: TD Direct Investing’s Investor Centre address in Downtown Vancouver is 888 Dunsmuir St).

The Tradeoff

While the lowering of the commission price is likely welcome news for many who actively trade, there is a tradeoff that the new pricing structure imposes: administrative fees.

Specifically, for clients who have less than $15,000 in combined assets with Credential Direct, they may be subject to a $25 per quarter administrative fee. Historically Credential Direct did not charge administrative/activity fees but it looks like they’re banking on lower commission pricing offering more competitive value. Other fees are also increasing – especially for telephone assisted trades and some administrative services. These other fees are scheduled to take effect in October of 2014.

Like a couple of other online brokerages, however, Credential Direct does offer clients who fall under the $15,000 balance threshold a couple of ways to be exempt from the administrative fee.

For those with less than $15,000 in combined assets, the first way to be exempt from the administrative fee is to make at least two commission generating trades per quarter. According to this scheme the annual cost of placing two trades per quarter at the new commission price would be $71.04 (which is cheaper than paying the $100 per year for passively holding).

The second way for clients with sub-$15,000 accounts to avoid the administrative fee is to register for a pre-authorized contribution plan of at least $100 per month. What is great about pre-authorized contribution plans is that they create a structured and scheduled way to put some money aside, so having this option is a plus for those just starting out with DIY investing.

New clients (defined as clients that have accounts that are under 6 months old) will also be exempt from the administrative charge.

The Bottom Line

For most online investors, getting a break on commission pricing is welcome news. Other brokerages – such as the bank-owned brokerages as well as (and especially) the independent brokerages have fewer reasons to smile.

The drastic overhaul of Credential Direct’s pricing model is going to make it much easier for investors to understand the commission pricing (and to afford it) – something that the marketplace is clearly communicating to the Canadian online brokerage community.

Credential Direct has been extra bold by challenging the $9.95 standard price floor established by the bank-owned brokerages earlier this year. Whether or not fortune favours their boldness remains to be seen but at the very least they’ve got some lucky numbers to help their chances.

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