April showers are supposed to bring May flowers, but this past week, it’s been the discount brokerages who’ve been making it rain. In particular, it was the heavy hitting bank-owned brokerages that dominated the news feeds with feature enhancements, deals and more. While it may not have been quite as epic as Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar’s exceptional catch, it will definitely be a week that makes the discount brokerage highlight reels.
In this week’s roundup, we take a look at a pair of makeovers from two big online brokerages. First, we look at the launch of a new investor centre in the heart of downtown Toronto by one online brokerage as well as a website facelift from a well-known bank-owned brokerage. On the heels of these two announcements were also a pair of promotional offers that caused an uptick in the deals activity this month. Finally we take a look at the upcoming investor education events as well as the chatter going on in the investor forums.
Scotia iTrade Gets Fancy
One of the big themes from brokerages this week, and this year it seems, will be stepping up their image. Earlier this week, Scotia iTrade officially launched a newer and modern-feeling investor centre in downtown Toronto.
So what was Scotia iTrade’s take on getting modern? Judging by the early pics of their new space, it’s definitely focusing on the branch experience feeling sleek and technology driven. The striking new design coupled with a high foot-traffic location means that there will be a lot of folks checking out this new eye-catching space. Users on Twitter, in fact, remarked at the new centre as it launched earlier this week.
The new investor centre is also attached to a Scotiabank banking centre, a tactical maneuver designed to demonstrate that Scotia iTrade users can easily access Scotiabank services and vice versa. For bank-owned brokerages, such as Scotia iTrade, investor centres offer their clients a familiar service expectation of being able to walk into a physical location and talk to a real-live person. Other brokerages, such as RBC Direct Investing, TD Direct Investing, Desjardins Online Brokerage and National Bank Direct Brokerage have high-visibility investor centres. Unlike the other brokerages, however, Scotia iTrade is unique in the proximity of the two centres to each other as well as the aesthetic choice.
As with their first investor centre, visitors accessing the new investor centre will be able to attend in-person investor education seminars and special events. In addition, the new centre will feature self-service stations to trade or manage their accounts.
The Power of ‘And’
Coinciding with the launch of their new investor centre, Scotia iTrade also took the opportunity to significantly raise the stakes in the ultra-competitive deals and promotions space.
Over the past year, Scotia iTrade has run a number of promotions where users could choose between receiving cash back or commission-free trades (via commission rebates). These offers have often had large headline numbers like $500 or $1000 cash back or 1000 free trades and have also required sizable deposit amounts to qualify for those bigger rebates. With the launch of the new investor centre, however, Scotia iTrade changed the OR to an AND to give individuals both the commission-free trades AND cash back.
Scotia iTrade is not the first bank-owned online brokerage to combine cash back and commission-free trades. CIBC Investor’s Edge offered this combination alongside their launch of lowered commission pricing late last year. What is different, however, is the scale of the offer from iTrade relative to what they’ve offered previously as well as what else is currently out there. There are, however, two important ‘catches’ to this offer.
First, it requires having the account being opened at one of three downtown Toronto locations – something that will certainly limit the numbers of people rushing to this offer. Secondly, unlike their other offers, the commission-free trade period for this promotion is 90 days instead of 180 days. For those seeking the cash rebate, this is actually an advantage because payouts happen much sooner, however for the commission-free trading period, it means individuals have to use up the trades much more quickly.
BMO InvestorLine Launches New Website
Scotia iTrade wasn’t the only bank-owned discount brokerage with a new look and new deal to showcase this week. BMO InvestorLine quietly launched a new front-end of their website as well as a new promotion.
The new BMO InvestorLine website is a much more modern-looking layout compared to their previous website and that of their fellow bank-owned brokerages. The top menus have been streamlined and the amount of information on the page reduced to make for a far less cluttered viewing experience. It’s also responsive meaning tablet and smartphone users can easily navigate it.
Along with the new look is also a new url. Users who enter or who click www.bmoinvestorline.com will now be redirected to www.bmo.com/self-directed. There definitely appears to be a push to highlight that online brokerage is a part of ‘wealth management’ and that InvestorLine isn’t as much the focus as is the “self-directed investor”. Gone are the close ups on calculators and cluttered papers on desks and instead there are pictures of people – and not just the cheesy couples on couches (and yes there are only a few close ups on tablets.)
Another interesting design choice is that the website looks and feels like many startup company websites rather than a traditional bank-owned entity, a definite overture to younger clients. With this layout, users can typically scroll down to find more information, there are mixtures of icons (the ‘cool’ looking ones) and big bold images. There is also far less text to grind through and far fewer pages to navigate.
While there are lots of stock images (ironically not images of stocks) they have thankfully opted for younger characters, casual settings and, interestingly, a lot more women and ethnic diversity. In fact, out of the 6 header images associated with their top level ‘self-directed’ menu, only one has a picture of just a male (the experienced investor) – a far cry from the ‘old boys club’ imagery of finance that prevailed not that long ago. BMO InvestorLine’s fellow bank-owned brokerages are not quite there yet but this is definitely something they may take some cues from.
There’s certainly lots to like about the new look however the more interesting elements are definitely the more subtle yet deliberate shifts in branding (wealth management vs InvestorLine) and the evolution of image to appear more client-focused, cosmopolitan and modern.
With Desjardins Online Brokerage’s new website launch earlier this year and now BMO InvestorLine, 2015 looks like it will be a big year for website overhauls. Interactive Brokers has also just announced they’re upgrading their website and at least three other brokerages we’ve directly spoken to are actively working on new sites for this year. So far, however, the bar has been raised fairly high and it should be interesting to see what other brokerages do in order to respond to these branding updates from the bigger bank-owned brokerages who are figuring out how to capture the feeling of ‘friendly’.
Investors of all stripes know that timing is everything. For BMO InvestorLine launching their new website was also an opportune time to announce their newest promotion. Their latest offer, the ‘Five Star Promotion’, which is a cash back or commission-free trade promotion, continues their pursuit of clients with deposits over $100,000. There are three tiers to the latest BMO InvestorLine offer: for deposits of $100,000 – $249,999; deposits of $250,000 – $499,999 and $500,000+. Currently only Scotia iTrade and BMO InvestorLine are targeting clients with deposits over $100,000. In fact, we spotted another offer from iTrade that was linked to their investor education tour with Larry Berman which we have included in the latest deals & promotions section.
This week was a busy one for Scotia iTrade all around. In addition to the announcements of their new deals and investor centre, they also announced that they are the first online brokerage in Canada to partner with/offer financial news site Seeking Alpha to offer their premium content to clients. This move comes almost year after Scotia iTrade announced their partnership with the Financial Times to provide syndicated content to iTrade clients.
In keeping with their strategy to provide a value-added content, the content being linked through the backend offers the convenience of looking up the information from Scotia’s interface rather than having to look it up from seekingalpha.com. The information, however, appears to be freely available on seekingalpha’s website (if you are a registered user) so users can still access the articles outside of the platform. Of course the upside for iTrade is to create an experience for users that keeps their eyeballs on the iTrade platform rather than a competitors.
From the Forums
The environment for fee disclosure from financial service providers is gradually improving. This post from the reddit Personal Finance subreddit provides an interesting look at how individual investors are greeting the new change.
A Green Investor
Giving an advisor the news that you’re going to do-it-yourself is not something that they generally enjoy. In this post from Canadian Money Forum, a TD Direct Investing client looks for a little collective wisdom after a not-so-graceful breakup with an advisor.
That does it for another edition of the roundup. With the Bloomberg outage, some weekends probably kicked off a bit earlier than others, however with NHL playoffs in full swing, the real work of cheering on your favourite teams begins (or in the case of Leaf & Oiler fans, cheering for their other favourite Canadian city!).
Editor’s Note: Updated 4/18/15 to include mention of Interactive Brokers’ new website announcement which was noticed after publishing.