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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – August 28, 2015

Source: Giphy

This past week saw such a crazy mix of sell-off and rally it could have easily been characterized as a McWhopper of a trading week. For Canadian discount brokerages, however, volatility is more than just food for thought; it looks like it may just be the main course.

In this week’s discount brokerage roundup, we start with an in-depth look at the back-to-school battle brewing between brokerages in the RESP space. Next we check out the deals that are on the chopping block heading into September and then take a look at how the volatile markets rattled online brokerages in the tweets of the week. On the final approach we look at upcoming investor education events and close out with some interesting brokerage chatter from the forums.

Back to School Battles

With back-to-school on the minds of many parents, it looks like several online brokerages are taking the opportunity to promote their RESP account offerings. While the RESP doesn’t typically get a lot of attention, it was interesting to take a deeper dive into the different approaches taken to pricing this account by Canadian brokerages.

The Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) is staple registered account type and as such is offered by almost all Canadian online brokerages. These past few weeks, however, two big bank-owned brokerages, CIBC Investor’s Edge and TD Direct Investing, have posted messaging on their homepages referencing these account types, and another non-bank owned brokerage, Questrade, has been talking about upcoming changes to its RESP pricing.

While the messaging from CIBC Investor’s Edge and TD Direct Investing was fairly standard, it was the move that Questrade was making that caught our attention.

In a note to its DIY investor clients this past week, Questrade announced that starting November 1st, its fees for RESPs are going up for certain clients. Specifically, clients with less than $15,000 in assets (across all Questrade accounts or less than $15,000 in combined assets with a myFamily program), will be subject to a $50 annual charge for their RESP account.

Given the fierce competition between brokerages, especially on commission pricing, it is interesting to see Questrade once again start to raise its non-commission fees, especially since they have historically competed on ‘low cost’.

So just how does Questrade’s new $50 annual charge for an RESP stack up?

Within the Canadian discount brokerage space, RESP account fees typically range between $0 and $100 per year depending on the brokerage. As the charts below show, however, account fees only tell part of the story – the other part has to do with the size of assets required to qualify to have those fees waived.

When it comes to RESP account fees, CIBC Investor’s Edge has the lowest fee ($0) regardless of balance size or activity level. It is interesting to note that they are the only Canadian discount brokerage for whom that is true.

Also interesting to note is that the size of the brokerage doesn’t necessarily translate into what an RESP costs. That is to say, of the five brokerages that charge administration charges of $100 per year (currently the highest administration charge), two of them are non-bank owned (Credential Direct and Qtrade) brokerages.

Fig. 1 Annual RESP account fees at Canadian discount brokerages
Fig. 2 Minimum assets or account balance required to waive RESP fees at Canadian discount brokerages

Conversely, two of the brokerages that typically compete on commission cost, Questrade and Virtual Brokers, don’t have the cheapest fees for RESPs.

For Questrade, the newly announced fee of $50 per year requires at least $15,000 in order to be waived. For Virtual Brokers, on the other hand, their pricing page states that the annual fee for their Canadian dollar RESP is $25 per year, regardless of balance.

With regards to the big bank-owned brokerages, both BMO InvestorLine and TD Direct Investing require the highest asset minimums to have fees waived at $25,000. RBC Direct Investing and Scotia iTRADE, on the other hand, have lower thresholds at $15,000 but have higher fees than BMO InvestorLine and TD Direct Investing for not meeting those minimums.

Thus, for individuals hunting for a low-cost provider for online brokerage services, the lesson is to understand what your total needs are as an investor.

Brokerages that might offer a break on commission-fees may not offer the same low-cost when it comes to administration fees or thresholds to have those fees waived.

In the case of Canadian online brokerages offering RESPs, for those with less than $15,000 in assets, the least expensive provider is CIBC Investor’s Edge followed by Virtual Brokers. Those with $25,000 or more in assets don’t really need to worry about fees unless they’re with either HSBC InvestDirect or Virtual Brokers. Given that Virtual Brokers appears in both types of categories indicates that there are certain balance conditions in which it may be advantageous relative to most other brokerages and others where it less competitive.

On the other hand, the fact that CIBC Investor’s Edge can offer the bank-owned convenience factor as well as low trading commission cost poses a genuine challenge to other providers of this account type.

With Questrade now raising fees and other providers not yet moving in this space, CIBC Investor’s Edge looks like they’re sitting at the head of the RESP class.

Deals on a Roll

As the markets have shown heading into September, summer is not about to go quietly. And, it appears, neither are the advertised discount brokerage deals and promotions.

Although there are 16 advertised offers currently in play, 7 of those are scheduled to expire at the end of August. Online brokerages including BMO InvestorLine, HSBC InvestDirect, National Bank Direct Brokerage, Questrade and Virtual Brokers all have offers set to end signaling a lot more volatility in the promotions space about to take place.

Of particular interest is the group of offers for individuals depositing at least $50,000 or $100,000 as this prized segment has attracted some very competitive offers from BMO InvestorLine, National Bank Direct Brokerage, Questrade and Scotia iTRADE.

While it is difficult to predict which offers, if any, will be renewed or extended, the odds are good that BMO InvestorLine, Questrade and Virtual Brokers will have promotions in play beyond the end of August deadline.

Historically the fall season is when DIY investors perk up and start paying attention to markets. This year the recent market volatility has certainly caught the attention of many and perhaps kick-started the comparison shoppers.

Online brokerages have almost certainly noticed more interest from DIY investors kicking the tires on new accounts. For savvy DIY investors, however, the forecast for deals and promotions heading their way looks favourable.

Be sure to check out the deals and promotions section next week and throughout September as many of the major financial institutions will be sprinting towards their fiscal year end (end of October) and hopefully tossing in a few extra deals to finish on a high note with.

Tweets of the Week

Markets weren’t the only ones seeing red this week. With the sharp uptick in volatility taking equity prices across the globe for a joyride, there were many investors that either tried to get into or out of (or both) positions via their online trading accounts. Unfortunately for many of them, more than a few brokers saw trading platforms and feeds choke on the volume. But the pain didn’t stop there.

When platforms or data feeds go down, most DIY investors know that the only lifeline for an order is to make a phone call. As this week showed, however, even the biggest bank-owned brokerage call centres couldn’t handle the swell, with phone lines flashing busy as traders rushed to try and place their orders.

This week’s tweets offer a great example of how discount brokerages big and small can get overwhelmed when markets move quickly, especially to the downside. And, just in case readers think this was a Canadian brokerage issue – it most certainly wasn’t. Major US brokerages such as TD Ameritrade and Charles Schwab also saw trading interruptions as a result of technology being overwhelmed.

Event Horizon

Options trading, short selling and technical analysis are just a few of the topics being covered by different online brokerage investor education teams next week. Click the links below for more details.

September 1st

Scotia iTRADE – Getting Started with Options with Pro Market Advisors

September 2nd

NBDB – Short Selling – [Fr]

September 3rd

Scotia iTRADE – How to Balance Risk and Reward Trading Options with Sarah Potter

September 4th

Scotia iTrade – Combining Technical and Fundamental Analysis with AJ Monte

From the Forums

With the markets moving around so much this week, there was also an uptick in the level of conversation about what the markets were doing and whether the sudden and sharp sell-off was the beginning of the end or the buying opportunity of the year.  In the talk of market tops and bottoms, here are a couple of interesting finds related directly to discount brokerages.

Byte the Hand that Feeds

In this brief exchange on’s investing forum, one new user to Interactive Brokers is looking for a little more information on which data feeds to consider when using IB’s trading platform.

A Better Option?

Options trading continues to grow in popularity with DIY investors. While many trading platforms have yet to really keep pace with the user experience of options trading, ThinkOrSwim typically stands out as one platform options traders like. In this post from’s investing forum, the cost of Interactive Brokers is pitted against the user performance of ThinkOrSwim. Find out what folks had to say about each.

Into the Close

With the wild ride of this past week, many investors are glad to be heading into a weekend of relaxation. For die hards like this Japanese trader that apparently raked in $34 million this past week, there’s a reminder that while most folks are out relaxing, there are some that keep on grinding away looking for opportunity. However you end up charting out your weekend activities, have a great final weekend of August!

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