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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – November 20, 2015

November is quickly drawing to a close. For many that means its Grey Cup season, and for those south of the border, Thanksgiving and yes, deals galore for Black Friday. While all three may be full contact endeavours, they all seem somewhat tame compared to the upcoming jockeying for title of best Canadian discount brokerage which is soon to be released by the Globe and Mail.

In this week’s roundup we take a look Canadian brokerages pulling out all the stops heading into the release of the brokerage rankings. Starting first with the latest promotion being offered by one brokerage who seems to have a reason to smile come November. Next, we take a deep dive into the latest round of website upgrades by two very different Canadian brokerages and look at what insights judging a book by its cover can actually provide. As usual we’ll take a look at the discount brokerage tweets of the week and cap-off the roundup with a look at the upcoming investor education events and interesting chatter from DIY investors in the forums.

Globe Trotting

November has typically been a good month for Qtrade Investor. For the better part of the past 8 years, Rob Carrick’s rankings of Canadian online brokerages has featured Qtrade Investor as the top or among the top of the Canadian online brokerage providers.

This November, Qtrade Investor seems to be giving new clients a chance to smile, courtesy of the Globe and Mail, as the two have teamed up for a promotion. Launched earlier this month, Qtrade Investor is offering new clients 6 months of free access to Globe Investor (valued at $23.99 per month or $143.94 for the duration of the promotional period).

There are, naturally, a few terms and conditions. Of note is that this offer is available to the first 350 individuals who sign up for a new Qtrade Investor account or until the deadline of November 30th. For full details on this offer, check out their terms and conditions here.

Needless to say, with the next round of discount brokerage rankings expected out shortly, there might be a few more readers of the Globe and Mail seeing familiar names near the top.

Out with the old

As we’ve mentioned several times already this year, 2015 is definitely the year of the website upgrade for Canadian discount brokerages. With November being an award heavy month (most notably the Globe and Mail’s discount brokerage rankings) it seems no coincidence that there was a bit of a sprint on the part of two brokerages to also launch their newest websites before the month was over.

Both Virtual Brokers and TD Direct Investing launched upgrades to their websites, and, even though they are two very different brokerages, they are competing fiercely for clients and to be seen as relevant to the DIY investors of today and tomorrow.

While the changes associated with each new website could fill an article unto themselves, the visual choices each firm has elected to go with provide an interesting angle on the battle to look (and therefore to be judged as being) relevant.

Form follows function

Interestingly, the lesson from the slew of design changes in 2015 has shown that while cosmetic changes are needed, functionality and authenticity are components that clients use to judge the value of a particular brand. Things still have to work otherwise DIY investors will go elsewhere and complain very publicly on their way out– any reading of the weekly roundup of discount brokerage Twitter feeds has made that abundantly clear (especially this week).

Now that commission pricing has become less of a distinguishing factor for most brokerages, DIY investors are naturally going to be left which asking more about other features brokerages have to offer. Of course, with so many brokerages having such similar offerings, ultimately the decisions about which brokerage is best are likely to be swayed by emotion rather than bells and whistles. The question when it comes to these sites and brokerages as brands is who you would feel comfortable having a conversation with; who can you relate to? who would you trust?

In that light, it is entirely understandable that brokerages who want to relate their clients would start to sound and look like their clients. That shift is clearly seen in the images on financial websites. Gone is the stock imagery of people in offices with desks filled with scattered paper and calculators. Replacing them are the button down collars, plaid shirts and the new stock imagery of more everyday looking people in their homes or in a coffee shop on their smart devices.

Net worth vs. a picture’s worth

Looking at the imagery of TD Direct Investing’s website, for example, while they do rely on the familiar images of people with their technology, they have the image of the young woman with the tattoo and the baby that seems to be uncharacteristic for a “big bank”. In fact there is an interesting and diverse mix of people on the TD Direct Investing website page that subtly seems contemporary. There are no big animations, sliders or moving parts. Just clear and simple messaging.

In contrast, is the new Virtual Brokers website. It’s bold, it’s animated and the new site is responsive meaning that it should play nicely with devices from desktops to tablets to smartphones. There’s a lot going on and while it’s definitely a more contemporary website, the usability of the menu and navigation have taken a hit.

What really stands out as different on the new Virtual Brokers site, however, is the imagery on the homepage compared to that of TD Direct Investing. VB’s homepage imagery seem somewhat less reflective of the new ‘normal’ and thus less authentic. To add to their challenges, there still a number of bugs in the new website which will require ironing out (such as the language of the site changing as one navigates via the sitemap).

Fortunately for VB, these are easily remedied and the inner pages of the website look and feel new, improved and much more like the contemporary design VB was intending to put forward. That said, leaving those small but significant details unattended for too long erodes the trust and confidence they need to compete in the financial services space.

Robots are better at being human

Ironically, it is the robo-advisor websites who have put on a more authentic, creative and even human presentation. Wealthsimple’s website, for example, has pictures of people living everyday life and stories of young people coming of age while trying to figure out their financial future. Unlike many of the brokerage websites, the robo-advisors have stuck with the “less is more” philosophy which is in line with having a product that is supposed to be simpler than DIY investing. It’s undoubtedly authentic.

In the end, Canadian online brokerages of all sizes are recognizing that the people reading and interacting with their websites and platforms are also consuming digital information in much more interesting ways. It’s only a matter of time before the brokerage website change cycle has to increase to keep pace with contemporary designs that consumers use as the benchmark of what it means to be innovative. What the online brokerages may not be realizing as quickly as their robo-advisor competitors are is that DIY investors are people first and investors second and the best way to appeal to people is by being authentic and interesting.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

While ‘Spectre’ is still in theatres and making the James Bond franchise money weekend after weekend, the very real specter of technological glitches are wreaking havoc on online brokerages. This week’s tweets show that the writing’s on the digital wall for brokerages who can’t keep ahead of new technology.

Event Horizon

It’s an exciting week ahead for discount brokerage-sponsored investor education events. Here are some upcoming sessions that may be of interest to options enthusiasts. An estate planning primer rounds out this week’s selection.

November 24

TD Direct Investing – Introduction to Investing in Options

November 25

TD Direct Investing – Estate Planning

Scotia iTRADE – Trading Options Actively with Sarah Potter

From the Forums

Makeover Madness

In this post from RedFlagDeals’ investing forum, users react to the rollout of the new Virtual Brokers website. While mostly positive and in favour of the update, there’s still work that seems like it needs to be done.

Time flies when you’re having funds

For active traders and even occasional investors, having timely information about market pricing of particular equities or options is essential to make wise trading decisions. In this post also from RedFlagDeals, a user asks which brokerages offer real-time quotes to clients as a standard feature.

Into the Close

That’s it for this week’s roundup. While most people are dreading the frost this weekend, here’s one company that is quite happy they found this chunk of ice.  Congrats to those who were fortunate enough to share in the diamond windfall!

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