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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – December 25, 2015

It’s Christmas Day, and with markets closed there wasn’t a whole lot to do other than enjoy being with loved ones, giving and getting gifts, and for some eager beavers, getting a jump on the upcoming slew of deals and promotions for bigger and better trading monitors. Oh and then there was that beauty pageant thing.

As laughably painful as it was to sit through the ending of the Miss Universe contest, it brought to mind the challenges with crowning a winner in a contest when what’s being measured isn’t entirely clear. For Canadian discount brokerages, even though there may be no tiaras, there’s still the challenge of being crowned number one.

In keeping with the giving spirit, we decided to put together something special for the loyal readers of the end-of-year roundup. While ‘stats’ may not be high up on anybody’s wish list, for DIY investors looking to compare online brokerages, it turns out that stats may be one gift that keeps on giving. For traders, that’s the sign of a great ROI.

Of course in keeping with the roundup tradition, we’ve also got some festive discount brokerage tweets and a musical mashup to send us off into 2016.

Window Dressing

2015 was a big year for many Canadian discount brokerages. With almost all of Canada’s brokerages now offering historically low commission prices for equity trades, the challenge for each discount brokerage has shifted to becoming ‘more valuable’ than their competitors.

Value, like beauty, however is in the eye of the beholder.

It was fitting, therefore, that in 2015 many Canadian discount brokerages opted to start with makeovers to make themselves look brighter and shinier than their former selves and more importantly than other brokerages.

This past year, there were no fewer than six brokerages that either overhauled or significantly changed their website, in the hopes of capturing the attention of a more demanding online user. The more intriguing story, however, is not so much about the cosmetics of the brokerages, but on the consensus (or lack thereof) when it comes to the judges of the competition. Specifically, the three major online brokerage rankings that are available to Canadian DIY investors.

As we’ve discussed on a number of occasions, there are several rankings that typically crown a “best online brokerage” in Canada every year. The three most active and influential voices are the Globe and Mail, JD Power & Associates and Surviscor.

What is important to note is that each of these sources have a different semi-quantitative approach to establish what makes one brokerage better than another. As such, their voices are the ones that many Canadian DIY investors turn to when considering which brokerages to entrust with their investing and trading accounts.

Given their different approaches, however, there are times where these voices agree and times where they don’t. Fortunately for DIY investors, we’ve pulled together the full set of rankings and ratings to show just where they agreed for 2015, where they didn’t and why it matters for choosing an online brokerage in 2016.

Setting the Table

Instead of relying on just one discount brokerage comparison or ranking, below is a table that combines and compares three of the most popular Canadian brokerage rankings for 2015.

In order to make sense of the three comparisons, there are a couple of important things to take note of.

First, we took both the average ranking each brokerage received and also calculated the standard deviation. The reason for calculating both is because averages alone only tell only half the story. For example, a brokerage could score 1st on one ranking but 10th on another. Looking only at the average (which would be 5th) wouldn’t necessarily communicate how far apart the opinions/rankings were. Calculating the standard deviation helps to show the degree of consensus or agreement between the different rankings. The degree to which the “experts” agree or disagree is something that is not easy for DIY investors to track down and put into context which is why we have included this here.

To help make sense of the rankings, the averages and the standard deviations, we’ve also grouped the information into three categories of ‘agreement’: ratings where agreement is high, ratings where agreement is low and ratings where there is some agreement.

In each of the average and standard deviations, we’ve put in a heat map of the scores with colour showing the scale from best (green) to worst (red).

Without further ado, here is what the rankings look like.

Table 1: Combined 2015 Canadian Discount Brokerage Rankings

Places where the rankings agree

One of the most interesting observations of the data is the standard deviation column. What this shows is that there are clearly places where these three different rankings agree (lower standard deviations mean high consensus) and places where they disagree substantially.

Starting first with where they agree the most, it is clear that HSBC InvestDirect is a brokerage that all the rankings felt did not measure up. HSBC InvestDirect came in last, on average, in each of the rankings. Following suit, CIBC Investor’s Edge also seemed to rank consistently lower on each of the major rankings – this despite having one of the lowest commission offerings of brokerages big or small. This is interesting given how much DIY historically have considered pricing and how the rankings may not be factoring this in as heavily going forward.

In terms of who consistently rated the highest, there are clear standouts albeit with somewhat less consensus.

Both Questrade and TD Direct Investing were consistently referenced as strong choices in all three rankings. Thus, even though BMO InvestorLine performed the best amongst all of the 2015 brokerage ratings in terms of average ranking, there is more disagreement about them than the solid 2nd or 3rd place offering that Questrade or TD Direct Investing seem to offer.

In fact, here is an example where the comparison of brokerage rankings using the standard deviations becomes particularly interesting.

Both Qtrade Investor and TD Direct Investing had the same ‘average’ ranking when all the ratings were combined, however they each have very different degrees of agreement between rankings. Qtrade Investor had a rating as high as 2 (out of 12) with the Globe and Mail and as low as 8 (out of 10) with the JD Power Investor Satisfaction ranking. Conversely, TD Direct Investing’s ratings ranged between 3 (out of 10) and 6 (out of 12).

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that TD Direct Investing is necessarily “better” than Qtrade Investor, per se, but it does mean that DIY investors likely have to do more homework to find out more about Qtrade Investor than TD Direct Investing.

Another interesting area where the brokerage rankings agreed for 2015 was with RBC Direct Investing. There was a very high level of agreement that RBC Direct Investing provided an “average” experience when it came to DIY investing.

Places where the rankings disagree

As shown in red in the table, two firms that had the highest level of disagreement between rankings were National Bank Direct Brokerage and Virtual Brokers.

In the case of National Bank Direct Brokerage, they performed the best in terms of “investor satisfaction” on the JD Power survey (1st out of 10) but fared poorly according to both Surviscor and the Globe and Mail ratings. This extreme disagreement is interesting because it highlights the importance of knowing what each ranking is measuring and how they go about trying to measure it. It also makes the average ranking score a less reliable way to find out how NBDB stacks up to the rest of the field.

Looking at Virtual Brokers, there is an equally strong level of uncertainty in the rankings pool as to whether they are “the best” as claimed by the Globe and Mail’s Rob Carrick or near the bottom of the pack as ranked by Surviscor. With only two rankings to rely on, however, there is clearly room for confusion and uncertainty on the part of shoppers looking to choose this brokerage.

As was the case above, this disagreement with NBDB and Virtual Brokers means that more homework is required when considering either as an online brokerage. For DIY investors, it is therefore critical to know what about an online brokerage experience matters or is most important as this will determine whether or not a ranking, positive or negative, is actually relevant.

Qtrade Investor and Scotia iTRADE were also firms that had a high level of disagreement when looking at the combined set of discount brokerage rankings for 2015. In this respect, Qtrade Investor edged out Scotia iTrade, receiving both a stronger average ranking and stronger consensus.

Places where the rankings somewhat agree

In terms of this year’s rankings, this next group falls into the ‘grey area’ when it comes to agreement despite having very different average ranking scores.

Even though BMO InvestorLine had the best overall average score across the three major ratings, the relatively low Globe and Mail review pulled the consensus factor down. To clarify, the Globe and Mail ranking was more of a ‘neutral’ rating however numerically this introduced some uncertainty into the mix.

On the other hand, Desjardins Online Brokerage’s ‘average’ rating in investor satisfaction offset the lower scores from Surviscor and the Globe and Mail.

Finally, for Credential Direct, there were only rankings in the Surviscor and Globe and Mail ratings so investors would again need to probably do more homework to find out what other investors may think.

What does it all Mean?

As comparison shopping for products and services, including online brokerages, becomes more the norm, it’s now possible to use data to better inform those decisions and narrow down the field of choices.

What this series of analyses show, however, is that taking even the average of what the experts are saying doesn’t exactly tell the whole story. Consumers should take the title of “the best online brokerage” with a grain of salt as there is likely another source that disagrees with the claim.

According to the combined average rankings and consensus analysis, multiple rankings saw BMO InvestorLine, Questrade and TD Direct Investing as consistently strong choices in 2015 while HSBC InvestDirect and CIBC Investor’s Edge consistently scored low. Falling consistently in the middle of the pack was RBC Direct Investing.

For the rest of the Canadian discount brokerages, there is less clarity when it comes to rankings which means that more research is required or that these brokerages may need to offer more innovative or value-added incentives to get DIY investors to pay attention.

Ultimately, the good news for most DIY investors is that it is harder to make a poor choice than a good one when choosing an online brokerage. Ratings and pricing aside, it is now up to Canadian brokerages to offer better

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on the final roundup of 2015. From everyone here at, have a safe and enjoyable holiday season. Here’s musical recap to take you back through 2015 and to get your groove on heading into 2016.


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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – December 18, 2015

Source: Giphy

With the Canadian dollar and oil prices looking like they’ve been on the wrong end of an imperial destroyer, what was in demand this week was cool technology, light-sabers and a chance to escape to something better. The takeaway lesson that markets always teach traders is that demand is a powerful force when awakened and oversupply a powerful enemy.

Kicking off the roundup this week, we’ll take a look at one Canadian online brokerage that may not have amazing special effects and symphony orchestras, however unveiled their latest attempt to move their website into future at light speed. From there we’ll take a quick look at another discount brokerage who launched a last-minute gift idea for DIY investors. Next we’ll quickly check out the latest banter from investors on Twitter, peruse through the investor education event (singular) and close out with some interesting feedback from investors in the forums.

Because it’s 2015.

With only a few more days left in 2015, one of Canada’s largest bank-owned online brokerages has managed to join the six or so other Canadian discount brokerages who’ve launched new front facing websites this year. It couldn’t have come soon enough.

Just over two weeks ago the Globe and Mail’s online brokerage rankings characterized RBC Direct Investing’s previous website as “O-L-D school.” This past week, however, the old rolled out and the new rolled in.

With the focus of the online brokerage rankings in 2015 shifting heavily towards website experience and the growing pressure from their bank-owned peers updating and upgrading their own websites, RBC Direct Investing clearly had upgrading their website on their radar. That said, given their latest review in the Globe and Mail brokerage rankings and the score in Surviscor’s rankings, it was interesting that the roll out of the new RBC Direct Investing website did not merit more of a response.

Despite the radio silence about the new website, there are several enhancements and design choices that are worth pointing out.

The first, and perhaps most obvious, is that the new website layout is contemporary. What that means is like many of the other websites released by other brokerages this year, RBC Direct Investing’s new site has rearranged information and layouts so things don’t seem as overwhelming as they did previously. In other words, less is more. Sections are more readily divided, text is clearer and it’s easier to focus on the content that’s relevant to a reader.

In line with a more modern layout, another interesting feature is that site is not just responsive, but looks to have been built by taking a ‘mobile first’ approach. The traditional top navigation menu has been removed altogether in favour of a ‘mobile’ style menu in the top left. The items in the menu also mirror the vertical order of the sections of the homepage which is a clear design choice to accommodate users swiping a tablet or smartphone screen rather than scrolling on a mouse.

A rethinking of the organization also means that users have a series of simpler choices to make. This arrangement was not unlike TD Direct Investing’s previous approach as well as BMO InvestorLine’s current strategy of “Tell us who you are and we’ll show you how we can meet your needs”.

Digging a little deeper, however, there is another element to the new RBC Direct Investing website that seems to reflect something unique: a deliberate focus on including women in the imagery. Specifically, the new website places women at the focal point of the featured images and does so on key pages throughout the website (see collage below).

Source: Screenshot RBC Direct Investing website

While it is not unique to see financial institutions, especially the largest Canadian financial services brands, reflect a more diverse and inclusive picture of their clients, RBC Direct Investing’s new site has made some interesting design choices. For example, by placing women in the featured images of both the “beginner investor” and the “experienced investor” pages, the website highlights an important rethinking of what an “investor” looks like. BMO InvestorLine and TD Direct Investing have also done this with their latest redesigns, however RBC Direct Investing’s website stands out as it deliberately places women at the focal point across all three categories that users are choosing from on the homepage i.e. beginner investors, experienced investors and those planning for retirement.

As many of the comments from this past year’s Globe and Mail online brokerage ranking pointed out, user interaction with a new website is highly subjective. That said, how users engage with an online brokerage is going to matter more now to DIY investors than it ever has in the past.

For brokerages, striking the right balance of being “familiar enough” to inspire confidence and “bold enough” to stand out from their peers is rarely easy or cheap. Moreover, online investors of all stripes are savvy enough to detect the difference between a user experience has been thoroughly thought through and one that seems formulaic. The details matter.

Even though much hasn’t been said yet online about the RBC Direct Investing website, the design choices of the site itself will hopefully create a new conversation about what investors can expect from Canadian online brokerages heading into 2016.

Deals Update

With only a few shopping days left till Christmas, it looks like there are still some last minute deals to be had. This past week, National Bank Direct Brokerage stepped back into the deals and promotions race with their latest commission-free trading offer. Specifically individuals opening a qualifying account with at least $20,000 can receive up to $500 in commission credits and those depositing at least $100,000 can receive up to $1,000 in commission credits. See our deals & promotions section for additional details.

Deals activity has been in a holding pattern for most of this month however the new offer by NBDB brings the total number of offers up to 17. It should be interesting heading into the New Year as there are 8 offers set to expire at the end of December. Further, once the holidays are over, the big push to RRSP season will begin so brokerages big and small are sure to kick their promotional activity into high gear. The online brokerages currently putting offers forward are undoubtedly hoping to capture the interest of the keener investors who are doing their homework early.

Event Horizon

Ho-ho-hooray, the holidays are almost here, and there’s one more discount brokerage-sponsored investor education event to squeeze in before Jolly Old Santa makes his appearance. This upcoming session may be of interest to those who are new to investing, and interested in learning about options.

December 22

TD Direct Investing – Introduction to Investing in Options

Tweets of the Week

You’re a mean one, Mr. Glitch

With the latest roll outs from Questrade and TD Direct Investing, there are inevitably some bumps and bruises that DIY investors (and the brokerages) encounter. This past week, the Twitterverse was more quiet however Questrade and TD Direct Investing seemed catch a little bit of extra shade from frustrated users.

From the Forums

No Such Thing as a Free Launch

Star Wars wasn’t the only major release this month. Two popular Canadian online brokerages also launched their own updates and upgrades to their respective web platforms. Here are a couple of great threads that capture the reactions of users to the changes made by TD Direct Investing and Questrade:

Reactions to TD Direct Investing website from the Financial Wisdom Forum here.

Reactions to Questrade’s latest platform upgrade from RedFlagDeals’ forum here.

Battle of the Brokerages

While there may be no light-sabers in this battle, the ongoing debate between value players Virtual Brokers and Questrade was worth a revisit in this post on reddit’s Personal Finance Canada thread.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap for this week’s roundup. Finding a way to adequately punctuate the roundup on such an historic event as the opening of another Star Wars reboot was tough. Especially with winter coming, it was a Stark reminder of Snow in the long range forecast. Enjoy the weekend or ‘geek’end!

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – December 11, 2015

“We’re often led to believe migration is a drain on the country’s resources but Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian migrant. Apple is the world’s most profitable company, it pays over $7billion a year in taxes–and it only exists because they allowed in a young man from Homs.” – Banksy source: Twitter

Like it or not, the one great lesson that markets continuously teaches its students is that prices reflect some vision of the future and not the present. Of course what makes markets so exciting is the fact that there are so many companies thinking up new ideas and products to bring that future into reality.

For the heads of Canadian discount brokerages, the future of DIY investing is always on their minds. The speed at which they’re able to respond to it or even shape it, however, is what has started to separate those who are known as ‘innovative’ from those deemed to be stagnant.

In this week’s edition of the roundup, we take an in-depth look at one brokerage who has figured out that it will take more than just technology to be able to be a leader in the DIY investor world of tomorrow. Next, we’ll look at the reaction to last week’s Globe and Mail online brokerage rankings from across social media and also take a look at what investors were reacting to this past week on Twitter. Finally, we’ll preview the upcoming investor education events for the week ahead and round out with chatter from the investor forums.

Using the Force

While it may not be quite as big as the release of the new Star Wars movie, the battle for intergalactic supremacy in the discount brokerage world is poised to heat up yet again this weekend. Rolling out this weekend are two major platform updates from Questrade that are sure to bring cheer from DIY investors and rattle the nerves of bank-owned and independent brokerages alike.

Rolling out this weekend will be a highly anticipated set of upgrade to the suite of Questrade trading platforms. Their active trader platform, IQ Edge will see some long sought-after features finally go live and a new web-based trading platform join their bench.

Starting first with the update to IQ Edge, the upcoming refresh will be the third major upgrade to the platform this year taking the release number to 4.2. The major feature to be added is the ability to use conditional orders when placing trades – a feature that many active traders rely on to plan their entry and/or exit points. In fact, Questrade is not the first brokerage in 2015 to roll this feature out nor are they alone in being able to offer this as part of a trading platform. Recall that earlier this year Desjardins Online Brokerage also launched conditional trading into their trading platforms and brokerage platforms, such as the Active Trader and US trading (aka ThinkOrSwim) platforms at TD Direct Investing and Interactive Brokers’ Trader WorkStation have had conditional orders for quite some time.

With each release of Questrade’s IQ Edge, it is clear that they are moving closer to having a trading platform that is as good as if not better than many of the third party platforms currently being offered by other brokerages. And, while there appears to still be features and functionality that users are looking to have built in, Questrade is clearly listening and executing on getting trader-friendly features integrated on a regular basis. This is certainly one area in which they have outshone their larger bank-owned brokerage competitors who seem to be much slower at releasing upgrades to trading platforms.

For less active traders, Questrade is also releasing a browser based platform that is slated to replace (eventually) IQ Essential.

One of the key features being trumpeted for the new online platform is the watchlist. While a watchlist is not a technological marvel, the small changes, such as adding sparklines for a visualization of price trending, is a nice and modern touch. Enabling snap quote refresh of the watchlist is also a much more convenient way to source quotes from the watchlist that aren’t part of a real-time update feed.

Another feature being highlighted is the ability to trade seamlessly across devices. The reality of 2015 and now 2016 is that individual investors would like access to information about their investments as well as the ability to buy or sell them, across any device.

Of course, while all this innovation is exciting, it also creates a challenge for DIY investors and clients. Questrade now has more platforms, they offer more services, and a wider variety of packages than they ever have before. And, while more is usually better, for most consumers, it’s also a challenge to understand exactly what Questrade has to offer.

With all of these choices and changes, as well as the many areas of investing and wealth management that Questrade is now in, their product offering is no longer so simple to understand. Even though Questrade has maintained a very human voice, and has anchored its presence on social media, the reality is that Questrade is now doing more things than it ever has done before.

This tweet, taken from this week for example, shows that there are still folks out there who remember (and think) that Questrade is the no-fee broker when they shed this status several years ago.

For DIY investors, the lesson is that they can expect Canadian brokerages to have to innovate much more quickly in order to compete effectively with one another. While in theory this competition will drive better pricing and products, it will also create a whole new learning curve to stay on top of the changes within their own brokerages.

Without great support and communication to accompany these changes, the intended ‘improvements’ may backfire into user frustration. Fortunately for brokerages such as Questrade and Desjardins Online Brokerage, their individual releases of new features (such as the conditional orders) have been well supported with videos and content describing how these work.

Ironically, it seems that in order to truly succeed at innovation going forward, tech savvy won’t be the magic ingredient. Rather, a very human quality, emotional intelligence, will be needed to help customers navigate the brave new world of online investing.

Tweets of the Week

In addition to the regular overview of the Canadian discount brokerage voices on Twitter, we’ve also collected the reactions to the most recent discount brokerage rankings from the Globe and Mail’s Rob Carrick from Twitter and Facebook.

Here are some of the reactions to the 2015 Globe and Mail online brokerage rankings from across social media:

Here are some comments from Facebook:

Event Horizon

Counting down to the holidays, it’s a festive week ahead for discount brokerage-sponsored investor education events. Here are some upcoming sessions that may be of interest to those who are new to investing, curious about trading strategies, and options enthusiasts. ETFs, technical analysis, and registered accounts round out this week’s selection.

December 15

Scotia iTRADE – Introduction to ETF Strategies with Pro Market Advisors

TD Direct Investing – Introduction to Investing in Options

December 16

TD Direct Investing – Building Wealth Through Registered Accounts

Scotia iTRADE – Placing Your First 10 Trades with Sarah Potter

December 17

Scotia iTRADE – Head & Shoulder Patterns with AJ Monte

December 18

Scotia iTRADE – Active, Passive or Both Strategies with Purpose Investments


From the Forums

Limiting Factors

This past week, the Liberals made good on the pledge to lower the TFSA contribution amounts from $10,000 back down to $5,500. In this post from the investing forum, the discussion from DIY investors highlights some of the initial reactions and perspectives from the price-savvy crowd.


In this post from Reddit’s Personal Finance Canada section, a user is looking for a few answers related to moving funds from Sunlife to Questrade as well as other financial planning questions for a newly started position. Worth a read for those curious about employer contributions.

Into the Close

This week has seen so many different versions of the future, from dystopian to fantastic. Heading into the weekend, here’s a glimpse into the distant future as well as a post that signals a chance to finally dream about a better future.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – December 4th 2015

Source: Vine

One of the great things about watching professionals in action is just how easy they make things look. If you’re Aaron Rodgers, airing out a game-winning pass with no time left on the clock just seems like a day’s work. While Canada’s discount brokerages don’t have quite the dramatic finishes that the NFL seems to produce, this past week brokerages have had their fair share of unexpected comebacks and champions that make winning look effortless.

This edition of the roundup is chalked full of commentary and perspective on one of the biggest weeks of the year. Kicking off the roundup is the review of this month’s deals and promotions and the signals that brokerages are moving more aggressively into 2016 than ever before. Next we dive into discount brokerage rankings season by looking at the two big names in Canadian brokerage rankings that published their results this week. Finally we take a look at the news and chatter across the discount brokerage space on social media and in the forums. Saddle up, this is going to be a fun ride.

Deals in Play

At the outset of December it looks as if at least two brokerages, HSBC InvestDirect and Questrade, are interested in spreading some holiday cheer in the form of new deals and promotions.

Starting first with Questrade. Late last month they relaunched their popular Apple Watch promotion – which is actually a $500 gift card to the Apple store. While the addition of yet another promotion brings the number of promotions to at least 8, the launch was interesting for two other reasons.

First, with the expiry date of this promotion well into March of 2016, this seems like one of the premiere offers Questrade will be putting forward heading into the coveted “RRSP season”. The timing of this offer just before the Christmas holiday buying season means that it might just be enough to tip someone into considering Questrade as an online brokerage. Further, the value of $500 at the Apple store for a $100,000 deposit makes it a competitive offering at this deposit level.

A second reason this offer is interesting is because Questrade continues to offer more incentives and promotions than any (or almost all) other online brokerages. Going into December, Questrade alone accounted for just about half of all of the promotions being offered. Alongside the offer for the Apple Watch, Questrade is also offering up an iPad Mini promo as well as other commission-free trading promos. For other Canadian discount brokerages, the fact that Questrade has continued to offer the number and diversity of offers should demonstrate that DIY investors are clearly interested in brokerages who are prepared to give in order to receive.

The second online brokerage to get into the giving spirit this month is HSBC InvestDirect. From December through to March 2016, HSBC InvestDirect is offering up 30 commission-free North American equity trades for individuals signing up for a new account. While this is not the first time HSBC InvestDirect has put forward a commission-free trading offer, it is interesting to note that they too have set their expiry date on this promotion well into March and have launched this offer a month before the end of the year signaling that perhaps HSBC InvestDirect is preparing to compete a little harder for new clients than they have in the recent past.

Like most other competitive marketplaces, these moves by Questrade and HSBC InvestDirect will not go unnoticed. The fact that both of these offers stretch well into 2016 are a signal to other brokerages that it is going to be a very competitive RRSP season and that the sooner they can bring interesting offers to market, the better.

BMO InvestorLine Goes for the Three-peat

This past week financial industry ranking firm Surviscor released their updated set of Canadian online brokerage rankings crowning BMO InvestorLine as their choice for top online brokerage yet again. These past few weeks have been good to BMO InvestorLine as they also took the prize for top online brokerage from the Morningstar awards, which are also very similar in structure to rankings/analysis underpinning the Surviscor ratings.

Below is a video from BNN of Surviscor President Glenn LaCoste giving his thoughts on the latest rankings and trends in Canadian discount brokerages.

In terms of scoring, Surviscor’s rating system included some new elements that weren’t present in years past, namely a ‘Service Level Assessment’ as well as a ‘Mobile Accessibility’ consideration.

One of the interesting components about the Surviscor analysis is that it takes into account over 4000 criteria when coming up with the final score. Of course, since those criteria are proprietary it is difficult to know exactly the weights that lead to the scoring.Even so, a look at the distribution of this year’s scores also shows just how tightly clustered most of the brokerages are according to Surviscor’s analysis.

The graph below (a histogram for the stats nerds) shows that most firms in the ranking have a score between 65% and 74%. What stands out when looking at this chart is just how poorly HSBC InvestDirect performed on this analysis compared to the rest of the firms profiled.

Distribution of scores from Surviscor 2015 online brokerage rankings.

At the other end of the spectrum, BMO InvestorLine and Scotia iTRADE scored above most of the other brokerages but relatively close to one another. This is particularly interesting given the fact that standard commission pricing at both firms is very different.

In terms of BMO InvestorLine, standard commission pricing is in line with many other bank-owned brokerages at just under $10. Conversely, Scotia iTRADE’s standard commission pricing is still closer to $25. Thus, commission pricing is only part of what factors into making a firm rank well in these ratings and, according to these rankings, the overall experience between BMO InvestorLine and Scotia iTRADE may be too close for most to notice.

In fact, the scoring shows that according to these rankings, for about 50% of the brokerages, the experience is bound to be “pretty close” to another brokerage.

For DIY investors the take home message to keep in mind when considering the rankings is that these scores represent a snapshot in time. The industry is constantly evolving and so new features or improvements may show up in between ranking cycles which then in turn change the order in which these firms would be ranked. The fact that many discount brokerages are clustered around the same scores show that most firms do a reasonably decent and probably similar job in terms of the criteria measured by the Surviscor rankings, so it seems that personal preference will have a greater role to play for most DIY investors.

That said, these numbers also show that most brokerages are locked in a very tight race with one another. The big challenge in front of the brokerages for 2016 is just how they’re going to start separating themselves from one another.

2015 Globe and Mail Online Brokerage Rankings Released

Of course what would online brokerage rankings season be without the most widely anticipated and longest running ranking of Canadian brokerages?

Earlier today the Globe and Mail’s Rob Carrick published his annual review of twelve of Canada’s most popular online discount brokerages and there were certainly some surprises contained in this year’s rankings.

Starting first with the actual scores. In the 2015 rankings, there was a clear theme that the top three Canadian online brokerages according to Rob Carrick just happened to be non-bank owned brokerages.

Virtual Brokers has once again reclaimed its title as best online brokerage after having lost it last year to Qtrade Investor (who incidentally came in 2nd place this year). Following in third place was Questrade, a firm that has continuously been moving up the rankings for the past few years.

The battle between Qtrade Investor and Virtual Brokers may now be turning into somewhat of a rivalry as both of these firms continue to score well in the Globe’s brokerage rankings only narrowly edging one another out each year for the past 4 years. And, even though Questrade may have placed third, according to Rob Carrick’s comments on this brokerage, they may very well take top spot should they continue at their current pace.

For the bank-owned brokerages, the only bright spot appeared to be TD Direct Investing. With a revamped website and the implementation of long awaited features (such as the US Dollar RRSP account), TD Direct Investing scored the best among Canada’s bank-owned online brokerages with a grade of a B+.

The rest of the pack of bank-owned brokerages, however, seemed to draw less glowing praise, to put it mildly.

Interestingly, for the businesses with the biggest profits (i.e. the Canadian banks), the ability to create exceptional experiences (at least in the view of the rankings) fell far short of what they could do. One of the reasons often cited by industry insiders, is that the online brokerage arms of many banks just don’t get the resources and respect as some of the other banking units. Ironically, for many bank-owned brokerages, the marketing that their parent bank spends to create expectations for consumers tends to backfire when the bells and whistles and attention to product experience don’t make it to the wealth management arm of their business.

Perhaps the clearest case to be made in these results is that the smaller, independent brokerages are able to be more innovative than their bank-owned counterparts. Some might even argue that in order to compete effectively, the smaller players have to innovate to stay relevant.

Innovation, however, is not without its downsides either. With so much of today’s DIY investing experience tied to being online, being first to market or creating a new platform or website is one thing – having it work under normal and even stressful conditions, however, is something completely different. As we’ve seen time and time again this past year, releases of new software platforms, app updates and websites has not been smooth for any brokerage. For smaller brokerages in particular having technology go down (or misbehave) can create a cascading series of frustrations as they neither have the customer service resources nor the communication channels that larger brokers have to mitigate these kinds of scenarios.

In the case of this year’s Globe and Mail online brokerage rankings, however, there seemed to be an especially large component of the analysis, scoring and commentary devoted to the look and feel of brokerage websites. The argument for doing so, according to Carrick, is that commission pricing is no longer the biggest component to differentiating brokerages. Instead, client experience and more specifically, website experience is.

Another interesting observation about this year’s rankings was that they were not as lengthy or detailed as they have been in years passed (including compared to last year’s). While it is purely speculative, a great deal of the shine on DIY investing has been eclipsed by robo-advisors and a significant focus of the personal finance conversation has been about Canadian real estate. Add to that a fairly abysmal year for Canadian equities and it’s clearly been a tough time for DIY investing to get any positive headlines.

Clearly, many of Canada’s discount brokerages have their work cut out for them in 2016. With rankings season now over, the writing is on the wall for the Canadian discount brokerage industry: step up or step back.

The non-bank owned brokerages are going to have to continue to innovate in order to fend off their larger competitors. Large bank-owned brokerages clearly have to work both smarter and harder at becoming seen as leading edge technology firms – something that is tough and expensive to do given their size. Perhaps the clearest message of all, however, is that discount brokerages that are on ‘auto-pilot’ are probably at the biggest risk of making themselves appear obsolete. While it may be tough to rank first in multiple rankings, occupying the basement of multiple rankings is a sign that DIY investors will almost certainly use to stay away.

Event Horizon

Bundle up and hunker down, it’s a busy week ahead for discount brokerage-sponsored investor education events. Here are some upcoming sessions that may be of interest to yield hounds, those who are new to investing, curious about trading strategies, and options enthusiasts. Tax efficient investing, technical analysis, and registered accounts round out this upcoming week’s selection.

December 7

Scotia iTRADE – Dividends, Balanced Portfolios and the Quest for Yields with Larry Berman

December 8

TD Direct Investing – Alternatives to Mutual Funds: Learn What Else Is Out There

TD Direct Investing – Options as an Income Strategy

December 9

TD Direct Investing – The Evolution of Indexing

TD Direct Investing – Technical Analysis – Advanced Indicators

TD Direct Investing – Tax Efficient Investing

December 10

Desjardins Online Brokerage (Disnat) – Discover the Benefits of the TFSA

Scotia iTRADE – Trading The Double Top with AJ Monte

From the Forums

In this edition of the forums sweep we found an update to this post from the RedFlagDeals investing section that highlights what will be a disappointing change for many Norbert’s Gambit fans at one of Canada’s largest brokerages.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap for this week’s roundup. Now that Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, there still might be a chance to save big. Speaking of big saves, here’s a treat for the Leafs fans and their new goalie Sparks (yep, we already like him) getting into the saving spirit. Have an awesome weekend!

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Discount Brokerage Deals & Promotions – December 2015

*Update Dec 19th* With 2015 quickly drawing to a close, it looks like Canadian discount brokerages have already put forward their best deals and promotions to take investors into 2016. As the year winds down, DIY investors and traders are looking at places to spend their money rather than grow it, and as such, markets as a whole tend to wane. Still, there are 15 deals on the table and who knows, if DIY investors have been a good bunch perhaps there may be a surprise or two left under the tree before the month is through.

Once again, the month is off to a slow start with no new offers officially launching at the beginning of December. There were two noteworthy promotions that resurfaced through November that reiterated which brokerages are continuing to actively pursue bringing on clients, regardless of the time of year.

As has been the case for most of 2015, Questrade continues to offer more promotions than any one of the other discount brokerages. This month, Questrade has a whopping 8 of this month’s 15 16 open offers. The next nearest brokerages are BMO InvestorLine and Scotia iTrade which each have two offers each and are the only two major bank-owned brokerages with advertised promotions. Other brokerages with offers this month include Desjardins Online Brokerage, Jitneytrade and Virtual Brokers.

We’ll be sure to check in on the brokerages regularly throughout December to see if there are hints of any other deal miracles. In the meantime, if there are any other offers that we might have missed, please let us know.

Extended Offers

There was one online brokerage that took the opportunity to revive one of their longstanding refer-a-friend offers. After a brief absence from the November deals section, BMO InvestorLine updated the terms and conditions of their refer-a-friend program which now states that the promotion runs from November through to January 3rd 2016. As seen in the following tweet, the deadline date was the source of some confusion until the update occurred.

The extension of this program is not a long one so it looks like whatever changes were being contemplated to the refer-a-friend program may show up at the beginning of 2016.

Expired Offers

Heading into December, there were a pair of promotional offers from bank-owned brokerages that expired.

The first was a free trade promo from TD Direct Investing. Although TD has typically not been as active with promotions as some other bank-owned brokerages, they have run promotions during the fall period for two consecutive years now suggesting that they have preferred spots during the year to run promotions. Spring is another of the key seasons, especially for discount brokerages, so stay tuned for what could transpire in early 2016.

The other promotional offer that expired was a commission-free trade offer from National Bank Direct Brokerage.

New Offers

*Update Dec. 19th* For some DIY investors looking for a good deal, Christmas came early in the form of an offer from National Bank Direct Brokerage. Earlier this week NBDB launched a commission-credit promotion that offers up to either $500 or $1,000 in commission rebates for individuals opening a new account with at least $20,000 or $100,000 respectively. The credits are applicable to trades made within 90 days of signing up. See table below for more information.

*Update Dec. 3rd* It looks like at least one Canadian discount brokerage is getting into the holiday spirit. HSBC InvestDirect has launched a commission-free trading offer for individuals who open a new account with them. The offer is for 30 commission-free North American equity trades (i.e. it does not include options trades) which are good for use for up to 60 days. Unlike many of the offers currently on the market, this one does not appear to require a minimum deposit. See table below for additional details. Thanks to Tim for sharing that with us!

While there were technically no new offers that arrived at the outset of December, shortly before the beginning of this new month Questrade once again launched their Apple Watch themed promotion. Specifically, individuals who open a new Questrade account with at least $100,000 may be eligible to receive a gift card from Apple worth $500.00 CAD. While the promotion is certainly suggesting that individuals could receive an Apple Watch, in reality, qualifying individuals can use the $500 gift card towards any other Apple product. Interestingly, the expiry date for this promo has been set to fall right in the middle of the infamous “RRSP” season which means this is likely to be one of the more valuable offerings Questrade puts forward going into the New Year.

Discount Brokerage Deals

Company Brief Description Minimum Deposit Amount Commission/Cash Offer/Promotion Type Time Limit to Use Commission/Cash Offer Details Link Deadline
Jitney Trade A Sparx Trading exclusive offer! Use the promo code “Sparx Trading” when signing up for a new account with Jitneytrade and receive access to their preferred pricing package. n/a Discounted Commission Rates none For more details click here none
Open a new qualifying account with HSBC InvestDirect and you could be eligible to receive up to 30 commission-free North American equity trades. Be sure to read terms and conditions for full details. n/a 30 commission-free trades. 60 days Winter free trade promotion March 15, 2016
Open a new account (TFSA, Margin or RRSP) and receive $50 commission credit . Use promo code: kdkfnbbc $1,000 $50 commission credit none none none
Refer a friend to Questrade and when they open an account you receive $25 cash back and they receive either A) $25; B) $50; C) $75; D) $100; or E) $250 depending on the amount deposited amount. Enter code: 476104302388759 during account sign up to qualify. Be sure to read the terms and conditions for eligibility and additional bonus payment structure and minimum balance requirements. A) $1,000 – $9,999 B) $10,000 – $24,999 C) $25,000 – $49,999 D) $50,000 -$99,999 E) $100,000+ $25 cash back (for referrer per referral; $50 bonus cash back for every 3rd referral) For referred individuals: A) $25 cash back B) $50 cash back C) $75 cash back D) $100 cash back E) $250 cash back Cash deposited into Questrade billing account within 7 days after funding period ends (90 days) Refer a friend terms and conditions; Code Number: 476104302388759 none
Open and fund a new account (TFSA, Margin or RRSP) with at least $1,000 and you may be eligible to receive 5 commission-free trades. Use promo code 5FREETRADES when signing up. Be sure to read terms and conditions carefully. $1,000 5 commission-free trades 60 days 5 commission-free trade offer December 31, 2016
Open and fund a new online trading account with Questrade with at least A)$1,000 or B)$10,000 and you could be eligible to receive either A)10 or B) 100 commission-free trades. Use promo code 100LOWCOM2015 when applying to be eligible for this offer. Be sure to read the full terms and conditions for this promotion. A)$1,000 B)$10,000 A) 10 commission-free trades B) 100 commission-free trades 60 days Commission-free Trade Promotion December 31, 2015
Open a new online trading account (registered, margin or FX and CFD) with Questrade and deposit at least $5,000 in order to be eligible to qualify for a $50 gift certificate. Clients must also place at least one commission-generating trade within 60 days. Use promo code AMAZON50 when signing up. Be sure to read terms and conditions for full details. $5,000 $50 gift certificate The gift certificate will be awarded in CAD and emailed to the client within 30 business days of the account reaching the minimum funding requirement of $5,000 and execution of one commissionable trade in the eligible account. Gift Certificate Promotion December 31, 2015
Open and fund a new account at Virtual Brokers with at least $5,000 and you could be eligible to receive up to 25 commission-free stock or ETF trades good for use for up to one year. Use promo code “TRADEFREE2015” when signing up to qualify. Be sure to read full terms and conditions carefully. $5,000 25 commission-free trades 365 days 25 commission-free trades December 31, 2015
Scotia iTrade If you refer a friend/family member who is not already a Scotia iTrade account holder to them, both you and your friend get a bonus of either cash or free trades. You have to use the referral form to pass along your info as well as your friend/family members’ contact info in order to qualify. There are lots of details/conditions to this deal so be sure to read the details link. A)$10,000 B)$50,000+ A) You(referrer): $50 or 10 free trades; Your “Friend”: $50 or 10 free trades (max total value:$99.90) B) You(referrer): $100 cash or 50 free trades; Your “Friend”: $100 cash or 50 free trades (max total value: $499.50) 60 days Refer A Friend to Scotia iTrade December 31, 2015
Scotia iTrade Open and fund a new Scotia iTRADE account with at least A) $15,000 – $49,999; B) $50,000 -$99,999; C)$100,000 – $249,999; or D)$250,000+ and you may be eligible to receive a corresponding cash back or commission rebate. For commission-free trades use code: FTN-F15 or for cash rebates use code: NC-F15. Be sure to read the terms and conditions carefully for rebate and cash back eligibility. Contact Scotia iTrade for full details on this offer. A) $15,000 – $49,999 B) $50,000 -$99,999 C) $100,000 – $249,999 D) $250,000+ A) 75 commission-free trades OR $75 cash back B) 125 commission-free trades OR $125 cash back C) 250 commission free trades OR $250 cash back D) 500 commission-free trades OR $500 cash back 120 days for commission-free trades; Cash for the cash back offer will be deposited directly by September 30, 2016. 500 free trade or $500 cash back promo December 31, 2015
Open and fund a new National Bank Direct Brokerage account with at least A) $20,000 or B) $100,00 and you may be eligible to receive up to either A) $500 or B) $1,000 in commission credits. Use promo code CashBack2016 when registering for an account to qualify. Be sure to read full terms and conditions for additional details. A) $20,000 – $99,999 B) $100,000+ A) $500 in commission credit B) $1,000 in commission credit 90 days Cash back promo March 31, 2016
Open a new online trading account (registered, margin or TFSA) with Questrade and deposit at least $25,000 in order to be eligible to qualify for free advanced data and 30 days of unlimited commission-free trades. Use promo code ADVANTAGE14 when signing up. Be sure to read terms and conditions for full details. $25,000 30 days unlimited commission-free trades and free advanced data 30 days 30 days unlimited commission-free trades and free advanced data December 31, 2015
Disnat Disnat is offering new & existing clients $500 in commission credits which can be used for up to 6 months. To be eligible, new/existing clients need to deposit $50,000 into a Disnat account. You’ll have to call 1-866-873-7103 and mention promo code Disnat500. See details link for more info. $50,000 $500 commission credit 6 months Disnat $500 Commission Credit Promo December 31, 2015
BMO InvestorLine If you refer a new client to BMO InvestorLine and they open an account with a)$50,000 – $249,999 or b)$250,000+ the referrer and the referee will both receive cash. The new account must be opened with the referral code specific to the referrer. A) $50,000 – $249,999 B) $250,000+ A) You(referrer): $200; Your Friend(referee): $50 B) You(referrer): $300; Your Friend: $100 Payout occurs after 60 days (subject to conditions). BMO InvestorLine Refer-a-Friend January 3, 2016
Open or fund an account (TFSA, Margin or RRSP) with at least $100,000 and you may be eligible to receive an iPad Mini 2. Use promo code IPADMINI15Q4 when signing up. Be sure to read terms and conditions carefully. $100,000 iPad Mini 2 60 days IPad Mini 2 Promotion December 31, 2015
Open or fund an eligible account with at least $100,000 and make at least one commission generating trade and you may be eligible to receive a $500 gift card for the Apple Store. Use promo code APPLEWATCH when signing up. Be sure to read terms and conditions carefully. $100,000 $500 Apple Store gift card Gift card will be sent within 30 days of client meeting eligibility requirements. Apple Watch Promo March 31, 2016
BMO InvestorLine Open a new qualifying account with BMO InvestorLine, and fund it with at least $100,000 in net new assets and you may be eligible to receive either A)$200 cash back plus 20 commission-free equity trades. Use promo code FALL2015 when signing up to be eligible. Be sure to read the terms and conditions for more details on the offer. $100,000 $200 + 20 commission-free equity trades Cash award will be paid the week of January 16, 2017. Trades are good for 1 year from signing up for promotional offer. Fall 2015 Promotion January 3, 2016

Expired Offers

Last Updated: December 19, 2015 11:50 PT

Transfer Fee Deals

Company Brief Description Maximum Transfer Fee Coverage Amount Minimum Deposit Amount for Transfer Fee Eligibility Details Link Deadline
Scotia iTrade Transfer $15,000 or more to Scotia iTrade from another Canadian brokerage, and iTrade may pay up to $150 in transfer fees. $150 $15,000 500 Free Trade or $500 Cash Back Offer December 31, 2015
Transfer $15,000 or more to RBC Direct Investing and they will pay up to $135 in transfer fees $135 $15,000 Transfer Fee Rebate Details none
Transfer $25,000 or more from another brokerage and Credential Direct will cover up to $150 in transfer fees. Use promo code SWITCHME when signing up to qualify for the transfer promotion. $150 $25,000 Credential Direct Transfer Fee Rebate none
Qtrade Investor will reimburse your transfer fee up to $150 when transferring a balance of $10,000 or more. For reimbursement, please mail or fax a copy of your statement from the transferring institution that shows the transfer charge to Qtrade Investor at 604.484.2627 and indicate your Qtrade Investor account number. $150 $25,000 Transfer Fee Rebate none
Move your brokerage account to Questrade and they’ll cover the transfer-out fee up to $150. $150 $25,000 Transfer Fee Promo none
Transfer $25,000 or more into a CIBC Investor’s Edge account and they will reimburse up to $135 in brokerage transfer fees. Clients must call customer service to request rebate after transfer made. $135 $25,000 confirmed with reps. Contact client service for more info (1-800-567-3343) none
Transfer $25,000 or more to a National Bank Direct Brokerage account and they will pay up to $135 plus taxes in transfer fees $135 $25,000 Transfer Fee Rebate none
Disnat Disnat is offering up to $150 to cover the cost of transfer fees from another institution. To be eligible, new/existing clients need to deposit $50,000 into a Disnat account. You’ll have to call 1-866-873-7103 and mention promo code Disnat500. See details link for more info. $150 $50,000 Disnat $500 Commission Credit Promo December 31, 2015