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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – February 12, 2016

This week there was some serious talk about gravity. From the astrophysicists cheering the official confirmation of Einstein’s predicted gravitational waves to the basketball fans in ‘the six’ hoping to observe the NBA’s best and brightest defy gravity at the upcoming All-Star game, this has been an exciting week. Unfortunately for most investors, watching the markets succumb to the pull of gravity has been a tough lesson in the physics of how markets react to uncertainty. For Canadian discount brokerages, there also appear to be distant forces at work which could cause commission prices to feel the gravitational pull on pricing.

While the news around the Canadian discount brokerage industry this past week did not prove or disprove any of Einstein’s theories, there appear to be interesting forces at work for the discount brokerage industry on the horizon. In this edition of the roundup, we take a look at the growing trend of commission-free trading and how it might be poised to take the world by storm. Next, we take a look what DIY investors were talking about both on Twitter and in the investor forums. Finally, we close out the roundup with a look at the upcoming investor education events.

From Zero to Hero

Somewhat akin to the running of the 4-minute mile or the existence of ‘gravitational waves’ the idea that online discount brokerages could offer “zero commission” stock trading seemed impossible until somebody went ahead and showed it could be done.

With firms like Robinhood, in the US, not only has commission-free trading gone from unthinkable to reality, much like the 4-minute mile, there are now multiple firms offering up zero commission trading and potentially many more looking at the model with some notion that they too can do the same.

Earlier this month, a piece in the Investors Chronicle, profiled the rise of the ‘uber discount broker’ in Europe, with the firm iDealing becoming the first online brokerage in Europe to offer commission-free trading as of December 2015. While limited in scope to a handful of smaller markets, it looks like zero commission trading has officially spread to and landed in Europe.

Interestingly, even though ‘commission-free trading’ is being met with mixed reactions in the US, it seems that Europe could be shaping up to be a bit of a battleground for commission-free trading.

We recently noted a hiring post on Robinhood’s career website signaling they too are eagerly looking to bring their commission-free trading model into Europe and perhaps the UK, which would put them in direct competition with iDealing. While there appears to be a number of regulatory challenges for both iDealing and Robinhood to overcome before being cleared to launch in the UK, it seems like a matter of time before either one or both are cleared to enter and massively disrupt the DIY investor market in Europe.

screenshot of Robinhood job posting

So what does all of this mean for Canadian discount brokerages?

One of the common threads amongst these new “uber discount brokerages” is the use of technology to drive down the operational costs of being a brokerage. They are often small in size and agile in the use of technology to do the heavy lifting. Interestingly, these firms are increasingly being viewed as tech or ‘fintech’ companies first and financial services companies second. In fact, looking at the continued success of Interactive Brokers and the extent to which technology has helped keep operational costs low, there is clearly a case to be made for focusing on IT development.

For the larger bank-owned online brokerages, this poses a significant challenge as they not only have to deploy a competitive trading experience, but they also have to ensure they live up to client expectations of a seamless experience between the banking and the investing touchpoints. A failure in one element of the business is enough to send many Canadians looking to a provider who can get these pieces to work.

With many of Canada’s largest discount brokerages still struggling to create user friendly, intuitive and convenient online experiences, it would be a significant disruption to the Canadian online brokerage landscape should a firm, such as Robinhood, decide to launch within Canada.

Yes, there would be barriers to overcome and trust to be built. What firms like Wealthsimple and other robo-advisors, as well as the relatively young Virtual Brokers have shown is that sometimes it doesn’t take that much time for a lower cost alternative to get noticed.

Another reason for the disruptive nature of zero-commission trading is that not only would ‘commission-free trading’ brokerages have a head start on operating within a no-commission framework, but they are also able to leverage their technological agility and talent pool to have a significant “technology edge” over their counterparts.

While it seems inconceivable that yet another discount brokerage could enter and succeed in the already crowded Canadian DIY investor market, the fact that the wave of zero-commission trading is already starting to spread globally means that it is likely a matter of time before the idea takes root here in Canada. And, just like the four-minute mile barrier being broken, it is now possible for investors and providers alike to envision a world in which zero-commission trading is possible.

Event Horizon

Love is in the air, and it’s an enticing week ahead for discount brokerage-sponsored investor education events. Here are some upcoming sessions that may be of interest to options enthusiasts, those who are interested in trading strategies and new to investing. ETFs, technical analysis and risk management round out this week’s selection.

February 16

NBDB – Introduction to Call Options – [Fr]

TD Direct Investing – Understanding Margin & Short Selling

RBC Direct Investing – The ETF Selection Process: Navigating the ETF Landscape – RBC Global Asset Management

Scotia iTRADE – Building a Better Portfolio Using ETFs: How to Build a Low-Cost and Efficient Portfolio using ETFs with Horizons ETFs

TD Direct Investing – Introduction to Canadian ETFs and ETF Options

NBDB – Tools and Technical Analysis with Michel Carignan – [Fr]

February 17

TD Direct Investing – Options as an Income Strategy

NBDB – Stop Orders: A Winning Solution Worth Knowing – [Fr]

February 18

TD Direct Investing – Technical Analysis – Candlestick Charting

NBDB – Introduction to Put Options – [Fr]

RBC Direct Investing – The ETF Selection Process: Navigating the ETF Landscape – RBC Global Asset Management

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

There were cheers and jeers this week on Twitter. On a positive note, it looks like changes to user interfaces are paying off at a couple of brokerages while outages during trading hours took their toll on others. Mentioned this week were BMO InvestorLine, CIBC Investor's Edge, Credential Direct, Questrade, Scotia iTrade and TD Direct Investing.

From the Forums

Tailored Switch

In this post from the Personal Finance Canada thread on reddit, one user requested the community’s input on transferring from Tangerine to Questrade and whether or not this was the ‘smart move’ to make. Worth a read for those interested in the passive investing/CCP strategies.

Seeking Clari-fee-cation

In this post from the investing forum, one user has a question about stepping into the world of investing within a TFSA at Questrade. There’s some good information for those considering Questrade and the explanation of how ECN fees are incurred

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on this lighter-than-usual roundup. As a reminder to all the traders out there, the Canadian stock markets will be closed on Monday in observance of Family Day in Ontario. Markets will reopen for trading again on Tuesday. In addition to Family Day, it’s also Valentine’s Day and the NBA All-Star game this weekend so whatever your reason to celebrate, you’ve got a great setup to make this weekend a slam dunk!


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