September’s here and it’s all about the kids – well at least what some people consider to be kids anyway. After a summer spent huddled away figuring out what the ‘cool kids’ of investing may want, the Canadian discount brokerages have launched into September with some new features that are clearly aimed at winning the interest of millennials.
In this week’s roundup we start with a look at the latest deals and promotions activity from Canadian discount brokerages to see which deals dropped and which ones popped heading into the busy season for investors and brokerages alike. Next, we’ll take a look at the first in a series of exciting rollouts from one online brokerage that has upped the ante for firms interested in working with millennial investors. From there we’ll take a look at one bank-owned brokerage’s foray into commission-free ETF investing and what that means for DIY investors and other brokerages big and small. As usual, we’ll cap off the roundup with chatter from across Twitter and the Canadian investing forums.
If this week is any indicator, the final stretch of 2016 will be an interesting one to watch, especially in terms of deals and promotions. To start September, the current landscape of promotional offers appears to be quite close to where things were in August, with 21 open offers available for DIY investors to choose from, slightly lower than the 23 there were last month.
At first blush it looks like Canadian discount brokerages are playing the busy fall stretch close to the vest. Case in point is the expiry date for a couple of key players’ offers.
BMO InvestorLine, for example, replaced their summer cash back offer with a much simpler cash back and commission-free trade “fall promotion.” Despite the length of the season, this offer is currently scheduled to expire on October 31st. As any good options trader knows, however, BMO InvestorLine has the right but not the obligation to let the offer expire, extend it or replace it with something different.
Another interesting expiry date was spotted on Desjardins Online Brokerage’s long standing $500 commission-credit offer. Previously this offer was set to expire at the end of August however it was extended yet again but this time only a month out until the end of September.
These maneuvers, however small, signal that the last stretch of 2016 still has some surprises. BMO InvestorLine, for example, will be rolling out new features so there may, in fact, be further related updates or incentives to coincide with that launch. Additionally, Desjardins Online Brokerage is now tied with Questrade in offering the most number of concurrent offers (there are four each in the categories we track). And, let’s not forget the fact that there are a dozen other brokerages that are constantly working to improve their position in the very competitive market for investors.
Another interesting observation coming into the new month is that Virtual Brokers has yet to roll out a new offer. If the past several months is an indicator, that won’t be the case for too long. Other noteworthy absences from the ‘commission-free’ or ‘free-trade’ categories this month include Scotia iTRADE.
There are also two other very exciting developments in the deals/promos section.
First, for investors, we’ve started to collect data on what kinds of deals are the most important to DIY investors. To fill out the survey click here – we’ll be publishing the results of this after the end of the month to see what incentive offers SparxTrading.com users are looking for.
The second exciting development is that we will be rolling out a more formal industry snapshot report (paid), aimed towards professionals who want to track what’s going on in the Canadian discount brokerage space. Anyone interested in receiving the report can click here to let us know. We’ll notify you when we plan on going live.
Just two days into September, its already shaping up to be a month in which there are going to be many changes as well as the potential for deals activity to tick up based on the new features being rolled out at many of Canada’s discount brokerages.
Made for Millennials: Qtrade Launches Younger Investor Pricing
Big news coming out of Qtrade Investor this week as they rolled out a new pricing plan aimed at younger investors. Specifically, Qtrade is offering DIY investors aged 18 to 30 a break on commission pricing, no account minimums, and no quarterly administrative fees.
The move positions Qtrade well heading into the online brokerage rankings from the Globe and Mail this fall. Already a long-time favourite of Rob Carrick, the fact that Qtrade’s new pricing plan caters to the ‘millennial’ investor, a segment that gets particular focus in the Globe and Mail discount brokerage rankings, is sure to score points.
In terms of specifics, this new plan lowers the standard commission price for qualifying individuals to $7.75 per trade instead of the standard $8.75, (ECN fees are still charged with this plan). At Qtrade Investor this is a significant savings as the only other ways to get a lower commission price are to have at least $500,000 in assets with Qtrade or to trade at least 150 times per quarter. The biggest score with younger investors, however, will be absence of an account minimum balance and a waived account maintenance fee.
It is noteworthy to point out that while Qtrade Investor is not the only Canadian discount brokerage to waive fees based on age, they do offer the longest age range of their competitors, matching what Desjardins Online Brokerage (whose parent owns a significant portion in Qtrade) has done with their Broker@ge program for individuals aged 18 to 30.
Both Questrade and Virtual brokers offer to waive account maintenance fees for individuals however for Questrade the age limit is 25 and for Virtual Brokers it’s age 26. Interactive Brokers also offers a lower minimum account balance ($,3000 instead of $10,000) for individuals aged 25 and under. RBC Direct Investing also offers to waive its quarterly inactivity fee for individuals who have a student banking package (or who had one in the last 5 years), so while not by age, it is still geared towards younger investors.
As with all good things, there usually is a catch and in the case of the ‘young investor’ program at Qtrade Investor, one of the requirements to qualify is that individuals sign up for a $50 per month pre-authorized contribution. While it does mean having to continuously contribute, the contribution requirements are lower than pre-authorized deposit amounts that typically come in at $100 per month elsewhere (see RBC Direct Investing for example) so clearly the team at Qtrade Investor has done some homework to put together a compelling offer.
Catherine Wood, Senior Vice President at Qtrade Investor offered the following comment regarding the launch of the new pricing for young investors:
“It’s important for Qtrade Investor to be a top choice for a new generation of Canadian self-managed investors, and we are seeing a big surge in the number of younger clients opening accounts. Younger investors are astute when it comes to assessing and comparing competing services and they know it’s important to keep their costs down. By reducing our commissions and fees, we can help them kickstart their portfolios and build their assets more quickly.”
It will be interesting to see how Qtrade Investor, a firm that has a very solid reputation for delivering quality customer service experiences over the phone and email, navigates a world where expectations for live chat and twitter have taken hold.
That said, without a doubt, this move is going to attract all kinds of interest in Qtrade and how they handle working with younger investors will ultimately determine whether or not ‘the cool kids’ give this new program the fist-bump of approval.
National Bank Direct Brokerage goes Commission Free for Eh-TFs
After several test runs with offering commission-free ETF trading for Canadian ETFs, it looks like National Bank Direct Brokerage is ready to roll out this feature to all clients starting September 1st. And, with well over 550 Canadian ETFs to choose from, this handily positions National Bank Direct Brokerage as having the most commission-free ETFs (to both buy and sell) of any Canadian discount brokerage.
Within the Canadian online brokerage space, the term “commission-free” ETF warrants some clarification. They key for DIY investors is to distinguish between offers that allow commission-free buying and selling and those that are commission-free to buy but not to sell.
For example, firms such as Questrade and Virtual Brokers offer “commission-free” buying of all ETFs, US or Canadian, but charge trading commissions on the sale of the ETF. Alternatively, Qtrade, Scotia iTRADE and Virtual Brokers offer selections of ETFs that are commission-free to buy and to sell. Prior to this roll-out, Virtual Brokers held the highest number of ETFs that could be traded (bought and sold) commission-free at 100, however opening up all Canadian ETFs to be traded commission-free means that National Bank Direct Brokerage now offers the most competitive selection. By a lot.
Like all offers this good, it’s important to ask about the fine print or if there are any important terms and conditions. In this case, there are a few important considerations to this offer. First, there is a minimum quantity of ETF units (100) that need to be purchased in a transaction in order for it to qualify for commission-free status. This is not an insignificant number of units for many beginner investors or modest portfolios. Next, the list of eligible ETFs is determined by those that are published by the Canadian ETF association (that list of ETFs had 568 funds on it as of July 31st and is accessible here). Other important caveats are that commission-free trades don’t count towards activity thresholds that qualify investors for discounts on commission pricing, platforms or administrative fees.
Strategically, this new feature will clearly appeal to the growing number of investors interested in ETFs as well as with a strategic segment that many DIY investor firms are looking at: millennials. Offering up commission-free Canadian ETFs also positions National Bank Direct Brokerage as a worthy competitor to other bank-owned brokerages.
In their news release announcing the launch of this program, President of National Bank Direct Brokerage Laurent Blanchard commented
“We’re changing the online brokerage landscape, no transaction fees for all ETFs listed in Canada. This will make online investing more accessible for a greater number of investors. At the same time, it ensures that National Bank Direct Brokerage remains at the forefront of innovation.”
The latest offering from National Bank Direct Brokerage is a great development for DIY investors.
At a minimum there is at least one bank-owned brokerage that is prepared to meet a growing need for access to ETFs at a low cost and this fact alone may entice another bank-owned brokerage to improve its ETF offering.
Another reason this is advantageous for DIY investors, and perhaps a challenge to competitor firms such as Questrade and Virtual Brokers, is that the value proposition has to improve at these independent firms without pushing the cost of operating an account up. Thus, services will have to get better or if they remain the same they have to be cheaper.
This is still early days in what’s shaping up to be a very busy end of summer/fall season, there may be some very interesting counter offers coming.
Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week
This week’s hits and misses from Canadian discount brokerages highlight the fact that online brokerages need to be ready to answer all kinds of questions. Mentioned this week were CIBC Investor’s Edge, Questrade, Scotia iTRADE and TD Direct Investing.
From the Forums
Too good to be free?
In this post from Canadian money forum, National Bank Direct Brokerage’s commission free ETF announcement started to make waves. Of course, more than a few skeptics were wondering how it would be possible to let investors trade ETFs commission free. More than a couple of interesting theories there. Also in this post from reddit, there’s an interesting view on the 100 unit minimum purchase.
Into the Close
That’s a wrap on a busy week. Markets are closed on Monday for Labour Day so hope everyone has a wonderful and safe long weekend!