Sometimes change is good. Sometimes it’s not. Either way for discount brokerages in Canada and the US, change, and more specifically the ability to navigate change, appears to be what will separate the winners from the rest of the crowd.
In this week’s roundup we take a look at the latest digital shift from one of Canada’s largest online brokerages to see how they’re changing elements to keep looking fresh. From there, we take a look at the details from two recent US online brokerage conference calls with a specific eye as to what online brokerages are working on for the future. As usual, we’ll wrap up the roundup with a look at what investors were talking about on social media as well as in the investing forums.
TD Direct Investing Website Gets Refresh
In more ways than one, the new reality for online investors and those that service them is dealing with change. As online brokerages increasingly evolve into technology companies, the need to be agile and responsive is greater than ever before. Their platforms need to keep up with the times, as do all of their websites, social media feeds, mobile apps and so on. More than just the technology, online brokerages also have to keep up with what an online investor looks like – not just those already in the markets, but those who are looking to get in too.
Over the past three years, there has been a noticeable evolution of the websites and marketing at most of Canada’s online brokerages. This month, there has been yet another website enhancement made from Canada’s largest bank-owned online brokerage – TD Direct Investing.
Looking back at the evolution of the TD Direct Investing story, one of the first important changes took place when TD Waterhouse switched to TD Direct Investing in late 2012.
In late 2015, TD Direct Investing then updated the front end of their website, modifying the look and feel of the brand to become more modern, not only in web design terms, but also in portraying what the ‘typical investor’ looks like. As part of a trend amongst the major Canadian banks, looking and feeling more appealing to everyday Canadians meant recognizing the diversity of what Canadians look like and what they support.
Now, in 2017, TD Direct Investing has updated their look and feel yet again in order to appear more modern and harmonize the brand experience the parent brand.
The front end of the TD Direct Investing section of the TD website, with the scroll features that tells the TDDI story, is remarkably familiar to many robo-advisor websites and borrows design elements that are found on other Canadian brokerage websites that use icons and the scroll-based design.
Clicking through the homepage, there are links that still point to pages that use the previous design standard as well as links that point to the newer look, signaling a gradual transition to a newer look and feel rather than a wholesale change. It is an interesting choice from a design point of view in that users see the old and new imagery and layouts within the same visit.
While the updated design does add an element of change, the key observation is that TD continues to use bold imagery of ordinary looking people. These may be stock images, however there is more thought in their selection that shows they’re conscientious about recognizing a more diverse-looking set of customers. Fortunately, TD Direct Investing is not alone in this regard. This is also true for a couple of TD Direct Investing’s bank-owned brokerage peers – BMO InvestorLine and RBC Direct Investing. With so much divisive rhetoric emerging from the US it’s nice to see Canadian banks being Canadian and embracing the portrait of an online investor as a mixture of men and women, old and young and all shades of skin colour.
On the Line
With markets making new all-time highs and a difficult to predict new president, there’s lots of uncertainty for investors on exactly how they’re going to approach trading this market. To get some insights, it was interesting to review the latest news coming out of US online brokerages’ earnings conference calls as they reported their quarterly earnings and spent time explaining their strategies and vision for 2017 as well as where they see investors headed during these uncertain times.
In the E*trade Financial conference call, one of the interesting priorities for them in the upcoming year will be in marketing. As we had mentioned in a previous weekly roundup, in a hypercompetitive marketplace, in particular in the online brokerage space, an increasing amount of focus will have to be paid to getting client acquisition and retention right. This means undertaking some bold but thoughtful marketing.
The comments made by E*Trade Financial’s CEO Karl Roessner during the most recent conference call certainly highlight that E*Trade will be focused on aggressively onboarding new clients, with the ever-prized active trader segment being of particular interest.
In conjunction with the strategy of acquiring new clients, it appears that E*Trade is also going to be undertaking major branding initiatives and enhancing their digital experience by upgrading their web presence. Like the recent moves observed by TD Direct Investing referenced above, the following quote signals that keeping the digital experience of E*Trade fresh and current is a key component to their marketing plans:
And at the top of a long list of initiatives is the re-launch of our brand. We’ve enjoyed phenomenal brand awareness, and we intend to build on that to reclaim our challenger position in the industry. Expect to see more around mid-year. In the meantime, we are working on updates to our website, including an overhaul to the look and feel, along with improved navigation.
Another conference call from an online brokerage took place this week, this time from TD Ameritrade. While also discussing the results of an integration with Scottrade, there were a number of interesting nuggets on the technology front revealed by TD Ameritrade.
For example, the launch of innovative integrations with Amazon’s Alexa (using the TD Ameritrade skill app) that enable individuals to get stock market updates points to a future where home automation or virtual assistants will meet the world of investing.
In addition, there was also some insight given on the social media monitoring tool, Social Signals, that helps investors look for investment opportunities based on what stocks individuals are talking about online – in particular on Twitter.
One of the most interesting perspectives, however, came from CEO Tim Hockey’s answer on the possible behaviour of retail investors heading into the next few months post-Trump’s election. Specifically, Hockey’s position is that DIY investors will be looking to reposition their portfolios given the new US President’s policies and initiatives. In particular, the comment that investors appear to be moving in a contrarian fashion – pulling money out on the big rallies, signals there’s some skepticism as to the valuation of the US markets and especially in the larger cap names.
While the US online brokerage marketplace is certainly distinct from Canada’s, there is clearly a view towards what the future may hold for the industry in Canada.
With regards to innovation, US brokerages such as TD Ameritrade are clearly developing the next generation of tools that DIY investors can use to monitor and potentially trade with. The race to bring in innovation to the DIY trading world reinforces the observation that online brokerages are going to have to become much more technology based than they already are, which may be easier said than done.
One potentially noteworthy comment by Interactive Brokers’ CEO Thomas Peterffy in their latest conference call probably should serve as a warning to online brokerages. Specifically, Peterffy was asked about why Interactive Brokers took the unusual step of payment of high amount of bonuses to employees at the end of Q4, to which Peterffy responded “It’s a very competitive world.”
Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week
It was a tough week for online investors caught on the wrong side of a platform outage at Questrade illustrating once again that trading isn’t without its random risks. Mentioned this week were BMO InvestorLine, CIBC Investor’s Edge, Questrade, Scotia iTRADE & TD Direct Investing.
From the Forums
Cut it Out
This past week the firestorm of tweets on Questrade’s platform outage also extended to comments in reddit’s Personal Finance Canada thread in this post. Fortunately, Questrade also stepped in to the discussion to help let people know their options during an outage.
In this post, from the RedFlagDeals.com investing forum, one user learned the hard lesson about currency conversions at online brokerages – namely that they can get expensive. Read on to find out how others can get around the extra fees related to currency conversions.
Into the Close
That’s a wrap on the first chaotic week of the Trump presidency and a record breaking week on the markets. For those trying to figure out where markets go from here, you may want to take the weekend off and simply remember that the trend is your friend until it ends. For all those celebrating the Lunar New Year this weekend – happy New Year! And for those looking for something to celebrate – Monday isn’t here for another couple of days, make the most of it!