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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – February 24, 2017

Spring may still be a month away but there are many who’ve already had more than enough of winter. Of course, change is certainly the theme for Canadian discount brokerages as their new reality is one in which they will have to become better at managing it and demonstrating that they can pull it off without a hitch.

In this week’s roundup we take a closer look at one Canadian online brokerage that unveiled a major change to its front-facing website earlier in the week. From there we’ll take a look at a recent evolution by the parent of another popular online brokerage as they introduce Canada’s latest robo-advisor. As usual, we’ll close out with the latest chatter from DIY investors on social media and in the investor forums.

Scotia iTRADE website gets a major overhaul

This past week, after what likely involved many conversations about the finer points of typography, colour palettes and ‘user experience’, Scotia iTRADE unveiled their new public-facing website.

While we were given an early look at the new website, now that the site has gone live we can finally shine a brighter spotlight on the website itself, what Scotia iTRADE hopes it will achieve and what the new site means for DIY investors and iTRADE’s competitors.

Online trading continues the tradition of change

Ever since online brokerages hitched their wagons to the world of internet trading, there has been a constant tension between the world of finance and the world of technology.

On the one hand, finance is about stability, trust and continuity. On the other, technology is about change, innovation and taking chances. And, as a result, as money becomes more digital, online brokerage firms are increasingly becoming technology firms first and financial service firms second.

That said – what does the digital shift for finance have to do with online investing? In a nutshell, everything.

When it comes to online brokerage websites, it is clear to see that the first thing that consumers see and interact with will have an important impact on how perceive that particular brand or firm. Are they competent? Are they trustworthy? Do they run a dilapidated front end or do they care about what they do enough to make it look good and function effectively? These are just some of the questions DIY investors would have asked while visiting a branch in person but now ask when they visit a website or use an app.  The website is the digital ambassador for the brand and the longer online brokerages leave their sites fallow, the less inclined anyone will be to pay attention, let alone trust what the experience will be like.

That said, good websites are not cheap to design, build, implement and monitor. In a world where Canadian online brokerages are facing fierce competition from one another, as well as declining commission revenue and possible threats from products/services such as robo-advisors, justifying the spend to redo a website communicates that a brokerage is willing to keep itself in the game and that it can evolve with the times. As in the real world, you have to dress the part.

And, while we have witnessed many of Scotia iTRADE’s peers already go through the redesign process over the past three years, the fact that Scotia iTRADE has finally rolled out their new site signals that they, too, are very much in the Canadian online brokerage race for the long haul – good news, of course, for the long-term buy and hold investors who want to park their money somewhere that is well maintained.

Features, functionality and feelings

Being the weekly roundup, we can’t go into excessive detail on the new site, but given the scope of changes, we can touch on a few interesting elements in their new website and explore a bit about how these changes stack up to the previous site.

One of the most notable changes to the new Scotia iTRADE website is that it has drastically reduced the amount of text on pages in favour of a cleaner, less cluttered look and feel.  As shown in the image below, menu options – at least at the top level menu section – have been simplified from the 9 options to go somewhere down to four key categories: About, Invest, Fees & Education.

While their very meaty dropdown menus still contain quite a bit of information, they are far less overwhelming that the previous design. Also the new menus have clearer quick links to take a user to common information without having to hunt too hard to find it.

Another notable element that has changed in the new website is the removal of the login window at the top of the screen. This might be a sore spot with existing clients who would prefer not to click anywhere to go to a login window, however it was a reasonably good gamble that existing clients would accommodate the change to having to click the ‘sign in’ button to access their account to get access to their own money. The tradeoff (pun intended) is that with the new design, the iTRADE branding stands out and the sight line is cleaner as the page loads.

In keeping with a trend that appears in a number of other online brokerage sites and financial services web pages, icons have found their way onto the homepage. TD Direct Investing and Qtrade Investor’s recent website upgrades, which preceded the launch of Scotia iTRADE’s website, also rely on icons to communicate conceptually relevant information in a way that provides some visual variety to the text and photographs on the page.

 

 

Scotia iTRADE has divided the icon section into information for new clients and existing clients, placing what are likely the most popular pieces of information to either visitor at the very top of the list of icons displayed.

 

 

Lastly, the new website is also notably more diverse and colourful in comparison to its predecessor.

In keeping with a trend in Canadian financial services firms towards embracing a more diverse view of what a ‘DIY investor’ should look like, the imagery selection features many more women, investors of varying ages and ethnicities. Additionally, although the new website makes extensive use of stock images, the choices of outfits and settings of the models are more visually striking yet approachable than the previous choices of black & white photographs with red accents.

Having opted to design a responsive website for a mobile-driven world, Scotia iTRADE is clearly banking on a future in which those who want to access their website will do so from a variety of devices. The decision and execution on going the responsive route are not without their own challenges either.

As can be seen from the image above, there are still kinks to be ironed out – such as the copious amounts of whitespace in one of their most popular sections linked to commission pricing. Because mobile design likes to stack elements vertically, there are a number of examples on the new website where how information gets presented requires figuring out the unique challenges that a responsive design environment poses.

Making it happen

Ultimately, done is better than perfect. Replacing a website is a significant undertaking and not without it its risks. So, for an online brokerage to invest in an upgrade to their website – especially on at the size as scope of the Scotia iTRADE site, it is encouraging sign that Scotia iTRADE feels confident they will be in the online brokerage race for some time.

The lack of immediate public outcry or praise from DIY investors means that Scotia iTRADE can count this launch as a win. From a user experience point of view, the new site is simpler to navigate, easier to find information and more accessible.

For DIY investors, while the important features and pricing haven’t changed, it is encouraging that financial service firms understand the value in being responsive to consumer expectations and are shifting to make their product offering easier to understand.

Of course, it will be particularly interesting to monitor how Scotia iTRADE intends to keep their brand fresh and engaging to DIY investors in this new digital reality. As all online brokerages have come to learn, the digital first impression will almost certainly become what the next generation of DIY investors will use to determine whether they are in the right place or not.

On our radar

Earlier this month, Qtrade Financial (parent to Qtrade Investor) entered the robo-advisor (or digital advice) pool with their own new service called Virtual Wealth.

While the roll out is still in its early stages, Qtrade Financial is deploying a product in an already crowded space.

With over a dozen firms already in the fray, it will be interesting to see what VirtualWealth does to distinguish itself from its competitors – many of which are either startups or the products of deep-pocketed banks and to see what kind of splash it attempts to make to gain awareness and mindshare in this space.

On a more curious note, the mindshare piece may be a bit of an uphill battle – at least at first. The branding decision to go with VirtualWealth could present some challenges as online brokerage, Virtual Brokers, has largely come to be associated with the ‘Virtual’ tagline in the Canadian online investor market.

That said, Qtrade Investor is no stranger to a little bit of confusion. DIY investors on forums still routinely confuse Qtrade Investor with Questrade, despite having almost two decades to distinguish these firms from one another.

Ultimately, naming choices aside, succeeding will come down to more than just who wears it better.

In an already crowded field, the website for VirtualWealth feels at home with a clean and modern design that leans on elements from Qtrade Investor’s recent website refresh. This is clearly not their first rodeo and despite being a new product line, they don’t seem out of place.

Also, there’s a noticeable continuity between branding elements on the Qtrade Investor site and the new VirtualWealth site. And, while subtle, these elements will be very important for VirtualWealth to leverage the strong brand reputation of Qtrade Investor and Qtrade Financial as established but innovative financial services providers. This latter point is especially relevant as the ‘startup’ style robo-advisors have little to no track record to trumpet and thus will have an even more difficult time pricing their offering higher than that of the competitive rates VirtualWealth is entering the market with.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

With more DIY investors in the market as RRSP season draws closer to the deadline, the timing for outages could not be worse. This week’s tweets highlight the not so smooth rides. Mentioned are CIBC Investor’s Edge, Questrade, RBC Direct Investing, Scotia iTRADE & TD Direct Investing.

From the Forums

Feeling De-Fee-ted

If there’s one thing DIY investors really dislike, it’s probably fees. In this post from reddit’s Personal Finance Canada, one user was looking to get his father a better deal by asking other DIY investors for their suggestions on discount brokerages.

By the Numbers

As a DIY investor, one of the unpleasant realities is record keeping and tax documentation. In this post from the Canadian Money Forum, one forum user is trying to get to the bottom of why the numbers don’t add up on an important tax form.

 

Into the Close

So this week was certainly out of this world. Yes, there are Oscar moments coming up, and probably some great hockey or grim news – but seriously – new planets?! In all the excitement, here’s hoping that we manage to keep ourselves around long enough to enjoy what is a great discovery for humankind. Have a great weekend!

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – February 17, 2017

One of the most interesting qualities about markets is that they behave like voting machines. Despite the inflammatory rhetoric coming out of Washington, stock markets in the US and Canada have, for the most part, been voting for optimism in the economy. The lesson: trade the chart not the news.

Speaking of lessons, the starting point of this week’s discount brokerage roundup shines the spotlight on one Canadian discount brokerage that seems to be testing the waters of the investor education pool. Next, there’s some exciting news about a bank-owned online brokerage that is setting up to unveil its new public facing website very soon. From there, we’ll take a look the latest developments in the deals & promotions space and report on the chatter from DIY investors on Twitter and the investor forums.

Virtual Brokers Launches DIY Investing Education Seminar

For DIY investors looking to get oriented to the world of investing and online brokerages looking to boost client confidence in taking the investing plunge, there’s no bigger win-win than investor education content. This past week, Virtual Brokers, waded slightly further into the DIY investor education pool by sponsoring an investor education day featuring speakers from 5i Research and the Independent Investor Institute.

The event itself, is scheduled to take place in Markham, on Saturday February 25th and runs from 1pm to 4:30pm. Presenting at the event will be Ryan Modesto, Managing Partner at 5i Research and Ziad Jasani, Founder of the Independent Investor Institute.

This won’t be the first time Virtual Brokers has worked with these two firms. 5i Research currently has a promotional offer with Virtual Brokers that provides VB clients with access to 5i Research’s newsletter service for a year. In the Independent Investor Institute’s case, Virtual Brokers has run webinars with them in the past as well. What is interesting, however, is that both of these firms will be providing investor education content jointly in a live session – a move that Virtual Brokers has not typically undertaken to grow their client base.

Screenshot of Virtual Brokers’ Seminar Landing Page

With the addition of a live seminar, it is clear that Virtual Brokers is continuing with their strategy to build on providing investor education as part of their value proposition to DIY investors. Late last year, Virtual Brokers launched a new investor education focused section to their website that included additional primers on investing topics – something that should be appealing to beginner investors looking for some pointers on the basics of investing.

As mentioned at the outset, educational support for investors is typically a win-win for online brokerages. That said, discount brokerages definitely have a strong incentive to build confidence and enable DIY investors to make their own trading decisions. As individuals trade more, brokerages reap the benefits in the form of commission revenue.

Investor ‘education’ is a mixture of information about investing as well as orientation on how to use features, tools on a particular brokerage’s platform, then there is a hybrid that shows DIY investors how to conduct research on particular brokerages’ platforms.

Currently, investor education seminars and webinars are still provided by TD Direct Investing, Scotia iTRADE, National Bank Direct Brokerage and Desjardins Online Brokerage although there has been a noticeable pullback in the quantity of educational sessions delivered.  That said, Virtual Brokers has clearly signaled an intent to add investor education into what they bring to the table – which is something that will help to differentiate their offering from those competitors who do not.  Moreover, Virtual Brokers has selected two engaging investor education content providers who will undoubtedly encourage interested investors to spend a Saturday afternoon in the company of fellow investors and learn about how to navigate the current investment terrain.

All told, it looks like Virtual Brokers’ latest move might prompt others in the space to up their game which is always good news for DIY investors. Stay tuned.

Canadian Discount Brokerage to Launch New Website

As much as we love to get the scoop on a new story, we’ve got some exciting news about the launch of a new website by one of Canada’s popular online brokerages.

We can’t reveal which online broker it is at the moment but we’ve had a chance to take a sneak peek at their new website and will share an exclusive early look on the SparxTrading.com blog over the next few days.

Be sure to check back or follow us on Twitter where we’ll announce the story when it goes live.

Deals View

With the RRSP contribution deadline (March 1st) just around the corner, there are plenty of deals and promotions for individuals looking to open an online trading account. In what is a sign of the competitive landscape, there are now over 30 promotional offers in play for DIY investors to take advantage of, with almost all Canadian online brokerages offering some kind of incentive to attract new clients or assets.

While there haven’t been any new deals announced, this past week RBC Direct Investing’s bonus points offer, which was originally set to expire on February 15th has now been extended to March 1st. DIY investors were eager to see what, if any, possible other deals RBC Direct Investing would offer however, those interested in a commission-free trade or cash-back offer from RBC Direct Investing will have to continue waiting or look elsewhere for this kind of offer.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

Exciting times around the discount brokerage world as many investors are kicking the tires on a new brokerage account. Mentioned this week were the most popular brokerages on social media – Questrade, Scotia iTRADE & TD Direct Investing.

From the Forums

Comparing Canadian Online Brokerages

With so many choices for DIY investors to choose from, making a decision ultimately comes down to what people feel is most important to them. This post, from reddit’s personal finance Canada forum, highlights which online brokerages forum users think might be best suited to the poster’s particular needs.

Learning the investing ropes

Everyone has to start somewhere. For one aspiring DIY investor the familiar question of where to begin was raised along with a few eyebrows as to the possible motives for posting on the forum. Nonetheless, this post from the Canadian Money Forum is an interesting look at the community of DIY investors and how many have been helped to get started by the wisdom of the crowd.

Into the Close

Happy family day to everyone outside of BC celebrating this holiday. With markets closed in Canada and the US, this will be a rare opportunity to step back, relax and recharge for the predictably unpredictable week ahead.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – February 10, 2017

Did someone say rally? While the Trump news cycle is on full blast, a funny thing has been happening in financial markets in the US and Canada – they’ve been going up. Despite the many sounds of alarm that are being rung by newscasters and analysts everywhere, the fact that financial markets are rallying in spite of it means that investors are clamoring to get into markets, at least for now.

For Canadian discount brokerages, the past week also showcased some very interesting maneuvering. In this week’s roundup, we’ll take a look at one major online brokerage that is banking on international opportunities. Next we take a look at another bank-owned brokerage that is sending one its platforms into early retirement. From there we’ll take a quick scan of what DIY investors had to say on Twitter and round out with a look at chatter in the investor forums.

World Denomination

CIBC Investor’s Edge now appears to have some very grand global ambitions. One of Canada’s big bank-owned discount brokerages took a very bold step with their latest feature: the ability for clients to be able to hold not just US dollars but six other foreign currencies as well. On the list of foreign currencies are Euros, British Pounds, Swiss Francs, Australian Dollars, Japanese Yen and New Zealand Dollars, all of which can be held in both non-registered and registered accounts (except for RESPs).

CIBC Investor's Edge introduces USD trading account
Screenshot from CIBC Investor’s Edge

In a year in which equity markets are sure to be impacted by uncertainty, there are many who are looking to foreign currencies for trading opportunities, so the timing of this new set of features is, for some investors, spot on.

By all accounts (pun intended), this is a major score for CIBC Investor’s Edge and their clients.

Starting first with the fact that adding the ability to settle trades in US dollars in a registered account means that there are no more messy conversion fees to deal with (unless you want to of course). In addition, clients can also receive dividends, interest and other distributions in US dollars – something not all bank-owned brokerages offer the ability to do.

While CIBC Investor’s Edge may not be the only bank-owned brokerage to work in multiple currencies (HSBC InvestDirect enables trades to settle in foreign currencies but does require conversions), they are the only major Canadian bank-owned brokerage to enable clients hold the currency itself in a registered or non-registered account. So, not only can individuals have a USD RRSP, they can also have cash in one of the six other currencies in a registered (or non-registered) account also.

This latest move by CIBC Investor’s Edge will certainly get the attention of their bank-owned brokerage competitors as well as independent brokerages, most of whom do not offer currencies other than USD to be held in a registered (or non-registered) account. So, in terms of differentiation, this definitely hits the mark.

Another reason why this move is bound to make a splash is because there are no extra fees associated with the multi-currency account – again not something other Canadian brokerages are offering for free.

Over the next few weeks there will almost certainly be more chatter and clarity that emerges as savvy DIY investors digest how to take advantage of the volatility in the US markets as well as in markets across the world. In the meantime, there are a few questions that are bound to arise now that CIBC Investor’s Edge is wading into the world of multi-currency accounts, such as whether the minimum amount to waive administration (or account maintenance) fees being charged on the account would be in the currency of the account (i.e. 25,000 euros to waive administration fees in a registered account) or the Canadian equivalent.

Of greater intrigue, however, is that if multi-currency accounts are a reality, does this then set the stage for CIBC Investor’s Edge to open up more formally to international trading? A speculator can certainly wish.

Screened Out

Retirement is on the minds of lots of folks at this time of year and for many it’s still a long time away. But, for Scotia iTRADE iPad app retirement is right around the corner.

After announcing in late 2016 that the iPad app would be discontinued some time in early 2017, this past week on social media Scotia iTRADE broke the news to a disheartened user the app’s days are quite numbered.

To @MomtoNikoP’s point – it’s hard to believe that the app itself has been around for about 4 years already. Unfortunately for technology, that is quite a long time.

Of course, in dealing with older technologies or deciding how best to adapt to changing needs of clients, online brokerages have to continuously wrestle with just where to allocate their technology resources. Sadly for the tablet app, it didn’t make the cut.

While there is appeal to using a tablet, perhaps this move by Scotia iTRADE is a signal of the realities of DIY investor behaviour. One of the most important benefits of trading or researching stocks on a tablet is screen real-estate. Rather than having to squint, pinch and zoom, researching charts or reading quarterly reports is easier on the eyes on a tablet than on most smartphones. The catch is, however, most people have smartphones and would rather use those devices than tote around or hold up a bulky tablet.

Also from a user experience point of view, investors ‘on the go’ that want to monitor, and even execute, transactions can work with data in small tables and can probably get away with using a smartphone. If you’re likely to be at a place where you can use a tablet, there’s a good chance you can probably use a laptop. Also, laptops are now lighter and more powerful than they’ve ever been, so for the DIY investor that needs a bigger screen, the ability to use a keyboard and a mouse make relying on the tablet a hard sell.

So, while there are users of tablet-specific apps that might relish in being able to go seamlessly from device to device, the latest move by Scotia iTRADE shows that tablet-specific apps might end up getting the swipe left as most DIY investors choose between either laptop, desktop or smartphone.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

This week some DIY investors found themselves having to sort through technology glitches – and ultimately let people know about it on Twitter. Mentioned this week were BMO InvestorLine, CIBC Investor’s Edge, Questrade, RBC Direct Investing, Scotia iTRADE, TD Direct Investing & Virtual Brokers.

From the Forums

Deals in Motion

For the deal hunters among us, this latest thread on Red Flag Deals throws some love our way and also shows that there are more than just the advertised offers we have listed in our discount brokerage deals section – there are sometimes targeted offers in play too.

DRIP by DRIP

Dividend reinvestment plans (aka DRIPs) are a popular strategy for many investors to build wealth over the long term. In this post, also from Red Flag Deals, one investor was learning some important lessons on how dividends get issued and reinvested in the wild.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on another crazy week. For those on top of this rally, there’s definitely a reason to cheer heading into the end of the week. Of course, how long to hold on for is anybody’s guess at this point – to quote a famous frog, ‘it’s not easy being green’. Have a great weekend and stay warm!

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – February 3, 2017

It’s hard to believe a whole month has gone by in 2017. With the news cycle dominated by the ever unpredictable movements of the US president, speculation is as rampant as ever. For Canadian online brokerages, however, getting attention is far more difficult than just sending out a tweet at odd hours. Nonetheless they’re still finding a way to make some headlines.

This week there’s lots on the docket. First we take a look at some ‘yuge’ news to come out of the deals arena, as one online brokerage definitely went ‘bigly’ on the incentive offers for RRSP season. From there, we’ll cover the headlines made by two online brokers and their respective awards for service and price that were announced this past week. In keeping with the influence of the US on the news cycle, one online brokerage caused a ‘tremendous’ stir by repealing and replacing their standard commission rates with something much lower. And, as is usual fare, we’ll take a look at what DIY investors were chatting about on Twitter and in the investor forums.

New Deals & Promotions

It’s a new month and while winter still might be here (amiright Vancouver?), February’s deals and promotions at Canadian discount brokerages are red hot.

At the outset of February, Virtual Brokers made a very big splash by launching four deals at the beginning of the month, including the mind-boggling $10,000 commission-rebate offer that dwarfs anything put forward by other Canadian brokerages in recent memory. After factoring in the deals that were retired and the inclusion of credit card points related special offers, there are now at least 30 incentive offers from Canadian brokerages.

Looking back on January, there were six brokerages that announced offers, primarily timed around the RRSP season. While most were commission rebate offers, there were also a pair of cash back incentives and even a couple of credit card points offers for good measure.

Despite almost all brokerages offering some type of offer, there was one notable exception – Interactive Brokers. Perhaps because they already enjoy having significant appeal to the trader community, Interactive Brokers doesn’t need to work as hard to attract this highly prized category of the DIY investor market. Even so, with no shortage of other Canadian brokerages who are willing to try and get a share of those in the market for an online trading account, Interactive Brokers may want to reconsider their approach here in Canada in order to give them more visibility in a very crowded space.

Virtual Brokers, thanks to the launch of its recent flurry of deals now leads Canadian brokerages with 6 offers followed by Questrade and Desjardins Online Brokerage, each of whom has four. Even though Virtual Brokers saw some turnover, it’s clear they’re doubling down efforts heading into the RRSP deadline, with promotions and marketing ramping up significantly.

In terms of the deals themselves, transfer fee coverage remains a staple at almost all discount brokerages, followed by the commission-credit and cash back category. The least popular category, interestingly, remains the referral bonus with only three brokerages having an advertised program in place.

For DIY investors looking at opening an online trading account, be it for an RSP account, a TFSA or just another trading account to put in that income tax refund, this year competition amongst brokerages means a great selection of offers. And while a deal may not be the only reason to select a brokerage, the market has clearly shown that it can be the make or break factor in such a competitive race.

Accolades for Service & Pricing

For a pair of Canadian online brokerages, February is off to a great start.

At what is the busiest time of the year for Canadian discount brokerages, financial services research firm Surviscor released the results of two assessments of the Canadian online brokerage industry.

The first, an analysis of customer service quality known as the ‘Service Level Assessment Review’ found that Qtrade Investor handily outperformed its competitors, both bank-owned and independent, in terms of response times to client service inquiries.

With a score of 96% Qtrade Investor was more than 15 percentage points ahead of the second place Desjardins Online Brokerage (81%) and third place Scotia iTRADE (79%).  This assessment used 170 ‘mystery shopper’ service enquiries per firm and measured how quickly each firm responded as well as a number of other items including accuracy of response and whether a firm met its own response guidelines.

While Qtrade Investor’s strong customer service scores are in keeping with its history of strong performance in this category, it was also interesting to note just how far apart Canadian online brokerages were in terms of their scores on this assessment.

For example, the difference between the top rated Qtrade Investor (who scored 96%) and bottom rated Laurentian Bank Discount Brokerage (who scored 4%) is almost unbelievably wide. Even so, the number of firms (9) who scored less than or equal to 50% was also staggering, especially because it contained four major bank-owned online brokerages as well as firms such as Questrade (who scored 15%) who have demonstrated a strength in responding to clients across social media channels and far flung places such as reddit.

Without knowing the exact scoring methodology or how the results were gathered, however, it is difficult to put the numerical values into context and as such, while these figures likely do measure some component of the online customer service enquiry process, they should also be taken with caution.

The second Surviscor assessment which was announced was this week  was for the ‘Cost of Services’ award given to Virtual Brokers.  While the press release about this reward was published by Virtual Brokers, it was interesting to note that this particular survey simulated the cost of trading by looking at over 13,000 trades across brokerages and found that Virtual Brokers came out on top.

Further details about this survey or its methodology were not available so the results should be treated with caution however it is clear that as competition between brokerages heats up, awards and recognition for areas of strength are going to be increasingly a part of the marketing and advertising strategies of all Canadian brokerages who receive them.

Major US Online Brokerage Cuts Commissions

What a difference two dollars can make. Charles Schwab, one of the largest online brokerages in US with almost $3 trillion in assets, announced this week that they were lowering commission prices down to $6.95 per trade from $8.95. In doing so, Schwab caused a massive sell off in the stock prices of other publicly traded online brokerages such as E*Trade Financial and TD Ameritrade as markets anticipate that these firms will likely have to follow suit and lower commission prices (and therefore revenues) to compete.

The latest move is an interesting case study for industry observers as Schwab’s business model has evolved in the low interest rate, low volatility environment to rely on managed wealth fees as a significant source of revenue rather than trading commissions. Currently less than 11% of net revenues are from trading.

In the Canadian online brokerage landscape, this move might inspire a large enough player (such as a bank-owned brokerage) that has both a strong managed wealth business as well as an online brokerage component to disrupt the market as a whole with a commission price drop from the $9.95 standard.

Internal data from SparxTrading.com already indicate that for CIBC Investor’s Edge, there has been a dramatic shift investor interest away from higher cost alternatives because of CIBC’s commission price cut to a standard commission of $6.95.

The fallout from the latest move by Schwab will be interesting to monitor, in particular because it puts tremendous pressure on firms such as E*Trade Financial and TD Ameritrade to respond. Additionally, it could very well signal to Canadian firms that yet another round of commission-lowering is on the horizon, especially if the largest players at the table decide like their US counterparts, to aggressively gain market share.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

Lots of chatter on Twitter this week – there’s good, bad and even a little ugly. Mentioned this week were BMO InvestorLine, CIBC Investor’s Edge, Questrade, RBC Direct Investing, Scotia iTRADE, TD Direct Investing & Virtual Brokers.

From the Forums

Glitch Happens

This past week, a user on reddit posted a notice of a technical outage on Questrade’s platform. It was an interesting thread insofar as the author seemed to entertain switching because of a glitch however other users chimed in to provide alternate perspectives.

Platform for Trading

A familiar question comes from this recent post from reddit’s personal finance Canada section with a user looking for a trading platform/brokerage to trade ETFs. Worth a read for those in a similar boat.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on yet another crazy week. Fortunately for football fans, the big game takes place this Sunday which might offer just a little sanctuary from the political football that keeps getting tossed around. For those who don’t really care much for football, here is a little something that will hopefully send you into the weekend on an entertaining note.

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Discount Brokerage Deals & Promotions – February 2017

With the big game coming this weekend, it seems fitting to kick off the deals and promotions action for February in a big way. Canadian discount brokerage deals have reached a feverish pitch as the race to win over DIY investors intensifies to all-time highs.

The biggest news, however, is the launch of four new promotions in a single day by Virtual Brokers. If they were looking to make a splash, then this was certainly one sure fire way to get some attention.

Before getting into what’s new in February, a quick highlight of January will point to how Canadian DIY investors now have the champagne problem of which online brokerage offer to choose from when opening up a new trading account.

Like 2016, January 2017 was also a busy month for launching deals and promotions. Deals from BMO InvestorLine, CIBC Investor’s Edge, Scotia iTRADE, Credential Direct, Qtrade Investor and RBC Direct Direct Investing were all launched throughout the month, with almost all these offers falling into the commission-free trade or cash-back category.

Both Scotia iTRADE and RBC Direct Investing, however, launched deals that were related to credit card bonus points. In the case of RBC Direct Investing, clients who also had an RBC credit card were able to use points towards trading commissions (at RBC Direct Investing) and individuals signing up for a Scotia iTRADE account could also receive a welcome bonus of travel reward miles. Interestingly with almost all of the offers extending to at least the end of February if not the end of March, the RBC Direct Investing points bonus offer expires in mid-February, setting the stage for an intriguing question as to what – if any – offer RBC Direct Investing may come up with as Canadian DIY investors sprint towards the March 1st RRSP contribution deadline.

As always, if we’ve missed a deal or promotion, send us a note and we can hopefully share it with all of our readers.

Expired Deals

To make room for the slew of offers, Virtual Brokers also retired a couple of their promotional offers at the end of January.

Most notable among the changes was the retirement of Virtual Brokers’ three months of unlimited trading. In addition to three months of commission free trading, this deal included a free trial of the PowerTrader Pro trading platform, which was subsequently then going to be $150USD/mo after the free trial was completed. Fortunately, there is a replacement offer now on the table, although it is not quite the same deal as the one that just expired and with a slightly higher per month cost for the trading platform.

Also on the bench for the time being is the referral program which offered up cash bonuses to new clients as well as those who referred them.

Extended Deals

No deals to mention at this time

New Deals

Go big is the game plan for Virtual Brokers as they launch their most aggressive promotional campaign ever adding four new promotional offers into the deals mix in one launch.

There’s a lot to dive into, so here’s a quick overview.

First, their headline deal of $10,000 in commission rebates is something that is unprecedented in terms of size and scope. Because it is a commission rebate, individuals making up to 1005 trades would have the commissions associated with those trades refunded. What makes this number all the more headline worthy is the fact that the minimum deposit to qualify for this offer is $10,000. The catch, presumably, is that this deal would be most appealing to active traders more so than passive investors, especially because the deadline to use up the commission-free trades is the end of March.

In keeping with the RRSP season, Virtual Brokers has also included a tiered commission offer for new and existing clients. Although it is branded as an RRSP promotion, a number of registered accounts are a part of this promotion, notably TFSA accounts and RESPs. The cash back amounts being offered are $30, $50 or $100 for minimum deposits of $5,000, $25,000 and $50,000 respectively.

The third offer is another commission-free trading promotion. Similar to the unlimited trading deal that was recently retired, this current offer enables clients to trade up to two months commission-free as well as receive two months of the PowerTrader Pro trading platform for free.   After the free trial period, the platform costs $250USD per month and trading will remain commission-free. See the table below for more information.

Finally, for good measure Virtual Brokers has brought back their gift card draw for new clients. Individuals signing up for a new account with Virtual Brokers with a deposit of at least $1,000 will be eligible to be entered into a draw for a $250 Apple store gift card. There are five gift cards up for grabs as part of this contest and the draw for the gift card will take place on October 31, 2017.

Although it hit the deal wires late last month, we’re mentioning the RBC Direct Investing credit card points offer here and adding it to the list of offers covered in the “other promotions” section as well as adding Scotia iTRADE’s travel points promotion to the same category.

As always, we’ll be watching the deals action this month but if there are any deals that we’ve missed that other DIY investors would benefit from knowing about, let us know in the comments below and we update our list accordingly.

Discount Brokerage Deals

  1. Cash Back/Free Trade/Product Offer Promotions
  2. Referral Promotions
  3. Transfer Fee Promotions
  4. Contests & Other Offers

Cash Back/Free Trade/Product Offer Promotions

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 account with HSBC InvestDirect and you may be eligible to receive up to 50 commission-free North American equity trades. Be sure to read terms and conditions for full offer details. n/a 50 commission-free North American equity trades 60 days HSBC InvestDirect Cash Bonus Promo March 3, 2017
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, 2017
Open and fund a new registered account at Virtual Brokers with at least A) $5,000; B) $25,000; or C) $50,000+ in new assets and you may be eligible to receive A) $30; B) $50; C) $100 cash back. Use promo code RRSPCB2017 when signing up. Be sure to read terms and conditions for full details. A) $5,000 – $24,999 B) $25,000 – $49,999 C) $50,000+ A) $30 B) $50 C) $100 Cash back will be deposited just after October 31, 2017 RSP cash back bonus April 30, 2017
Open and fund a new account at Virtual Brokers with at least $5,000 and you may be eligible to receive 2 months of commission-free equity trading and a $250 USD/mo credit towards Edge Trader Pro for 2 months. Use promo code 2MFREE2017 at sign up to qualify. Be sure to read full terms and conditions for details. $5,000 2 months commission-free equity trading + $250 USD/mo platform fee rebate. 2 months 2 months free trading April 30, 2017
Disnat Desjardins Online Brokerage is offering new clients 1% of assets transferred into the new account in the form of commission credits (to a maximum value of $1,000). Minimum qualifying deposit is $10,000. To qualify, individuals will have to call 1-866-873-7103 and mention promo code DisnatFlex or email: [email protected] See details link for more info. $10,000 1% of assets transferred in the form of commission-credits (max credits: $1,000) 6 months Disnat 1% Commission Credit Promo February 28, 2017
Open and fund a new account with Virtual Brokers with at least $10,000 and you may be eligible to receive a commission-credit of up to $10,000. Use promo code 10K2017 at sign up to qualify. Be sure to read terms and conditions for full details. $10,000 Up to $10,000 in commission credits (@ $9.95 per trade) deadline to use trades March 31, 2017. Commission rebates to be offered in January 2018. $10,000 Commission Credit Offer March 31, 2017
Open and fund a new account or fund an existing account at Credential Direct with at least A) $15,000; B) $50,000; C) $150,000; D) $500,000 or E) $1,000,000+ in new assets and you may be eligible to receive A) $75; B) $125; C) $200; D) $500 or E) $1,000. Use promo code CASH2017RSP when signing up. As an added bonus, Credential Direct will donate an amount equivalent to 10% of the bonus paid out to United Way. Be sure to read terms and conditions for full details. A) $15,000 – $49,999 B) $50,000 – $149,999 C) $150,000 – $499,999 D) $500,000 – $999,999 E) 1,000,000+ A) $75 B) $125 C) $200 D) $500 E) $1,000 Cash back will be deposited week of October 9, 2017. Credential Direct Cash Back Promotion March 16, 2017
Open and fund a new account by March 31st with at least A) $20,000 or B) $100,00+ and you may qualify to receive up to either A) $500 or B) $1000 in commission reimbursements. Be sure to read terms and conditions for full offer details. A) $20,000 – $99,999 B) $100,000+ A) up to $500 commission reimbursements B) up to $1000 commission reimbursements 90 days National Bank Direct Brokerage Cash Back Promotion March 31, 2017
Open and fund a new account with Qtrade Investor with a deposit of at least A) $25,000; B) $50,000; C) $100,000; D) $250,000; E) $500,000 or F) $1,000,000 or more and you may be eligible to receive a cash back bonus of A) $25; B) $50; C) $100; D) $250; E) $500 or F) $1,000. Be sure to read terms and conditions for full details. A) $25,000 – $49,999 B) $50,000 – $99,999 C) $100,000 – $249,999 D) $250,000 – $499,999 E) $500,000 – $999,999 F) $1,000,000+ A) $25 B) $50 C) $100 D) $250 E) $500 F) $1,000 Cash back will be deposited by July 31, 2017. Qtrade Investor Cash Back Bonus February 28, 2017
Open and fund a new account at TD Direct Investing with at least A) $25,000; B) $50,000 or C) $100,000+ and you may be eligible to receive A) 50; B) 100 or C) 200 commission-free trades. Be sure to read terms and conditions for full offer details A) $25,000 – $49,999 B) $50,000 – $99,999 C) $100,000+ A) 50 commission-free trades (max value: $500) B) 100 commission-free trades (max value: $1000) C) 200 commission-free trades (max value: $2000) April 28th, 2017 Commission charges will be credited the month following when the charge was incurred. TD Direct Investing 200 Commission-free Trade Offer March 31, 2017
Open and fund a new account with Scotia iTRADE with at least A) $25,000; B) $50,000; C) $100,000 or D) $250,000+ and you may be eligible to receive A) 75; B) 150; C) 200 or D) $250,000+ in commission-free trades. In addition, new clients will also receive FlightDesk active trading platform free for 90 days. Use promo code W17FT when signing up to be eligible. Be sure to read terms and conditions for full details. A) $25,000 – $49,999 B) $50,000 – $99,999 C) $100,000 – $249,999 D) $250,000+ A) 75 (max value: $749.25) B) 150 (max value: $1498.50) C) 200 (max value: $1,998) D) 250 (max value: $2,497.50) 90 days Winter 2017 Free Trade Offer March 31, 2017
CIBC Investors Edge Open and fund a new account at CIBC Investor’s Edge with at least A) $50,000 or B) $100,000 and you may be eligible to receive A) $200 or B) $400 in cash back. Also, individuals who setup a regular investment plan may also be eligible to receive 50 commission-free equity trades. Be sure to read terms and conditions for more information. A) $50,000 – $99,999 B) $100,000+ A) $200 B) $400 +Bonus 50 commission-free trades for setting up Regular Investment Plan. Cash back will be deposited within 30 business days after account funding. Commission-free equity trades good for 60 days after setup of Regular Investment Plan. Cash Back & Free Trade Offer March 31, 2017
BMO InvestorLine Open a new qualifying account with BMO InvestorLine, and fund it with at least A) $100,000; B) $200,000 or C) $300,000+ in net new assets and you may be eligible to receive A) $200; B) $400 or C) $750 cash back. Use promo code PROMO750 when signing up to be eligible. Be sure to read the terms and conditions for more details on the offer. A) $100,000 – $199,999 B) $200,000 – $299,999 C) $300,000+ Cash back bonus A) $200 B) $400 C) $750 Cash back will be deposited the week of November 6, 2017. 2017 Winter Campaign April 2, 2017

Expired Offers

Last Updated: Feb. 1, 2017 21:15 PT

Referral Promotions

Company Brief Description Minimum Deposit Amount Incentive Structure Time Limit to Use Commission/Cash Offer Deposit Details Link Deadline
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
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 tbd
BMO InvestorLine If you (an existing BMO InvestorLine client) refer a new client to BMO InvestorLine and they open an account with at least $50,000 the referrer and the referee may both be eligible to receive $50 cash. To qualify the referee must use the email of the referrer that is linked to their BMO InvestorLine account. See terms and conditions for full details. $50,000 You(referrer): $50; Your Friend(referee): $50 Payout occurs 45 days after minimum 90 day holding period(subject to conditions). BMO InvestorLine Refer-a-Friend June 30, 2017

Expired Offers

Open a new account (TFSA, Margin or RRSP) and receive $50 commission credit . Use promo code: kdkfnbbc $1,000 $50 commission credit 30 days none none
Last Updated: Feb. 1, 2017 21:30 PT

Transfer Fee Promotions

Company Brief Description Maximum Transfer Fee Coverage Amount Minimum Deposit Amount for Transfer Fee Eligibility Details Link Deadline
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
Transfer $25,000 or more to Qtrade Investor from another brokerage and Qtrade Investor may cover up to $150 in transfer fees. See terms and conditions for more details. $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 at least $25,000 or more in new assets to TD Direct Investing when opening a new account and you may qualify to have transfer fees reimbursed up to $150. Be sure to contact TD Direct Investing for further details. $150 $25,000 Contact client service for more information (1-800-465-5463). none
Transfer $25,000 or more to Virtual Brokers and they may cover up to $150 in transfer fees. $150 $25,000 Transfer Fee promo tbd
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 information (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 DisnatFlex. See details link for more info. $150 $50,000 Disnat 1% Commission Credit Promo February 28, 2017

Expired Offers

Last Updated: Feb. 1, 2017 21:30PT

Other Promotions

Company Brief Description Minimum Deposit Amount Required Details Link Deadline
Credential Direct has partnered with Trend Micro to offer 50% off Trend Micro Titanium Internet Security. Use code “TrendCF” at checkout. n/a Trend Micro Special Offer Code none
Disnat Desjardins Online Brokerage, in conjunction with MoneyTalks, is offering 3 months of the “Inside Edge” investor information service to Desjardins Online Brokerage clients. Use promo code DESJ2016 during checkout to qualify. Be sure to read full terms and conditions for more information. n/a MoneyTalks Inside Edge Discount none
Existing RBC clients can redeem 20% more RBC reward points towards contributions to a registered or non-registered account as well as towards RBC Direct Investing commissions. n/a RBC Reward Points Bonus Offer March 1, 2017
Disnat Desjardins Online Brokerage is offering $50 in commission credits for new Disnat Classic clients depositing at least $1,000. See terms and conditions for full details. $1,000 [email protected] 18-30 Promotion none
Scotia iTrade Scotiabank StartRight customers can receive 10 commission-free trades when investing $1,000 or more in a new Scotia iTrade account. Trades are good for use for up to 1 year from the date the account is funded. Use promo code SRPE15 when applying (in English) or SRPF15 when applying in French. Be sure to read full terms and conditions for full details. $1,000 StartRight Free Trade offer none
Scotia iTrade Open and fund a new account with Scotia iTRADE with at least A) $25,000; B) $50,000; C) $100,000; D) $250,000; E) $500,000 or F) $1,000,000+ and you may be eligible to receive 50 commission-free trades plus A) 5,000; B) 7,500; C) 15,000 or D) 20,000; E) 25,000 or F) 50,000 travel points on an eligible Scotia travel points credit card. In addition, new clients will also receive FlightDesk active trading platform free for 90 days. Use promo code W17RP when signing up to be eligible. Be sure to read terms and conditions for full details. A) $25,000 – $49,999 B) $50,000 – $99,999 C) $100,000 – $249,999 D) $250,000 – $499,999 E) $500,000 – $999,999 F) $1,000,000+ Scotia reward points offer March 31, 2017
Open a new account with Virtual Brokers with a deposit of at least $1,000 (for the Classic Commission Account) and you may be eligible to win a $250 gift card to the Apple store. Use promo code 250AGC2017 during sign up to be eligible. Residents of Quebec are not eligible for this contest. Be sure to read terms and conditions for full details. $1,000 (Classic Commission Account) $250 Apple Gift Card Draw April 30, 2017
Open a new account with Virtual Brokers with a deposit of at least $1,000 (for the Classic Commission Account) or $5,000 (for the Commission Free Trading Account) and you may be eligible to receive a one-year subscription to access 5i Research. Use promo code 5iVB2016 when signing up. Be sure to read terms and conditions for full details. $1,000 (Classic Commission Account); $5,000 (Commission Free Trading Account) 5i Research Offer March 31, 2017

Expired Offers

Last Updated: Feb. 17, 2017 21:15 PT