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
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!
Earth to #TRAPPIST1…we read you loud and clear. Thanks @NASA for this cosmic discovery! #GoogleDoodle pic.twitter.com/EDh6sDjKIQ
— Google Doodles (@GoogleDoodles) February 23, 2017