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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – May 5, 2017

Not sure if May got the memo, but it was April that was supposed to get the showers. For many traders, however, this is the month when many of them will be looking to exit the market according to the saying: ‘Sell in May and go away’. While things don’t always go to plan, Canada’s discount brokerages are hoping that nobody rains on their parade, especially with the launch of their summer campaigns on the horizon.

In this week’s roundup we review the latest discount brokerage deals & promotions, including where to find out about a special offer being launched by in the coming weeks. From there we look at the latest trading stats from one US online brokerage and how the no-commission trading pricing could reshape the way online brokers operate. Following that story is the profile of a Canadian independent discount brokerage who was recognized for keeping their people happy and motivated. As always, we’ll close out the roundup with a summary of DIY investor tweets as well as a selection of DIY investor forum posts.

Let’s May a Deal

Now that spring has sprung, the weather isn’t the only thing changing. With RRSP season and income tax season now officially over, interest in online brokerages will start to wane until the fall, so Canadian brokerages will start to have to get a little creative to get the attention of DIY investors over the next few months.

With so much happening in the news, it seems that this year investors who are in the markets will be keeping a closer eye on their portfolios in case, you know, nuclear war breaks out. Aside from that unpleasant reality, it appears that Canadian online brokerages are hoping that some creative promotional offers will be good enough to get the attention of the folks who are in the market for an online trading account.

At the start of this month, Scotia iTRADE and National Bank Direct Brokerage were the only two brokerages to advertise new offers for DIY investors. Desjardins Online Brokerage also made headlines in the deals section by extending their existing offer out through the end of June.

In the case of iTRADE, there’s a promotion linked to the SCENE points program where new account registrants to Scotia iTRADE can receive 25 commission free trades plus between either 5,000 and 100,000 SCENE points (depending on deposit levels). The SCENE points can then be redeemed either for free movies or with partner restaurants or retailers where SCENE points are accepted.

Whether the points offer moves the needle with DIY investors is debatable (i.e. are movies really that valuable?) however the fact that there is a promotion and that people might pay attention to the deal might make it worthwhile campaign.

Another offer in the Canadian discount brokerage space comes in the form of a fantasy stock (ETF) picking competition from National Bank Direct Brokerage and Horizons ETFs.

With NBDB being the only Canadian online brokerage to allow commission-free trading on Canadian ETF buys and sells, ETF investors and those who want to learn about investing using ETFs, would find the competition (and the possibility of winning up to $7,500 cash) appealing.

For DIY investors, it appears competition between discount brokerages is still healthy.

There are still at least 23 advertised offers, and based on a number of in-person conversations with Canadian online brokerages, there are several deals and offers in the pipeline – with some being planned for later in May.

Of course, we saved the best news for last. This month, will also be launching a special promotional offer for DIY investors that will be sure to get quite a bit of attention. Be sure to stay tuned as we’ll be dropping the news on our Twitter feed first.

Interactive Brokers in a Squeeze

With the rollover into a new month, Interactive Brokers has once again published their trading metrics and provided a unique window into the landscape of online trading.

As we had reported in a previous edition of the weekly roundup, there are some interesting storm clouds brewing in the online brokerage space in the US that make looking at these stats important – especially because they might offer some insights into what may happen in Canada.

To recap, there appears to be a price war in the US online brokerage market in which major players such as Schwab, TD Ameritrade and E*Trade Financial have all drastically cut commission prices. Interactive Brokers, by comparison, reported an average equity commission per trade of about $2.30 and thus has yet to follow suit with some of their competitors.

It is against that backdrop that there are several noteworthy observations about Interactive Brokers’ stats.

First, since Interactive Brokers releases their full set of trading metrics dating back to 2008, it is very interesting to note that they continue to grow their account base. From the start of reporting in January of 2008 to the most recent set of results, accounts at Interactive Brokers have climbed from 97.2 thousand to 410.8 thousand. For those keeping score at home, IB’s accounts have grown four-fold in about nine years. Curiously, however, the crucial metric for online brokerages – Daily Average Revenue Trades (DARTs) – has not grown at the same pace. In 2008, the cleared average DART per Account was  774; in 2017 the YTD average is 382, which is slightly less than half the average in 2008. Granted, 2008 and 2009 were crazy years for volatility and trading, however, it is a curious observation that despite the growth in accounts, trading has not followed suit.

Another interesting stat to compare this against comes from online brokerage Robinhood. Specifically, the growth chart recently reported on their blog which shows that they’ve grown from no accounts in 2015 to over 2 million in 2017 and are now valued at about $1.3B (USD).

Source: blog screenshot

Robinhood has been increasing its feature set to cater to more active investors (including those that would use margin).

A third interesting development from the past week was the spike in E*Trade Financial’s share price on the whispers that there may be a buyer. Without speculating on who that might be, it is interesting because E*Trade is also caught between its identity as an online brokerage firm that caters well to active traders and one that can service the client base being sought after by TD Ameritrade, Schwab and even Robinhood.

What does this all mean?

What these data points suggest is that Interactive Brokers, which has typically been branded as the ‘active trader’ brokerage of choice, has either been bringing on clients who don’t trade as much as some of their earlier clients have, or if there are active traders in the mix, there hasn’t been the volatility around to get traders really excited. Likely it’s a mixture of both, especially since Interactive Brokers has made the decision to shutter its market making division because it’s been losing money.

Going after a less active trader, however, means competing with upstarts, like Robinhood, who’ve been crushing it from an account growth point of view, as well as going up against bigger players, some of whom are also prepared to go to zero commissions and would still be profitable.

At first blush, Interactive Brokers’ continued account growth, growth in assets and increasing margin balances are good signs. The fact that the active trading segment appears to be stalling, however, reinforces that active traders are hard to come by and are being sought by all sides. In trying to add accounts by bringing on less active traders, Interactive Brokers is moving into a very crowded space, so it will be interesting to see how their metrics, particularly the account growth, behaves with deeper value alternatives now becoming more prominent.

Questrade wins best managed company award

One of the interesting things about a recent visit to the Questrade offices in Toronto is not only the level of security in their offices, but also to see how much they’ve grown and continue to evolve.

Despite the addition of the size of their team, there is something different about Questrade than at the bank-owned brokerages, namely that at Questrade there are lots of ‘younger’ folks on staff.

While it may not seem consequential, it might help to explain how, unlike some of their peers, Questrade has a very pronounced presence on social media – especially on Twitter and in forums. To their credit, there’s a certain authenticity (aka street cred) to the culture of being able to connect with younger investors because so many of their own team would fit the mold of a typical client.

Recently Questrade received (yet again) an award for being a well-managed company. Part of the online brokerage (and financial services) experience entails knowing that who you’re dealing with is doing something right in the people department.

Here’s a video from the President & CEO of Questrade, Edward Kholodenko, which sheds some light on life at Questrade.

It was a rough week for a couple of online brokerages who caught more than a little flak for some technical outages. Of course there were plenty of customer service sirens going off all around. Mentioned this week were CIBC Investor’s Edge, Questrade, RBC Direct Investing, Scotia iTRADE, TD Direct Investing and Virtual Brokers.


From the Forums

Insight Scoop

With deals and promotions being a feature of this week’s roundup, we found this post from RedFlagDeals’ investing forum to be interesting. Specifically, it looks at one user’s experience in trying to see if the current BMO InvestorLine deal is a good fit.

Trading Places

There’s usually someone in the forums looking for a little help in understanding the transfer process from one brokerage to another. In this post from reddit’s Personal Finance Canada section, the original poster wanted to know about the process of moving into Questrade from Disnat. It’s an interesting story because 1) it’s not a move you hear about every day 2) it got a few very insightful reactions from some readers 3) it is another example of where Questrade and Qtrade get mistaken for the same brokerage and 4) Disnat’s parent – Desjardins Online Brokerage – purchased Qtrade Investor, so possibility that things could end up going full circle was mildly amusing (at least for the bystanders – and since it wasn’t to Qtrade but to Questrade not actually a case that the original poster would encounter, but someone actually might).

Into the Close

It’s Friday – otherwise known as the day of the week on which all of the crazy, potentially life changing news gets announced.  It’ll be a good weekend to stay indoors and enjoy thinking of being in a galaxy far, far away (where it doesn’t rain so much). Have a great weekend!

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