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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – May 12, 2017

While savvy investors and traders enjoy the ‘boring’ trades, in these markets, the truth is that nothing is quite so boring. For now, stock markets are moving on earnings – which is a good sign – however there appears to be a little extra uncertainty thrown into the mix, which for better or worse, makes things exciting to have to trade around. For mainstream investors, it seems that rather than try to pick off individual success stories, another product, ETFs, are continuing to be the ‘boring’ trade with some exciting results for those who run them and the online brokerages that facilitate the trading of these.

In this week’s roundup, we take a look at some interesting and interrelated developments in the world of investor education and ETFs that could be an area where Canadian online brokerages look to battle it out next. From there, we profile what the hiring decision of one online brokerage might mean for the Canadian landscape, especially out west. As always, we’ll serve up the latest DIY investor tweets and a pair of interesting forum posts to see what Canadian investors are talking about.

When a webinar is more than a webinar

One of those bigger trends among the online brokerages is the shift to digital content, in particular, with investor education. While the shift from seminars to webinars is nothing new in this space, what is noteworthy is the uptick in investor education content that one bank-owned brokerage, CIBC Investor’s Edge, has been deploying via webinar.

In late March, there was a webinar by Jamie Golombek that discussed some of the implications of the latest Canadian Federal budget and this past week, we noted an announcement for a webinar on ETFs presented by David Barber or First Asset. While two points a trend does not make, it did signal that something is stirring at CIBC Investor’s Edge.

Source: Screenshot of CIBC Investor’s Edge Website

A handful of brokerages, notably Desjardins Online Brokerage, National Bank Direct Brokerage, TD Direct Investing and Scotia iTRADE, have structured, regular and ongoing investor education webinars and seminars. The recent uptick in CIBC Investor’s Edge’s webinar schedule may signal a more concerted effort to deliver DIY investor educational content or it may resemble the approach taken by brokerages such as Credential Direct or Virtual Brokers where webinars are held intermittently during the year. Either way, both the timing and the topic are an interesting choice given what other online brokerages are delivering in terms of ETF-related content.

In May, TD Direct Investing is planning a pair of webinars on ETFs and Desjardins Online Brokerage has introduced a webinar showcasing the latest Desjardins-branded ETFs.  By comparison, National Bank Direct Brokerage also includes a regular webinar on the basics of ETFs and are running their latest promotional sponsorship of the Horizon’s ETF ‘Biggest Winner’ competition with, you guessed it, ETFs at the core of the contest structure.

There’s very little doubt that ETFs have become very popular with investors – this past week for example, ETFGI, a research group that tracks the ETF ecosystem, reported that more than $4T USD (yes trillion) is invested in exchange traded funds/products globally. In Canada, figures from the latest CETFA report (data to April 30, 2017) show a total of $126.2B in assets under management across 22 ETF providers and 495 funds.

Source: Screenshot of CETFA report

One of the interesting observations of the Canadian data is the remarkable growth over the last year of assets at players both big and small. Some noteworthy names for the DIY investor space include BMO Asset Management (45.4% y/y), Questrade Wealth Management (+58.9% y/y), RBC Global Asset Management (65.1% y/y) and TD Asset Management (173.7% y/y).

What has not grown as quickly, however, has been the content from Canadian online brokerages for DIY investors on understanding and navigating the ever-expanding world of ETFs.  To be fair, the ETF providers themselves do provide quite a bit of educational content (usually about their specific types of funds) and often partner with online brokerages to deliver the content to the online brokerages’ clients. With 495 Canadian funds in play and well over 6,000 internationally, picking and choosing ETFs is starting to rival picking individual stocks in complexity and choice – especially for the DIY investor.

With a new webinar from CIBC Investor’s Edge on its way as well as webinars about ETFs from several online brokerages who are active with investor education, the race to provide quality investor-focused educational content on ETFs appears poised to heat up during the next few months. Already the commission-pricing for ETF trading/investing has become a focal point for DIY investors, so the combination of continued retail investor interest and increasing competition (both among ETF providers and online brokerages) could result in some very interesting maneuvers by Canadian discount brokerages and some very creative tools and services for DIY investors.

Deal  Extension

It’s always a good sign to see deals come to market and to have them extended. Qtrade Investor has extended their transfer fee promotion for about a month with the new deadline being June 12th. This offer lowers the minimum deposit amount to qualify for a transfer out fee coverage (typically $150) from $25,000 to $10,000. For more details on the latest deals/promotions from Canadian discount brokerages, check our current deals section here.

Interactive Brokers looking to Vancouver for Customer Service Centre

Even though the Canadian online brokerage space is a dynamic one – especially when it comes to staffing and turnover, there are the occasional developments that provide an interesting window into the inner workings of these largely private organizations.

One of the interesting pieces of information that recently crossed our radar was a post for a job opportunity from Interactive Brokers Canada. Specifically, the post was for a customer service representative for a brand-new office located in Vancouver, BC. The significance of this last sentence is threefold.


Source: Screenshot from Interactive Brokers’ website


First, it appears that Interactive Brokers Canada is expanding beyond its headquarters in downtown Montreal. While several brokerages have a footprint in BC, many do not, so for Interactive Brokers to open an office in Vancouver (even if it may be largely a call-center) is a signal that they’re pushing to serve Western Canada and potentially areas further afield.

The second interesting aspect of this position is the language requirement, specifically that applicants need to have fluency in Mandarin as well as English. This additional language requirement is in line with other reported news of Interactive Brokers growing its account base in Asian markets. Whether these reps would be servicing exclusively Canadian clients or international clients is unknown, however the region (i.e. along the Pacific) and skillset of these prospective employees suggests Interactive Brokers Canada may be building infrastructure for strategically important demographic of user and doing so at a fraction of the cost it would require for the same operation in the US (think currency advantage).

Finally, with the introduction of the TFSA and RSP accounts, Interactive Brokers has opened itself up to dealing with many more client service-related inquiries (in addition to the traditional trading account queries). Bolstering their client support infrastructure (especially their call centre) means that in addition to providing low commission pricing, Interactive Brokers is also paying attention to customer support.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

A relatively quiet week for most brokerages on Twitter, nonetheless there were more jeers than cheers. Mentioned this week were CIBC Investor’s Edge, Questrade, Scotia iTRADE and TD Direct Investing.

From the Forums

A propos

Sometimes the timing just works out. This post from the Personal Finance Canada thread on reddit is a great example of the kinds of scenarios that beginner DIY investors find themselves in when trying to navigate the world of ETFs & online brokerages for the first time.

Itch to Switch

One of the most consistent reasons DIY investors think of switching online brokerages is because of the fees they’re paying. In this post on reddit’s Personal Finance Canada subreddit, one user expresses their frustration at the fees paid by their spouse and is looking for a better deal.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on another wild and crazy week. And, it seems fitting that this weekend should be a time to thank mom’s everywhere for putting up with us during our crazy toddler/teenage (and adult) years – so thanks mom for being awesome and to mom’s everywhere for all of the wonderful things you do!

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