With summer officially arriving this week, it also brought with it the longest day of the year. Of course, that is literally what happened on summer solstice, but for some traders (Sears, Home Capital?) and even several online brokerages facing outages, there were also some pretty long days that didn’t feel quite so sunny.
This weekly roundup is filled to the brim with news from Canadian discount brokerages. In this special (and extended) edition, we take a look at the Questrade outage that interrupted so many traders last Friday and what the folks at Questrade were able to share about what happened. From there we take a look at more exciting deals news with the official launch of two deals from Virtual Brokers that are bound to get DIY investors’ and competing online brokerages’ attention. Up next, we take a look at the roll-out of a new trading platform for active traders in what is quickly becoming a very crowded trade. With the finish line in sight, we take a quick look at some of the latest developments in the robo-advisor space in Canada and end off this roundup with some fascinating tweets from Canadian DIY investors.
School of Hard Knocks: Questrade Faces Off Against DDoS Attack
For many DIY investors, and active traders in particular, the idea of ‘risk’ when trading online usually extends to thinking about managing position size. The more paranoid among us might take the extra step to ensure they have a backup plan for connecting to the internet in case their ISP randomly cuts out, print out copies of trades or do some due diligence on their online brokerage account insurance and fraud coverage (e.g. CIPF or more if required).
At a certain point, however, seasoned traders understand that with the increasingly connected technical infrastructure, multiple computer networks talking to each other and a big target on the backs of major financial organizations, there is lots that can go wrong. As such, being in the markets as an online trader is intrinsically risky.
This month, however, there was yet another category of risk that appeared that may require online traders to adjust their calculus of risk – Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.
Questrade confirmed on Twitter (and other channels) this past week that they were the target of a DDoS attack on Friday June 16th and it was that attack which was responsible for knock trading platforms and the website offline throughout the trading day. And while having trading systems go offline during trading hours is never good, it didn’t help matters for Questrade’s clients that the DDOS attack also fell on options expiry day – something that seems particularly nefarious.
According to Questrade representatives, although this was a disruptive and hostile cyber-attack, the DDoS was not a hack and no client data was compromised.
When we asked for some additional details of what happened on that day, the Questrade team was obviously cautious about sharing too much, however they did confirm that there were actually multiple DDoS attacks that took place that day. And, while their team was successful at repelling earlier attempts to disrupt access, the subsequent attacks were much larger and increased traffic levels to a point that began to impact service.
Many users took to Twitter and popular investing forums to share their frustration, including several users who shared images of their wait times to deal with customer service agents. Questrade did confirm that “all orders placed across the day were unaffected and executed.”
Of course, this was cold comfort for DIY investors and traders who were left to determine what was happening while positions were open and trade opportunities came and went.
While it is a tough lesson to learn on both sides, the biggest takeaway is that it is possible for a DDoS attack to happen to just about any online organization. True, it would be harder to thwart some configurations (e.g. Cloudflare) rather than others, but the massive DDoS attack in October 2016 that managed to cause outages to sites/services such as Twitter, Netflix and Paypal should serve as a reminder that even the most tech-savvy firms are vulnerable and that the sophistication of attacks continues to evolve as do the protocols put in place to protect against them.
If there is a silver lining for Canadian DIY investors, it is that in Q1 2017 DDoS attacks targeting Canada made up a very small (<1% according to Kaspersky Labs) portion of attacks globally.
Importantly, according to Kaspersky Labs, the days of the week that are the most likely targets are Saturday and Friday – something that options traders should pay particular attention to come expiry dates.
Whether another DDoS attack could interfere with Questrade or even another Canadian online brokerage (or brokerages) is hard to say. Unlike a hack, DDoS attacks make use of the growing number of internet connected devices, many of which have varying degrees of security, which means that the possibility of increasingly larger attacks is plausible. Understandably, financial services firms are cagey about their security infrastructure. For their part, Questrade has scheduled maintenance and has confirmed that they’ve enhanced protection layers to guard against future disruptions.
Announcing a planned maintenance window, Friday, June 23 at 11pm ET to Saturday June 24 at 11am ET. pic.twitter.com/oatc0ra8jM
— Questrade (@Questrade) June 23, 2017
That said, a little bit of paranoia can go a long way for active traders. One of the scenarios that online traders should take note of is planning for a full outage and ensuring they have alternate means of communicating with their brokerage. Having their brokerage’s phone number programmed on a phone (or on a post-it note on the monitor) or being able to DM on Twitter (if they have it) seem like reasonable precautions. That and a good luck charm probably wouldn’t hurt either.
Virtual Brokers New Deals Make Waves
As mentioned in last week’s roundup, Virtual Brokers was on the cusp of launching two new promotional offers for DIY investors. This past Thursday, Virtual Brokers officially took the wrapping off their new deals and in doing so, they’ve managed to show that it’s not only the weather that’ll be hot this summer, but the discount brokerage deals action too.
The first promotion from Virtual Brokers is an ETF-focused offer that enables qualifying individuals to trade 20 ETFs (either Canadian or US) commission-free. Specifically, new clients to Virtual Brokers must deposit a minimum of $5,000 and be on the classic commission plan ($9.95 per trade) to qualify. When registering, users must enter the promo code that corresponds to either the commission free US ETF trading or commission free Canadian ETF trading.
Importantly, commissions will be charged at the time the trade is placed but will be rebated to clients in February 2018 provided they meet the eligibility conditions at that time.
Virtual Brokers’ second promotion is a very interesting cash back offer, which rebates $50 every quarter for every 20 trades that are made in that quarter, for up to one year. Again, new clients need to deposit a minimum of $5,000 and will receive rebates on the commissions they incur during the specified intervals.
What makes both of these offers so compelling for DIY investors is the almost unprecedented value being put forward.
In the case of the year-long commission rebate, clients are receiving a $200 cash back offer for 80 trades. At the standard commission rate of $9.99 per trade, that means that for a spend of $799 ($9.99 x 80), there is a rebate of $200 which works out to a 25% discount on trading commissions.
So, while there are deposit and trading hurdles to qualify for the cash back, for somewhat active traders or swing traders, this is essentially a way to get 80 trades at $7.46 flat (i.e. no ECN fees) for a year, plus have the option for commission-free buying of ETFs (which would be required to hold for at least one business day).
Similarly, for those that elect to take the ETF deal, from a ‘value’ point of view, users are getting a rebate of $50 on essentially 20 trades. At the standard commission rate of $9.99 per trade, this also works out to be a 25% discount.
As we had alluded to at the beginning of the June deals report, Canadian brokerages are getting more creative with their offers. In this case, Virtual Brokers put their creative efforts to good use as this is one of the first offers that blends trading minimums and commission rebates over the span of a year.
With lots of time left in the summer months, it will be really interesting to see how other brokerages respond and what kind of ramp-up in promotional activity takes place industry-wide to start winning over DIY investors.
Disnat Direct Launching Market-Q Platform
This past week, Desjardins Online Brokerage began migrating active trading clients away from their Nexxa-based Disnat Direct trading platform onto a sleeker, more modern interface called Market-Q.
If the Market-Q name sounds familiar, it is because it is the same platform that National Bank Direct Brokerage rolled out for active traders in 2014 – albeit with a few enhancements that make the switch from Disnat Direct less disruptive. And, it looks familiar, it is because the trading platform is similar to the one powering BMO InvestorLine’s Market Pro.
Of course, for Desjardins Online Brokerage, especially the active traders, there are a number of upgrades the new trading platform brings, not the least of which is the ability for users to access this platform across devices (read: Mac friendly)
Based on the famous active trader platform, eSignal, Market-Q is incredibly feature rich.
According to the makers of Market-Q (Interactive Data), this platform is described as “A browser-based, real-time, streaming market data desktop terminal for financial institutions, Market-Q can be accessed anywhere via a PC and web browser, with no software download required. Market-Q has custom workspaces, interactive charts, research, option chains, a market depth feature, searchable news, alerts and data export capabilities.”
On the Desjardins Online Brokerage connection, users can monitor up to 500 symbols simultaneously – which really is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to platform functionality. For active traders, this seriously upgrades the charting, monitoring, position monitoring and trading experience from the previous active trading platform.
Over the next week there are numerous webinars intended to provide an in-depth orientation to the essential features of the platform, including how to set up watchlists, charting, enter and monitor orders as well as navigate the platform generally. Transitioning from the previous platform to the Market-Q configuration is going to be a drastic change so it is great to see that Desjardins Online Brokerage is providing more than just pre-recorded webinars – they’re actually providing numerous training and orientation opportunities where clients (and non-clients) can tune in to learn about the new platform and, importantly, ask questions to a product expert.
Now that both Desjardins Online Brokerage and National Bank Direct Brokerage offer the same advanced platform, it will be even more of a challenge for very active DIY investors to separate these two firms.
That said, for active traders, the good news is that there is yet another top-shelf trading platform on the market.
Ultimately, the ‘trading’ experience – ie functionality, speed of execution, stability and pricing will dictate which platform active traders will turn to.
In a space where ThinkorSwim (TD Direct Investing), Trader Work Station (Interactive Brokers), Power Trader (Virtual Brokers), Market-Q (NBDB & Desjardins Online Brokerage), Market Pro (BMO InvestorLine), Advanced Dashboard (TD Direct Investing) and FlightDesk (Scotia iTRADE) are now battling it out for the active trader segment, it will be up to the marketing teams to determine whether or not they can get the highly demanding active trader segment to pay attention – and ultimately pay for the platform.
It’s been an interesting week for Canadian robo-advisors.
The big news this week was the news that WealthSimple is not only peering over the fence to the US but is now also peering further afield into the UK as a possible market to expand into.
Competing in Canada is one thing but the boldness of the WealthSimple franchise to take on two of the largest English speaking markets speaks to their confidence and war chest. Going global is a strategy that’s worked well for Interactive Brokers however there are countless daily updates of firms across the globe pouring money into the robo-advisor space. Case in point, this week Blackrock also managed to raise $33.6M (USD) to expand its push into Europe’s robo-advisor game.
Closer to home, bank-owned robo-advisor BMO’s SmartFolio has expanded its list of supported account types by adding added RRIF (Registered Retirement Income Fund) and spousal RRIF accounts to the menu. With this new addition, there are 8 account types that are supported by SmartFolio with plans to add LIRA and Corporate/Non-Personal accounts on the horizon.
Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week
It was a bumpy week for many online brokerages with trading interruptions and disruptions getting the attention of investors. Mentioned this week were BMO InvestorLine, Questrade, RBC Direct Investing, Scotia iTRADE and TD Direct Investing.
Into the Close
Sometimes Friday is a marathon, other times a sprint. If you’ve managed to make it through this marathon edition, congratulations! Have a great first weekend of summer and get some relaxation in – it seems like this summer is going to be a wild one.
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) June 23, 2017