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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – July 28, 2017

Separating news from noise is harder to do some weeks than others. This might have been one of those weeks. Despite markets responding to earnings and fundamentals, and despite economic news that shows Canada’s economy is now firing on all cylinders, there’s just one story that seems to Trump it all. For traders and investors, venturing forward into the unknown is a daily exercise, but the biggest lesson every trader/seasoned investor has learned is the value of risk management.

In this week’s edition of the discount brokerage roundup, we take a look at the balance between innovation and risk management. The first story, a tale of a new website roll out, showcases how a large bank-owned online brokerage navigates the challenge of being both familiar but innovative with one of their most important customer touchpoints. From there, we’ll do a lightning roundup with updates from the deals and promotions arena and some interesting news that could make a splash with DIY investors interested in ETFs. As always, we’ll review what DIY investors were saying on social media and the forums.

CIBC Investor’s Edge rolls out new website

When it comes to websites and design, the common theme among Canadian online brokerages appears to be less is more. This week, CIBC Investor’s Edge officially launched their new public facing website with a refreshed look, simplified menus and navigation and a more focused approach to reaching their core client base.

After being telegraphed to website visitors several weeks ago, the new website is finally here. For a bank-owned online brokerage, such as CIBC Investor’s Edge, designing for the online investor is a balancing act between ensuring the look and feel is consistent with the brand while also creating an experience that resonates with the fast-moving world of online investing.

So, in some ways the new website is a tale of two stories. Yes, the new CIBC Investor’s Edge website is a significant overhaul from its predecessor. Gone are the drop-down menus, the snapshot of the markets and tiny, text heavy pages. In their stead is a visually more modern, responsive and focused website that features the fun and approachable icons present in much of the broader CIBC marketing and imagery (like the penguins). That said, there is still a connection to some of the familiar imagery choices/styles in the headers and the site itself isn’t a bold departure functionally or aesthetically from its peers.

As with many redesign projects, there are lots of interesting angles to discuss. In this case, looking at the reorganization of the content on the website – which appears to be a substantial change – can provide a way to walk through some of the changes and what they might suggest about the evolution of CIBC Investor’s Edge in the fast-moving digital space.

From a design and user experience point of view, one of the most visible changes is the use of a top navigation bar without accompanying drop-down menu items. Likely a design choice that arose from a ‘mobile friendly’ web design, simplifying the menu in this fashion means that users will be scrolling more to find information on the page of interest and that many items from the previous site have been revised to be shorter or removed entirely.

The new menu breaks the website into the following categories:

  • Accounts and Investments
  • Platforms and Tools
  • Research
  • Pricing
  • New Investors
  • Experienced Investors

Previously the menu, at the top level, was broken into:

  • Getting Started
  • Benefits
  • Investor Profiles
  • Education Centre

So, at a high level, there is clearly a shift from talking about how, why and who, to talking about what, how much and who.

A recurring theme in the new website design is that there appears to be a tighter focus on the “investor” rather than the “trader”.

There are subtle things, such as the language choice to use the term ‘investing’ rather than trading as well as some more obvious things, such as the placement of registered account types at the top of the accounts and investments section or, in the platforms and tools section, a heavy emphasis on monitoring and research rather than execution.

Why this is interesting is because despite the pricing for commissions being attractive to very active investors or traders, there isn’t the same technical emphasis either on trading platform, charting or technology/execution that active traders might respond to and that competitor brokerages have. CIBC Investor’s Edge, at least through this website refresh, appears to be catering towards less active investors which means that their bank-owned peers who do have more sophisticated active trading platforms, such as TD Direct Investing, Scotia iTRADE or National Bank Direct Brokerage, might be able to attract these types of active clients who also seek the convenience and security of a large bank-owned brokerage.

Another feature that is clear in the new website is that the layout of the text is less crowded, easier to read and there feels like there’s enough information about the product/service to get a reasonable understanding of what it is without going into too much detail. Subtler, however, is also the use of language. For example, the section for ‘new investors’ explains more clearly and simply what accounts are available and how the process to get started works.

Of course, despite the website refresh and even a web-based experience to help populate the application forms, users cannot (yet) fully open an account online with CIBC Investor’s Edge. New clients still have to print, sign and send forms in or open the account in-branch. While this is certainly not news to the development team at Investor’s Edge, the new ‘norm’ being set by robo-advisors and even some online brokerage peers, is that opening up an account for investing online can be done entirely online.

Overall, CIBC Investor’s Edge’s new website is an evolutionary step forward into the new reality of online investing.

The website has a more modern looking interface as well as a tighter focus on the kinds of clients that CIBC Investor’s Edge might be trying to appeal to. Their commission pricing strategy has given them immediate relevance with almost all DIY investors, so the choice for many DIY investors really comes down to value added features and experience. Fortunately for CIBC Investor’s Edge, buy and hold investors do have a certain amount of patience with the process of investing and are always in the market for a good deal.

Lightning Roundup

Deals get a digital boost

With a new month around the corner, Canadian discount brokerage deals are set to roll over next week. Currently on deck for expiry are Qtrade Investor’s commission-free ETF offer for Canadian ETFs and Scotia iTRADE’s free movie points and free trades offer. The exciting news heading into the new month is that BMO SmartFolio has extended the deadline to qualify for its no management fee offer promotion through to the end of October. Also, another offer is in the pipeline at SmartFolio which we will release more details on in the coming weeks – stay tuned!

Questrade ETFs acquired by WisdomTree

Even though it may be summer, Questrade is busy making waves in the news this past week. Starting first with the big story, the acquisition of Questrade’s ETFs by WisdomTree Canada. Specifically, Questrade has sold its ETF division to WisdomTree in a tactical move to focus on the online brokerage and robo-advisor businesses.

In a quote to the Globe and Mail, president of Questrade Edward Kholodenko stated “After a careful review, we decided that we wanted to focus on our core direct online business as well as our roboadviser business, both of which have seen fast paced growth.”

Deeper in that same story, however, the mention that WisdomTree Canada and Questrade will be working in concert to provide educational materials to Questrade clients and that WisdomTree will be consulting on Questrade’s roboadvisor arm, Portfolio IQ is something that will be particularly interesting to watch evolve.

Another interesting stat, however, also caught our attention. This one was buried in the bottom of the press release in the ‘About Questrade’ section and stated “With 17 years of challenging status quo as Canada’s leading, non-bank online brokerage, over $5 billion in assets and more than 30,000 accounts opened every year, Questrade and its companies provide financial products and services: securities, foreign currency investment, and online wealth management.”

Some quick math suggests that over 500,000 accounts have been opened with Questrade since their launch (no mention of churn or account closures though), which is an interesting stat in and of itself.

What makes it even more interesting is another announcement from Questrade this past week regarding their designation yet again as one of “Canada’s Best Managed Companies.”

While that accolade is a great milestone, in a communication sent to clients there was also another reference to account openings this year, specifically that there have been over 40,000 accounts opened this year. Though it is unclear if this refers to trailing twelve months or year to date, regardless, it is again an intriguing stat considering the size of the Canadian market.

These stats are noteworthy because unlike publicly traded online brokerages in the US, there is very little publicly disclosed information about the number of accounts opened (or currently open) at each Canadian discount brokerage. Again, it warrants repeating that Questrade is referencing accounts opened, which is a combined figure across their managed wealth arm as well as their DIY investing segment and doesn’t report accounts that have been closed – or specify the more accurate stat of net new accounts.

The signals that Questrade’s robo-advisor and DIY investing units are going to get increased focus is certainly going to be worth monitoring. Add into the mix a relatively large US ETF partner and it could make for an interesting combination for both the bank-owned and independent online brokerages to try and maneuver around.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

A relatively quiet week by Twitter standards but there are a few interesting product launches and client experience feedback gems. Mentioned this week are CIBC Investor’s Edge, Questrade, RBC Direct Investing, Scotia iTRADE, TD Direct Investing and Virtual Brokers.

From the Forums

Premier choice

In this post from reddit’s personal finance subreddit, news of WisdomTree’s acquisition of Questrade’s ETF business raised an eyebrow or two.

Withhold the phone

Trading stocks internationally can sometimes come with a peculiar quirk – withholding taxes. This thread from RedFlagDeals’ investing forum started long ago on a withholding tax situation at Interactive Brokers but was revived again as DIY investors bumped into a similar issue once again in dealing with interlisted stocks in the US (and other international) markets.

Into the Close

So that was a crazy week. If there’s one interesting thing about investing and markets, it’s that people take risks – and many times those risks turn into failures. That said, there’s a bigger prize and despite what might be dominating the headlines this weekend, there’s some comfort knowing that there are lots of great people reaching for new heights. On that note, enjoy the following compilation of people being awesome – perhaps there might even be an idea or two for a great weekend project. Have a safe and enjoyable weekend!

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – July 21, 2017

If there’s a lesson emerging from the scandal in the US or from Game of Thrones, it’s that details matter. At least in the case of the US, the details are emerging and in the process, the spin doctors are working overtime to shape the conversation. While this may seem like a leap for the online trading world, in reality, the lesson for DIY investors when considering online brokerages is to try and see past the spin and to focus on the details.

Fortunately, this edition of the roundup is chock-full of details as we take a deep dive into the latest rating of Canadian discount brokerages to be published. From there we provide an update on the latest insight piece on one Canadian online brokerage’s venture into sustainable investing. Wrapping up this week will be a collection of the many interesting (and sometimes colourful) DIY investor conversations that took place on Twitter.

A Q’rious result: Non-bank-owned Canadian online brokerages earn top marks in MoneySense’s latest rankings

For many DIY investors and those looking for a quick answer to the question: “who is the best online brokerage in Canada?” the answer appears to have evolved over the years. The shift appears to evolved from finding a singular ‘best’ online brokerage, to providing a category-based approach to report on discount brokerages who are the best at particular features.

Such is the case in the latest MoneySense ratings of Canadian online brokerages, which were published this past week. Based on data supplied by financial services research firm Surviscor, the latest online brokerage rankings suggest that when it comes to the “best overall” experience for online investing, non-bank-owned online brokerages are edging out their larger and better financed competitors.

Starting first with the ‘winners’ (beware the spoiler alerts). BC-based Qtrade Investor earned the top pick as best overall brokerage followed by Questrade which earned the runner up title of ‘honourable mention’.

In the bank-owned brokerage category, BMO InvestorLine and Scotia iTRADE tied for top pick with no runner up (or ‘honourable mention’) reported.

For followers of the MoneySense online brokerage rankings, there is an air of familiarity about the winners this year compared to 2016. Both Scotia iTRADE and BMO InvestorLine were rated as the best and ‘runner up’ bank-owned brokerage, while Qtrade Investor and Questrade took first and second place in the non-bank-owned online brokerage category respectively. So, as far as the top contenders are concerned, things look largely the same as they did last year. A few notable changes, however have shown up in the 2017 analysis.

This year, for example, the category of “user experience” was used instead of “ease of use”; “best for ETFs” was also introduced given the popularity of ETF trading choices now available and the popularity of these instruments with DIY investors and finally, the category of “best overall” replaced the category of “top independent brokerage.”


2017 2016
Category Top Pick Runner Up Top Pick Runner Up
Getting Started Questrade TD Direct Investing BMO InvestorLine Virtual Brokers
User Experience Questrade Qtrade Investor Scotia iTRADE Questrade
Fees & Commissions CIBC Investor’s Edge


Qtrade Investor

Virtual Brokers

Questrade Qtrade Investor
Customer Service Qtrade Investor Desjardins Online Brokerage Qtrade Investor Scotia iTRADE
Reporting & Record Keeping BMO InvestorLine Qtrade Investor Scotia iTRADE BMO InvestorLine
Market Data TD Direct Investing Qtrade Investor TD Direct Investing Credential Direct
Best for ETFs Questrade

Virtual Brokers

National Bank Direct Brokerage n/a n/a
Best Overall Qtrade Investor Questrade Qtrade Investor (best independent) Questrade (honourable mention independent)
Best bank-owned brokerage BMO InvestorLine
Scotia iTRADE
Scotia iTRADE BMO InvestorLine


A quick scan of the results between last year and this year will show some new faces in certain categories, but by and large, this year’s MoneySense online brokerage rankings show a high degree of similarity to 2016. Nonetheless, as we’ve mentioned time and again on, when it comes to evaluating the online brokerage rankings, it is important to look at the details and critically evaluate the findings to ensure a more thorough understanding of what’s behind a rating or ranking.

Diving into Details

Perhaps one of the most immediate observations is that there are some brokerages that make multiple appearances across different categories. Specifically, although 9 different brokerages were mentioned in at least one category this year, either Qtrade Investor or Questrade were first or second a combined 9 times out of 17 possible mentions.  And, while that does make sense given the overall rankings of both of these online brokerages, when compared to the profile of results from 2016, it is notable that for the bank-owned online brokerages, Scotia iTRADE is far less visible in the top or runner up spots in 2017 than in 2016, despite landing a tie with BMO InvestorLine for top bank-owned online brokerage.

Ratings of Canadian discount brokerages according to MoneySense online brokerage rankings, 2017
Source: MoneySense online brokerage rankings, 2017

A closer look at the 2017 results reveals that of the top two bank-owned online brokerages, only BMO InvestorLine managed to achieve the best in the category of reporting and record keeping while Scotia iTRADE did not make a top pick or runner up in any of the categories mentioned. Curiously, despite TD Direct Investing placing in top spot for ‘market data’ and runner up for ‘getting started,’ it did not make the cut for best bank-owned brokerage or even ‘honourable mention’ according to the results.

Shut out from winner or runner up circles from this year’s rankings were Credential Direct, HSBC InvestDirect, Laurentian Bank Discount Brokerage and RBC Direct Investing. Also overlooked again this year was Interactive Brokers Canada, which was excluded from consideration and almost certainly would be a challenger in the fees & commissions, getting started, and market data categories.

One of the most crowded categories, curiously, was the commissions and fees spot.

Fee-ling crowded

Top pick for fees this year was a tie between CIBC Investor’s Edge as well as Questrade, while honourable mention (another tie) went to Qtrade Investor and Virtual Brokers. Given that commission pricing changes at CIBC Investor’s Edge appears not to have dramatically changed since we first reported the drop 2014, it was strange to see Investor’s Edge disappear from the 2016 ratings (while it did appear in 2015) but reappear in 2017. Likewise, commission pricing at Virtual Brokers has been restructured so that there is now standard commission structure pricing of 9.99 per trade, but Credential Direct (with standard commission pricing of $8.88), which was cited alongside CIBC Investor’s Edge as low cost by MoneySense in 2015, seems like it would have made the cut.

The takeaway: commission pricing is low at many Canadian online brokerages and one of the important factors to consider is whether there are any ECN fees or not. While the MoneySense ratings do not disclose a full methodology of how fees and commissions are calculated, the big picture shows that DIY investors who want to buy based on commission pricing do have a number of choices for good value.

Of course, the commissions and fees category is not without some controversy in this year’s ratings. A concern that we noted with the standard commission reporting, however, is that Scotia iTRADE’s “basic online equity” commission pricing is listed as $9.95, a condition which is true only if clients have more than $50,000 in assets at Scotiabank entities.

If having at least $50,000 in assets is the qualifying definition for standard commission pricing at Scotia iTRADE, then HSBC InvestDirect should have their rate posted as $8.88 rather than $9.95. Conversely, if having the minimum deposit to open an account is considered the threshold for ‘standard pricing’ – which we would argue should be the case – then Scotia iTRADE’s standard commission pricing would be at least $24.99 per trade – almost 4x that of CIBC Investor’s Edge and easily double the $9.95 at most of Scotia iTRADE’s bank-owned brokerage peers.

Again, without methodology detailing how these were calculated, the inclusion of Scotia iTRADE as a top pick with standard commission pricing so far above its peer group and no top pick or ‘honourable mention’ in any of the categories makes it a strange result. Unlike 2016, where Scotia iTRADE does appear in 3 categories as either top pick or ‘honourable mention’, this year’s inclusion in the winner’s circle at the bank-owned brokerage level seems less obvious as to why that would be the case.

To be fair, we’re not trying to penalize Scotia iTRADE. In fact, we noted that there were some notable discrepancies from Scotia iTRADE’s details (at the time of publication) that would be of value for potential clients to take note of and which could shift the scoring in Scotia iTRADE’s favour. Specifically, Scotia iTRADE is better at customer service availability and investor education support than the MoneySense comparisons would imply.

For example, the customer service hours which on the table on MoneySense are listed as Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5:00pm (no timezone specified) whereas according to the Scotia iTRADE website contact section, the hours are listed for client support are Monday to Friday, 8:00am to 9:00pm ET and Saturday from 8:00am to 6:00pm ET. Offering service on a Saturday is something that stands out for Scotia iTRADE so, though the MoneySense category does list hours which might correspond to new account openings, it doesn’t necessarily reflect the experience that existing clients could expect to receive nor does the category clarify the meaning of “telephone services.”

Another point of concern appears under the ‘buyer beware’ category in the MoneySense breakdown where it states Scotia iTRADE has “weak educational material.” The characterization as “weak” seems highly subjective and inconsistent with the fact that Scotia iTRADE has not only had a long-standing focus on investor education but even on the relatively recent redesign of their website, they committed to having education as one of the four main menu choices. Further, Scotia iTRADE also has learning modules on basic topics related to trading and platform orientation, and more importantly, they have an extensive calendar of educational events (such as webinars) that are presented frequently and regularly throughout the year. For a claim of ‘weak’ educational material to be applied to Scotia iTRADE to be substantiated, even on a relative basis, it would mean that the vast majority of Canadian online brokerages ought to be called out for the same ‘buyer beware’ drawback and even more so for not having these webinar/seminar supports in place.

Wait a minute, Mr. Postman

Another interesting aspect of the rankings and ratings is the customer service response times on email across the Canadian online brokerage industry.

Surviscor regularly monitors the email response times for Canadian discount brokerages and has reported this data as part of its Service Level Assessment (formerly the Customer Email Responsiveness program) scoring. Included in MoneySense’s online brokerage rankings this year was a particular focus on email performance, and in particular, how poor the industry (with a few exceptions) is doing when it comes to responding to requests via email.

The range reported from this year’s analysis was substantial. Qtrade Investor was the quickest to respond with an average of just under 2 hours while Laurentian Bank Discount Brokerage came in at 113 hours.

Canadian discount brokerage email response times
Source: MoneySense online brokerage ratings, 2017

Given the staggeringly high variation, it would have been nice to have the standard deviation and number of emails sent to each firm reported. Averages, in and of themselves, are of limited value when trying to figure out “what’s normal” or representative of a service experience. Another unknown which would add more context would be knowing how many emails were sent (was it 3 or 30?), when they were sent (Friday nights, weekends or during market hours)? and what qualifies as a response (did the question get answered or was the note simply acknowledged as received?).

Another interesting observation was that the figures reported for Desjardins Online Brokerage’s response time in the dynamic chart supplied show it at 9 hours, which is the same for RBC Direct Investing. That is relevant because Desjardins Online Brokerage managed to score as a ‘honourable mention’ for that score while RBC Direct Investing did not. It is likely the case that the reported chart is rounding numbers (since Qtrade Investor was reported in the text to have an average under 2 hours but is reported in the chart as 2 hours) but this clarification is one that becomes important, since rounding to the nearest hour is a significant amount of time in an online world.

For the Ratings

For many DIY investors, including readers of MoneySense magazine, navigating the maze of Canadian online brokerages is both time consuming and complicated. Ratings such as the latest online brokerage comparison provide a handy way to understand the strengths and limitations of particular Canadian online brokerages.

While the latest ratings don’t necessarily “rank” numerically where particular online brokerages stand,  the MoneySense online brokerage nonetheless showcase a ‘top pick’ and an ‘honourable mention’. So, those DIY investors looking for a recommendation can find a brokerage worthy of consideration. In fact, a particularly nice feature for this year is the comparison tool which enables side by side comparisons of online brokerages.

All that said, as has been stated many times on SparxTrading, it is important for readers and users of discount brokerage rankings to have clarity on what the categories being used mean as well as how they’re measured. The MoneySense online brokerage ratings rely heavily on data sourced from Surviscor’s analysis and as such, it might be useful to point readers to the methodology sections on the Service Level Assessment (which explains some of how the email testing is done) and also on the assessment for categories like user experience or commissions and fees.

In sum, Canadian online brokerage account shopping can be as simple or complicated as DIY investors want it to be. To help make the task of figuring out what other rankings or ratings are saying (such as the MoneySense brokerage rankings or those from the Globe and Mail), we’ve added all the ratings received by a Canadian online brokerage onto the profiles of each individual brokerage (accessible in each online brokerage’s profile page).  The best news for DIY investors coming out of these rankings, however, is that competition amongst brokerages is pushing at least a handful of them to put forth their best effort into winning new clients and keeping existing clients satisfied.

Socially responsible investing in the spotlight at Scotia iTRADE

For many investors, there is a growing trend towards thinking carefully about the impact and nature of where profits come from. Socially responsible investing is definitely gaining in popularity with investors and even this past week, there were headlines that major robo-advisors in the US were moving into this space by adding the SRI into their portfolio offerings.

For DIY investors in Canada, however, there’s at least one online brokerage who’s taken the leap to provide a tool to research and analyze companies according to their environmental, social and governance (ESG) components. Earlier this year, Scotia iTRADE became the first Canadian online brokerage to launch this ESG tool for their clients.

This past week, we profiled this tool in detail and provided a highlight of some of the issues that DIY investors might want to consider when using this tool, as well as whether this tool – itself a measure of controversy, might in fact also be a source of controversy in the Canadian online brokerage landscape.

The ESG screener and associated reports enable DIY investors to investigate the ESG rating of hundreds of companies listed on the TSX in order to learn more about whether those companies fit within the investor’s goals of socially responsible investment decisions.

Of course, while socially responsible investing is an idea that many can get on board with, in reality the definition of what this means and how it works exactly are important to know.

In the world of DIY investing, in particular in Canada, there has been a discussion as to the nature and types of tools that order execution only brokerages can provide. Separately, events in the US with respect to fiduciary duties of money managers and advisors have also helped to colour the debate on social responsible investing – namely that it introduces a bias that may be at odds with the duty or objective to maximize the monetary benefit to the investor.

Click to read the full story in the blog here.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

This week it looks like outages and advertising were the topics of choice for DIY investors on Twitter. Mentioned this week were Questrade, RBC Direct Investing, Scotia iTRADE, TD Direct Investing and Virtual Brokers.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on another week. Now that the weekend is here, hopefully there’s some sunshine to enjoy. Of course, for GoT enthusiasts, there’s plenty of winter to look forward to on Sunday and lots of watercooler talk on Monday. For a more real-life GoT experience, however, be sure to tune into CNN as the intensity level of the drama that is US politics ratchets up. On that note, now that ‘Spicey’ has left the building, here is a fun collection of memes commemorating the departure.

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Let’s get ethical: Scotia iTRADE launches tool to help DIY investors with sustainable investing

Even though Scotia iTRADE has a predominantly red logo, it appears that they’re banking on investors seeing this online brokerage as being green thanks to a new sustainable investing push.

Earlier this year, Scotia iTRADE launched an interesting tool for DIY investors interested in socially responsible investing by introducing a sustainability research add-on to its online trading platform. The sustainable investment tool, developed by Sustainalytics, offers information on three key company components—environmental, social and governance (ESG)—that the DIY investor can use to guide their investment choices.

Observant Scotia iTRADE clients have undoubtedly already noticed the barrage of ads online as well as the new addition to their online platform (screen capture below) seamlessly incorporated into their ‘Quotes & Research’ page. DIY investors can see at a glance how a company is performing against its peers in terms of its ESG measure.

Currently, the tool holds information across 20 industries and 1200 companies from the TSX and the Russell 1000. So, although the universe of companies covered is limited, with tens of thousands of publicly listed companies globally, presumably coverage and range will improve as more companies begin reporting ESG measures.

Scotia iTRADE may already be anticipating an expansion since the onscreen drop down menu of industries already offers more than 40 picks. Options range from ‘Aerospace & Defense’ to ‘Utilities’, with choices in-between such as ‘Automobiles’, ‘Chemicals’, ‘Consumer Services’, ‘Healthcare’, ‘Oil & Gas Producers’, ‘Steel’, ‘Textiles & Apparel’, and ‘Transportation’, to name just a few.

The overall ESG gives a score from 1 to 5, “laggard” to “leader” (a single “green leaf” with an ESG score in the bottom 5% of the industry to five “green leaves” with an ESG score in the top 5%). There is also a ranking of the company’s level of controversy with respect to “customer incidents.”

DIY investors who want more information can also download a multi-page ESG report that details how and why the company has earned its score in each area of environmental, social and governance activity. In this way, DIY investors can decide whether the company’s organization and business structure aligns with their own views and support them, or not, with their investment dollars.

Interestingly, Scotiabank, parent to Scotia iTRADE, has an ESG report score of 61 (out of 100) and is considered an ‘average’ performer when it comes to ESG, with a relative rank of 100. Among the risks cited in the ESG report is a significant governance controversy arising from a class-action suit naming Scotiabank (and 22 other banks) in a money laundering and market manipulation investigation in the US. Ironically, where investors set their own ESG threshold might preclude them from using Scotia iTRADE at all (being a subsidiary of Scotiabank). If DIY investors felt strongly enough about ESG, then this bank-owned brokerage’s score of 61 may or may not be acceptable.

Screenshot of ESG snapshot report

A quick tour of the platform shows that the onscreen tool is easy to see, read and navigate, and the downloadable PDF document that details the ESG of a company is well laid out and comprehensive. That said, there are a few limitations too, the most important being that readers might find that comments made by the report are not thoroughly referenced.

For example, the Bombardier ESG report claims that their CSeries aircraft’s lighter weight and “other aviation techniques” can allow for “20% fewer carbon emissions during flight.” The reference to “other aviation techniques” is vague, and the carbon emissions reduction claim needs a reference the reader can trace.

That said, sustainable investing issues are complex to distill down to a short format and the layout of these reports may simply indicate a lot of information crammed into too few pages. Striking a balance between depth of coverage and readability is a challenge when the information’s scope is so broad.

Another feature of interest is an ‘Equities Screener’ page if DIY’ers want to view more companies with similar ESG values.

On the ES page, the ‘Sustainable Investing’ button, lower left, is marked with a bright red & white “NEW” notice, hard to miss on an otherwise grey and white page, as the screen capture, below, illustrates. Here is also where investment criteria get really interesting for the DIY investor—and possibly controversial.

Screenshot from screener with sustainable investing feature

DIY investors have long been able to include fundamental criteria such as the sector, country and various valuations on price and returns when looking to invest, but now investors can also screen for ‘Business and Human Rights’, ‘Bribery & Corruption’, or ‘Military Contracting’. These criteria are considered extra-financial concerns, deemed by most corporations as “noise” in terms of investment interests and by only a few as a “signal” that speaks to a company’s values and is reflected in its stock worth.[i],[ii]

The DIY investor should decide whether these criteria are important to them, or perhaps more, financially influential to a stock’s value. What’s the return on investment (ROI) on diversity hiring or labour relations in terms of a company’s performance on the stock market? Does it matter that they recycle? Or offer healthcare? Can these components even be teased out of a stock valuation?

Indeed, recent research shows that they can, and the white paper prepared for Scotia iTRADE by Sustainalytics draws on the 2016 Harvard study’s findings.

The study separates immaterial issues from material ones; that is, issues that are not generally reported as part of a company’s financial filings, but that do have impact on its corporate value (material issues) from ones that do not. The study found that corporations addressing material issues while ignoring immaterial ones outperform companies that address both material and immaterial concerns by 4% and companies that address neither by almost 9% (8.90).[iii]

Possible impacts of sustainable investing on advisors

Ironically, the notion of sustainable investing or ESG-based investing is itself not without controversy, especially for advisors or individuals who make investment decisions on behalf of others.

In the US, the Department of Labor has struggled in giving direction through its Interpretive Bulletins on the consideration that financial advisors should give to non-monetary issues aka economically targeted investing (ETIs), socially responsible investing (SRIs) and ESGs when advising on investment concerns for publicly held trusts.[iv] Its latest issuance on the matter of the Employee Retirement Investment Security Act (ERISA) and ETIs, IB 2015-01, says that ETIs may be considered when financial considerations between choices is otherwise equal.

Regardless, the issue of ETI and ESG criteria utilized when choosing investments has been argued as far as the US Supreme Court.

In its 2014 unanimous ruling that fiduciary duty was breached with the introduction of ETI or ESG criteria, the judge stated that public trustees must act solely for the “financial benefits” of plan members rather than pursue “non-pecuniary benefits” such as “employee ownership of employer stock.”[v]

This argument has been further argued in a 2016 US law paper, where the authors note that the legislation guiding trustees for ERISA requires them to invest funds “prudently,” “diversely” and “loyally.”[vi] According to this argument, anything else opens the doors to influence that might adversely impact the decision making process and possibly introduce extraneous factors that unduly influence the trustee.

The bottom line

There is some compelling evidence to suggest ESG impacts company value. What value these tools that provide this information to DIY investors offers must wait to be seen.

The issues in the US while distant, could influence policy here, where a number of provinces are now considering tightening up fiduciary responsibilities of financial advisors to guidelines similar to their US counterparts. Further, it does add an interesting twist into the conversation around what constitutes influence and recommendations – something Canadian discount brokerages (as order execution only entities) and investment industry regulators are currently wrestling with.

For the moment, however, Scotia iTRADE continues to double down on its marketing efforts to trumpet the ESG banner. In doing so, they are not only highlighting that there are now tools that can help investors make more ethically informed investments but they are also getting other Canadian online brokerages asking whether this is something that could help inspire DIY investors to vote (and trade) with their dollar.

End Notes

[i] “ . . . the number of companies issuing sustainability reports has grown from less than 30 in early 1990s to more than 7,000 in 2014, while the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI), as of 2014, had 1,260 signatories with $45 trillion in assets under management.” Mozaffar Khan, George Serafeim, Aaron Yoon. “Corporate Sustainability: First Evidence on Materiality”, Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard, Working Paper 15-073, Retrieved from
[ii] “In the financial sector, half of the 63 companies surveyed by SASB’s Industry Working Group said they currently provide no disclosure on ESG issues in their 10-K filings, with another 14 percent offering only boilerplate statements and 30 percent reporting on industry-specific issues. Just 6.0 percent of the companies disclose ESG metrics. Reporting on performance and goals is virtually unheard of.” David Bogoslaw. “SASB previews sustainability standards for financials”, Corporate Secretary, 18 April, 2013. Retrieved from
[iii] IBID, 2, Table 6, 32.
[iv] “An economically targeted investment broadly refers to any investment that is selected, in part, for its collateral benefits, apart from the investment return to the employee benefit plan investor.” Department of Labor. 29 CFR Part 2509 RIN 1210-AB73. “Interpretive Bulletin Relating to the Fiduciary Standard under ERISA in Considering Economically Targeted Investments.” Retrieved from

[v] 134 S.Ct. 2459 (2014). “Fifth Third Bancorp et al., Petitioners, v. John Dudenhoeffer et al.”No. 12-751. Supreme Court of United States Retrieved from

[vi] Edward A. Zelinsky, Morris and Annie Trachman. “The Continuing Battle Over Economically Targeted Investments: An Analysis of DOL Interpretive Bulletin 2015-01”, 2015. Retrieved from: link here
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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – July 14, 2017

If there’s one thing Canadian investors heard a lot about this week, it’s that interest rates are coming. Also, winter is coming. While the latter is something Game of Thrones fans will be clamouring over,  ironically it’s the former that will get Canadian discount brokerages pretty stoked. After years of being forced to operate with lower commissions and volatility, interest rate increases will provide a bump to earnings. Not without a sense of irony, however, the rise in rates might make online trading slightly less attractive to DIY investors. As such, online brokerages are going to have to get even more creative about improving services and their image if they want to weather that storm.

This edition of the roundup keeps it light and easy. First, we kick off with a recent post about digital innovation at Canada’s largest bank-owned online brokerage. From there we look at the performance metrics of a popular independent brokerage and why the math on trading activity points to some interesting developments with active traders. Also on tap, there’s lots of chatter to share from DIY investors on social media and in the investor forums.

Behind the screens: A look at digital innovation with TD Direct Investing

What does it take for a Canadian online brokerage to compete in a digital world? It’s that question that prompted us to find out how Canada’s largest online brokerage, TD Direct Investing, is navigating such a rapidly evolving world.

In a fascinating interview with Richard Wilks, associate vice president, self-directed and advised client digital capabilities at TD Wealth, we took a ‘behind the screens’ look at how exactly an online brokerage with the size and scale of TD Direct Investing manages to improve its stable of digital platforms while at the same time keeping pace with the speed of change that is forcing financial firms to compete on a fintech playing field.

Frequent readers of the roundup, and especially those paying attention to social media and forums, will recall the flare ups when things have gone off the rails during the roll out of WebBroker. In this in-depth look at how TD Direct Investing stick handles platform development and maintenance, however, it becomes clear that all online brokerages in Canada are tasked with the same challenge: being able to innovate while also providing stability of delivery and service. In fact, because change is going to happen so rapidly, and so often, the culture of many of the largest financial firms in Canada is evolving to become responsive to technology shifts. The notion of what constitutes ‘perfect’ has changed from ‘being error free’ to ‘can this be addressed quickly’

One of the interesting angles to the technology story is how increasingly important the digital experience will be as a benchmark of quality when selecting an online brokerage. Now that smartphones have enough computational power, accessibility and screen real estate, most if not all, of the core functionality of online trading can be taken care of with a mobile device – including service requests.

For Canadian discount brokerages, competing against “robo” style automation means that DIY investing is going to have to feel like less work, and to achieve that will take continuous investment in technology and, most importantly, listening to clients.

And, while commission price is always going to be something that DIY investors consider when selecting an online brokerage, there is a value that is attached to having secure, reliable and user-friendly technology.

Check out the full article on digital innovation at TD Direct Investing here.

Tale of the tape: Interactive Brokers’ trading metrics post some interesting numbers

If there’s one thing that investor’s love about charts (unless they’re short of course), it’s when they go up and to the right.

For Interactive Brokers, the chart of customer growth continues to do just that. The latest figures on account growth for June 2017 show that Interactive Brokers now has 428 thousand clients, an increase of 20% relative to last year and 2% higher than in May. Keep in mind that this is net of any clients who left so it is an impressive number for Interactive Brokers to have reached.

Interestingly, even though they added 9.8 thousand accounts in June, which was close to double the 5 thousand that were added in April, the total number of DARTs (Daily Average Revenue Trades) for IB (368K trades) in April (used for comparative purposes) was only slightly lower than in June.

This touches on an interesting development for one of the most ‘active trader’ focused segments of the market, namely why, despite the growth in the number of clients is trading activity in terms of cleared DARTs not increasing proportionally? And, if active traders in the US are not trading as much, is the same true for Canadians?

With interest rates on the rise and markets continuing to press higher in the US, it will be interesting to hear what Interactive Broker’s leadership has to say on their conference call next week. The message so far has been that the lower volatility in the markets, in part due to algorithmic and high-frequency trading, means that active traders have shied away from trading this market. Stay tuned as there may be a few more gems on what comes out of the conference call.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

Interesting conversations were on Twitter this week as DIY investor’s gave their colourful opinions on technical hits and misses. Mentioned this week were Credential Direct, Questrade, RBC Direct Investing, Scotia iTRADE and TD Direct Investing.

From the Forums

Putting Norbert on the spot

When it comes to currency exchange for DIY investors, Norbert’s Gambit is a handy tool to have in the toolbox. That said, there is one Canadian discount brokerage that it doesn’t seem necessary to use it, at least according to this post from reddit’s Personal Finance Canada section. Click to learn more.

Take my money

Funding an online trading account seems simple enough. Or at least it should. In this post from’s investing forum, one user was looking to fund a TD Direct Investing account and got many creative suggestions on how it could work.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on yet another wild and wacky week in the markets. Despite all of the noise around what’s happening in the oval office, markets continue to push higher. It’s hard to look away from the political drama but in case you missed it, there’s a great tweet that sums up the hijinks of the week in the way that only a tweet can. Looks like Jon Snow isn’t the only one who knows nothing. Have a great weekend!

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Staying nimble in a digital world: Behind the screens with TD Direct Investing

Associate Vice President, Self Directed and Advised Client Digital Capabilities at TD Wealth

The online brokerage industry is no stranger to change. In fact, it was born from it. When “online” trading first came onto the scene in Canada just over 20 years ago, dial-up, DOS and CRT monitors were all the rage, the internet was just getting its footing and the concept of do-it-yourself trading seemed to be on the cutting edge of technology.

Since then, however, the technological arms race in the Canadian financial services industry has been accelerating, largely to keep pace with technologies that surround the consumers that use financial services such as online brokerages. The rapid spread of social media, mobile technology, faster computer chips and more reliable internet have posed an interesting challenge to financial services providers, including Canadian online brokerages, namely how best to keep up?

For a “behind the screens” look at how Canadian online brokerages are approaching this brave new digital world, we spoke to Canada’s largest bank-owned online brokerage, TD Direct Investing. Specifically, we chatted with Richard Wilks, Associate Vice President Self Directed and Advised Client Digital Capabilities, about his perspective on what it takes to run the online direct investing operation as well as how TD Direct Investing can successfully navigate the digital landscape going forward.

Change is the new normal

With an extensive background working with online investing at TD, Wilks has seen many changes take place. Granted, technology is moving more quickly than when TD’s first discount brokerage offering (aka Green Line) hit the market in the early 80’s, however rather than chasing fads, Wilks believes in taking a more calculated and measured approach to the quickly evolving online investing world.

While we had a fascinating discussion about how things work behind the scenes at TD Direct Investing (TDDI), there were three important themes as to how TDDI can adapt to the new digital realities of online investing.

One of the key themes Wilks stated was the importance of shifting to an agile approach to feature development. Many fintech and tech startups rely on the agile approach to building software or web apps because the aim isn’t necessarily to launch a perfect product out of the gate, but rather to launch a viable one and optimize over time.

In this way, features come to market faster and can be improved upon by getting user feedback. For example, when making enhancements to their watchlist, the TDDI development team was able to quickly gather feedback on where to improve and push out additional modifications within a few months.

Of course, being a financial services provider, the standard of what can go out the door is significantly high. There are considerations for security, compatibility and compliance that require additional effort and testing to ensure features are working correctly before anything gets released.

Another, more strategic reason to transition to the agile approach, is to be able to be nimble enough to respond if a big tech player decided to enter the wealth management space. There are already signs these moves are being made in the payment technologies arena, so it is not inconceivable that another tech firm might decide to compete in the online investing space in the not too distant future. The move to an agile approach also helps to position TDDI relative to startup fintech firms and new entrants to the wealth management space such as robo-advisors.

A second important theme that emerged was the importance of being able to listen to client feedback.

For TDDI there are a number of different channels that they use to collect client feedback. From the TDDI website, WebBroker (the flagship platform), the TD Helps forum, emails, social media as well as via client service reps, TDDI’s large user base can readily contribute feedback about a particular product.

Tweet from TD Direct Investing with DIY investor
Example of Twitter user requesting to leave feedback on feature on TD Direct Investing platform (Source: Twitter)


That feedback is then passed through to a TDDI team who discusses and decides which features can be rolled out and what the development cycle will be like for each. For a sense of scale, an average month can see between 300 to 400 feedback requests. The graphic below provides an illustration of how TD Direct Investing is able to gather feedback and ultimately translate it into a feature release.


TD Direct Investing feedback process
Process for collecting and implementing feedback at TD Direct Investing (source: TD Direct Investing)

Client feedback isn’t the only catalyst for product enhancements, however. It was fascinating to learn that other factors influence feature developments including regulatory requirements as well as vision and strategy. Clearly, a balance needs to be struck between sometimes competing priorities and what is in the spotlight or trending among DIY investors.

The third theme TD Direct Investing is focusing on is the shift towards mobile. Previously, development of online features and platforms required retrofitting a desktop user experience into a mobile one. For the foreseeable future, however, it is clear that mobile will dominate and a much more effective approach is to start with the mobile user in mind and then augment functionality from there.

While many active traders are content with the desktop interface and additional screen real estate, the reality is that certain online brokerages in the US, such as Robinhood, have proven that younger users can and will use mobile-only platforms or apps to perform trades, check their accounts or portfolios and research potential investing opportunities. This supports the reasoning that mobile will continue to be an important platform to build around and it is a safe bet that TDDI’s possible future client base will be looking to mobile experience as a determining factor for client satisfaction.

Stability matters

While each of these different components represents a significant evolution in the ability of TD Direct Investing to prepare for and respond to the changing needs of its users, one component that cannot be ignored is stability.

With the increasing complexity of different technology integrations (for example data feeds from multiple exchanges, research tools and order execution) underpinning the trading experience, there is also the increased risk of things not working. A scan of Twitter comments over the past year will indicate a handful of times when outages have occurred during trading hours at various Canadian online brokerages – something that users are acutely sensitive to.

The good news for TDDI users is that there has been extensive investment in the stability of their technology architecture. In fact, TDDI has a specific nerve-centre that tracks issues as they arise in real-time and consists of a dedicated team monitoring the integrity of the trading platform, servers and network. So, while outages or disruptions may not be entirely eliminated, response time to issues is improved and the impact of disruptions can be minimized.

According to Wilks, there is a “laser-like focus” on ensuring that uptime is maximized which has helped enable TD Direct Investing’s trading platform to achieve an uptime rating of 99.6%.

New Benchmarks for Success

Innovation in the financial world is somewhat of a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, consumers want user-friendly interfaces to manage their wealth. Robo-advisors, for example, have managed to gain a foothold in the wealth management space largely by offering a much more thoughtful user experience when it comes to managing a portfolio. On the other hand, finance is also about predictability, familiarity and certainty. At the end of the day technology and platforms have to work, they have to be secure and they have to deliver on what the end user needs and wants from the service.

With several decades worth of experience in the Canadian online brokerage game under their belts, it’s clear to TDDI’s team that while no one is able to predict the next big change, TDDI is equipped to respond once it shows up. That said, the best way to get in front of big changes starts by listening to what customers are talking about.

While many DIY investors will never know about the behind-the-scenes efforts that go into the planning, execution and maintenance of their trading platforms, the reality is that, after commission pricing, choosing an online brokerage will be heavily influenced by how stable and innovative the trading experience is. The good news for TD Direct Investing and Wilks’ team is that TDDI’s clients are increasingly happy.


TD Direct Investing Resources:

To leave feedback for TD Direct Investing you can do so on the following digital channels:

Twitter: @TD_DirectInvest or @TD_Canada

Forums (TD Helps):

TD Direct Investing website:

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – July 7, 2017

Oh boy, where to even begin? With the warm weather upon us it seems like real estate sales in Toronto are melting like ice cream left in the sun for too long, and the world’s attention is turned squarely on the meetings between world leaders for the G20. Of course, there are so many headlines that it’s easy to miss some of the stories that aren’t being generated 140 characters at a time. Paying attention to the slow and steady stories can be quite revealing, however, especially when it comes to Canada’s discount brokerages.

In this ‘trend’ filled episode of the weekly roundup, we kick things off with a look at the latest website update being telegraphed by a bank-owned online brokerage and what might be coming down the wire for the second half of the year. From there, we take a very interesting look at some possible macro factors swirling around the online brokerage industry in Canada that could substantially reshape and redraw an already dynamic landscape. Fortunately, we wind up the roundup on a familiar note with tweets from DIY investors and the latest chatter from the investor forums.

CIBC Investor’s Edge telegraphs an upgrade

Summer is a great time to do renovations and upgrades, and not just around the house. This past week, CIBC Investor’s Edge posted a notice on their website indicating that some updates and upgrades are in the works for their website front end.

screenshot of CIBC Investor’s Edge

But it wasn’t just the announcement that caught our attention, it was also a survey that popped up while on the homepage. Specifically, an online survey that sought out feedback from CIBC Investor’s Edge clients on certain features and functionality related to their online experience as well as the overall satisfaction with certain components of the CIBC Investor’s Edge offering.

If some of this sounds familiar, it is because in April, another online brokerage, Credential Direct, also posted a user survey to help provide guidance on functionality prior to launching their new website. Unlike the survey in April, which was focused on how individuals would locate certain information on a new website, the survey by CIBC Investor’s Edge seemed to looking for satisfaction with experience and taking a top down approach to establishing where improvements might be required.

In the first half of 2017, in fact, that there appears to be renewed interest and resource being devoted to improving the online user experience, especially at the bank-owned brokerages. Several website launches, staffing up in digital content and experience and a general shift towards releasing features to market more quickly all signal that Canada’s discount brokerages are gaining ground and learning from the ‘fintech’ model that is gaining a foothold in the wealth management space.

That said, it also points to the likelihood that changes are going to be more frequent and prevalent. For the last half of 2017, there are strong odds that we’ll see some very big announcements from certain discount brokerages on new website roll-outs of their own.

In the meantime, we’re excited to see what CIBC Investor’s Edge unveils and the accompanying response from DIY investors and clients on the new website format.

Beware of active lifestyles

Unlike some of the more obvious changes and developments in the Canadian discount brokerage space, there appears to be a handful of ‘macro’ trends that might steer the news and behaviour in the near future.

What does that elusive opener refer to exactly?

Over the past few months, the regulatory landscape around the Canadian online brokerages appears to be shifting. There are two forces at play from different government entities that could drastically reshape how DIY investors access online brokerages’ services and, perhaps, severely constrain the DIY investor space as a whole.

On the one hand, there is the issue raised by IIROC on the nature of what Canadian online brokerages (as order execution only entities) can provide in terms of tools or features that cater to investors. Specifically at issue, is what constitutes a recommendation and how much autonomy an individual investor may have in deciding what is or isn’t appropriate for their own investing objectives. While this is an important point, part of it has been covered in a previous roundup which serves as a prelude to this second, and perhaps more disruptive issue.

For the last few weeks, the story of the Canada Revenue Agency’s purported ‘crackdown’ on TFSA windfalls has been gathering media attention and investor ire.

Although this is not the first time that the CRA auditing TFSA account compliance/performance has made news, what is making the news is the rather large sum of $75 million that has been flagged for collection, an indication that efforts to regulate TFSAs has escalated. Before proceeding, there is an important caveat to state, and that is that the CRA ensuring that individuals don’t abuse the tax system is ultimately a net benefit for everyone. That said, the TFSA is a very interesting (and recent) vehicle for wealth building and it is that wealth building that finds itself at odds with a tax system (and it’s rules) for investors that was developed well before the democratization of information on and about securities (such as stocks).

And, while there are lots of very interesting angles to the evolving TFSA crackdown story, at the heart of the issue for DIY investors and for financial advisors, wealth managers and ultimately for online brokerages is what exactly constitutes ‘trading’ versus ‘investing’.

Without delving too far into the past, the CRA has published guidance on the subject of what may or may not constitute a trader but for many DIY investors and the industries that service them, the definition has been far too open ended. From an armchair analyst’s point of view, the issue appears to be ensuring that capital gains should get treated differently than business income, so separating what counts as either is crucial to administering the tax-preferred treatment that capital gains get.

To do so, the CRA has set out a multi-part test when evaluating what does or does not constitute business income or capital gains. That said, it is worth stating that according to the CRA’s documentation, business income is classified as anything derived from an “adventure or concern in the nature of trade.”

While, from the CRA’s perspective, this approach might afford the flexibility to evaluate cases on the merits of particular facts, the counterpoint is that is has created tremendous uncertainty. And, if there’s one thing that efficient markets disdain, it’s uncertainty.

As a result of the somewhat vague test of what could or could not constitute an “adventure or concern in the nature of trade” situations like the following can arise.

The popular DIY tax software Turbo Tax, published an article entitled “How to calculate capital gains when day trading in Canada” which spoke to interpreting how to log investment transactions in TFSAs as follows:

“TFSAs are purchased with after-tax dollars, without any taxation upon withdrawal. There are no restrictions on taxpayers using day-trading techniques for investments, and profits realized can be declared and taxed as capital gains.”

Clearly, if individuals are DIY investors, there’s a reasonably good chance they may also want to use software that helps to take a DIY approach to taxes. In fact, there are examples of some Canadian online brokerages who’ve offered incentives such as discounts on this software as a sign up bonus, so there’s a good chance resourceful individuals might turn to such a document to help figure out how to populate their tax returns.

In this case the language used in the article might lead some people to believe that they can use ‘day-trading’ in the same way as a capital gain. A reading of the CRA guidance, however, seems to contravene that statement. For example, with regards to short selling which the CRA guide explicitly states:

“The gain or loss on the “short sale” of shares is considered to be on income account.”

Clearly, anyone with a margin account who decides to short a stock needs to consider treating such a transaction differently for tax purposes than does anyone going long on an investment – but good luck to DIY investors trying to stumble across this information easily.

As a counterpoint to the information provided by Turbo Tax, recent articles, such as the one in the Financial Post by noteworthy taxation expert Jamie Golombeck state:

“Under the tax rules, if a TFSA carries on a business then it must pay income tax on its business income.”

Considering the points above, one very interesting angle is the moving target on what constitutes an active investor, specifically because this impacts how Canadian online brokerages communicate to DIY investors considering opening an online investing (or trading) account – including a TFSA.

The table below shows that an “active” investor is being communicated differently depending on the discount brokerage. For the CRA, and in the case cited in the Golombeck article above, it may not be interpreted the same way by everyone and that is highly problematic.

Trading level 30 trades per quarter 150 trades per quarter
Bank-owned online brokerages with offers or incentives at these levels NBDB, RBC Direct Investing, BMO InvestorLine; Disnat Direct, HSBC InvestDirect Advance RBC Direct Investing, TD Direct Investing, Scotia iTRADE, BMO InvestorLine
*some firms may appear twice as they have offers in each tier.

Add to this, the fact that there are also incentives that are being offered to individuals (such as discounted commissions or waived platform fees) depending on the number of trades executed. The range is quite extraordinary, going from 30 trades per quarter to as high as 150 or more per quarter.

Of course the other issue with being an ‘active’ investor is the time spent researching and following markets, as well as the level of knowledge of the markets. Both of these components are used in the test to establish whether an individual is considered to be generating business income or is eligible for the capital gains exemption. To do due diligence, however, does require time and effort – even in passive portfolios, to rebalance, read and generally know what you’re buying into.

Finally there’s the pricing for data feeds for active trading platforms. For business (such as sole-proprietor) investing/trading accounts, the data feed costs are significantly higher than for individual accounts, which means that the true cost to active investors who may not want run afoul of the CRA criteria is actually quite high. That’s bad news for the online brokerage industry who would now have to communicate the value proposition of being an active trader, doing so outside of the TFSA (potentially) and incurring huge data and platform fees.

Interestingly these two issues, that of the suite of services offered by order execution only (OEO) firms and what the CRA appears to be doing with TFSAs might actually intersect.

The fact of the matter is there is insufficient clarity on several fronts: what determines ‘trader’ or ‘investor’, the degree to which an individual who opens an account with an online brokerage firm can or cannot decide for themselves as to the level of ‘appropriateness’ of executing a particular transaction and the implication for them doing so in a TFSA.

In fact, it seems like there is a slight misalignment between the list of criteria put forward by the CRA in terms of “knowledge of securities” and the KYC rules put forward by securities regulators that would enable an individual investor to perform transactions in TFSA. On the one hand, individuals may be taxed for knowing too much about securities but on the other hand they may not be able to access tools from their online brokerages because they might not know enough.

In this case, it begs the question, does something need to change about the way TFSA accounts can be used by online brokerages? According to the Golombeck article cited above, the CRA’s position appears to be that TFSA’s are not that special.

That said how do the CRA’s tests for being considered a trader (for tax purposes) mesh with securities regulations that require online brokerages to determine, at some level, the degree to which an individual would be knowledgeable enough about securities to open an account and appreciate the extent of risk associated with online investing?

There’s certain to be much more debate on these issues ahead as the CRA had opened the can of worms of counting ‘wins’ in DIY investor TFSAs as business income but not necessarily equally considered losses obtained through the same set of activities as ‘business losses’ (if they have, it’s not been as widely reported).

Similarly, reconciling tax requirements with securities legislation is sure to come up especially if it can potentially hurt DIY investors in their journey to save for retirement. This very tangled set of issues will be fascinating to watch unfold, and as usual for DIY investors, the playbook seems to suggest: be ready to change.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

A somewhat quiet week by Twitter standards. Mentioned this week were CIBC Investor’s Edge, Interactive Brokers, Questrade, Scotia iTRADE and TD Direct Investing.

Into the Close

So much for keeping it short. Well, on the topic of shorts (not the trade but summer attire) have a great weekend and hopefully enjoy some of that summer weather while it’s still here!

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Discount Brokerage Deals & Promotions – July 1, 2017

Happy Canada Day! Like the weather in July, the deals and promotions section is heating up.

The great news for DIY investors heading into the new month is that there are 23 offers or promotions being advertised by Canadian discount brokerages and an additional four when considering the digital advice or robo-advisor promotional offers. Included in this mix are some exclusive offers for readers, notably the $88 commission credit offer now available at Questrade that was launched last month.

Given what’s going with stock markets, possible interest rate hikes and substantial competition between online brokerages, there definitely seems to be evidence that Canadian discount brokerages are getting bolder and more creative with their offers.

Late last month, for example, Virtual Brokers launched a pair of offers that are likely to get deal savvy shoppers’ attention – especially for those who actively trade. In one of these deals, Virtual Brokers now offers a quarterly commission rebate for up to one year, something that we have not seen before and which, in numerical terms, might appeal to the moderately active trader who is able to meet the trading threshold required.

In addition, at the outset of July, Qtrade Investor has launched a commission-free ETF purchase promotion for Canadian ETFs where, similar to competitors Questrade and Virtual Brokers, the purchase of ETFs (in this case only Canadian ETFs) is commission free.

Although full commission-free trading might still be some time away, the idea is clearly being toyed with by Canadian discount brokerages – especially with Canadian ETFs.

Fundamentally, it is an interesting moment for both DIY investors and Canadian discount brokerages. As markets on either side of the border brace for the coming wave of interest rate hikes, which on the one hand might be beneficial for brokerages but on the other would change the economics of margin trading, and investor sentiment towards equities as an asset class. Fortunately for DIY investors, this will almost certainly make the case for Canadian discount brokerages to start offering bigger and bolder incentives to attract assets and new clients.

Finally, a few exciting housekeeping notes.

Regular readers of the deals & promotions section will note that we’ve included a navigation box at the top of the deals section to help users find information faster. Also, as of last month, we’ve also included coverage of ‘digital advice’ or robo-advisor deals that are offered by or linked to Canadian discount brokerages.

As always if we’ve missed a deal or if you hear of something that other readers may benefit from, let us know!

Expired Deals

At the time of publication, the public links to Credential Direct’s Transfer offer & Special Offer (Trend Micro antivirus) are no longer accessible. Credential Direct recently upgraded their website so we will continue to monitor whether transfer fee promotions are still being offered and update our tables accordingly. For the moment though, we’re not counting them as part of the live offer group.

Extended Deals

Great news on the extension front, there were two great offers that got extended as of the beginning of July.

The first from BMO InvestorLine, is the refer-a-friend offer, which has been extended for another year and now expires at the end of June 2018. This offer is somewhat unique among online brokerages in that it usually can be combined with other offers that clients might qualify for when opening an account. The BMO InvestorLine refer-a-friend offers $50 cash back to both the individual being referred and the ‘friend’ who referred them.

Also extended this month is the Desjardins Online Brokerage 1% commission credit, which has been extended to September 30th. This commission credit offer is one of the most competitive in that it offers up 1% of what clients deposit as a commission credit, up to a maximum of $1000.

New Deals

This is always the most exciting category to cover and particularly so this month as Qtrade Investor has waded into the promotional offer race yet again, this time with a commission-free ETF offer. Specifically, as mentioned above, the limited time promotion enables Qtrade Investor clients to buy any Canadian ETF commission-free. The conditions are fairly simple: the ETF must be Canadian-listed and the minimum order value must be $1,000 (in the currency of the trade).

Finally, while technically not a new deal, it is actually a newly advertised offer. BMO InvestorLine is now advertising their coverage of transfer fees up to a maximum of $200. As such we’ve included the transfer offer as linked to the same deposit conditions as their current summer promotion.

Discount Brokerage Deals

  1. Cash Back/Free Trade/Product Offer Promotions
  2. Referral Promotions
  3. Transfer Fee Promotions
  4. Contests & Other Offers
  5. Digital Advice + Roboadvisor Promotions (new!)

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 and fund a new account (TFSA, Margin or RRSP) with at least $1,000 and you may be eligible to receive $88 in commission credits (up to 17 commission-free trades). Use promo code SPARX88 when signing up. Be sure to read terms and conditions carefully. $1,000 $88 commission credit 60 days Access this offer by clicking here: $88 commission-credit offer . For full terms and conditions, click here. none
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
Qtrade Investor is offering commission-free ETF purchases for all clients (new and existing) for July 2017. See details link for full terms, conditions and pricing. $1,000 commission fees waived on Canadian listed ETF purchases Valid for Canadian listed ETF purchases made in July 2017. For more information, click here July 31, 2017
Open and fund a new account at Virtual Brokers with at least $5,000 and you may be eligible to receive a $50 cash back rebate per quarter. To receive the cash back rebate, at least 20 commission generating trades must be made within a specified quarter. Use promo code: CSHBKQTR17 to access this offer. This offer is open to new clients only. Be sure to read terms and conditions for full details. $5,000 $50 commission rebate (cash back) per quarter (up to $200 cash back over the total period) To qualify 20 trades must be made within a quarter. $50 cash will be rebated in the following quarter. Eligibility period ends June 2018. For more information, click the terms and conditions here September 30, 2017
Open and fund a new account with Virtual Brokers with a deposit of at least $5,000 and receive cash back commission rebates on the first 20 Canadian or US ETF trades made by September 30, 2017. For commission-free Canadian ETFs use promo code: CADSETF2017 and for US ETFs use promo code: USSETF2017. This offer is open to new clients only. Be sure to read terms and conditions for full details. $5,000 $50 commission rebate (cash back) Trades must be completed by Sept. 30, 2017. Cash rebates will be deposited in Feb. 2018. For more information, click the terms and conditions here September 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 September 30, 2017
BMO InvestorLine Open a new qualifying account with BMO InvestorLine or fund a qualifying existing account, with at least $200,000+ in net new assets and you may be eligible to receive $1,200 cash back. In addition, eligible individuals can receive a 60-day trial of BMO MarketPro and have transfer fees covered up to $200. Use promo code SPARXCASH when signing up for cash back offer. Be sure to read the terms and conditions for more details on the offer. $200,000+ $1,200 Cash back Cash back will be deposited the week of March 12, 2018. Summer cash back offer August 7, 2017
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 A) 5,000; B) 7,500; C) 20,000; D) 35,000; E) 50,000 or F) 100,000 scene points as well as 50 free trades. In addition, new clients will also be reimbursed up to $150 in transfer fees. Free trades will be valid for 90 days. Use promo code 17SC when signing up to be eligible. Be sure to read terms and conditions for full details. A) $25,000 B) $50,000 C) $100,000 D) $250,000 E) $500,000 F) $1M+ SCENE Points A) 5,000 B) 7,500 C) 20,000 D) 35,000 E) 50,000 F) 100,000 + 50 Free Trades 90 days Free Movie & Free Trade Promotion July 31, 2017

Expired Offers

Last Updated: July 1, 2017 14:30 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, 2018

Expired Offers

Last Updated: July 1, 2017 14:30 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 $20,000 or more to a National Bank Direct Brokerage account and they will pay up to $135 plus taxes in transfer fees $135 $20,000 Transfer Fee Rebate 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
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 September 30, 2017
BMO InvestorLine Open a new qualifying account with BMO InvestorLine or fund a qualifying existing account, by transferring in at least $200,000+ in net new assets and you may be eligible to have transfer fees covered up to $200. Use promo code SPARXCASH when signing up to also be eligible for cash back offer. Be sure to read the terms and conditions for more details on the offer. $200 $200,000 Summer cash back offer August 7, 2017

Expired Offers

Last Updated: July 1, 2017 14:30 PT

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
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 Broker@ge 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
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: July 1, 2017 14:30 PT

Digital Advice + Roboadvisor Promotions

Robo-advisor / Digital advisor Offer Type Offer Description Min. Deposit Reward / Promotion Promo Code Expiry Date Link
Discounted Management Open and fund a new Questrade Portfolio IQ account with a deposit of at least $1,000 and the first month of management will be free. For more information on Portfolio IQ, click the product link. $1000 1st month no management fees KDKFNBBC None Questrade Portfolio IQ Promo Offer
Discounted Management Open a new account with BMO SmartFolio and receive one year of management of up to $15,000 free. See offer terms and conditions for more details. $5,000 1 year no management fees SPSF July 31, 2017 SmartFolio New Account Promotion
Cash Back Open and fund a new Investcube account with National Bank Direct Brokerage and deposit with at least A) $10,000; B) $50,000; C)$200,000; or D) $300,000+ and you may be eligible to receive a cash back deposit of either A) $50; B) $200; C) $400 or D) $600. See offer terms and conditions for full details. A) $10,000 B) $50,000 C) $200,000 D) $300,000+ A) $50 cash back B) $200 cash back C) $400 cash back D) $600 cash back CUBE2017 August 31, 2017 Investcube Cash Back Promotion
Transfer Fee Coverage Transfer at least $25,000 into Virtual Wealth when opening a new account and you may be eligible to have up to $150 in transfer fees covered by Virtual Wealth. $25,000 up to $150 in transfer fees covered None None Contact customer service directly for more information.
Last Updated: July 1, 2017 14:30 PT