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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – August 4, 2017

August is finally here and what a month so far. The Dow Jones touched a new all-time high, the US President’s popularity is finding a new low, and Canadian online brokerages are already stepping up their game in anticipation of the end of 2017. With only one month to go before September rolls around, a select group of Canadian online brokerages appear to be trying to capture as much of the spotlight before the DIY investing busy season begins its kickoff in the fall.

In this edition of the roundup, we look at the latest iteration of the deals & promotions being put forward by Canada’s online brokerages – including a rare sneak peek at one bank-owned brokerage’s offer set to launch next week. Following that, we’ll wade into the world of content marketing and the maneuvers that another bank-owned online brokerage is using to build out investor content and interest. From there we’ll see what DIY investors had to say on social media as well as in the investor forums.

The Chart of the Deal

As the calendar flipped to August this past week, the Canadian discount brokerage deals and promotions activity signaled that the news is still good for DIY investors shopping for an online investing account. Weekly roundup readers are in for an added bonus, however as, this edition of the roundup features an exclusive first look at a new BMO InvestorLine offer set to hit the tape next week.

First a recap. Heading into this month there was a little bit of turnover from Scotia iTRADE and Qtrade Investor, both of which had offers that expired.  Offsetting the decline was a new contest offering from Scotia iTRADE, which is profiled in more detail below, as well as an extension in the managed ETF department coming from BMO SmartFolio which extended its discounted management fee promotion through to the end of October.

From a numerical standpoint, however, the deals crop is still healthy, with 23 on the board for investors to choose from. An interesting observation, however, is that while there is participation from a wide array of brokerages in the transfer fee promotion category, it is a narrow group of online brokerages competing in the most popular segment with DIY investors: the cash-back or commission-free trade space.

This month (so far) it’s BMO InvestorLine, Desjardins Online Brokerage, Questrade and Virtual Brokers who are offering up either a cash-back or commission-free trade offer into the general marketplace. Scotia iTRADE, who previously did have an offer in this category, does offer a cash-back arrangement but this is done through its refer-a-friend program and as such is not quite part of the same group of offers as the cash back or commission-free trades open to the general public.

Drilling down further, it appears that the larger institutions, such as BMO and Desjardins, have offers targeting (or accommodating) individuals with higher deposit amounts (at least $100,000), whereas non-bank-owned brokerages such as Questrade and Virtual Brokers have offers with much lower thresholds to qualify. Interestingly, in the referral program category, there are two bank-owned brokerages, Scotia iTRADE and BMO InvestorLine and only one non-bank-owned brokerage, Questrade. It is the latter, however, which has an offer for deposits over $100,000 ($250 cash back).

Behind the Curtain: A look at BMO InvestorLine’s Upcoming Promo

For avid readers of the roundup, this month’s deals recap comes with an added treat, namely an exclusive first look at BMO InvestorLine’s latest offer that’s slated to go live next week (August 8th).

So, what’s under the hood of BMO InvestorLine’s upcoming cash back deal?

The latest promotion from BMO InvestorLine offers new or existing clients either $300 or $750 cash back depending on the deposit size. Deposits ranging between $100K and $249K qualify for the $300 cash back while deposits of $250K or more may qualify for the $750 cash back. In terms of timing, this new fall promotion runs from August 8th to October 31st.

This new ‘fall promotion’ replaces the outgoing summer cash back offer which offered up to $1200 in cash for deposits of at least $200K. While the new offer is not as high from a cash rebate point of view, it does have a lower qualifying deposit tier of $100K which opens cash rebate up to a wider user base.

What is interesting to note about this new offer, however, is that there are few extra perks that this promotion can be combined with which can increase the value by up to $250.

As part of their latest offer, BMO InvestorLine is willing to cover up to $200 for individuals switching from another online brokerage. The fact that BMO InvestorLine is now advertising their transfer fee coverage is somewhat new.

While it has been offered for quite some time, transfer fee coverage has not been widely publicized (BMO InvestorLine’s outgoing offer also advertised that users could also qualify for $200 in transfer fee coverage) by InvestorLine. A comparison of the current transfer fee offers shows, however, that $200 in transfer fee coverage is higher than any currently advertised transfer fee amount.

Another interesting feature of BMO InvestorLine’s latest promotion is that it can be combined with their “Refer a Friend” program. This means that new clients who are referred to BMO InvestorLine by an existing BMO InvestorLine client, can also receive an additional $50 in cash back (the referring party also gets $50 cash back for the referral). Currently, BMO InvestorLine, along with Scotia iTRADE, enable their referral offers to be combined with another promotional offer.

In addition to the self-directed investing promotion news, BMO SmartFolio, their online managed ETF portfolio service, also kicked off the month with an extension of their ‘no management fee’ promotion which offers the first $15K managed for free for one year.

The latest moves by BMO InvestorLine show that they’re continuing to target larger deposit sizes for their cash back offerings. With this fall campaign extending almost to November, it will be interesting to watch the response from online brokerage competitors to see if more cash back offers will be coming to the table. In particular, we will be watching to see just how long the bank-owned brokerage group will let BMO InvestorLine’s cash back promotion go unchallenged especially when competition for DIY investor attention and business is higher than ever.

[*disclosure note: has a referral program in place with BMO InvestorLine and BMO SmartFolio and may receive compensation for individuals opening a BMO InvestorLine account with code SPARXCASH or a SmartFolio account with code STSF and/or clicking through to the BMO InvestorLine or BMO SmartFolio websites]

Scotia iTRADE’s Making Content Happen

Many investors are familiar with the phrase: nothing ventured, nothing gained. As the world of online brokerages continues to evolve to rely more heavily on content to capture the attention and interest of DIY investors, the latest move by Scotia iTRADE appears to be yet another signal that they’re actively looking to sidestep some more traditional marketing in favour of something more content-rich.

This past week, Scotia iTRADE launched their latest foray into the content world, the #MyMakeItHappen campaign. Normally advertising or marketing efforts aren’t quite a story, but what is interesting about this particular approach is that Scotia iTRADE is looking for individuals to share their stories about how financial products or services are a part of reaching their personal milestones. Rather than take the approach of characterizing ‘personas’ the approach taken by Scotia iTRADE focuses on “life’s moments.”

In an environment where competition between online brokerages is quite fierce, and the service provided (trade execution) is fairly commoditized, the need to make things interesting, relevant and unique is what may ultimately sway individuals to try one brokerage over another. For Scotia iTRADE, this new campaign offers a fresh voice to online brokerages talking ‘at’ customers and instead lets investors talk to each other. In many respects, it’s a sign that the thinking has shifted to the “web 2.0” model of user generated content can offer deeper engagement than something an internal team could cook up.

Screenshot from Scotia iTRADE #MyMakeItHappen

Of course, to help incentivize individuals to participate, Scotia iTRADE has also incorporated a contest draw for one of three Apple iWatch series 2 smartwatches – something that will likely pique the interest of Apple fans (and perhaps a few Android fans as well). This contest is open to residents of all provinces except Quebec, and that, according to Scotia iTRADE, is because the current social media channel for Scotia iTRADE is offered in English only and would not provide the kind of user experience they would hope for their French speaking client base.

How things are supposed to work is that individuals can submit (for free) a story about they’re “achieving short-term investment goals, realizing long-term dreams – and everything in between.” This intentionally broad guideline enables many different types of stories to be shared and, frankly, will make for an interesting compilation assuming a large number or variety of stories are shared.

To control for the risk of essentially opening up a microphone to the investing public in Canada, Scotia iTRADE’s marketing team will review and curate the stories submitted. The terms and conditions themselves spell out what is or isn’t permitted, and the content will be policed so there’s a good chance that what makes it through is safe for general consumption. What will be interesting to watch for is if individuals share not just positive, inspirational messages but also realistic ones too – like being caught in an investment in a company that didn’t end up succeeding, or being charged high fees.

For Scotia iTRADE, this experiment, regardless of the outcome, will be sure to provide some interesting lessons in the world of content management, and especially in the world of user generated content.

We will continue to monitor this campaign as it progresses but for now, individuals interested in keeping an eye on what’s happening can follow the hashtag #MyMakeItHappen on Twitter or monitor the landing page for the contest. In all likelihood, many of Scotia iTRADE’s competitors will also be watching with intrigue to find out exactly what will happen next.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

An interesting blip this week as bank-owned brokerages saw an uptick in DIY investor chatter. Mentioned this week were Questrade, RBC Direct Investing, Scotia iTRADE and TD Direct Investing.

From the Forums

Looking for an online brokerage

This past week there was an interesting appearance of a couple of posts by DIY investors asking about online brokerages. One of these posts, for example, from reddit’s personal finance Canada section, looked at the pros and cons of familiar dance partners Virtual Brokers and Questrade.

Too much robo?

In this post on reddit’s personal finance Canada thread, one user asked when is it worth it to give the robo-advisor a try and when it is worth it to go it alone. For individuals on the fence or curious about robo-advisors vs DIY investing, it’s worth a read.

Into the Close

That does it for another week. A quick reminder that Canadian markets will be closed on Monday in observance of the Ontario Civic holiday. With lots of options to enjoy the weekend, hopefully you can have some fun with people that you enjoy spending time with (see pic below). On behalf of everyone here at, have a safe & enjoyable long weekend!


[*Editor’s Note: The article has been updated to include Scotia iTRADE’s as another online brokerage that enables their referral plan to be combined with existing promotions in provinces where the referral plan is eligible]

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