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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – August 25, 2017

Whether it’s mythical dragons, rare celestial events or a new album from a musical mega-celebrity, the bar for getting peoples’ attention this past week felt significantly higher. Of course, against the backdrop of so many big events DIY investors are looking for places to talk finance and trading – and astute online brokerages in Canada and the US are finding a way to tap into this desire in some new and exciting ways.

In this week’s roundup, we check in on an interesting social media/content-based contest from one of Canada’s bank-owned brokerages to see how the first month is shaping up. From there we take a look at a new technology solution being deployed in the U.S. that could change the face of online brokerage customer service here in Canada. For good measure, we’ll also take a look at the latest discount brokerage tweets and see what Canadian DIY investors were chatting about this week.

Make it Happening

Earlier this month we reported on an interesting contest being run by Scotia iTRADE as part of a new venture into user generated content. Their “#MyMakeItHappen” campaign seeks out submissions from Canadians on their personal finance stories, with entrants then being eligible to win an Apple iWatch Series 2.

Given the excitement that follows all things Apple as well as the lively conversations we track online every week about personal finance in Canada, we were curious about the progress thus far of Scotia iTRADE’s latest venture, in particular, what is being displayed online. Though not a perfect measure, the participation of DIY investors serves as an indicator of the level of interest and engagement with DIY investor audiences.

For a quick refresher, as part of this campaign, Scotia iTRADE will be posting stories about personal finance that individuals submit to iTRADE on the contest landing page. Specifically, those stories that meet the submission criteria will be selected for posting. At the time of publication, and just under a month into this contest, we have spotted one submission that has gone live.

A post from user, “Vanessa B” from Ontario, was posted to the stories section of the contest website and on Twitter, there have been a handful of user generated comments.

We checked on social media to see what kind of traction the hashtag received. Here’s what we found:

So far, the early results – at least on Twitter – suggest either participation is low or that people aren’t tweeting about their participation. Fortunately, this contest runs through the end of October so there is ample time for Scotia iTRADE to continue to build awareness of this competition and to generate more interest from DIY investors as there are numerous personal finance discussions happening online all the time.

Taking a step back, however, it is interesting to observe that part of this contest may rely on connecting with younger investors, in particular those that would be on Twitter to notice the hashtag, something that might prove to be particularly challenging for Scotia iTRADE.

One of the biggest challenges for Scotia iTRADE in gaining traction on social media, where millennial investors are largely present, boils down to pricing. Standard commission pricing at Scotia iTRADE ($24.99+ per trade) is almost 2.5x higher than at peer bank-owned brokerage institutions and almost 5x higher in some cases than firms such as Questrade.

While Scotia iTRADE does offer lower commissions for individuals with at least $50,000 in assets or relatively active trading levels, this generally doesn’t characterize the beginner or younger investor. The relatively high standard commission fee force DIY investors to carefully consider the value proposition put forward by Scotia iTRADE as a bank-owned brokerage. There is also another hurdle for Scotia iTRADE and Scotiabank to clear with social media users – reviews by other users.

As the post above (from Facebook) shows, online brokerage pricing strategy can also act as a drag on the banking side of the business underscoring how important it is for bank-owned brokerages to get the service and value experience consistent between services. The reverse is also true, the banking side of the business can impact whether or not investors may take their business elsewhere or not.

Ironically, the first user generated post published as part of the new campaign is about saving money, something that high commission rates make more difficult for the very demographic likely to come across the publication on Twitter.

While the lure of a contest will capture the interest of certain individuals, whether or not these folks turn into Scotia iTRADE clients (which is the hope behind this campaign) will largely depend on their financial situation. Many might find themselves looking at the minimum balance required to avoid fees or high commissions and saying ‘money just doesn’t happen.’

TD Ameritrade launches Facebook messenger chatbot

Now that robo-advisors are a thing for investors, could robo-customer service be next? For DIY investors, it very well could be.

This past week U.S.-based online brokerage TD Ameritrade, released a new chatbot feature enabling clients to ask a bot to provide updates on their investments and to get stock quotes. While the functionality of the chatbot is limited right now, there’s little doubt that the data provided by users will help improve the experience over time.

For the near future, however, TD Ameritrade will still have human representatives on standby to handle interactions deemed too complex or volatile for the chatbot to respond to. Amusingly, it appears that the use of “salty language” will automatically result in the chatbot escalating the session to a human representative.

With Canadian online brokerages generally lagging their US counterparts when it comes to technology and features, there doesn’t seem to be a definite time horizon to bring chatbots to DIY investors in Canada. Additionally, the technology is still in early stages, so there’s still a lot that needs to be learned about integrating a robo touch into a chat/client service role.

That said, there’s nothing quite like a functional demonstration of a technology in action to motivate decision makers and executives into seriously looking at a solution that might end up reducing the operating cost of an online brokerage client service program. Some estimates peg chatbots to be able to automate up to 46% of the tasks done by financial services contact centre staff.

Another data point to watch is the increasing number of individuals who rely on mobile banking rather than traditional banking options. Recent data from the Canadian Bankers Association measuring mobile banking usage found that 52% of individuals anticipate using a mobile device to do more banking over the next two to three years.

In an upcoming article on SparxTrading.com, we’ll be reviewing the client service options for DIY investors at Canadian online brokerages. Early data already shows, however, that there are major differences in the technologies made available by Canadian online brokerages as well as the time that ‘live chat’ services are available. With chatbots, online brokerages could conceivably add software-based resources at a fraction of the cost of a human service agent which could then provide coverage and support to clients trying to reach support personnel.

The “bot”tom line for investors is that whether it is a human or bot on the other end of a chat window, if it can handle basic requests easily and quickly, it probably won’t matter to most investors. For Canadian online brokerages, however, the potential for cost savings or for performance enhancement is compelling. Eyes will be on how this bot works with TD Ameritrade and if the initial feedback appears positive, it will then be a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ Canadian customer service chatbots start to appear.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

Some of the comments from DIY investors were ‘off the charts’ – specifically because the charts were off. Mentioned by Canadian DIY investors were CIBC Investor’s Edge, Questrade, Scotia iTRADE and TD Direct Investing.

From the Forums

Risk-free parking

When it comes to getting a good deal, asking around can pay off. In this post on the Canadian Investing Forum, one CIBC Investor’s Edge client was rewarded for asking around about their plan to get more mileage out their savings strategy.

Rebutting heads

A debate between friends as to which brokerage was better – Questrade or Interactive Brokers, spilled over into reddit in this post on the personal finance Canada section. Find out what other DIY investors had to say about the pros and cons of each brokerage.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on another controversy-filled week. Of course, this weekend the biggest controversy will be whether to spend it indoors or out: UFC star Conor McGregor dukes it out with (yet to be) undefeated boxing star Floyd Mayweather and the season finale of Game of Thrones takes place on Sunday. For a lot of folks, there will be plenty of spoiler warnings, memes and time spent on social media. Ironically, that might also describe the U.S. President’s  schedule this weekend too. Wherever the last weekend of August takes you, have a safe and enjoyable few days off!

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