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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – November 9, 2018

Midterms are finally over. It’s a phrase that university students and now most of the world are glad to hear. If there’s one thing that both market and political pundits are obsessed with, its speculation. That said, even though the stock market acts like a big voting machine, the favourite candidate of the market is always growth-focused.

In this edition of the roundup, we take a look at the zeitgeist – or spirit of the times – for online investing in Canada. Kicking things off, we start with a look at a slow-moving trend towards socially responsible investing and how there may be a catalyst for online brokerages to quickly adopt and support this style of investment. And, speaking of support, the next story in this week’s roundup looks at a very interesting snapshot of an interaction with customer support that showcases what life is like for a DIY investor actively trading a hot sector. As usual, we’ve got the latest chatter about online brokerages from Twitter and from the DIY investor forums.

Looking for a Win-Win

Trying to figure out “what’s next” taps into our natural human desire for certainty. In that way markets of all sizes are not that different than the people that comprise them. In the case of major financial service providers such as discount brokerages and robo-advisors, they too would like to have some certainty (even if its just less uncertainty) when it comes to figuring out what features or products their rapidly evolving client base will tap into next.

The good news, is that there may already be a hint of what online investors want and what service providers are gearing up to provide.

One interesting example of a trend that appears to be gathering momentum in the Canadian online investing space – both at online brokerages as well as with digital or robo-advisors – is socially responsible investing (SRI). And, over the past several months, we’ve started to observe a few more important names in the online brokerage space start to deploy some kind SRI-related product offering to their client base.

Within the discount brokerage space, one of the biggest (and perhaps earliest) firms to get behind the socially responsible investing theme for DIY investors was Scotia iTRADE. In early 2017, Scotia iTRADE launched their socially responsible investing tool that enabled DIY investors to research and analyze companies based on their environmental, social and governance (ESG) profiles.

Fast forward to the latter half of 2018 and socially responsible investing has now found its way into two important touchpoints for online investors: the homepage of Desjardins Online Brokerage in the form of Desjardins’ Responsible Investing ETFs; and Questrade’s latest managed portfolio product – Questwealth Portfolios – with a new line of socially responsible investment (SRI) portfolios. Also joining in the SRI space is Interactive Brokers who recently added the ability of traders to use their trading platform, TWS, to scan for ESG factors courtesy of a new integration with Thomson Reuters.

A quick scan of other Canadian discount brokerage sites shows that at this point, the SRI conversation has yet to make it into the spotlight, which means that for the time being there are only a very select group of online brokers who are aligned publicly with ESG or SRI-related themes.

Given the length of time its taken for SRI to take root in the online brokerage space, one might ask whether it is something investors actually want i.e. is there a demand for it? Based on some key data points and some strategy (and speculation), to quote a magic 8 ball, the answer points to yes.

First, and perhaps most importantly, if it matters to millennials, then that ought to be enough to put it on the radar of online brokerages. There are a number of research studies of purchasing habits and expectations of millennials that show that having access to purpose-driven products matters and can differentiate between why they would choose one brand over another.

Secondly, in a world where commission pricing is less of a differentiating factor between online brokerages, what they offer and what they stand for will increasingly influence where the DIY investors of the future place their trades.

Of course, the broader picture for socially responsible investing is also bullish.

A 2018 report from the Responsible Investment Association stated that “Responsible investing now makes up a majority of Canada’s investment industry, as RI assets now account for 50.6% of all Canadian AUM – up from 37.8% two years earlier.” With respect to ETFs from 2015 to 2017, it goes on to state “Assets in exchange-traded funds dedicated to RI have more than doubled over the last two years, from $97.9 million to $240.6 million.”

While Scotia iTRADE tends to be a difficult choice for beginner investors, Questrade – and in particular Questwealth, has a much lower barrier to entry to open an account and to ease into SRI investing. Similarly, popular roboadvisor Wealthsimple also offers up easily accessible socially responsible investing options for investors.

For an online investor who wants to “do good” with their investing dollar (and stretch that dollar as far as possible), they can purchase one of many SRI ETFs through any online brokerage, and if they choose to do so through Questrade’s online brokerage or National Bank Direct Brokerage, they can do so while potentially not incurring trading commission fees to purchase these.

Although it has taken quite a bit of time for socially responsible investing to find its way into the spotlight at Canadian online brokerages, the latest moves by Desjardins and Questrade appear to help serve as a catalyst for broader adoption of SRI. The move by Interactive Brokers also opens this style of investment strategy up to more active traders.

Fundamentally, the data is clearly pointing to market demand for consumers wanting to do good and to do business with brands that are purpose-driven. As such, it will be interesting to see which Canadian brokerages also jump into the SRI pool in terms of content as well as products or incentive offers. There’s clearly a win-win-win for DIY investors as well as the online brokerages and of course, the planet as a whole.

Trading Documentation

With so much happening in terms of feature development or deployment at online brokerages here in Canada and the US, there was one fascinating story that we didn’t get the chance to highlight last week.

One of the more interesting realities of the world in 2018 is the impact of social media. While celebrities, such as Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson can command 120 million followers on Instagram, there are examples of the reach ordinary people have too. Case in point, an Instagram post in March 2018 by Judith Kasiama highlighted a lack of diversity in the popular outdoor brand Mountain Equipment Coop’s marketing and advertising campaigns. That one Instagram post then became a catalyst for change in the way in which MEC represents its clients in their marketing and advertising.

According to a U.S. national parks study, only 7 percent of black folks visit national parks. While 78 percent of all parks visitors are white. There seems to be a narrative that BIPOC don’t enjoy the outdoor compare to their white friends. This is not rooted in actual reality but a myth perpetuated by marketing that caters to predominately white audience. If you don’t believe, check out companies such as @mec, @arcteryx @arcteryxcanada @hellyhansen who fail to diversify their adds. Painting a narrative that people like me don’t enjoy the outdoors. I love nature and spending time outside! I hope these companies can diversify their adds. Sadly I couldn’t find any studies in Canada. #truthfultuesday Pc: @neverbadtimeforchanges

A post shared by Juju Milay (@jujumil) on

Having covered what gets said about Canadian online brokerages on social media (and Twitter in particular) over the past four years, it was a tweet that contained a YouTube video last week that caught our attention.

In the following video there is a YouTuber Richard De Sousa from RichTV Live who also is an active trader who documents his frustration and interaction with TD Direct Investing’s client service representative for almost a solid 15 minutes.

This video is fascinating on so many levels. From the consequences of UX decisions in trading platforms to the kinds of communications scenarios that online brokerages have to be prepared for, being any brand in 2018 means being subject to the very public scrutiny that takes place on social media. Mix in an individual with a substantial subscriber base and an incredibly impactful medium like video, and you have what could be a volatile situation.

So why is it worth watching almost 15 minutes of a customer service call? For starters, because it is possible.

Often times there are only angry rants that are summarized in tweet format or in long walls of text in forums or on Facebook. In this case, even though only a portion of the total call is shown, it offers a unique vantage point into the world of DIY investing and what the experience of talking to a rep at TD Direct Investing is like.

Another interesting angle to this video is that for many DIY investors, there is a lot of DIY learning that comes as a result of trial and error as well as from talking to customer service reps. In this case the trader in the video discovered what was essentially a “problem” with the way in which prices that were longer than 2 decimal places were being displayed. The trader learned the hard way that there can be disparities and surprising blindspots when executing a trade – such as getting the detailed information on the exact price of an order fill. Those blindspots can also be internal – without knowing where on a platform to get detailed information on an order fill, for example, the interpretation of events that something went ‘wrong’ is more likely.

This last point highlights the impact of the importance of user experience testing.

As we referenced last week in the roll out of National Bank Direct Brokerage’s website, there can be bugs or oversight of user issues when a piece of technology rolls out (note that National Bank Direct Brokerage has tidied up those issues we flagged last week) however those bugs can result in customer service agents left dealing with irritated (and valuable) clients for large chunks of time. Clearly there’s a business value to doing more time testing.

A third interesting observation of this interaction is that it captured the professionalism of the representative. Yes, the call started with an irate customer however it ended with a conversation and the client stating their general satisfaction with TDDI. Like volatile stocks, so too are the emotions that active traders experience and bring with them onto phone interactions. Being a front-line service representative is no small feat.

Finally, in terms of zeitgeist, the latest enthusiasm for cannabis (and crypto) stocks has gone beyond just traditional investor forums and made the leap into channels like YouTube where it is now easier than ever to ‘watch’ in real time people trade the market. For a generation of investors (and future investors) that are very familiar with watching how-to’s or consuming content on YouTube, this video showcases how relatively simple it is for anyone passionate enough about what they’re doing to chronicle it online and build an audience.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week


From the Forums

Money across the Miles

A long-term former resident of BC asked the Personal Finance Canada forum this week about options for foreign currency investment in their TFSA. Find out how this tricky request was answered with lots of help from the reddit forum here.

How Safe is a GIC?

It’s always good to learn from the mistakes of others. On that note, this forum user caused a number of responses in this post on the Personal Finance Canada forum on the topic of safety and reliability of GIC’s within large banks. It begs the questions, is anything ever really guaranteed? Check out the advice from the thread here.

Into the Close

That does it for another wild week. In all of the hustle and bustle, please take a few moments to remember and pay tribute to the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice and for those currently serving our country. Have a wonderful weekend.


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