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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – November 23, 2018

Welcome to the Black Friday edition of the weekly roundup! No crazy lineups to fight here however if you were inundated with offers and merchants trying to get your attention, you’re certainly not alone.

In keeping with the spirit of the day, this edition of the roundup has more that you might have bargained for. Specifically we take an in-depth look at the most potent form of attention grabbing media – commercials – being put forward by Canada’s discount brokerages and robo-adivsor firms. With so much going on we’ve also included quick snapshots of important developments and close out the roundup with a look at the investor forums and tweets for the week.

Commercial interest

Heading into RSP season, Canada’s discount brokerages and online investing firms are ramping up their battle for the eyeballs and attention of online investors. This month, we’ve noticed an interesting uptick in video activity among online brokerages and robo-advisors that highlight some interesting trends in the way that online investors are being depicted and the kinds of messages that are being sent their way.

Before diving into the commercials themselves, it’s interesting to get some context. When online trading first launched and for a good portion of its lifespan, the visuals painted a very distinct portrait of ‘fast money’ or ‘action packed’ markets. While this brand of ‘exciting’ pace still exists on financial news stations like CNBC, within the Canadian context the messaging from online brokerages – the conduit into the markets – has shifted to become more about ‘personal finance’ and ‘wealth management’ than the exciting and dynamic world of online trading.

Interestingly, fast money sectors like cryptocurrency and cannabis have emerged in a similar fashion to the ‘dot com’ era, bringing with them the volatility and the lure of getting rich quick. In turn, younger investors have been pulled off the sidelines from late 2017 and through most of this year.

Aside from the catalysts of cannabis and crypto, millennial investors are also interested in messages of purpose, equality, inclusiveness and social responsibility. So, it is interesting to see what the latest crop of commercials/videos from online brokerages and digital advice firms are doing to depict the conversation around ‘money’ and investing.

RBC Direct Investing

We spotted two videos posted to Vimeo that are presented from the perspectives of two different investors – both of whom are women.

The first video tells the story of “Milene”. Her story highlights her approach to investing, what got her started as well as what her goals are as someone who has recently turned 40. The approach of “being boring” is her preferred route to building wealth over the long term.

RBC Direct Investing w/ Milene from Official Pictures on Vimeo.

The second video tells the video of Carrie. At 33, she recounts her path into investing as well as what her experience was like when placing her first trade. Like the first video, Carrie shares her goals with respect to investing and what she hopes it will translate into at retirement.

RBC Direct Investing w/ Carrie from Official Pictures on Vimeo.

There are several interesting points about these videos that provide some insight into the strategy of RBC Direct Investing. The first very interesting thing is that they use the stories and voices of women who work for RBC Direct Investing. This is powerfully authentic and even though it comes from people who work for RBC Direct Investing, there isn’t a direct sell or push to consider RBC DI. This doesn’t sound like a commercial for RBC’s DIY investing solution so much as it sounds like a story of an everyday investor.

In addition to being highly relatable, they’re also very well targeted to people at the age or life stage of the two people featured in the videos. With powerful ad technology in place that enables advertisers to show content to particular users based on their demographic profile (e.g. video advertising through Facebook) this is an especially powerful medium (video) and message.

Last but not least, the production quality on the videos is excellent. The videos are colourful, engaging and feel like a well narrated story rather than a forgettable series of stock photos or footage of people checking their balance from a coffee table.

There’s a good chance that this will be an impactful campaign for RBC Direct Investing and will certainly raise the bar on ‘story telling’ for other online brokerages who are hoping to use video to make compelling stories about personal finance resonate with DIY investors.

Scotia iTRADE

What to rocks, blocks, cards and candy have to do with DIY investing? These childhood staples play a key part in the sentiment that Scotia iTRADE is hoping to connect with. Specifically, the recurring theme in their most recent set of commercials is that “trading” is familiar and almost nostalgic.

Scotia iTRADE Rock from Paul Constantakis on Vimeo.

It is an interesting approach to use childhood as a base around which trading takes place. Perhaps it is to communicate that trading can be a win-win or that trading is something that many of us remember mastering as children. Nonetheless, the messaging is clear about positioning Scotia iTRADE alongside the messaging that ‘there is a trader inside all of us’.

It is encouraging, once again, that there is a visual direction that embraces diversity – both ethnically and with gender, that reflects a more modern and progressive view of what an everyday investor “looks like” and where they live.

Unlike the focal point of RBC Direct Investing, this messaging appears to be targeting traders rather than investors, and evoking the emotion associated with making a winning move.

It’s a tad cynical to read too deeply into the accuracy of the transaction portrayed in the advertisements. For example, there are no intermediaries in the trading portrayed in these commercials. No portions of a caramel are eaten by a broker as commissions, nor are there appendages of a robot or pieces of a plastic block taken by the facilitator. Nonetheless, when it comes to making an emotional connection with active investors and traders, the ‘joy’ of trading is definitely long-standing.


Scotia iTrade | Caramels from Marie-Eve Tremblay on Vimeo.

Caramels 2:

Scotia iTrade | Caramels from Marie-Eve Tremblay on Vimeo.

Yellow Piece:

Scotia iTRADE Yellow Piece from Paul Constantakis on Vimeo.


Questrade has certainly ramped up its video presence over the past two to three years, with a noticeable uptick in visibility around major sporting events here in Canada. While the ‘online brokerage’ side of their brand hasn’t been in the spotlight nearly as much, their digital advice / roboadvisor now known as Questwealth Portfolios has been receiving a fair bit of coverage.

In terms of what an investor “looks like” in their videos, Questrade is targeting young adult investors. While there is a gender balance that shows a young man and young woman as the investors, the notion that only a woman would be caring for a young baby or that two men should be having a conversation in a board room seem a tad anachronistic and run somewhat contrary to the message that “times have changed.”

Their latest set of Questrade’s videos clearly depict millennial investors telling their financial advisors that ‘times up’ when it comes to paying for investment fees and specifically naming Questrade as the solution. The setting of “the conversation” is in keeping with their recent campaigns that depict that moment when an investor meets with an advisor.

On an emotional level, Questrade’s commercials continue to pass along that uncomfortable and awkward feeling of being privy to watching someone about to lose their job. Some may feel it is deserving however it is a bit of an emotional tight rope to vilify people who charge money for financial services. Nonetheless, these commercials to evoke and provoke responses (especially on social media) so for better or worse they do get people talking about Questrade.


This brand was originally not going to be included since these videos were geared, it seems, towards a US audience however they were too compelling a counter-point to not share. That in and of itself is a sign of a winning piece of content however in a broader context, Wealthsimple has been dictating the pace for content among financial service providers for the better part of two years.

With this latest video, Wealthsimple is asserting its identity as a challenger-brand in the financial services space. In fact, when contrasted with any of the videos mentioned above, this video takes a genuinely resonant approach to messages that would connect with millennials who are aware of and passionately advocate for equality and change.

This video takes the emotional impact of finance an order of magnitude deeper to challenge the viewer in a way that the Collin Kaepernick video did for Nike. Wealthsimple takes social responsibility, in this case with regards to pay equity, and weaves it into the conversation about money and demonstrate why they are gaining popularity and mindshare with younger investors.

Wealthsimple “Equal” from Public Record on Vimeo.

Investing in focus

While Canadian online investing firms don’t have the same scale of budgets set aside for marketing and advertising that US online brokerages do, the handful of online brokers and investing firms here that are using video to connect with investors show a more contemporary view of what investors look like and the things that they are interested in. To stand out in a noisy world of content, videos have to be engaging and impactful. Heading into RRSP season and with a bump to TFSA contribution levels,  Canadian online broker commercials are likely going to be more frequent and visible. The real question for online investors though is which will leave a lasting impression.

Important Bits and Pieces

Robo-advisor Comparison

Personal Finance columnist at the Globe and Mail, Rob Carrick, published his comparison of 14 Canadian robo-advisor firms this week. The comparison looks at 18 different parameters of the robo-advisor experience including:

  • Provinces and territories served
  • Minimum account size
  • Types of accounts
  • Annual fees
  • Online account setup capabilities and more

The comparison is also available for download as an excel file for even more detailed analysis and review.

Questrade to Settle with Regulators

Questrade Wealth Management was named in a proposed settlement agreement with the Ontario Securities Commission over a misstep with Questrade’s Portfolio IQ. At issue was a transaction that took place in July 2017 that involved Questrade Portfolio IQ purchasing 8 WisdomTree ETFs. The statement issued by the OSC alleges that Questrade executed the purchase without having done the due diligence to determine if the purchase met the ‘best interest’ standard Questrade is obliged to follow. The statement of allegations that outlines what happened is available here.

TFSA Contribution Limit Rises

The annual contribution limit for TFSAs has been raised to $6,000 for 2019, up from $5,500 in 2018. The total contribution limit for someone who was 18 or older as of 2009 and who has never contributed to a TFSA will be $63,500. Click here for a good primer on the update.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

Late to the party

A newbie investor took to the forums this week for some advice on getting started in the investment world. Beginning in their late thirties, the thread offers useful information on factors typical at this life stage and as ever, lots of valuable advice and sources for anyone looking to start investing at whatever stage of the game, from ETF’s to help with choosing where to trade.

Conversion Conversation

Earlier this week, a little more news about Wealthsimple Trade surfaced as their forex conversion rates became a topic of discussion. Find out about the rates and what DIY investors had to say about the fees in this post from reddit’s Canadian Investor rates.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on this week’s action. With a shortened week of trading in the US, things were a little quieter here in Canada than normal. Given the slide that stocks have been on, however, that might have been a good thing. With winter weather ramping up, it’s an ideal time to be huddled over a computer in search of a good bargain or three. Good luck with the bargain hunting in stores and the stock market (it looks like both have some interesting sales)! Have a fantastic weekend!

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