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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – August 12, 2019

One of the highlights of any summer barbecue is the dip. Of course, for anyone who’s ever arrived at one a bit too late, often it’s just the dip that’s left. For DIY investors, it seems that the newsies are no longer talking about the market barbecue anymore and instead are focused on the dip.

In this edition of the Roundup, we take a look at a global trend towards commission-free trading that’s taking shape, and what that might mean for Canadian DIY investors (and online brokerages too). From there, we spotted another emerging trend from one online brokerage who knows how to get noticed this summer. As always, we’ve got a great medley of investor chatter and a few spicy tweets to close things out.

Commission-Free Trading Growing Globally

Now that the back to school sales are ramping up, it’s a sure sign that September is just around the corner. Of course, for DIY investors and online brokerages alike, the approach of September is also the time of year when activity starts to pick up again. The competing forces of volatile, tweet-driven behaviour on the one hand and solid economic fundamentals on the other mean that the stock market (and bond market) are becoming decidedly undecided on a direction. In spite of the surrounding uncertainty for the stock market itself, it seems that a clear trend is emerging for existing online brokerages to contend with: zero-commission trading.

This past week, the US online brokerage that has captured the imagination (and loyalty) of millennial investors, Robinhood, announced that they have officially been permitted to launch in the UK.

Robinhood’s intentions to expand globally are no secret. In 2015, for example, we reported their plans to expand to Australia, and there have been signals for a few years that the UK was also on the roadmap for the no-commission discount broker’s expansion plans. It is a clear indication that in the world of commission-free trading, scale matters.

Nonetheless, unlike in the US, Robinhood’s journey to UK won’t be a cake walk.  There are at least three other firms already offering some form of commission-free trading program in the UK: Revolut, Trading 212 and Freetrade, with Trading 212 having had the largest head start since 2018. Even at home in the US, Robinhood is starting to face new competitors, like JP Morgan, stepping up to offer commission-free trading. And, in Australia, there are also firms already offering commission-free stock trading.

In the wake of Robinhood’s latest announcement, it is becoming abundantly clear that zero-commission trading is no longer an anomaly. Rather, it is now a footrace for new entrants to get into the space, disrupt existing players, and potentially get in front of the global expansion plans of Robinhood.

For Canadian DIY investors, Wealthsimple Trade is the closest to zero-commission trading that we can get. And, in some interesting news that crossed our radars at the end of July, they too are bulking up their technology stack to take on the existing Canadian discount brokerage market. Specifically, a news release at the end of July that mentioned Wealthsimple Trade choosing market data technology provider Xignite could be an indicator that real-time trading quotes are actively under development and coming to Wealthsimple Trade soon. Incidentally, Xignite counts Robinhood as one of its customers, so not only is Wealthsimple Trade tearing a page out of the zero-commission provider’s pricing playbook, but also one from the technology side too.

Although there are no plans or mention of Robinhood expanding to Canada (yet), the lesson from across the globe appears to be that even in comparable markets, there can be multiple zero-commission trade providers. While in Canada there is currently just one, the odds favour there being more than one in the foreseeable future.

If existing Canadian online brokerages were not serious about getting in front of zero-commission trading before, there is now growing international evidence and developments here in Canada that suggest rethinking how to compete in a zero-commission world. New brokerages are figuring out how to provide an exceptional online trading experience at little to no commission cost, and the existing ones who already do are looking beyond their own borders for opportunities to grow.

BMO InvestorLine Staying in the Spotlight

If there’s one lesson to take away from the melee that is the US political system, it’s that being talked about is key to staying on the minds of audiences. This past week, we noted yet another interesting profile of BMO InvestorLine surface on a popular investing website, Benzinga. Earlier this summer, we noted that InvestorLine picked up major coverage from the Financial Post, which offered up an exclusive look at the launch BMO InvestorLine’s new trading platform.

With traditional advertising budgets under fire, BMO InvestorLine appears to be shifting tactics by using public relations (PR) as a tool to set the narrative straight on BMO InvestorLine. Going the PR route means that there are likely to be a lot more eyeballs reading the story than if it were just on the company blog. In fact, there were a few posts about BMO InvestorLine’s latest review/interview on social media, which highlights BMO’s strategy to spread the word about their online trading capabilities.

Ultimately, it is great to see people talking excitedly about one (or more) of the Canadian online brokerages. For the moment, BMO InvestorLine appears to be setting the pace of a new PR-driven strategy.  That said, PR is something that each bank-owned brokerage is generally well equipped to compete against, so BMO InvestorLine may not be uncontested for too long.

Even though we’ve noted an uptick in tweeting and advertising activity from TD Direct Investing as well as from Qtrade Investor recently, it will take more than Twitter to connect with investors. BMO’s latest moves on the PR front show that to boost a tweet’s range, it helps to have one of the big financial information provider names get the social media ball rolling (and having many of the employees help by sharing is great for momentum too).

With fall just around the corner, it’s only going to get trickier for online brokers to stand out with just news releases. To get investors’ attention at this point, and to BMO InvestorLine’s credit, Canadian online brokerages need to come out with features or promotions that get people talking, AND be much more active in reporting what’s happening inside of their own shops. Now, if only there were a channel for them to do that on 😉.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

Mutually Beneficial?

One DIY investor has questions about the advantages of ETFs over mutual funds. See what fellow forum users had to say in this Canadian Money Forum thread.

Starting Small

A DIY investor wants to know if the learning experience of making small, but risky, investments will eventually result in a payoff, and fellow Redditors chimed in with their opinions. Read it all here.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on another wild week. There’s a lot of information flying around – from trade rumours to cryptocurrency rallies. With interest rates falling in the US (and around the world) and likely here in Canada too, it’s a particularly important moment for online brokerages to consider how investors will react to an ultra-low interest rate environment and pull their money out of savings and into the stock market.

The one story that happens to be gathering steam though is chatter about interest rate cuts and a recession. With just a few more weeks left to enjoy the summer, it might not be a bad time to unplug. Of course, for those strapped into the roller coaster adventure that is the stock market right now, just make sure to keep your arms in the ride and secure your personal belongings. Good luck & stay profitable!

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