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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – November 25, 2019

Black Friday is just around the corner and with just about everyone looking for a bargain, it will be a fine balance to keep things profitable in the face of so many deals. For DIY investors, the good news is that deals keep rolling in and even for online brokerages, there seems to be some interest in making an important purchase.

In this edition of the Roundup, we dive into the latest deal from a bank-owned online brokerage that highlights just how competitive things are getting heading into the end of the year. Of course, the competitive landscape here in Canada pales in comparison to the US where another mega-story is unfolding between the largest players on the online brokerage field. After a decent helping of news, we’ve got just the right amount of extra topping with chatter from Twitter and the investor forums to dig into.

Scotia iTRADE Latest Offers Come Out Swinging

With November quickly drawing to a close, the one thing that Canadian discount brokerages are seeing more of (other than requests to drop their commission prices to zero) is investors hunting for places to open up online trading accounts – in particular TFSAs and RRSPs.

This past week we took note of yet another online brokerage who is jumping back into the deals hot tub. Scotia iTRADE, one of Canada’s big 5 bank-owned online brokerages, stepped forward with a promotion that combines a lowered standard commission price of $6.99 with either a cash back or commission-free trade option.

Building on the momentum from their campaign in the summer featuring a number of social media influencers, it appears that the mass market version of that offer has substantially more tiers and as such, Scotia iTRADE is marketing to multiple investors with this offer.

Scotia iTRADE’s latest promotion consists of 8 deposit tiers, starting with a remarkably low entry point of $5,000 and going all the way up to $1M+. In doing so, Scotia iTRADE has positioned its offer against two of its bank-owned competitors that also have cash back offers, namely CIBC Investor’s Edge and BMO InvestorLine. The table below, which we first wrote about earlier this month, shows an updated view of exactly where the different tiers for Scotia iTRADE’s latest promotion stack up against its peers.

For non-referral offers, Scotia iTRADE actually has the best cash back promotion going for deposits ranging from $5,000 to $24,999. Specifically, it has cash back offerings of $25 and $50 (respectively) as well as a combined drop of commission prices (albeit temporarily until June 2020) to $6.99 per trade. This puts the commission price for Scotia iTRADE’s promotional period very close to the standard pricing for CIBC Investor’s Edge, at $6.95. Scotia iTRADE’s platform and associated features, commission-free ETF selection, and experience in technology could overall, arguably, make it of greater value than the difference of $0.04 per trade (at least over the short term).

For deposits ranging from $25,000 to $249,999, Scotia iTRADE’s cash back offering is on par with CIBC Investor’s Edge. The differentiating factors, therefore, make it debatable as to which bank-owned discount brokerage offers the better value.

For active investors, or those investors that favour ETFs, the decision will likely tilt towards Scotia iTRADE and for more price sensitive investors, CIBC Investor’s Edge might win out because of their commission pricing (and the fact that $6.95 is their standard price, not a promotional one).

Where things start to get interesting is at the higher tier of deposits – specifically deposits greater than $250,000.

Alongside Scotia iTRADE the only other Canadian online brokerage with a cash back promotion for DIY investors at this deposit tier is BMO InvestorLine – another bank-owned online brokerage. For that reason, it is impressive to see that Scotia iTRADE is offering 88% more in cash back for deposits at $250,000 and 25% more for deposits at $500,000. Clearly Scotia iTRADE is trying to send a message to BMO InvestorLine that it is going to fight aggressively for clients at these deposit levels. Because BMO InvestorLine’s deposit tiers don’t include a direct offer at $1M, it means that Scotia iTRADE’s offer of $1,500 is almost 88% greater than the $800 a client would receive from going to InvestorLine.

At these high deposit levels ($1M+), it may seem trivial to be talking about the relatively small amount of cash back offered relative to the deposit itself, however when it comes to competing offers from bank-owned online brokerages, getting almost twice the level of cash back (and access to commission-free ETFs and lower per-trade commission pricing for a limited time), the value proposition is too hard to simply ignore.

Of course, there’s a whole other category that the latest Scotia iTRADE promotion also competes against, which is commission-free trades. In this category of promotion, there are three other primary competitors, Desjardins Online Brokerage, Questrade and RBC Direct Investing.

When it comes to something like a commission-free trade offer, however, there are a few more moving parts for investors to calculate to determine the true value. For example, what the standard commission pricing is and how long the free trades are “good for” are two important factors DIY investors should consider when evaluating a commission-free deal.

Another element that some investors find important is to distinguish between commission-free credits and commission-free rebates. In the case of the former, investors are not charged at the point the trade is made (or if they are, the trade commission is refunded immediately) and in the case of the latter, the commissions for the trade are charged to the client but are be reimbursed at a later date so long as the stipulations of the commission-free trade offer are adhered to for the promotional period.

The multiple moving parts, and the tangibility of cash back mean that commission-free trades are typically less appealing than their cash back counterparts.

In the case of commission-free trade offers, however, Scotia iTRADE is definitely offering up more commission-free trades than other Canadian discount brokerages for deposits over $25,000. Beneath that threshold, however, there is a lot more competition for Scotia iTRADE.

The primary competitor – RBC Direct Investing – is offering up 25 commission-free trades which are good to use for up to a year for a minimum deposit of $5,000. At that same deposit tier, Scotia iTRADE’s commission-free trade option ponies up 10 commission-free trades which are valid for 90 days. For deposits less than $5,000, Questrade has full share of the promotions field, with several commission-free trade offers in play, the best of which offers up 60 days to take advantage of the commission-free status.

Drilling down into the latest offer from Scotia iTRADE shows that the competition between bank-owned online brokerages in Canada is heating up. The end game for the Canadian discount brokerage space is about scale – and for DIY investors who have assets to invest, there is clearly room to negotiate. With iTRADE now in the mix, most of Canada’s bank-owned brokerages are “in market” with compelling offers for at least some segments of investors. This ups the ante and the pressure on any remaining brokerages without ANY offers to step in quickly.

As in the stock market, timing is everything. While there are benefits to seeing what everyone else is doing with respect to pricing, any brokerage waiting too long is going to risk being out in the cold when it comes to attracting clients and assets while investing is top of mind.

Market Hints at Schwab Acquiring TD Ameritrade

If it seems like the US online brokerage market has been in the news and been a topic of conversation in the Weekly Roundup since October, that is because it has. The tsunami of news about online brokerage commissions in the US going to zero took on even more life this past week, with chatter that the largest online brokerage, Schwab, looking to take over rival TD Ameritrade for a projected sum of $26 billion (USD).

Suffice to say that this combination of brokerages was not among the top of the list of forecasted scenarios. There was much more hype and focus on E*Trade as a takeover target than Ameritrade. Even so, contemplating a merger between two of the biggest online brokerages in the US paints a distinctly bipolar picture for the industry as a whole. The winners – both Schwab and Ameritrade – can be seen by the rise in the stock price upon the market learning of this potential deal. The clear losers, at least according to the market, E*Trade and Interactive Brokers.

It might be safe to say that Interactive Brokers didn’t see this magnitude of impact erupting when they chose to launch their commission-free trading platform, IBKR Lite, which is seen as being the tipping point that led the online brokerage industry as a whole in the US to decide to go to zero-commission pricing.

Among the pivotal questions – will this deal go through? And assuming it does, what does that then mean for rivals like Interactive Brokers and E*Trade? What about the new entrants? The Robinhoods of the world will be left competing against a brokerage the size and scale of the combined entity that might be Schwab and Ameritrade (aka Schwameritrade?).

If there are any clues as to what this means for other brokerages, it might be derived from Schwab’s reporting of their account growth since going commission-free. Schwab reportedly gained 142,000 new client accounts and blew the doors off their previous new account growth numbers (and likely that of their competitors). Clearly the calculus on commission-free trading accounts has paid off for Schwab.

Despite the still-fluid state of the US online brokerage landscape, Canadian market observers are trying to get a proxy on whether or not what is happening in the US will play out in the same way here in Canada.

It’s all just speculation at this point, but the lessons learned from the US online brokerage space points to there likely being little to no appetite for Canadian online brokerages to rush to zero. The benefit of letting the US online brokerage market go first is that players here can take a “wait and see” approach as to how online investing can be profitable with lower commission revenues in place.

Secondly, if it wasn’t clear before, it is now abundantly clear that scale matters when it comes to online investing and wealth management more broadly.

The only remaining independent (i.e. non-bank or non-big financial partner owned) online brokerage in Canada is Questrade. Its scale and technology stack – in particular its trading platform, make it an interesting possible fit for a very small number of bank-owned brokerages who are lagging behind the biggest player, TD Direct Investing, in terms of platform and user experience. Nonetheless, when it comes to choices for massive growth in the Canadian online brokerage provider space, there aren’t many places where it is possible; unless providers exit the space or merge (or are acquired).

The possible merger between Schwab and TD Ameritrade will still have to face a great deal of scrutiny from market and anti-trust regulators. The test of whether this will ultimately have beneficial or harmful effect for the marketplace is still an open question considering how much of the market of wealth management these two firms would influence or control. Even so, there are definite hints of further consolidation to come in the US and perhaps one day here in the Canadian online brokerage space.

In a world where lower commissions are a reality, there has to be greater scale or volume to keep things profitable otherwise the notion of a lower price making investing more accessible will actually have the opposite effect. Heading into Black Friday it seems that when it comes to low commission prices, investors should be careful of what they wish for.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

Keeping it Real

A Redditor questions the appeal of real estate investments over index funds. Fellow forum users provide insight, discussing the pros and cons of real estate as an investment.

Won is the Luckiest Number?

A DIY investor seeks advice for creating his own portfolio and wonders if a one-and-done, or all-in-one, ETF can help him save on fees and get better returns. Forum users weigh in with the advantages of these types of investments in this post.


Into the Close

That’s a wrap on another edition of the Roundup. Shopping is clearly in the air, with strong retail sales in Canada tied to economic strength, Tesla rolling out a new Cybertruck – the new Musk-have toy for Christmas, and Black Friday coming around the corner. DIY investors love a good bargain, so this week, more than most, it pays to do your homework. Happy hunting!

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – November 18, 2019

After what’s seemed like an epic storm of information and discount brokerage news, there finally appears to be an eye of calm. Even in the midst of the calm, however, there are still swirls of activity that point to even more turbulence in the future.

In this edition of the Roundup, the future is in focus with a couple of unfolding trends making news this past week. Up first is a story about the convergence of tech and finance and how the landscape of personal financial management is set to transform yet again. Next, we look at another online brokerage in the US contemplating a move into – wait for it – sports betting. As always, we’ve got a great selection of comments and commentary from DIY investors on Twitter and in the investor forums.

Checking for Competition

With the dust settling on the online brokerage melee in the US, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the line between technology company and financial services firm is getting very blurry. One of the recurring themes we’ve noted in the online brokerage space is that order execution alone isn’t going to be the primary driver for revenues or sustainability, rather, the road forward is going to rely on diversification.

The recent wave of commission fee drops in the US among the biggest online brokerages, also masked the fact that many other smaller players also stepped forward into commission-free stock trading world, most notably, the payment processor Square, which is run by the CEO of Twitter.

In addition to commission-free stock trading, Square is also launching fractional share trading (something that Schwab also announced it would be opening up to its customers) and with that announcement, the moat around the world of stock trading appears to have been effectively breached.

Why that matters is because the barrier to leap from providing one type of financial solution (e.g. transaction processing) to another is entirely surmountable with the right mix of technology and resource. Which brings us to the big announcement this past week that is surely making waves among financial services providers.

This past week, there were multiple news stories citing that Google is apparently going to launch into the world of providing checking accounts (in conjunction with Capital One) starting in 2020. While this is not the first of the major technology names to jump into the financial services realm (Apple did so with their consumer credit card in partnership with Goldman Sachs and Amazon has discussed launching checking accounts as well), Google is a formidable competitor in the space.

Clearly, as currency and money become increasingly digitized, the tech giants have a natural advantage to harness their expertise and move into the world of finance.  As the commission fee wars in the US have readily shown, being an intermediary is becoming a highly challenging role to play without the scale and technology to keep pace. In the case of Google entering the world of personal finance with a checking account, they have both the scale and the resources to rattle a few cages.

Of course, just because Google moves into a space, doesn’t necessarily guarantee it’s success (Google Hangouts anyone?) however it should be sufficiently concerning to the financial services world as a whole to see a large technology company move into something so ubiquitous as a checking account. On the (very big) assumption that Google is able to succeed, it is not hard to envision them moving into other corners of personal financial wealth management that could benefit from greater automation or integration with other technology.

In Canada, there was another big story brewing (not related to Don Cherry) that saw an online brokerage here make the initial moves to launch into banking too.

Questrade, the poster child for the “non-bank-owned” online brokerage is, ironically, now reportedly working on setting up their own banking arm. This past week, there was a reference to a news story of Questrade applying to federal banking regulators to launch a Schedule 1 bank, known as Quest Bank (in English) and Banque Quest (in French).

There is no firm timeline published at the moment, however, the first steps in creating their own banking division are underway. And, while there is already chatter on the investor forums about this possible development and what it will take for Questrade to successfully compete against its larger and better known rivals, there are significant hurdles still to clear for it to gain traction.

Like Google, or Amazon, or Facebook, Questrade is banking on having an installed user base that they can cross market to. The playbook is a familiar one for clients of E*Trade Financial or Interactive Brokers or even Robinhood, where there is some element of a traditional banking feature that is now available to DIY investors via their online brokerage.

Stepping back, it’s also evident that an online brokerage banking is not an original concept, given that banks also do online brokerage. So, in what is essentially a race to the middle – the prized combination of being great at financial service and great at technology – is what firms on either end of the fin-tech spectrum have to get right.

To be fair, banks are not taking the onslaught of competition from technology firms lying down. Groups like “RBC Ventures” demonstrate how financial giants are leaning into the innovation ecosystem by acquiring and incubating promising technology firms. While Google has a substantial head start on creating a portfolio of helpful “apps” to keep users inside of their own network, RBC Ventures appears to be attempting to build an impressive portfolio of everyday useful apps or services that could be offered to the general public and pass along perks to RBC customers.

In fact, RBC was reportedly aiming to win 500,000 banking clients from the RBC Venture program within five years.

Undoubtedly the winds of change are starting to blow in the financial services space yet again. Another big tech player wading into finance and a Canadian online brokerage wading into banking means that distinguishing service providers is going to be increasingly difficult. For DIY investors, the challenge will be untangling who offers the best set of features at the best price. Tied into that assessment is who will make finance the most accessible and easiest to manage on their platform.

Gambling on Betting

It’s sometimes fascinating how worlds collide. The world of wealth management, historically, was one in which continuity, certainty and conservatism were the hallmarks of success. Gambling, casinos and sports betting were almost antithetical to the world of investing.

Fast forward to 2019, and the other side of a crypto-bubble; a commission fee battle and relentless automation mean that the world of wealth management is willing to entertain “creative” approaches to generating new interest and revenue.

This past week there was an interesting story that crossed our radar about one of the largest online brokerages in the US, TD Ameritrade, exploring a venture into sports betting. If this sounds a) unbelievable and b) similar to what Interactive Brokers has done, both of the above are true.

Although nothing has been confirmed in terms of a specific offering, Chief Information Officer of TD Ameritrade, Vijay Sankaran,  has confirmed that they are exploring the possibility of entering the realm of sports betting. Few details were provided and though this is very much in the exploratory stage, the fact that a second major online brokerage in the US is looking to tap into the sports betting world might signal an emerging trend.

Quote from Business Insider article

In July of this year, Interactive Brokers announced the launch of their simulated sports betting program which lets participants play with virtual money to try to pick a winning portfolio. The upside for participants in this program: up to $1000 in commission credits towards an Interactive Brokers trading account. Interactive Brokers has positioned the interactive and simulated sports betting platform as a learning tool and a way to generate new leads for the online broker. The rationale is that those who are successful at betting on sports would likely be competent investors or traders.

While sports betting may not appeal to the vast majority of investors, the investment by at least one major online brokerage in a whole platform and now the exploration of a second online brokerage in the space is a decent indicator that brokerages are open to finding new sources of revenue, even if they have to roll the dice (pun intended) with who they reach out to.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

Too Soon?  

A Redditor in their mid-20s is looking to invest for the first time and is considering a TFSA. Fellow forum users provide advice, recommending adequate research and risk assessment.

An Uncommon Family Heirloom

After discovering preferred shares in their family’s portfolio, a Redditor asked for information on how they work. Forum users engage in a discussion about what preferred shares are and how one should move forward with them.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on another week of activity. With Christmas just over a month away, it looks like there’s only a few more weeks left for major developments for discount brokerages to announce. We’ve got our ear to the ground for the remainder of November and December as we still expect some more exciting developments to unfold before the year is done. Until then, good luck staying focused on the news that matters.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – November 11, 2019

This week more than most, the focus of November is on remembrance. For some (cough cough weed) investors, however, November is about trying to forget and cutting ties with losing stocks. Capitulation typically takes a while to set in. With so many losses accumulating this year for lots of DIY investors, however, this could be a bargain-filled month of investors finally throwing in the towel on non-performing names. Of course, on the other side of the trade, there are still several online brokerages who are not quite ready to throw in the towel.

In this edition of the Roundup, we take a look at the newest discount brokerage deal to cross the wire and what the uptick in activity suggests for the stretch heading into the end of the year. From there, we cover another new feature added by the newest discount brokerage on the block, and what it means for driving change among existing online brokerages. As always, we’ve got an intriguing selection of chatter from DIY investors in the forums and on Twitter to close things out.

Deals Uptick: New Cash Back Offer From CIBC Investor’s Edge Now Live

November is a month that a lot of bargain hunters look forward to. DIY investors, however, don’t have to wait until Black Friday to take advantage of deals coming their way, especially this year. Just a few days into the new month and there is another bank-owned online brokerage that has stepped up to the promotions plate with a competitive cash-back offer for online investors to consider.

CIBC Investor’s Edge has launched a new promotion with cash back offers ranging from $100 (for deposits of $25,000 or more) to $400 (for deposits of $100,000).  Currently there is only one other bank-owned online brokerage, BMO InvestorLine, that is offering cash back bonuses as part of a general campaign. The latest offer from CIBC Investor’s Edge, however, is decidedly more competitive than other cash back offers from Canadian discount brokerages, whether those offers be referral based or public cash back offers.

As can be seen in the table (below) there are currently five Canadian discount brokerages offering up some kind of cash back bonus offer. From the deposit tiers between $25,000 up to $250,000, CIBC is largely unchallenged (for now) with the only alternative offers for a cash back reward being Questrade or Scotia iTRADE via their referral bonus. Even then, CIBC Investor’s Edge is offering, in some cases, more than two times their competitors.

If history is any indicator, we would anticipate seeing other online brokerages start to enter the cash back promotional offer pool with the bulk of offers focusing between $25,000 and $250,000. That said, with millennial investors getting significant focus this year, it would not be surprising to see additional offers come to market for the sub $25K deposit level.

Already at the sub $25K deposit level, four of the five brokerages offering cash back promotions have an offer, however it is remarkable that those are the same four brokerages with cash back referral programs.

With the end of the year fast approaching, it is likely that additional offers will be coming to market. Those stepping onto the field will have to play a fine balance between waiting to see what competitors are offering and getting into the market to be visible when online investors are most actively looking for an online brokerage.

This year in particular, against the backdrop of commission-free trading in the US, it will be interesting to see what the mix of commission-free offers to cash back offers shakes out to be. With two of the big five banks offering up “mass market” offers that are cash back, it would be tough for the bigger remaining players who don’t yet have an offer (e.g. TD Direct Investing or Scotia iTRADE) to come to market with something less appealing. And, for the non-bank-owned online brokerages, this will be a particularly tricky needle to thread. Commission-free trades are less expensive (but also less appealing), however, their pockets are not nearly as deep as their bank-owned competitors.

With markets shrugging off uncertainty or political volatility and pushing into record new highs, strong economic data, and healthy jobs figures, the big picture sentiment seems strong for Canadian investors in many parts of the country to be thinking about saving (and investing) for retirement. That is likely to be an important driver of just how competitive brokerages are willing to be on incentives, especially considering the zero-commission trading train may pull into the station at any time.

The Long Route: Wealthsimple Trade Grinds Away at RRSP Accounts

The classic football film Any Given Sunday has an iconic speech delivered by Al Pacino in which he talks about football being a “game of inches.” In the highly competitive world of online brokerages in Canada, those inches (or centimetres to keep it metric) are also hard to come by in terms of gaining market share. For the newest online brokerage on the block, Wealthsimple Trade, there continue to be signs that it is making progress in its bid to be a serious contender against other Canadian discount brokerages.

One important step that Wealthsimple Trade recently took was the launch of RRSP accounts for DIY investors.

For such an important feature, it has received a remarkably small amount of spotlight on both the Wealthsimple Trade or the Wealthsimple social media channels. One clue as to why that may be the case is because the account feature is not entirely functional in the way it is at most other online brokerages.

The help section of Wealthsimple Trade provided additional details on why that is. Perhaps the most important limitation on the account right now (at least until November 18th) is that money that goes into the RRSP account cannot be withdrawn to a linked bank account. Convenience is a big factor for the target market of Wealthsimple Trade, so a perceived hurdle like this is not something they’d want to highlight (understandably) as it could be the source of a lot of confusion.

Another possible reason why there hasn’t been a lot of noise made yet is because there isn’t the ability to transfer RRSPs from another institution into the Wealthsimple Trade RRSP. As a result, the current pathway to gaining traction for Wealthsimple Trade is to rely on RRSP contributors to: 1. Open a new account with Wealthsimple Trade, and 2. Deposit funds there.  Again, with convenience being an important driver to adoption, having to open up another account with another provider and keep track of money in two different places is just more work than many DIY investors are prepared to put in. With most passive investors capable of accessing commission-free ETF trading at multiple online brokerages, there are just too many other lower friction options out there.

Despite all of the friction points currently in place for Wealthsimple Trade’s RRSP account (and there are a couple more), there is a strong likelihood that these will be addressed or removed entirely in short order. As RRSP season is just around the corner, it is likely that the creative folks at Wealthsimple will find a way to put an optimistic spin on the state of the RRSP account at whatever level of readiness it happens to be at.

Of course, the ace up the sleeve for Wealthsimple (and Wealthsimple Trade) going into RRSP season is that they recently acquired the very popular tax preparation platform SimpleTax. It is not a great leap to be able to see the synergy for Wealthsimple Trade and the tax preparation software, especially at the moment that an individual would be logging any RRSP contribution data or if they have a tax refund they might need to stash somewhere (like a TFSA, RRSP or other investment account).

For now, Wealthsimple Trade remains the underdog in the online brokerage competition in Canada. Even with zero-commission trades, convenience and ease of use are going to be the key areas that the competition can use to pull ahead. That said, other Canadian online brokerages can’t afford to fumble on service or stability any more, and if they do, DIY investors will be asking why they’re paying the fees they are.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

Low Fees, High Price

In the midst of the announcement from Planswell that they’re shutting down, Redditors engage in a discussion on the downfall of the company and the precarity of robo-advisors in the race to the lowest fees.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

A Redditor concerned with optimizing his son’s RESP ponders whether or not to move from TD e-Series to Questrade or TD Waterhouse. Fellow forum users weigh in, offering advice about whether or not it’s a necessary change.

Into the Close

These days, it seems like there’s no shortage of vitriol kicking around online. Sadly, we’re at a moment in history when the efforts and sacrifices of those who fought against fascism and totalitarianism have been overshadowed by some who, if they were really students of history, ought to know better. Fortunately, the symbols of those who stood up to the world’s evils can inspire us to do the same and give each of us the strength to make the hard choice to do the right thing. Thank you to the brave individuals who continue to serve, in spirit and in person, this great nation.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – November 4, 2019

They say when it (November) rains, it (November) pours. It’s fitting for the start of the second-last month to reference the turbulent weather that many DIY investors encountered at the outset of the new month, and a fitting nod to the Guns & Roses song, since nothing lasts forever, especially these days for online brokerages where the winds of change are picking up.

In this edition of the Roundup, we review the latest action taking place in the deals and promotions section, and highlight potential game changers for online investors looking for free trades. Next, we review another emerging trend in the Canadian discount brokerage space that puts portfolio performance and risk in the spotlight. And, speaking of spotlight, we shine a “Lite” on the early results of the commission-free trading shift in the US, with the release of trading metrics at one online brokerage. As usual, we’ve served up a healthy selection of investor comments from Twitter and the investor forums.

Deal-vering Change

The start of a new month typically brings with it some interesting activity in the deals and promotions section and this month is no exception.

Promotional offers for Canadian DIY investors did see some turnover as the new month began with an offer from Scotia iTRADE expiring, as well as the summer promotion from BMO InvestorLine giving way to a new offer that runs through to early January. Nonetheless, savings are in the forecast for investors with the end of the year in sight and industry competition at an all time high.

In terms of turnover, after having been extended from the middle of October through to the end of the month, the latest offer from Scotia iTRADE signalled that something interesting is happening behind the scenes at this bank-owned online brokerage. These past two months have seen some creative approaches to pricing and offers emerge.

In particular, in September, the parent of Scotia iTRADE, Scotiabank, rolled out a banking package that also kicked in 10 commission-free trades for the first year an account holder has the account, and five commission-free trades per year thereafter. Also that month, they launched an offer of $50 cash back and discounted commissions – again something novel for both that brokerage and unusual for the online brokerage space – which suggests that efforts are ramping up to win and keep customers. It remains to be seen how offers from the parent bank co-exist, complement, or compete with offers from Scotia iTRADE, but it does raise an interesting prospect as to whether deals and promotions, as we have traditionally known them, are about to evolve into something new.

On the topic of change, this month’s deals suggest that BMO InvestorLine is hoping that their latest offer brings in DIY investors who’ve got lots of change to spare.

The latest cash back promotion launched by BMO InvestorLine is a tiered cash back promotion with the highest top-tier offer we’ve seen yet – $5,000 cash back for a deposit of $5M or more. Both the minimum deposit tier and the accompanying cash back bonus are new highs among online brokerages in Canada. Of course, the entry point to qualify for the current offer is also relatively high – at a minimum deposit of $250,000. All told, BMO InvestorLine is looking specifically to appeal to investors with higher balances and assets rather than something aimed towards younger or entry-level portfolio sizes.

For DIY investors, the combination of the ramp up to RRSP season, the looming end of year deadline, and the recent collapse of commission prices in the US point to a perfect storm of incentive offers set to launch from this point through to March. Although it’s tricky to predict the weather, the forecast for DIY investors heading into 2020 will bring with it a high ridge of downward pressure on prices and a flurry of savings.

Qtrade Investor Powers Up on Performance Analytics

In the battle for DIY investors in Canada, the discount brokerages can see the writing on the wall with respect to commission prices falling.

Slowly but surely, as online brokerages tinker with pricing, they are also working on improving the client experience to address important wealth management needs. This past week, Qtrade Investor announced the integration of a new set of risk management tools for investors called Portfolio Score.

The analytics tool for investors, which is developed by financial technology firm Wealthscope, provides assessments to DIY investors that explain the performance and risk features. For example, clients can now assess their portfolio against domestic and global market benchmarks which helps to showcase how well (or poorly) their portfolio is performing relative to a diverse set of indices. Winning strategies will typically outperform the market so depending on the approach investors are taking with managing their own financial destinies via online trading, this tool will spell out the performance being generated.

Another interesting feature about the Wealthscope Portfolio Score tool that will appeal to DIY investor clients at Qtrade Investor is that it analyzes portfolios using a “checkup” evaluation.  Included in the list of items being assessed are: downside protection, performance, diversification, income, and fees.

Earlier in 2019, Virtual Brokers also announced it had partnered with Wealthscope to offer clients portfolio analysis and analytics, bringing the number of Canadian online brokerages using the Wealthscope system to two.

For its part, TD Direct Investing has also offered up financial planning and portfolio analytics via their own partnership with Hydrogen Technology Corp. TD Direct Investing’s “GoalAssist” was rolled out in March 2019 with the objective to help support DIY investors in understanding the factors and behaviours required to achieve their wealth planning goals.

While Canadian discount brokerages are, almost by definition, not allowed to provide financial advice, there is clearly a market for providing DIY investors with the kinds of tools and support they need in order to successfully plan and navigate the world of investing on their own. The role that technologies are starting to be able to play in providing statistical analyses of goals or portfolio composition provide an important piece of information that DIY investors can use to plan their trading or investing strategies more rationally.

Clearly, with three highly visible online brokerages bolstering their suite of features with portfolio risk and performance analytics, there may be yet another trend forming for 2020 as other online brokerages look to replicate and do the same. Ironically, providing investors with in-depth benchmarks could itself become a benchmark feature savvy investors come to look for.

As Financial Literacy Month kicks off, these kinds of tools are very much aligned not only with enabling investors to see the power of aggregated data in managing their portfolio risk exposure, but it appears these platforms will also help to support investors learning about sound portfolio management principles.

While cooler heads are something most Canadians try to avoid having in winter, when it comes to investing online – especially DIY investing online – hot heads are dangerous liabilities. With the new slate of portfolio analytics tools coming to market, there’s finally an easier way to digest and act upon complex information in a calm and orderly fashion.

Early Numbers on IBKR Lite

With the rollover to a new month, Interactive Brokers released its monthly trading metrics. Aside from the usual stats provided by the US-based online brokerage, this month’s metrics featured a new “bullet point” that reported on the progress of the commission-free trading platform IBKR Lite.

The early numbers reported by Interactive Brokers show that IBKR Lite clients executed an average of one thousand US Reg-NMS orders per day. Unlike the standard metric for trading that gets reported, Daily Average Revenue Trades (DARTs), commission-free trading doesn’t generate revenue (at least from trading commissions), so it was interesting to see what the numbers were but also how they were being reported.

Given the short timeframe in which the IBKR Lite platform has been operational, it was interesting to see the reporting of the figures showcase the volume of an average of one thousand orders per day. To put that into perspective, Interactive Brokers clients overall generated 797 thousand trades per day, so the volume of activity in IBKR Lite is almost inconsequentially small by comparison to the standard IBKR platform.

Another interesting number to highlight from the metrics release was the growth in accounts at Interactive Brokers. The month over month increase was 1% which, considering the move to commission-free trading, reflects that the introduction of this feature was met with a more muted response by investors than it was with competitors.

Upon the release of the IBKR Lite platform in October, other online brokerages in the US quickly lowered their commission rates to zero – perhaps in an effort to prevent a flood of customers from leaving to go to a lower commission competitor. Clearly, it seems to have worked, at least for the time being.

Interactive Brokers has never been shy about its focus on catering to active investors and traders. The recent moves into providing more products that mainstream investors could find appealing is still just a small portion of their business. International expansion also factors heavily into the Interactive Brokers growth plans.

In another interesting move, after Schwab announced in September that it is closing its offices in Singapore at the end of 2019, Interactive Brokers appears to be stepping into Singapore in January 2020.

Over the next several weeks and months, analysts and industry observers will be looking closely at how the zero-commission trading fees will impact metrics like client acquisition and turnover (churn). In particular, we will be monitoring the growth (or contraction) rates to see if there is any suggestion that zero-commission trading moved the needle on online investing accessibility or if the market of DIY investors still maintained its steady state pace of ebbs and flows with respect to joining an online brokerage.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

Shoring up an Exit Plan

After having left a full service broker, a new DIY Investor on this forum seeks help figuring out the logistics of investing as they make plans to leave the country. Forum users offer incredibly in-depth advice on how to approach DIY investing and weigh in on the possible home country bias in their investment strategy.

Switches in Stitches

A Redditor switched RESPs to Questrade in hopes of saving on fees, but encountered a lot of turbulence in the process. Fellow forum users share their experiences with transferring accounts and commiserate about the bumpy ride in switching online brokerages.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on another series of updates. There are still lots of interesting developments taking place daily so it feels a bit like the ground is continuously shifting.  On the plus side, DIY investors are going to be in for a fun stretch into the end of the year.

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Discount Brokerage Deals & Promotions, November 2019

*Updated Nov. 27* Welcome to November, where DIY investors, like daylight, are in for some savings when it comes to investing online. Despite the extra hour available to online brokerages, TFSA contribution room dates, RRSP contribution deadline season and tax season are all quickly approaching, and as a result, investors are already kicking the tires on where best to park their capital. Add to the mix record highs on the stock markets, and it’s a potent combination for investors interested in market momentum.

After the most turbulent month in the history of online brokerages in the US that saw trading commission fees drop to zero, the moose in the room for Canadian discount brokerages is how to temper expectations for zero-commission trading. There is clearly demand for it across social media and among DIY investors, and there is even supply in the form of a couple of online brokers ponying up commission-free trading of one kind or another.

The next best option to fully dropping commissions to zero, is a generous helping of commission-free trades (or cash back) to win over investor loyalty.

It is against that backdrop that we see the Canadian discount brokerage deals activity at a bit of a crossroads this month. On the one hand, the uptick in investor interest is imminent, so there have to be offers coming to market soon. On the other, brokerages are watching one another carefully to see which major online brokerage makes the first move with respect to pricing or promotions (or both) going into the end of 2019.

Already at the beginning of the month we’ve witnessed some bold moves by BMO InvestorLine, with the launch of a new cash back offer geared towards bigger balances than have ever been pursued before. Other brokerages, such as RBC Direct Investing are in the mix with commission-free offers, and bank-owned brokerages National Bank Direct Brokerage and Scotia iTRADE are offering up free trades on an annual basis to certain account holders. In the case of National Bank Direct Brokerage, young investors (under 30 years old) can get 10 commission-free trades per month (as well as a discounted commission fee thereafter). For Scotia iTRADE, the Ultimate banking package with Scotiabank provides 10 commission-free trades in the first year and 5 commission-free trades every year thereafter.

All told, there’s plenty of activity to keep things warm, toasty and inviting for DIY investors looking for promotions or deals to open or add funding to an online investing account. Of course, there’s still likely more to come, so be sure to check back through the month or follow us on Twitter for more deals announcements.

Expired Deals

Scotia iTrade’s $50 cash back and $6.99 per trade promotion officially expired at the end of October. This unique approach to a promotion signals that there’s something creative being cooked up in the iTRADE kitchen and we’ll be watching to see what ultimately surfaces over the next few weeks.

Although it has been replaced by a new offer already, there was a technical expiry of the summer cash back promotions from BMO InvestorLine, which retired their tiered cash back promotion that started off at a minimum deposit tier or $100,000.

Extended Deals

No extensions to report at the time of publication

New Deals

BMO InvestorLine is pushing the line even higher on the top end of both the cash back and the deposit level required to qualify for it with the launch of their latest cash back promotion. The new deal has an initial qualifying deposit tier of $250,000 and associated cash back of $400, and tops out at a new high for a deposit tier of $5M+ for which a whopping $5,000 bonus can be paid out.

*Update November 12 – CIBC Investor’s Edge has launched a brand new cash back promotion for individuals that transfer their account out of their current online brokerage and into Investor’s Edge. The minimum deposit required to qualify for this deal is $25,000; you may be eligible to receive $100 – $400 in cash back depending on the size of your deposit. Scroll down for more details!

*Update November 27 – Scotia iTrade has released a promotion that offers new account holders the choice of a) cash back + $6.99 commissions; or b) free equity trades. The minimum deposit required for this deal is $5,000, and you could be eligible to receive either a) $25 – 1,500 cash back + $6.99 per trade; or b) between 10 – 500 free equity trades, dependent on the size of your funding. Scroll down for more info.

Discount Brokerage Deals

  1. Cash Back/Free Trade/Product Offer Promotions
  2. Referral Promotions
  3. Transfer Fee Promotions
  4. Contests & Other Offers
  5. Digital Advice + Roboadvisor Promotions

Cash Back/Free Trade/Product Offer Promotions

Company Brief Description Minimum Deposit Amount Commission/Cash Offer/Promotion Type Time Limit to Use Commission/Cash Offer Details Link Deadline
Jitney Trade A Sparx Trading exclusive offer! Use the promo code “Sparx Trading” when signing up for a new account with Jitneytrade and receive access to their preferred pricing package. n/a Discounted Commission Rates none For more details click here none
Open and fund a new account (TFSA, Margin or RRSP) with at least $1,000 and you may be eligible to receive $88 in commission credits (up to 17 commission-free trades). Use promo code SPARX88 when signing up. Be sure to read terms and conditions carefully. $1,000 $88 commission credit 60 days Access this offer by clicking here: $88 commission-credit offer . For full terms and conditions, click here. none
Open and fund a new account (TFSA, Margin or RRSP) with at least $1,000 and you may be eligible to receive 5 commission-free trades. Use promo code 5FREETRADES when signing up. Be sure to read terms and conditions carefully. $1,000 5 commission-free trades 60 days 5 commission-free trade offer December 31, 2019
Open a new RBC Direct Investing account by December 13th and you may be eligible for 25 commission-free equity and ETF trades. You must deposit or transfer $5,000 in your account by February 14th, 2020 to be able to use this promotion. Make sure that the offer code MCFT1 is applied if you wish to qualify for this deal. As always, be sure to take a look at the terms and conditions for further details. $5,000 25 commission-free trades 1 year Commission-Free Offer Details December 13, 2019
Scotia iTrade Open and fund a new Scotia iTrade account to be eligible for up to $1,500 in cash back and $6.99 commission pricing, or up to 500 free equity trades. The amount of cashback and free trades are dependent on the funding of your account. Take a look at the offer details link for further information. $5,000 Cash + discounted commissions, or free trades. $6.99 trades available until June 30, 2020; Cash or commission rebate for free trades available until July 31, 2020. iTrade Offer Details February 29, 2020
Disnat Desjardins Online Brokerage is offering new clients 1% of assets transferred into the new account in the form of commission credits (to a maximum value of $1,000). Minimum qualifying deposit is $10,000. To qualify, individuals will have to call 1-866-873-7103 and mention promo code DisnatTransfer or email: [email protected]. See details link for more info. $10,000 1% of assets transferred in the form of commission-credits (max credits: $1,000) 6 months Disnat 1% Commission Credit Promo none
Open and fund a new qualifying account with at least $25,000 and you may qualify for one month of unlimited commission-free trades and up to one month free of an advanced data package. Use promo code ADVANTAGE14 when opening a new account. Be sure to read terms and conditions for full details. $25,000 commission-free trades for 1 month + 1 month of advanced data. 1 month Active Trader Program December 31, 2019
When you transfer funds from another account into a CIBC Investor’s Edge account with assets worth at least A) $25,000; B) $50,000; C) $100,000, you may be eligible to receive A) $100; B) $200; or C) $400 in cash back. A) $25,000 B) $50,000 C) 100,000+ A) $100 B) $200 C) $400 Cash back will be deposited between May 18 – September 17, 2020. CIBC Cash Back Offer Details March 4, 2020
BMO InvestorLine Open a new qualifying account at BMO InvestorLine with new assets worth at least A) $250,000; B) $500,000; C) $2M or D) $5M+, and you may be eligible to a cash back reward of up to A) $400; B) $800; C) $2,000 or D) $5,000. Use promo code SPARXCASH when registering to qualify. Be sure to read full terms and conditions. A) $250,000 B) $500,000 C) $2M D) $5M+ A) $400 B) $800 C) $2,000 D) $5,000 Cash back will be deposited week of Aug. 17, 2020 BMO InvestorLine Cash Back Offer Details January 6, 2020

Expired Offers

Last Updated: Nov. 1, 2019 23:00 PT

Referral Promotions

Company Brief Description Minimum Deposit Amount Incentive Structure Time Limit to Use Commission/Cash Offer Deposit Details Link Deadline
BMO InvestorLine If you (an existing BMO InvestorLine client) refer a new client to BMO InvestorLine and they open an account with at least $5,000 the referrer and the referee may both be eligible to receive $50 cash. To qualify the referee must use the email of the referrer that is linked to their BMO InvestorLine account. See terms and conditions for full details. $5,000 You(referrer): $50; Your Friend(referee): $50 Payout occurs 45 days after minimum 90 day holding period (subject to conditions). BMO InvestorLine Refer-a-Friend January 2, 2020
Refer a friend to Questrade and when they open an account you receive $25 cash back and they receive either A) $25; B) $50; C) $75; D) $100; or E) $250 depending on the amount deposited amount. Enter code: 476104302388759 during account sign up to qualify. Be sure to read the terms and conditions for eligibility and additional bonus payment structure and minimum balance requirements. A) $1,000 B) $10,000 C) $25,000 D) $50,000 E) $100,000+ $25 cash back (for referrer per referral; $50 bonus cash back for every 3rd referral) For referred individuals: A) $25 cash back B) $50 cash back C) $75 cash back D) $100 cash back E) $250 cash back Cash deposited into Questrade billing account within 7 days after funding period ends (90 days) Refer a friend terms and conditions Code Number: 476104302388759 none
Scotia iTrade If you refer a friend/family member who is not already a Scotia iTRADE account holder to them, both you and your friend get a bonus of either cash or free trades. You have to use the referral form to pass along your info as well as your friend/family members’ contact info in order to qualify. There are lots of details/conditions to this deal so be sure to read the details link. A) $10,000 B) $50,000+ A) You(referrer): $50 or 10 free trades; Your “Friend”: $50 or 10 free trades (max total value:$99.90) B) You(referrer): $100 cash or 50 free trades; Your “Friend”: $100 cash or 50 free trades (max total value: $499.50) 60 days Refer A Friend to Scotia iTrade tbd
If you (an existing Qtrade Investor client) refer a new client to Qtrade Investor and they open an account with at least $1,000 the referrer and the referee may both be eligible to receive $25 cash. See terms and conditions for full details. $1,000 $25 cash back (for both referrer and referee) Cash deposited at the end of the month in which referee’s account funded Refer A Friend to Qtrade Investor none

Expired Offers

Last Updated: Nov. 1, 2019 23:00 PT

Transfer Fee Promotions

Company Brief Description Maximum Transfer Fee Coverage Amount Minimum Deposit Amount for Transfer Fee Eligibility Details Link Deadline
Move your brokerage account to Questrade and they’ll cover the transfer-out fee up to $150. $150 n/a Transfer Fee Promo none
Transfer $15,000 or more to RBC Direct Investing and they will pay up to $135 in transfer fees. $200 $15,000 Transfer Fee Rebate Details none
Transfer $15,000 or more into a new HSBC InvestDirect account and you may be eligible to have up to $152.55 in transfer fees covered. $152.55 $15,000 Confirmed via email contact with HSBC InvestDirect Rep. Contact client service for more information. none
Transfer $15,000 or more to Qtrade Investor from another brokerage and Qtrade Investor may cover up to $150 in transfer fees. See terms and conditions for more details. $150 $15,000 Transfer Fee Rebate none
Transfer $20,000 or more to a National Bank Direct Brokerage account and they will pay up to $135 plus taxes in transfer fees. $135 $20,000 Transfer Fee Rebate none
Transfer at least $25,000 or more in new assets to TD Direct Investing when opening a new account and you may qualify to have transfer fees reimbursed up to $150. Be sure to contact TD Direct Investing for further details. $150 $25,000 Contact client service for more information (1-800-465-5463). none
Transfer $25,000 or more into a CIBC Investor’s Edge account and they will reimburse up to $135 in brokerage transfer fees. Clients must call customer service to request rebate after transfer made. $135 $25,000 Confirmed with reps. Contact client service for more information (1-800-567-3343). none
Disnat Desjardins Online Brokerage is offering up to $150 to cover the cost of transfer fees from another institution. To be eligible, new/existing clients need to deposit $50,000 into a Desjardins Online Brokerage account. You’ll have to call 1-866-873-7103 and mention promo code DisnatTransfer. See details link for more info. $150 $50,000 Disnat 1% Commission Credit Promo none
BMO InvestorLine Open a new qualifying account with BMO InvestorLine or fund a qualifying existing account and you may be eligible to have transfer fees covered up to $200. Contact client service for more details. $200 Contact client service for more information Contact client service for more information (1-888-776-6886) none

Expired Offers

Last Updated: Nov. 1, 2019 23:00 PT

Other Promotions

Company Brief Description Minimum Deposit Amount Required Details Link Deadline
Disnat Desjardins Online Brokerage is offering $50 in commission credits for new Disnat Classic clients depositing at least $1,000. See terms and conditions for full details. $1,000 Broker@ge 18-30 Promotion none
Scotia iTrade Scotiabank StartRight customers can receive 10 commission-free trades when investing $1,000 or more in a new Scotia iTrade account. Trades are good for use for up to 1 year from the date the account is funded. Use promo code SRPE15 when applying (in English) or SRPF15 when applying in French. Be sure to read full terms and conditions for full details. $1,000 StartRight Free Trade offer none

Expired Offers

Last Updated: Nov. 1, 2019 23:00 PT

Digital Advice + Roboadvisor Promotions

Robo-advisor / Digital advisor Offer Type Offer Description Min. Deposit Reward / Promotion Promo Code Expiry Date Link
Discounted Management Open and fund a new Questrade Portfolio IQ account with a deposit of at least $1,000 and the first month of management will be free. For more information on Portfolio IQ, click the product link. $1,000 1st month no management fees KDKFNBBC None Questrade Portfolio IQ Promo Offer
Cash Back Open and fund a new or existing SmartFolio account with at least $1,000 and you could receive 0.5% cash back up to $1000. Use promo code PROMO1000 when opening a new account. See terms and conditions for full details. This offer can be combined with the refer-a-friend promotion. $1,000 0.5% cash back to a maximum of $1000. PROMO1000 January 2, 2020 SmartFolio Cash Back Promo
Discounted Management Open a new account with BMO SmartFolio and receive one year of management of up to $15,000 free. See offer terms and conditions for more details. $1,000 1 year no management fees STSF April 30, 2019 SmartFolio New Account Promotion
Cash Back – Referral BMO SmartFolio clients will receive $50 cash back for every friend or family member who opens and funds a new SmartFolio account. Friends and family referred to SmartFolio will receive $50 cash back for opening and funding an account, plus automatic enrollment into SmartFolio’s mass offer in market at the time. See offer terms and conditions for more details. $1,000 $50 cash back (referrer) $50 cash back (referee) Unique link generated from SmartFolio required. None SmartFolio Website
Transfer Fee Coverage Transfer at least $25,000 into Virtual Wealth when opening a new account and you may be eligible to have up to $150 in transfer fees covered by Virtual Wealth. $25,000 up to $150 in transfer fees covered None None Contact customer service directly for more information.
Last Updated: Nov. 1, 2019 23:00 PT