Posted on Leave a comment

Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – December 16, 2019

Heading into mid-December, there are clearly lots of numbers being thrown about. The number of shopping days left until Christmas, the countdown to the end of the year, and the exact deadline for trades to be counted for inclusion in 2019. To add to the pile, there are also numbers to consider that measure the online brokerage industry in Canada – which for some folks is like getting an early Christmas present.

In this edition of the Roundup, we take a deep dive into the latest online brokerage rankings to be released ahead of the end of 2019, and look at the impact that big changes in definitions can have on how investors ultimately decide which online brokerage is best. After that heavy dose of numbers, we’ve layered on some interesting comments and reactions from DIY investors in the forums and from Twitter to close things out.

2019 Online Brokerage Rankings: Focus on Experience over Price

Just in time for the end of 2019, there was a fresh round of online brokerage rankings for DIY investors to review as they do their financial planning for the year ahead. The annual Canadian discount brokerage rankings from financial services analysis firm, Surviscor, were released this past week and featured some interesting results on the pool of Canadian brokerages.

For DIY investors, rankings and ratings from third party agencies help to provide insights into what the client experience is like at particular Canadian online brokers. In Canada, there are three primary rankings that investors typically turn to – the Globe and Mail’s annual online brokerage rankings, the Online Self-Directed Discount Brokerage Rankings by Surviscor, and the J.D. Power & Associates Self-Directed Investor Satisfaction Study.

Expectedly, each of these rankings and ratings measures different aspects of the online brokerage segment and provides a rating based on their respective view of what separates the best online brokerages in Canada from their peers. For DIY investors, this translates into a somewhat muddled experience where different rankings and ratings provide different perspectives on the question: “which online brokerage is best?”

It is against that backdrop that the most recent iteration of Surviscor’s Canadian discount brokerage review offers some fascinating insights and also provides important lessons for DIY investors relying on rankings for researching online brokerage accounts. In particular, because of significant changes to how they have defined their Canadian online brokerage review in 2019 and what the resulting effects are for interpreting the rankings, it is important for DIY investors to look more carefully at the latest Surviscor rankings to understand how those changes impact potentially important decisions around choosing an online broker.

Starting with Definitions

An important but easy to overlook detail about the difference between the 2019 Surviscor rankings and the 2018 rankings is seen in the respective press releases associated with the rankings data release. In the 2019 rankings news release, it states:

“Surviscor’s proprietary scorCard methodology measures over 3,600 objective usage-related criteria questions over six independent categories, each weighted according to industry importance through direct feedback with industry firms.”

However in the 2018 news release, the following was stated:

“Surviscor’s proprietary scorCard methodology measures over 4,000 objective usage-related criteria questions and reviews each firm by 9 independent categories, each weighted according to industry importance through direct feedback with industry firms.”

Thus, the first important difference appears to be a change in the number of criteria and in the number of categories that are being used to assess Canadian online brokerages in 2019.

As seen in the table below, the categories that did not make it into the 2019 assessment were related to service experience, mobile experience, transactional experience, and cost of services. This selection of categories substantially changes the way in which an online brokerage is evaluated as a whole – shifting the focus to certain components of the experience.

2018 Categories 2019 Categories
Initial Experience Initial Experience
Service Experience X
Mobile Experience X
User Experience User Experience
Account Experience Account Experience
Market Analysis Experience Market Analysis Experience
Transactional Experience X
Investing and Planning Experience Investing and Planning Experience
Cost of Services X

Another important qualifier to the 2019 Surviscor rankings is that these rankings are purposefully attempting to measure the overall “self-directed online brokerage experience” for desktop users. The rationale for the significant change to this year’s study was to focus “on the pure online usability experience to better determine the best online/desktop platform for Canadians.”

Diving into Numbers

Those important contextual points considered, this year’s ranking saw Qtrade Investor still manage to retain its position atop Surviscor’s rankings for the fourth consecutive year. While this is a laudable feat in such a competitive field, it is noteworthy to see that this year the gap between first and second place (TD Direct Investing) came down to one percentage point – a gap that has never been that narrow in the four consecutive years that Qtrade Investor has topped these rankings. Rounding out the top three this year was Scotia iTRADE, a bank-owned online brokerage which has traditionally had a strong showing in these rankings and is back on the podium in 2019 after having placed fourth in last years assessment.

When transactional, service, mobile, and cost data are removed from the evaluation criteria, the 2019 online brokerage rankings paint an interesting perspective of the field of DIY trading service providers. Immediately, the relative advantage that “low-commission pricing” provides is removed in the 2019 rankings.

Three of the four lowest cost online brokerages occupy the lowest three positions when it comes to the “online brokerage experience”: CIBC Investor’s Edge (ranked 10th), National Bank Direct Brokerage (ranked 11th) and Interactive Brokers Canada (ranked 12th).

Clearly, it is important for DIY investors to note that the “best online brokerage” doesn’t necessarily translate into the lowest cost online brokerage nor the “best value,” since commission prices appear to be heavily factored out.

Even with most online brokerages now charging standard commission pricing in the sub-$10 per trade range, events in the US online brokerage space as well as recent moves by brokerages such as Wealthsimple Trade (which was not featured) and National Bank Direct Brokerage point to a significant enough gap in pricing that DIY investors could still see merit in switching brokerages to realize savings on commissions. In other words, DIY investors are still price sensitive when shopping for online brokerages.

The performance of the Canadian online brokerage field in 2019 as measured by the Surviscor rankings is interesting in and of itself. Removing price factors as well as mobile and service features, however, introduces a substantial degree of variability in the scoring when comparing results year over year, and paints the picture of an industry that – other than the excluded factors – is generally getting it right when it comes to “online brokerage experience” for DIY investors.

One of the first interesting characterizations was noted by Surviscor in their press release as a “surge” in performance by TD Direct Investing moving up three ranking positions from fifth place in 2018 to second in 2019. We took the extra step of crunching the numbers on the gainers and decliners for 2019 compared to 2018 to highlight the magnitude of performance difference. Indeed, TD Direct Investing did “surge” a remarkable 22 percentage points from 69% in 2018 to 91% in 2019.

That said, a positional shift (or surge) also took place with two other firms: Desjardins Online Brokerage and HSBC Invest Direct. The latter of these was particularly interesting given the historically poor performance shown by HSBC InvestDirect on the Surviscor ratings since 2016 where it has either been second last or last. Using the new criteria for measurement in 2019, this suggests that the combination of pricing, transaction, mobile experience and service were actually dragging these firms down in terms of performance on the Surviscor rankings.

Two other firms saw double digit percentage point improvements compared to 2018: Scotia iTRADE (+16 percentage points) and Virtual Brokers (+17 percentage points). Despite these sizable gains, however, their respective rankings only improved one position, with Scotia iTRADE climbing to third place this year and Virtual Brokers rising to seventh place.

Interestingly, there were three firms that saw percentage improvements but did not see any change in their rankings: Qtrade Investor (remained in first), RBC Direct Investing (remained in sixth), and CIBC Investor’s Edge (remained in 10th).

Perhaps the biggest curiousity from this year’s rankings comes not with the advancers, but in the decliners category.

There were four firms that saw position rankings slip, however, in three of those four brokerages, there were actually increases in the percentage scores compared to 2018. This underscores a broader takeaway from the results of this year’s online brokerage rankings, which is that the quality of online brokerage experience appears to be significantly better this year at almost all brokerages. The one exception according to these results is Interactive Brokers, which plunged from seventh place in 2018 to twelfth in 2019.

Removing the factors related to price, mobile experience, transaction experience, and service experience appears to have a significant impact on the comparability of results year over year.

Compared to previous years, the year over year volatility in rankings and percentage points seen from 2018 to 2019 is significantly higher. The standard deviation in scoring in 2018 vs 2017 was 1.97 whereas in 2019 compared to 2018, this worked out to be 7.62 or almost a factor of four (3.87x) difference.

Why that is relevant to note, however, is that in comparing rankings from one year to the next, it is also important to understand that those rankings are not measuring the same set of attributes. And, it is on that particular point of year over year comparability of rankings that consumers and DIY investors need to take the streaks and the ranking shifts with a grain of salt.

To put the impact of the measurement changes in perspective, in 2018, only one firm (Qtrade Investor) scored better than 79% for overall experience whereas in 2019 there were six – or half the firms analyzed – that scored above 79%. Since 2019 to 2018 is not a true apples-to-apples comparison, however, the shift in ranking positions year over year has to be heavily qualified, as does the consecutive nature of a particular ranking. While it is true that Qtrade Investor is first overall (again), why they are first is materially different.

The Takeaway for DIY Investors

For DIY investors shopping around for online brokerages, rankings and ratings are generally a go-to resource to better understand what kind of brokerage experience can be expected. That said, it is important to note that online brokerage rankings and ratings are not static, nor do they measure the same things between rankings.

As such, while an accolade such as being named “best online brokerage” by a particular rating firm is certainly something online brokerages can be proud of, for consumers it is crucial to ask more questions about the nature of what’s being measured. In other words, definitions matter as much as the results.

In the case of the 2019 Surviscor online brokerage rankings, the focus has shifted away from a number of previously important components to focus on the desktop user experience.

The fascinating implication of this analysis, however, is that the differentiators for almost half the brokerages are on the factors that were excluded. That is to say, with so many brokerages scoring 80% or better on “experience” features, this evaluation shows the brokerages have very similar (and reasonably good) platforms and will have to differentiate themselves on other features.

The real answer (if there is one) is how these experience factors combine with the separated-out factors like mobile experience, price, and service. Strategically, Surviscor will be launching a comprehensive “Digital Brokerage Experience award” in 2020 that combines the multiple assessments into one evaluation. The challenge for DIY investors, however, is making sense of the different ranking performances and the inevitable confusion from multiple online brokerages rightfully claiming that they are the “best online brokerage.”

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

Cast a Wide Net Worth

Following the loss of their preferred finance tracking tool, one DIY investor wants to know how others keep tabs on their net worth and investments. Read on for tools and tips provided by fellow forum users.

Singled Out

A DIY investor has questions about how to go about investing in a single US stock as a Canadian. See what advice other Redditors provided.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on this edition of the Weekly Roundup. We’re going to be putting the Roundup on park for the remainder of 2019, so this is the official sign off for the year (unless some kind soul in the online brokerage world decides to take commissions to zero just before the end of the year). While we’ll be monitoring developments and reporting on deals updates (and potentially groundbreaking news), we’ll otherwise be in the workshop until 2020.  On behalf of the SparxTrading team, we’d like to thank the loyal Weekly Roundup (marathoners) readers for tuning in, and wish you all the best for the holiday season, and the New Year! Stay safe and profitable!

Posted on Leave a comment

Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – December 9, 2019

With the holiday season just a few short weeks away, gifts and presents are top of mind for many folks. Fortunately for Canadian DIY investors, there are some early presents that have arrived courtesy of some of the newest online brokerages in Canada – and the timing couldn’t be better.

In this edition of the Roundup, we keep things all Canadian (for a change) with a look at the newest online brokerage to roll out in Canada – including the challenges and opportunities they face in a crowded field. From there we’ll review the latest feature being rolled out by another relatively new online brokerage, and how their newest feature can be both a blessing and a curse. As usual, we serve up some interesting chatter from DIY investors on Twitter and in the investing forums.

CG Direct Rolls Out as Canada’s Newest Online Brokerage

This past week, an important and long-awaited shift took place in the Canadian online brokerage space. Jitneytrade, the online brokerage in Canada that is heavily focused on the active trader, and which was acquired in 2018 by Canaccord Genuity, officially wound down their website and transitioned to the new online brokerage segment at Canaccord called CG Direct.

In keeping with the acquisition trend in the Canadian online brokerage space, the smaller independent discount brokerages such as Virtual Brokers, Qtrade Investor, and Credential Direct have been snapped up by larger wealth management players. In the case of Virtual Brokers, it was CI Financial and for Qtrade Investor and Credential Direct, it was Desjardins. And, although the figures related to these transactions weren’t made available, the deal for Jitneytrade was, and came in at $14.8M in June 2018.

The key takeaway: independent online brokerages in and of themselves are not sufficiently profitable to be commercially sustainable in Canada. They need to be part of a spectrum of wealth or financial management services in order to have a chance of competing in the ultra-crowded online investing segment.

So, what would possess Canaccord to wade into a very crowded online brokerage space in Canada? Like most deals, it’s likely driven by ROI.

According to Canaccord’s FY 2019 annual report, the acquisition “serves to support the Company’s mid-market growth strategy by enhancing its market share of equities trading and providing access to new areas of growth through accelerating its development of an enhanced fintech product offering.”

What a positive return looks like for Canaccord is not just growth in revenues from commissions but also a deepening of relationship with their existing (and wealthy) managed wealth client base. With the acquisition of an online brokerage, no longer does Canaccord have to step aside while their private wealth clients who want to “dabble” on their own take assets to another firm or online broker. Instead, Canaccord can now keep those clients “in the tent” and create a stronger case for bringing assets located elsewhere into Canaccord.

Of course, growing assets from within is only one facet of the ROI picture. Another component to the possible return on this purchase will be the extent to which they can win new clients. In this regard, things are going to be considerably more difficult for Canaccord to successfully execute on.

While Jitneytrade may be a name more familiar to professional traders, among most retail investors it is not. This creates two distinct challenges: one is carrying over the Jitneytrade “brand” to the active trader segment, and the second is translating the Canaccord brand into something retail investors believe is compelling.

In the case of the first challenge, retaining existing Jitneytrade clients under a new banner of CG Direct will likely not be too difficult assuming service and pricing stay relatively close to where they were pre-merger. Interestingly, digging into the details of the deal, there was a category of the transaction labelled “intangible assets” which was valued at $1.9M, which specifically related to the value of customer relationships. Indeed, the ultra-active and professional trader segment is a high-touch client, which simply means that while pricing is key, relationships matter (a lot). Going forward under a new banner of CG Direct, growing the brand among the active trader community will now require selling the merits of CG Direct as the destination for active traders. It will have to compete directly with Interactive Brokers in this regard.

The second challenge will clearly be attracting business in the retail investor segment in an already crowded discount brokerage field.

With a new brand, there are inherent hurdles to clear (such as: Who is this firm? Can they be trusted?) and out of the gate, there are already some clear stumbling blocks to winning the attention battle for CG Direct. Perhaps the biggest challenge will be the “differentiator” among the other players.

For new entrants to the Canadian online brokerage space, pricing is one of the biggest drivers of attention among DIY investors. The pricing for CG Direct – at least for the equity commissions – is at the industry standard $9.99 per trade (plus any ECN fees), which pits it against the larger online brokerage competitors. When it comes to options, though, pricing is a bit more competitive (or even better) than most of the online brokerage peers. CG Direct will be charging $1.00 per options contract with a minimum commission of $10.

On the technology front, the retail web-based trading platform for CG Direct, called DirectFolio, will be up against incredibly tough competition. While the core business of an online brokerage is order execution, the “standard” offering for most online brokerages when it comes to platform is to deliver a relatively feature rich experience. As an extension of that, the current website and digital experience of CG Direct is not the kind of wave-making experience that something like Wealthsimple Trade has been.  In particular, there is a sense that CG Direct is a “desktop” brand versus a “mobile” one, suggesting that the pace of growth in the retail investor segment is going to be limited by the ability of CG Direct to appeal to the newer, tech-savvier generation of investor who all the competitors are working very, very hard to attract.

When an online brokerage can focus its identity on a segment – e.g. if CG Direct were purely for active traders – it becomes easier for consumers to understand what CG Direct does and when the right time would be to engage them as an online brokerage. In this case, however, with CG Direct going after two segments of the market, it will be an uphill battle to structure communications to be appealing to both.

One component of the story that we have not yet dove into is the potential for robo-advisory services to also emerge from this transaction. In addition to Jitneytrade, Canaccord acquired Finlogik – a company also started by the founder of Jitneytrade. The Finlogik side of the deal also brings with it the software platform that could be used for the deeper push into the digital wealth management experience (e.g. robo-advice) and the web-based trading platform for the self-directed investor.

Ironically, as online brokerages, their core business comes down to execution. In this case, success of the CG Direct brand will undoubtedly come down to execution on the value proposition and brand promise.

For active investors and traders, this means CG Direct needs to continue to execute well on the “bespoke” pricing and service experience that Jitneytrade was known to offer. And, in wading into ultra-competitive waters on the retail investor side, delivering on the value that online investors expect from a discount brokerage (pricing, platform, ease of use, service, resources, etc.) will be crucial if the online brokerage arm of Canaccord is going to be more than a retention tool for existing clients.

Wealthsimple Trade Transfers Now Active

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. In the road to bringing even lower commission costs to Canadian DIY investors, Wealthsimple Trade has been slowly moving forward on its plans to be a genuine competitor to other Canadian online brokerages. This past week, the social media feeds for Wealthsimple Trade highlighted another important step that the zero-commission brokerage has taken to make it easier to do business with them: enable account transfers.

DIY investors can now request a transfer of their eligible registered and/or registered accounts to Wealthsimple trade. Among the accounts users can transfer over to Wealthsimple Trade are TFSAs, RRSPs and non-registered accounts.

As an added bonus, if the amounts being transferred over are greater than $5,000, then Wealthsimple Trade is willing to cover the transfer fee that the existing brokerage will likely charge on the way out.

There is still no way to directly transfer between Wealthsimple and Wealthsimple Trade, however the fact that it is now possible to go from one institution directly into Wealthsimple Trade without having to sell a portfolio into cash first is a big plus for DIY investors who want to take a dive into the zero-commission experience.

For other online brokerages, even though the changes that are taking place at Wealthsimple Trade are still small enough not to be too concerning, the ability to have investors transfer funds and securities away from their brokerage is one which undoubtedly raises some eyebrows.

The addition of account transfer capability was undoubtedly an important feature to get rolling just before RSP season ramps up to full speed, however, this particular feature is not without its risks.

Unlike many of its peers, Wealthsimple Trade (and its parent, Wealthsimple) have made significant strides to redefine user experience in the financial and wealth management space. Their websites, apps and even content are very much the envy of other wealth management firms and as such, the Wealthsimple brand has earned a substantial degree of goodwill with consumers, in particular millennials.

Of course, aesthetics aside, when it comes to people and their money, emotions inevitably factor in and expectations around reliability, stability and speed are also crucial. Why this matters in the context of account transfers is because unlike account opening (which can be completed in minutes online) the account transfer process can take anywhere from two to four weeks (and in many cases, even longer). This pits the ultra-fast, low-friction experience and promise of Wealthsimple Trade against the realities of the financial network between online brokerages in Canada today. And, for anyone who reads the financial forums and tweets about online brokerages on a regular basis, it’s clear that account transfers make up a unique category of frustration among DIY investors.

So, as widely anticipated as this feature is for Wealthsimple Trade, it is almost one of those “be careful what you wish for” situations as well.

Not only is the risk (based on ample evidence from other DIY investors’ brokerage transfer experiences) of mistakes incredibly high, the consequence and subsequent optics of delays that stretch into the weeks and months are terrible. If Wealthsimple Trade manages to generate enough interest, they could be the victims of their own success when it comes to having too much volume of transfer activity taking place, which would also strain their internal resources. Add to that the very high likelihood that their target client is on social media in some way shape or form, and the magnitude of the mistake or delay – even if it is not on Wealthsimple’s end – would be outsized relative to their peer firms.

When it comes to trading and markets, timing is really everything. In the case of Wealthsimple Trade’s new transfer capabilities, it may be a question of investors waiting and seeing as to whether or not the two to four week window is realistic or if it is something even longer. If there’s one thing worse than paying bad fees, it’s enduring the uncertainty of exactly who has your entire nest egg while it’s being moved. Trading markets is fun, trading brokerages – at least from what is written about online – not so much.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

No Time for Bonds

A DIY investor questions the advantages of bonds over HISAs. Fellow forum users weigh in, providing insight on situations in which each type of investment would prevail. Read more here.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

A 45-year-old, self-employed Redditor wants to start investing and turns to the forums for guidance on where to begin. Read the advice that fellow forum users gave this new DIY investor here.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on another eventful week. Fortunately this week there was lots taking place in the Canadian online brokerage space. Just like the shopping habits of many consumers, the online brokerage space still might have a few last-minute surprises left before the end of 2019. With a new decade just around the corner, some new discount brokerages starting to make waves here in Canada, there’s lots for DIY investors to look forward to in 2020. To anyone braving the malls to shop, hats off to you and wishing you lots of great parking karma!

Posted on Leave a comment

Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – December 2, 2019

Sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the beginning of December is undoubtedly synonymous with big savings and big deals. This year, there are definitely both in the world of online brokerages here in Canada and in the US.

In this edition of the Weekly Roundup, we review the latest deals activity to cross the wire at the outset of December and explore some interesting trends for the end of 2019 and early 2020. From there, we peer into the fog of online brokerage war as the massive news of the Schwab / Ameritrade deal continues to send shockwaves of uncertainty through the online investing industry. For a great change of pace, we’ve also got the ever popular DIY investor tweets as well as chatter from investors in the forums.

December Deals & Promotions Update

It’s a new month and that means another chance to revisit the discount brokerage deals and promotions scoreboard to see what’s new for the month as well as what trends are emerging for promotions from Canada’s online brokerages.

There’s a slight bit of irony to the fact that the end of financial literacy month (November) coincides with both Black Friday and Cyber Monday, since the former is all about learning how to manage money wisely and the latter are all about getting consumers to open up their wallets with the promise of deep discounts. In the world of online investing, the irony extends just a tad further, with “discount brokerages” now cutting commission rates to zero (at least in the US) in the hopes of seeing more trading activity take place.

Before going too far into the trends or strategies that we see unfolding, the good news is that the deals and promotions activity heading into December is upbeat (at least for DIY investors).

Despite there being no online brokerage launching a deal on December 1st, there are currently 24 offers available to DIY investors and the brokerages currently offering deals represent some of the most popular choices in the space.

Kicking off December, most of the big five bank-owned online brokerages, with the exception of TD Direct Investing, have either commission-free trade offers or cash back promos currently in the market. This offers considerable value for DIY investors to choose from and is dominating what investors are looking at on

That said, we’re expecting some volatility and turbulence over the typically quiet holiday period because of the spacing out of expiry dates on some of the current offers.

RBC Direct Investing, one of the bigger players in the online brokerage space behind TD Direct Investing, has their commission-free offering currently scheduled to expire on December 13th. BMO InvestorLine’s seasonal offer is set to expire at the beginning of January 2020 and both Scotia iTRADE and CIBC Investor’s Edge have deals set to expire close to the end of February or beginning of March – which coincides with the RSP contribution deadline of March 2, 2020. So, even though the beginning of the month may be relatively quiet, there’s a good chance that there will be more activity as the month progresses or as soon as the new year hits.

One big development in the online brokerage space that is likely going to impact the way in which deals and promotions unfold in the new year is the move to zero-commission trading in the US.

In Canada, the wave of zero-commission trading has yet to fully take hold and between now and the time that it does, the go-to place for online brokerages to get the attention of value-conscious investors is going to be with deals and promotions.

Knowing what’s at stake in terms of having to lower commission prices to zero entirely, the better option for online brokerages is to start dishing out bigger and more valuable incentives to attract new clients (or more accurately, more assets) and more importantly, to retain clients (and their assets).

We’re already seeing that online brokerages are starting to get more creative with what they’re offering.

Scotia iTRADE, for example, launched a new promotion at the end of November which combined both a cash back promotion with a discount in standard commission fee down to $6.99 per trade. That same promo also offered the option to choose commission-free trades instead of cash back. And, to boot, this is a tiered offer that ranges from deposits as low as $5,000 all the way up to deposits of at least $5M. This is by far one of the most comprehensive offerings in terms of choice and targets. By contrast, BMO InvestorLine’s tiered offer is focused on cash back and for higher deposit levels only.

For brokerages other than the big-five bank-owned online brokerages, the mix of already low commission prices and convenience-appeal of a bank suggest that there has to be a mixture of bold thinking and savvy marketing to navigate the choppy waters for their brands going forward. There are likely to be firms that will try to tread water with middle of the road promotional offers, however, it is clear that to stand out from the big bank online brokerages, one strategic area to do that is with promotional offers.

It almost goes without saying but the commission rate drops or promotional offers alone are not going to be enough to keep clients, the service and value experience has to also measure up otherwise customers will choose a provider who gets the details and little things that are important to online investors right. That said, unless there’s something to get attention away from the behemoth and ultimately familiar banks, investors will likely default to the fastest and easiest option this holiday season.

Certainty Begets Uncertainty

They say when it rains, it pours. It seems like a fitting description for the online brokerage space in the US this past week (and for the past 8 weeks) which saw perhaps the biggest repercussion of the zero-commission fee move unfold.

Last week, we reported that Schwab was rumoured to be in talks to buy out TD Ameritrade, and this past week the announcement was made official. Schwab announced that it would be purchasing TD Ameritrade in an all stock deal valued at $26B USD. With the stroke of a pen, two of the US’s largest online brokerages combined forces to create a super online brokerage with almost $5T (trillion) USD in assets under management (AUM).

The question that everyone is asking is naturally where things go from here? In particular where things go for E*TRADE Financial, which for a long time was viewed as the most likely candidate to be acquired. Though just speculation, the case for takeover of E*TRADE seems to still be viable. There are still entities large enough to take on acquiring an online brokerage (including competitors like Fidelity or even Goldman Sachs) however, even a private equity deal in which the business pieces were sold off to different parties could make sense given the value of the different business lines operated by E*TRADE.

In addition, this past week the online brokerage credited with accelerating the move towards zero commissions, Robinhood, quietly withdrew their application for bank status, putting their cash management plans in limbo. Curiously, despite this about-face, there are still images for debit cards on the homepage of the website, suggesting either that they’re slow to update their site (not likely) or that there will be cash management coming but through a partnership with an existing financial institution – potentially similar to what Google is orchestrating in its partnership with Citibank to create their “Cache” program.

Sufficed to say, it has been a whirlwind of activity into the end of the year. Judging by the degree of uncertainty still surrounding the acquisition of Ameritrade by Schwab, the fallout for brands like E*TRADE and Robinhood, and the new world in which online investor preferences are going to shift to focus on the other value drivers of the online investing activity flow.

The big question to DIY investors is “so what?” In particular, for Canadian DIY investors there is clearly an undercurrent of consumer demand for the same kind of pricing in Canada that online investors in the US receive. On Twitter as well as in financial investing forums, Canadian investors are calling for rates to drop to zero for commissions – the premise being if the US online brokerages (as in ALL of the US online brokerages) can go to zero, why can’t Canadian brokerages? It’s a fair question and not one that Canadian online brokerages can answer well just yet, with one exception – Wealthsimple Trade.

Perhaps the only thing that is clear at this point is that there is a great deal of uncertainty looking forward in the online brokerage industry. The fun part of that uncertainty is that it leaves room for speculation.

The one thing that analysts can hang their hats on as far as value is the assets that individual investors bring with them and what that, in turn, can be converted into as far as revenue for the financial services firm. Looked at in this light, financial services firms rely on having large pools of users to achieve the scale required to be sustainable. That also means that technology platforms, such as all of the members of the FAANG stocks, are likely competitors for the traditional financial services firms. For that reason, our best guess for the path forward for the large (and especially not so large) financial services firms will be becoming exceptionally interesting and helpful in the financial management of everyday investors. Anything less, and there’s going to be a cheaper and faster alternative provider for it.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

One Hit Wonder

After switching jobs at 40, this Redditor’s pension payout was put into a LIRA. Worried about the future of the economy, this forum user seeks advice on how to proceed with their pension. Read the responses of fellow Redditors here.

Mad Max

Having already invested in a HISA and GIC, a DIY investor is considering using their TFSA to invest in index funds to get the best returns. Redditors weigh in on this financial situation and provide guidance on the best ways to use a TFSA effectively.

Into the Close

Fitting heading into the holiday season that that’s a wrap on another edition of the Roundup. With Cyber Monday now upon us, there are clearly deal hunters on the prowl and by all accounts this year was a strong one for shopping activity. Savvy DIY investors also know that this is the most wonderful time of the year for bargains on under-performing stocks (*cough cough cannabis and energy*). So, while there’s more than enough uncertainty to go around these days, don’t lose sight of the opportunity it creates. Happy deal hunting!

Posted on Leave a comment

Discount Brokerage Deals & Promotions, December 2019

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday landing so close to the beginning of December, deal hunting is going to be top of mind for DIY investors heading into the final month of the year. Fortunately, there are deals to be had with a number of cash back and commission-free trade promotions going on to round out the final month of 2019.

Of course, like many offers taking place in the lead up to Christmas, there is a time limit to take advantage of them.

December looks to be an interesting month for deals activity because there are offers – such as the RBC Direct Investing commission-free offer – which are scheduled to expire just before the middle of the month. Questrade has a pair of longstanding offers which are set to expire at the end of the month too.

In addition to promotions that are scheduled to end in December, there are also competitive dynamics at work which might make it more likely for other brokerages to step up with an offer sooner rather than later. The addition of Scotia iTRADE and their commission-free trades or cash back offer to the deals pool last month basically sets the stage for more offers to come to market.

Given everything that’s happened in the US market with commission-free stock trading, Canadian DIY investors are anxiously awaiting the same to happen here in Canada with the mainstream online brokers. While it is unlikely to go to zero across the industry soon, price drops are in the forecast.

Looking ahead at the promotions picture, the reality is that it is more competitive than ever before in the Canadian online brokerage space so to win consumers. Online brokerages have to get even more creative (and they are starting to) and the fastest way to get on the radar of value-conscious DIY investors is through promotional offers. By that measure, we’re expecting to see brokerages roll out some interesting promos into the end of 2019 or into early 2020.

Those brokerages that are still on the sidelines in terms of offers won’t be there much longer. With RRSP season just around the corner and additional room for TFSA contributions coming at the beginning of the year, it will be an equally limited time offer to get the attention of DIY investors.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on the deals space but if you find an offer that would be great for other DIY investors to know about, let us know in the comments.

Expired Deals

No expired deals.

Extended Deals

No extended deals to report at this time.

New Deals

There were no new deals to report at the beginning of December however there was a deal that came to market at the tail end of November from Scotia iTRADE. The latest promotion from this popular bank-owned online brokerage is sure to raise some eyebrows from competitors as it offers a potent combination of cash back and discount standard commission pricing or commission-free equity trades. To boot, iTRADE has also made this a multi-tiered offer that ranges from entry level investor/portfolio to high net worth portfolio, so there’s something for just about every stripe of investor here. With iTRADE now in the mix, the list of bank-owned online brokerages without an offer is becoming smaller than the list of bank-owned brokerages with an offer.

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
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

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
Last Updated: Dec. 20, 2019 15:35 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. 29, 2019 13:39 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 $200 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 $10,000 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. 29, 2019 13:37 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. 29, 2019 13:38 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. 29, 2019 13:38 PT