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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – February 24, 2020

Deadline to RSP contribution is almost here and it’s prime time for DIY investors to go shopping for an online brokerage. Of course, retail investors aren’t the only ones shopping around, these days it seems that online brokerages are on the minds of more than just investors.

In this edition of the Roundup, there’s really only one big story in the online brokerage space that warrants the spotlight, namely the big acquisition of the online brokerage E*Trade in the US. Keep reading for more information on the deal, as well as what that transaction could signal for Canadian discount brokerages and DIY investors. Also, in the lead up to the RSP contribution deadline, Twitter is a great place to monitor the ‘stress test’ on Canadian online brokerages and the volume of interest that generates intriguing consequences for customer service experiences. Be sure to check out the forum chatter too for good measure.

Morgan Stanley Acquires E*Trade

This past week, another watershed moment occurred in the evolving story of online investing and trading, and yet again, it happened in the United States.

One of the largest and storied investment banks in the US – Morgan Stanley – acquired one of the best-known online brokerages in the US, E*Trade financial, in an all-stock deal that signaled an important move on the chess board for brokerage firms and the push from Wall Street into the retail financial services sector.

Unlike the recent acquisition of TD Ameritrade by rival Charles Schwab, the decision by Morgan Stanley to acquire E*Trade is a bit of a step change to the online brokerage battle. Most notably, an investment bank the size and pedigree of Morgan Stanley entering the game pits it against peers, J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs, in the push to diversify its business lines. With so many tech and fintech firms in the US jumping into the online brokerage business (including new entrants like Square), and with so many of them at the zero-commission price point, the ability to process the stock transaction appears to be effectively commoditized into a ‘standard’ option for many wealth management or financial services providers.

So, while the terms of the deal and the rhetoric surrounding the transaction are important, the bigger picture here is that there has been a tectonic shift in the industry which should only accelerate change coming to online brokerages here Canada.

The quote by the founder of the largest online brokerage on Earth, Charles Schwab, in 1971 puts this into perspective: “Why is the stock trading commission a percentage of the trade, when it is the same work for electrons to run down a wire for 1,000 shares of a $10 stock as it is for a $1000 stock?”

The funny thing about that quote is that in today’s terms, Canadian DIY investors are increasingly finding themselves (or will be) asking why in Canada do the electrons up north cost way more to run down a wire than they do in the US?

With recent downward revisions to their commission structures, several large online brokerages (such as National Bank Direct Brokerage, Desjardins Online Brokerage, and HSBC InvestDirect) have already figured out that the path forward entails embracing a lower commission structure. For other Canadian online brokerages, it will simply be a matter of time.

Factoring in what is taking place in the US online brokerage industry, the Canadian online brokerage industry is facing an existential moment: whether or not online investing – in particular making individual stock picks and ‘trading’ – matters as much to current and future generations of investors as it did to previous ones? Indeed, with alternatives like Roboadvisors, or set-it-and-forget-it passive ETFs, the requirement or pressure to pick individual names to stash in a portfolio is now significantly reduced. As such, the path forward for Canadian online brokerages, in particular, will not be an easy one.

Given the size of the Canadian market (the number of DIY investors and the demand for DIY investing), one likely scenario is that the online brokerage space here in Canada is likely to separate into a very small group of motivated companies, who are investing in the development and success of online brokerage, and the rest, who rely on convenience and inertia and who will do the ‘minimum’ to sustain that arm of the business.

Why Morgan Stanley jumped into online brokerage can be summed up by a quote from its CEO James Gorman, who stated in an interview with Barron’s, “It solidifies us in the workplace and gets us into direct digital in a big way. We’re not messing around.”  This, it seems, reflects a seriousness of sentiment – a hunger to grow and to win – that Canadian online brokerages will also have to adopt if they really want to stand out. 

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

While this section of the Roundup generally flies under the radar, this past week and for the week ahead, it will be particularly useful to pay attention to Twitter to see how Canadian DIY investors and online brokerages are interacting into the RSP contribution deadline. In particular, there has been much attention given lately to the ‘mortgage stress test.’ However, when it comes to Canada’s discount brokerages, the one big stress test happens to be volume of activity.

In late 2018 and early 2019, when the crypto bubble and weed bubble frenzies were hitting feverish pitches, many Canadian online brokerages had problems keeping up with trading volumes, as well as interest from investors. Fast forward to the deadline of RSP season in 2020, and the convergence of markets starting to buckle under worries about the coronavirus, and there very well could be a perfect storm of investors trying to get access to their accounts only to hit an online or customer service delay.

As far as the previous week, those signs of stress are already starting to emerge, with Scotia iTRADE appearing to bear the brunt of negative publicity about wait times. That said, Twitter users are mentioning online brokerages – in particular bank-owned online brokerages – for the unflattering wait times or technical glitches being encountered. While there’s definitely a lot happening on Twitter these days, this space in particular will be worth keeping an eye on to see how Canada’s online brokerages fare in the week ahead.

From the Forums

Boom(er) or Bust

A forum user starts a lively discussion based on a newly released article claiming that Millennial wealth is lagging, and therefore so is Millennial investing. Fellow users weigh in with their personal generational experiences in this post.

Baby Got Back-Ups

A first-time parent seeks advice on how to set their kid up for success. Fellow Redditors give advice on account types, government programs, and how to make the most of gifts from grandparents in this post.

Into the Close

For veteran traders, sell-offs are no time to panic. In fact, experience teaches us that when opportunity presents itself, it’s best to be ready. And, this past week, there’s perhaps no better story of chance meeting preparation than a 42-year-old Zamboni driver, David Ayres, getting the nod to play goal, and win, for the Carolina Hurricanes. Yes, they beat the Leafs, but this is a story that has all the feels. So, stay prepared for the week ahead and here’s hoping you also come out ahead.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – February 17, 2020

With Valentine’s Day and now with a shortened trading week for Family Day in Canada and President’s Day in the US, the weekend has been bookended with reasons to celebrate. For DIY investors, the sprint towards the RRSP contribution deadline may not offer roses and chocolates, but there are certainly some very sweet gifts being provided by Canadian discount brokerages for 2020 that investors can look forward to.

In this edition of the Roundup, we take a look at the big moves in original content that one online brokerage is making and what this means for both DIY investors as well as competitor firms who want to win mind share (and wallet share) in 2020. On the topic of winning, we also take a look stateside to see who’s winning the online brokerage competition there, now that trading commissions for stocks no longer exist. As always, we’ve got some great commentary from DIY investors on Twitter and the investor forums to cap things off.

RBC Direct Investing Flexes Content Muscle

With commission pricing on the chopping block here in Canada, online brokerages are (literally) getting creative with their approaches to win the attention of DIY investors.

In the lead up to RRSP season, one of Canada’s largest bank-owned online brokerages, RBC Direct Investing, has doubled down in the content department, by launching a special magazine edition of the investor content series “Inspired Investor” and escalated the brewing content battle between bank-owned brokers up a notch.

Against the backdrop of their 30th anniversary, RBC Direct Investing compiled and launched a special edition of Inspired Investor in magazine format and filled it insightful and educational topics for DIY investors, celebrities and (not surprisingly) ads for other related RBC wealth management services. Well-known figures in Canadian personal finance making an appearance in this issue include David Chilton (aka the Wealthy Barber), financial author Melissa Leong, and entrepreneur (and “Dragon”) Michele Romanow to name a few. Also featured in this issue are notable chefs, literati and a slew of investor education content. To boot, there is a crossword puzzle on finance.

At 60 pages long, this issue is certainly fitting for a 30th anniversary milestone; however, it also demonstrates the range of audiences and the volume of content that RBC Direct Investing is capable of producing. It is that latter point that should raise eyebrows, with RBC Direct Investing’s main competitor in the content sandbox (TD Direct Investing), as well as bank-owned peers and the traditional business media who are already facing an increasingly fragmented audience.

The launch of the magazine-ified issue of the Inspired Investor wasn’t the only notable development in RBC Direct Investing’s content push that appeared this month, however. Also on the radar was the announced launch of a podcast on investing called Money Moves (shoutout to Cardi) that was teased on Twitter, and which will be coming soon to Spotify. This is a joint effort between the Globe and Mail, RBC, and Melissa Leong.

Similar to Netflix, Amazon and Apple battling it out with one another for original content, the race between the biggest Canadian online brokerages is heating up on the content front.

TD Direct Investing, for example, has enjoyed a strong head start with a full video production unit that delivers MoneyTalk, which consists of video content and stories related to personal finance. That lead, however, is sure to be challenged by other financial services providers who see content as a vehicle to engage investors and give them a reason to continue to tune in.

Peer bank-owned online brokerages Scotia iTRADE and BMO InvestorLine have used social media more aggressively in late 2019 to try and steer eyeballs onto their respective brands. Those measures pale in comparison, however, to the latest moves by RBC Direct Investing (and more broadly by parent RBC).

Good content is hard to do well, and even harder to do consistently well, so the Inspired Investor flex by RBC Direct Investing is going raise the bar for other Canadian online brokerages to find an answer to that level of content production. While size and budget do matter to a degree, so does commitment to the importance of content.

Case in point: the much smaller but still very popular Wealthsimple (and their magazine) has done an outstanding job with respect to content production – including their advertising – despite being a fraction of the size of their competitors. Wealthsimple also has a magazine and blog that are updated regularly and feature interesting content.

Similarly, the Canadian Securities Exchange, the growing rival to the TSX/TSX-V also produces a podcast called #HashtagFinance which has made significant progress in delivering engaging financial conversations to investors via podcast (and through their in-house publication Public Entrepreneur magazine).

Content is definitely shaping up to be a kingmaker in 2020. The roll out of the latest Inspired Investor issue and the upcoming podcast Money Moves are likely just the first in a series of new content ventures launching for Canadian DIY investors this year. No doubt, the competition will be looking and listening carefully on how best to navigate around this new content battlefield.

Checking in State Side

With all of the noise related to the political climate in the United States, news related to the online brokerage industry can get eclipsed by scandals of one sort or another. It’s hard to believe, however, that it has already been more than four months since the avalanche in price drops that saw all major online brokers reduce their stock trading commissions to zero. Perhaps the biggest shocker, however, is that all online brokerages are a) still standing and b) continuing to push to grow.

Metrics released for January 2020 recently by Schwab (this past week), Interactive Brokers, and E*TRADE all point to increases in new accounts (some astoundingly so), assets, and trading activity with no slow down in feature development or deployment.

This past week, for example, Interactive Brokers, announced the launch of a new tool intended to make seeking out investing opportunities in bonds easier. The new “Bond Scanner” is available for public use, meaning that you don’t have to be a client of Interactive Brokers to do the research (only to trade via their platform). They’ve even been so bold as to issue their “bond challenge” to find a brokerage that can beat the pricing on bond trading.

Meanwhile, Schwab and TD Ameritrade, which are in the process of merging, continued to advance as the largest force (and biggest story) in the online brokerage space in the US. Schwab added 167 thousand new brokerage accounts in January (compared to Interactive Brokers’ 14.7 thousand new accounts and E*TRADE’s 40 thousand new accounts).

With lots of regulatory scrutiny and complexity in bringing TD Ameritrade and Schwab (and their respective businesses) under one roof, one competitor sees their shot to take advantage of the confusion and complexity by leaning into it aggressively.

On their recent investor conference call, E*TRADE’s CEO, Michael Pizzi, framed the merger of TD Ameritrade and Schwab as a chance to gain market share by stating: “We see a huge opportunity from anticipated industry consolidation. Even with the best executed combinations, all customers will not be satisfied with their experience being chosen for them, and we aim to win every dissatisfied relationship that comes out of the Ameritrade-Schwab transaction.”

Whether the market is picking up what E*TRADE is putting down remains to be seen. There appears to be an aggressive move by E*TRADE to diversify its sources of revenue to different types of service lines (not just online brokerage) and when it comes to active trader experience, it’s going to have tough competition from Interactive Brokers on a number of levels. Still, E*TRADE has focused on what it sees to be the Achilles heel of the ‘mega’ brokerage model.

There’s certainly lots to monitor in terms of activity in the US online brokerage space – especially as Schwab and Ameritrade wind their way through merger activities. Most interesting, however, will be the extent to which other players are going to have to step up their game and innovate their way through the juggernaut that will be the combined Schwab-Ameritrade super brokerage.

For Canadian DIY investors and the industry here, it will likely mean the pace of innovation witnessed south of the border will make features currently being rolled out in Canada seem antiquated and challenge online brokerages here to further justify the commission pricing being pegged to where it is currently.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

A Time to Gain, a Time to Lose

A DIY investor questions whether or not they should invest in the current market, as they are anxious about the potential risks associated with each situation. Fellow Redditors in this post take turns weighing in, providing advice on how they could proceed.

A Catch-Up Strategy that Cuts the Mustard

When it comes to saving for their children’s education, one Reddit user sought help in figuring out how best to make up for lost time. Fortunately, there were some great suggestions in this post on how best to tackle catching up on saving in an RESP.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap for another week. Though the week ahead is shortened, it is going to be a thrill ride. It’s earnings season and with less than two weeks to go before the RSP contribution deadline, this is about the time all of the procrastinators get just about ready to start their best Ferris Bueller. Have a profitable week!

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – February 10, 2020

If there’s one thing that get Canadians to forget about the weather in February for a moment, it’s the hype train that is the Oscars. Like the glitz and glamour of Hollywood’s biggest award, Canadian online brokerages are also enjoying some time in the spotlight, with special awards, rankings and recognition taking centre stage ahead of the RSP contribution deadline.

In this edition of the Roundup, we chronicle the latest online brokerage to be recognized by a ratings firm, this time for outstanding customer service. Next, we track the commission-free trading storm as it looks to land in the UK and what the global spread of this phenomenon could mean for Canada’s incumbent online brokerages. As usual, we’ve captured the entertaining (and sometimes savage) quips from DIY investors on Twitter and in the investor forums.

Questrade Recognized for Outstanding Service

After commission battles, a select few Canadian online brokerages are now battling it out over awards and accolades. The latest Canadian discount brokerage to be recognized by an award or ranking is Questrade, which this past week, was awarded DALBAR’s Seal of Service Excellence for the second consecutive year.

At a time when online brokerages in Canada are facing pressures to lower costs and commission pricing, one place where these kinds of pressures have emerged is in ‘client service.’ For that reason, it is noteworthy to see Questrade receive an award recognizing their customer service prowess.

Unlike rankings or ratings currently assessing Canadian online brokerages, such as the Globe and Mail online brokerage rankings or Surviscor’s rankings, the recognition received by Questrade comes after a thorough audit conducted by DALBAR on all aspects of customer service interactions. Included in the assessment of their customer service are categories such as security handling, expertise, attitude, and call flow. Interestingly, and perhaps of most relevance, is that Questrade also received high marks from Surviscor’s latest Brokerage Service Index, coming in second with a score of 90%.

Anecdotally, Questrade has managed to cover more ‘digital’ ground more effectively than many of their online brokerage peers, with a strong and constant presence on social media channels like Twitter, as well as on the DIY investor forums on Reddit.

When it comes to most products or services, it is often difficult to elicit a positive review from clients unless the service experience goes beyond exceptional. For Canadian discount brokerages, especially on public facing channels, there really isn’t anything rivaling the experience of an Instant Pot or Tesla; however that said, Questrade is one of two Canadian online brokerages that may typically win praise from investors. That is not to say that Questrade is perfect by any means; however, the sum total of the client experience via testimonials and recognition lean towards Questrade making positive strides with investors.

Heading into the RSP contribution deadline, as DIY investors shop around for a new online brokerage or place to park more of their assets, it would be a great test of customer service capacity to call and see what wait times are like to actually talk to a representative. Nothing quite beats the actual experience of kicking the tires on a brand, especially with the added volumes (and associated stress) of the busiest time of year.

Robinhood Heading for the UK

Never mind Megxit or Brexit, it seems like zero-commission trading giant Robinhood is making a Brentrance (can that be a thing?) in 2020 according to a recent article in the Financial Times published this past week.

Unlike in the US, Robinhood will be attempting to bring its brand of commission-free trading and style-heavy user experience to a market in which there are already several commission-free trading providers. The US online broker, which recently surpassed a valuation of just under $8B USD, is also aggressively courting the mindshare of millennial investors with their daily financial news podcast.

With the rise of zero-commission trading taking place in the UK as well as in the US, and with signs of commission-free trading starting to appear in the Canadian online brokerage market as well, it will simply be a matter of time before the kind of pricing that is quickly spreading to international markets becomes standard here in Canada. Against the backdrop of zero-commission pricing showing up around the globe, DIY investors here in Canada are going to be raising their expectations as to what their premium commission rates come with. What that means is that bank-owned brokerages in particular are facing a very high set of expectations by pricing their commission rates at approximately $10 per trade. In the stock market, analysts warn of valuations that reflect high expectations from investors (aka Tesla this past month).

With such high expectations, any shortcoming is bound to attract an outsized amount of negative attention. An example of this is clear to see in the Twitter chatter over the past two weeks for TD Direct Investing and what investors said when that trading platform went down twice. Similarly, long wait times at Scotia iTRADE call centres continue to be a source of angst for clients who turn to Twitter with examples of wait times that stretch into dozens of minutes (or even into hours) before getting a hold of an agent. If commission rates are set high, so too will expectations for value.

Robinhood, for its part, has also faced a number of technology and service delivery hiccups. There are dozens of examples on Twitter of unhappy comments from customers. The difference, however, is not that something inevitably went wrong with an online provider, but rather what consumers understood would be the ‘trade-off’ when reducing pricing. That said, even at the zero-commission rate, the user experience, technology, fractional shares and other premium features continue to appeal to the strong core demographic that Robinhood is aiming to acquire.

Now that they have created competitors out of the largest online brokerages in the US, the timeline for them to look further afield has accelerated. With plans to roll out in the UK now well underway, and Australia on the horizon, the conversation about commission-free trading coming to Canada could come from any of the growing number of firms worldwide. Hindsight is said to be 20/20 and for the Canadian online brokerages, this year it might actually be the year they start looking back over their shoulder to see who else is planning to settle down in Canada.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

Mr. Worldwide

A Redditor wonders if their diverse portfolio is worth the struggle, noting “if the US market falls, wouldn’t that lead to a global crisis anyway?” Fellow forum users weigh in on the benefits and drawbacks of hedging one’s bets across markets here.

Miss Americana

A user wonders which market is the best choice to buy a cross-listed stock from: American or Canadian? Fellow Redditors advise on the taxation and other issues surrounding the purchase here.

Into the Close

That’s it for another edition of the Roundup. Staying on theme for the Oscars, like the markets, there are bound to be a few surprises this week. However, nothing will be quite as dramatic as watching what’s going to happen to Tesla short sellers. Happy trading!

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – February 3, 2020

After the ‘big game’ in the NFL, it’s now time for the championship race between Canadian online brokerages to kick into high gear. With just a few weeks left until the deadline for RSP contribution, it will be an all-out sprint by Canadian online brokerages to land new accounts and assets from Canadian DIY investors. It won’t be easy though, with more choices than ever before and jittery markets because of fears about the corona virus, DIY investors are bound to be cautious, which means when it comes to choosing an online brokerage, the juice has to be worth the squeeze.

In this edition of the Roundup, we review the latest discount brokerage promotions that are available as of the beginning of February (great news there are lots!). From there, we launch into even bigger news with another less popular online brokerage cleverly finding a way to get attention by dropping their commission prices to zero well ahead of their peers. Finally, the third big story this week is the launch of the 2020 Globe and Mail online brokerage rankings, which offers another perspective on the different features available from Canadian online brokerages. As always, we’ll cap things off with a review of DIY investor comments (including reactions from the outages) from the forums and Twitter.

New Month, New Deals

On the heels of the Lunar New Year celebration, the start of the new month (and new year) shows that promotional efforts by Canadian discount brokerages are well under way.

The tail end of 2019 and the first weeks of 2020 have been filled with new promotions and pricing announcements at several prominent online brokerages – so much so that news of new feature releases or website redesigns have taken a back seat to the focus on cost.

At the start of February, almost all Canadian discount brokerages have made adjustments of one kind or another to try and win the attention (and assets) of Canadian investors. Many of these brokerages have opted for highly competitive cash back offerings to make it worthwhile for DIY investors to at least consider opening a new account or transferring an account to them. Even so, there are a couple of online brokerages that have remained on the sidelines despite the busy season for DIY investors.

One interesting observation about the state of deals and promotions heading into the final stretch for RSP season is that all of Canada’s large bank-owned brokerages have a promotion in play. Ideally, smaller online brokerages would leverage more aggressive pricing or promotional offers to win attention of investors away from larger bank-owned competitors. This year, however, that isn’t really the case, so it is noteworthy to see bank-owned online brokerages jockeying for investor attention with promotional offers and several smaller brokerages stand aside.

Of the big five bank-owned online brokers, only RBC Direct Investing is offering a purely commission-free trade offer, with the rest of its peers offering up cash back promotions. Typically, cash back promotions are most popular among investors, and even though commission-free trade offers might present significant value, the reality is that cash is still king.

The amounts of cash back offers and requirements to qualify for them this year reveal which kinds of customers brokerages are most interested in trying to appeal to. For example, Scotia iTRADE and TD Direct Investing have minimum deposits of $5,000 and $15,000 for their offers, respectively. This lower threshold means that less established investors – even  beginner or younger investors – may see either of these brokerages as a viable option to open online investing account with. By comparison, offers from CIBC Investor’s Edge and BMO InvestorLine require a minimum deposit of $25,000 and $50,000 respectively, which suggests a more established investor would pay more attention to the offerings by these bank-owed brokers.

Another interesting observation among all the cases of big-bank owned brokerage promotions (except RBC Direct Investing) is that the promotions are tiered offers that offer greater amounts of cash back with higher deposits. This tiered structure also reveals some interesting competitive dynamics among certain brokerages. For example, for deposits exceeding $250,000, it is essentially a race between three big bank-owned discount brokerages: BMO InvestorLine, Scotia iTRADE and TD Direct Investing for cash back incentives to this financially elite club.

Outside of the big bank-owned brokerages, popular online brokerages, such as Qtrade Investor and Questrade, have cash back offers (and in the case of Questrade also commission-free trade offers and a very competitive transfer fee coverage offer) that they hope will help them to stand out from the bank-owned crowd.

Qtrade Investor, which has a cash back offer (also tiered), is up against some stiff competition for new business and assets, as three big bank-owned brokerages are directly competing against Qtrade’s offer. At the other Q-named online brokerage, investors looking for a promotion can find a wide selection of offers. Questrade’s long-standing commission-free trade deal is an option and all of their most popular offers have very low barriers to access or qualify for them, which is ideal for younger investors. In addition, younger investors can benefit from special pricing and commission free trades from National Bank Direct Brokerage, which offers up 10 commission-free trades per year each year the account is open.

With most brokerages now on the deals board, it is curious to see other discount brokerages stand on the sidelines this year.

For instance, neither Virtual Brokers nor HSBC InvestDirect have commission-free trade or cash back promotions this year (as of the time of publication) – an interesting option given the fierce competition for assets. Also interesting is that newcomers to the discount brokerage space, Wealthsimple Trade and CG Direct, opted not to take advantage of RSP season with a new promotion. Passing up this cycle of investor interest means that they are giving up valuable airtime when DIY investors are most actively shopping around.

Ultimately, however, the news is great for DIY investors this month. There are several really strong deals from reputable Canadian discount brokerages. Timing to try to take advantage of these offers couldn’t be better; however, for investors, just be prepared to spend some time waiting on hold or with slow account processing.

Commission Price Drop: HSBC InvestDirect Launches Zero Commission Pricing

The zero-commission spectre has surfaced at yet another Canadian online brokerage. HSBC InvestDirect, one of Canada’s lesser well-known online brokerages, has announced they are prepared to offer zero commissions for clients who qualify as active investors, i.e. anyone who makes 150+ trades per quarter, for a limited time from April through December of 2020.

As has been mentioned in previous Roundups, it will only be a matter of time until larger, more popular Canadian online brokerages are forced to figure out how they are going to adopt zero commission trading.

Fortunately for most competing online brokerages, HSBC InvestDirect is a relatively small and unknown online brokerage to many Canadian investors. Much like what happened when HSBC InvestDirect dropped their prices down to sub $7 per trade (making them the cheapest bank-owned online brokerage as far as standard commissions), the market as a whole effectively overlooked this announcement and went on its merry way.

Even though existing Canadian online brokerages are navel gazing and potentially looking for additional information on their clients to improve monetization, competitors such as Wealthsimpe Trade have already taken what felt like a giant leap.

Wealthsimple Trade has already led the way in this offering and as of late last year, the first ‘household’ name in online brokerages has drastically reduced their per trade commission. National Bank Direct Brokerage reduced their standard trade commissions for active investors (who they define as X trades per month) down to $0.99 per trade. Earlier this year, Desjardins Online Brokerage countered by dropping their commission rates (also for active traders) down to $0.75 per trade.

With HSBC InvestDirect now taking trading commissions down to $0 for active traders, there is clearly a trend taking shape where active traders are likely to be the first benefactors of the reduced pricing from some of the larger, established online brokerages.

The standard commission rates for trading at HSBC InvestDirect are 6.88 for North American ETFs or equities, which makes them among the lowest cost per trade (currently) for bank-owned online brokerages standard commissions.

That said, the cost to qualify for this new pricing means having to trade 150 times in a quarter which at that online brokerage can cost a hefty $1,032. It also means that clients have to continuously trade that kind of volume to maintain their commission-free status – which will be a challenge for all but the most dedicated or active traders. What will make this even more challenging is the user interface and client experience for very active traders, who need (typically) streaming quotes, level 2 preferably and multiple market data, as well as a trading platform that has advanced charting capabilities and rapid order entry. Even at a modest constant pace, the platform will need to handle 2.5 trades per day – which could be reasonable except that there is no robust market trading platform in place to do essential research.

The fact that this new offer hasn’t made the kind of splash we envisioned it would is not surprising given lack of visibility of this online brokerage within the Canadian DIY investor community. HSBC InvestDirect is not that well known among Canadian DIY investors, however their new pricing structure offers a valuable ‘canary in the coal mine’ for the brokerages as a whole and this latest move in pricing might be enough to prompt a larger brand to take a bolder step ahead of other brokerages.

For active traders, the new pricing structure at HSBC InvestDirect (and several other brokerages) is tempting – however, the platform will need to compare with and do better that it is now. Nonetheless, if HSBC InvestDirect was looking for at least a long shot kind of promotional event to generate some noise and coverage, then mission accomplished. Though we have yet to see major media outlets pick up the story, commission-free trading with the convenience of a bank is a secret that can’t be kept much longer.

Globe & Mail 2020 Online Brokerage Rankings

This past week, the 21st edition of Canada’s longest running evaluation of Canadian online brokerages was published by Rob Carrick at the Globe and Mail. Along with the changes in the online brokerage industry in Canada, this analysis of the industry continues to evolve.

This year, there was a familiar structure to the rankings, with letter grades being assigned to each brokerage as well as brief commentary provided from Carrick on the merits and drawbacks of each online brokerage, mostly from the point of view of the ‘everyday’ investor. There were also comparisons of all brokerages analyzed on 10 key questions or components, namely:

  • How do online stock trading commissions compare?
  • Is there a simplified fee for all accounts with small balances?
  • Is commission-free ETF trading available?
  • Foreign exchange charges
  • Are U.S.-dollar registered accounts available?
  • Can you buy high-interest savings ETFs?
  • Can clients send secure e-mails to get personal account questions answered, or use online chat?
  • Are there comprehensive tools to help clients assess their returns over the short and long term and against benchmark indexes?
  • How does the client website experience rank on a scale of 1 to 5?
  • Is there a security guarantee saying clients will be reimbursed fully for losses in their account due to unauthorized transactions?

The grades this year were generally decent, with 8 out of 12 of the online brokerages evaluated scoring a letter grade of B or better. This is an encouraging sign that, generally speaking, the online brokerages in Canada are starting to do a better job of catering to DIY investors’ needs according to this ranking. The top score (A+) was achieved by Qtrade Investor, while the lowest score (D+) was received by HSBC InvestDirect.

The most popular grade (B+) was achieved by four online brokers: Interactive Brokers, Questrade, RBC Direct Investing, and Virtual Brokers. This collective is a very interesting combination because they are comprised of mostly independent online brokerages and one bank-owned online broker. Conversely, of the three discount brokerages that scored A- or higher (Qtrade Investor, Scotia iTRADE, and TD Direct Investing), two thirds of those are bank-owned online brokers. What the latest Globe and Mail online brokerage ranking points to, as far as the experience for the ‘everyday investor,’ is that going with a non-bank owned online brokerage is generally going to be a safer or better bet than going with a large bank-owned brokerage.

As with the previous rankings, the full access to this ranking is for subscribers to the Globe and Mail, which means details on the comparisons section and full commentary are visible only to folks prepared to pony up for the Globe, as well as to readers of forums where this information has also been posted.

BMO InvestorLine B-
CIBC Investor’s Edge C
Desjardins Online Brokerage C
HSBC InvestDirect D+
Interactive Brokers B+
National Bank Direct Brokerage B
Qtrade Investor A+
Questrade B+
RBC Direct Investing B+
Scotia iTRADE A-
TD Direct Investing A
Virtual Brokers B+


It bears reiterating, with each ranking or rating mentioned here, that the grades are the product of the ranking system itself. As such, it is important for readers to understand the strengths and limitations of this kind of grading system at helping them arrive at a fair assessment of which online brokerage is ultimately best for them.

The detailed methodology for the online brokerage rankings did not accompany this year’s rankings so it was not clear what, if anything, had changed about the way in which online brokerages were assessed. Nonetheless, the scoring as well as the commentary reflect the informed opinions and expertise of the author, who in this case, has extensive experience in this area.

Overall, rankings from different organizations or entities point to a general improvement in the provision of online investing services for Canadian DIY investors. The difference between online brokerages in Canada from both a pricing, as well as a features, point of view isn’t so drastic, generally speaking, that they would feel compelled to move unless it were for features that weren’t available at their current online broker.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

Time in the Market is Better than Timing the Market

The perennial question of “the markets are so high, should I buy now?” comes to a head when a Redditor brings forward an article from “Of Dollars and Data” that digs into the numbers for this very question in the US markets. Fellow forum users debate the merits of this argument and break down the numbers even further here.

Inherited Stress

A user asks for advice on which self-managed brokerage account to put some newly-inherited wealth. Users put some fears to rest and offer brokerage options in this post.

Into the Close

Another week is in the books and the start of the month feels decidedly shakier than the start of the previous one. For DIY investors, this is an interesting moment to either scale in or start looking for some protection. Here comes the news cycle ready to report on the scare trade – and as every seasoned investor knows – now might be the time to look for places where things are getting a little too emotional.



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Discount Brokerage Deals & Promotions – February 2020

February is finally upon us. It’s a great time to indulge in all things that are rosy and sugar-spun for Valentine’s Day and, for Canadian DIY investors, the best time to take advantage of sweet deals being offered by Canadian discount brokerages ahead of the RRSP contribution deadline.

In spite of the cheer, to quote a famous rock anthem, every rose has its thorns. And, in the case of the deals pool heading into February, there was one long term commission-free trading offer that finally got dumped by Desjardins Online Brokerage in favour of their newer pricing strategy.

While goodbyes are never easy, investors can say hello to bright, new beginnings, including offers and lower pricing from brokerages to celebrate this month. As this year is also a leap year, investors will get an extra day in the month to ponder which online brokerage is best.

Qtrade Investor stepped back into the deals pool, offering up a new tiered cash back promotion and RBC Direct Investing is “on again” with its 25 commission-free trade deal. BMO InvestorLine decided to show some more love to its referral program, extending it out to next year and it also launched a new tiered cash back promotion to carry DIY investors through the RRSP contribution scramble. Scroll on to learn more about these deals, as well as a few that are set to expire at the end of this month!

As always, if there are any promotions that would benefit other DIY investors that aren’t covered, feel free to let us know in the comments below.

Expired Deals

The epic run of the Disnat (Desjardins Online Brokerage) 1% commission credit promotion has finally come to an end. The deal offered 1% of assets transferred into a new account in the form of commission credits, up to a maximum value of $1,000, expired in early January. The latest reduction in standard and active commission pricing is likely the driving force.

Extended Deals

Some good news for friends of BMO InvestorLine clients as the bank-owned online brokerage decided to extend the referral offer out another year. The new expiry date for this offer is in January 2021. The extra good news for this cash back referral offer is that it can be stacked on top of existing offers.

New Deals

Not wanting to be left out in the cold, Qtrade Investor joined the deals and promotions pool this RSP season with a new tiered cash back promotion in January. The promotion offers up between $75 and $2,000 cash back for DIY investors who open up a new qualifying account. As an extra sweetener, individuals who contribute more than $1,000 through pre-authorized contributions by December 31st, 2020 may also be eligible to receive an extra $50. Qtrade’s latest promotion is set to end on March 31st, 2020

Though technically making a reappearance, the 25 commission-free trades promotion from RBC Direct Investing is back in the ‘new’ deals category after an absence at the end of 2019. The promotion is offering 25 commission-free equity and ETF trades for any RBC Direct Investing account that is opened by March 27th, 2020. The upside of this offer is that clients will get a whole year to use them.

Finally, BMO InvestorLine upped the ante replacing an outgoing cash back deal, with an even bigger offer in early January. The new deal from BMO InvestorLine expires on March 3rd, 2020, and offers up cash back ranging from $250 to $2,000. To qualify for this offer DIY investors are required to deposit between $50,000 to $1 million or more.

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
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, 2020
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
Open a new RBC Direct Investing account by March 27th and you may be eligible for 25 commission-free equity and ETF trades. You must deposit or transfer $5,000 in your account by May 8th, 2020 to be able to use this promotion. Make sure that the offer code MFTC2 is applied during account opening. 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 March 27, 2020
Open and fund a qualifying new or existing account at TD Direct Investing with at least A) $15,000; B) $25,000; C) $100,000; D) $250,000 or E) $500,000 or more and you may be eligible to receive a cash back reward up to A) $100; B) $200; C) $300; D) $500 or E) $1,000. Use promo code RSPCash20 when applying online. Be sure to read full terms and conditions. A) $15,000 B) $25,000 C) $100,000 D) $250,000 E) $500,000 A) $100 B) $200 C) $300 D) $500 E) $1,000 Cash back will be deposited by Aug. 16, 2020. TD Direct Investing Promotion February 29, 2020
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, 2020
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
Open and fund a new Qtrade account with at least A) $25,000; B) $50,000 C) $100,00; D) $500,000; E) $1M or D) $2M+ in new assets by March 31, 2020 and you may be eligible to receive a cash bonus of A) $75; B) $150; C) $400; D) $800; E) $1,500 or F) $2,000. Individuals who contribute more than $1,000 through pre-authorized contributions by December 31, 2020 may also be eligible to receive an extra $50. Use promo code QTRADECASH at sign up to qualify. Be sure to read full terms and conditions for more details. A) $25,000 B) $50,000 C) $100,000 D) $500,000 E) $1M F) $2M+ A) $75 B) $175 C) $400 D) $800 E) $1,500 F) $2,000 The cash award will be credited to your cash/margin account in the week of October 30, 2020. Qtrade Investor Q1 2020 Cash Back Offer March 31, 2020
BMO InvestorLine Open a new qualifying account at BMO InvestorLine with new assets worth at least A) $50,000; B) $100,000; C) $250,000; D) $500,000 or E) $1M+, and you may be eligible to receive a cash back reward of up to A) $250; B) $450; C) $800; D) $1,000 or E) $2,000. Use promo code SPARXCASH when registering to qualify. Be sure to read full terms and conditions. A) $50,000 B) $100,000 C) $250,000 D) $500,000 E) $1M+ A) $250 B) $450 C) $800 D) $1,000 E) $2,000 Cash back will be deposited week of October 12, 2020 BMO InvestorLine Cash Back Offer Details March 3, 2020

Expired Offers

Last Updated: Feb. 1, 2020 14:55PT

Referral Promotions

Company Brief Description Minimum Deposit Amount Incentive Structure Time Limit to Use Commission/Cash Offer Deposit Details Link Deadline
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
You can send an invitation link from your Interactive Brokers profile to friends or business contacts for a chance to receive up to $200 reward for each successful referral. The referee needs to maintain $10,000 or more in their account. Please read the full terms and conditions. $10,000 Your can get 30% of the commission generated by each referred account for up to $200.00. Referred clients must maintain at least $10,000 or USD equivalent in their account. 1 year from the account opening date. Interactive Brokers Referral Program none
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 5, 2021

Expired Offers

Last Updated: Feb. 1, 2020 14:55PT

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 Transfer Fee Promo 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
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

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 $10,000 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 January 8, 2020
Last Updated: Feb. 1, 2020 14:55PT

Other Promotions

Company Brief Description Minimum Deposit Amount Required Details Link Deadline
Submit your information via the Hardbacon website to be referred to National Bank Direct Brokerage. Open and fund a qualifying account and you may receive up to 20 commission-free trades and discounted trading commissions. Be sure to read full terms and conditions. n/a Hardbacon Free Trade Promo none
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: Feb. 1, 2020 14:55PT

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: Jan. 16, 2020 14:55 PT