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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – September 28, 2020

It’s kind of hard to ignore the elephant in the room. In this case, the US presidential election is going to be the focal point for the next six weeks (maybe even more), and it seems like markets are bracing themselves for what is going to be a wild ride. Interestingly, this time around, it seems some online brokerages are doing more than just buckling up in preparation.

In this edition of the Roundup, we look at how one agile online brokerage is positioning itself once more for the volatility it sees heading into the US presidential election. On the topic of change, one popular Canadian online brokerage is providing an early look at its new online trading experience, starting first with a soft launch in beta. As always, we’ve got the latest commentary from DIY investors on Twitter and in the online forums.

Interactive Brokers Braces for Risky Times Ahead

When it comes to volatility in stock markets, online brokerages certainly have cause for optimism. Generally speaking, more uncertainty for stock prices is a good thing. It tends to mean more trading activity, and that means greater revenues. Of course, sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. For online brokerages, when it comes to volatility, there are also considerations that need to be made for the amount of risk that gets extended to investors for trading on margin. When prices for stocks move around too dramatically, there’s a good chance that traders can get caught offside, meaning they end up owing more than their account has available to finance a trade.

This past week, online broker Interactive Brokers once again tightened the risk belt by increasing the initial margin lending requirements from 50% to 67.5% for a new position and from 25% to 33.75% for maintenance. The underlying cause of volatility cited by Interactive Brokers is the run-up to the US presidential election. Despite the change in risk requirements being communicated directly to clients (rather than in a press release), the move has caught the attention of financial writers and media outlets.

At face value, prudence seems like a sound move. However, in the world of online trading, raising margin lending requirements is akin to raising the cost of doing business, which is a tricky proposition in a very competitive landscape. That said, the risk has to be worth the reward, and, in this case, there is some additional context that makes this move even more interesting.

Several years ago, Interactive Brokers made a similar forecast for volatility approaching in markets and were not only right, but their peer firms were considerably underprepared when volatility struck. The result: several large online brokerage firms in the US suffered some embarrassingly high trading-related losses as a result of client margin accounts going offside. Earlier this year, however, it was Interactive Brokers that was left stung by margin losses incurred by traders when oil prices went negative. So, though it might be cautious for Interactive Brokers to take some potential revenue off the table by raising margin requirements, the resulting savings from possible losses seems like the right tactical move.

As of the publication of this Roundup, it was not clear that any other online brokerage had made a similar move. Nonetheless, having served as a canary in the volatility coal mine before, Interactive Brokers is once again sending a signal that trading risks are likely going to intensify in the coming weeks.

For Canadian DIY investors, the important takeaway is to prepare appropriately for possible market volatility.

This year (and in previous years), volatility has tended to introduce unpredictability into trading systems. It is not unheard of for trading systems to fail during trading hours and/or even be unpredictable for days afterward. In fact, even when markets have not been facing exceptional trading volumes, there have been trading platform outages and connectivity issues, which makes the prospect of heightened volatility that much more worrisome.

Comments from social media this past week, for example, reveal that two of Canada’s largest bank-owned online brokerages suffered trading-platform connectivity issues, and Twitter comments from Canadian DIY investors show that several online brokerages continue to wrestle with getting their trading platforms up to the point where they can keep pace with the elevated interest from online investors. For active investors on these platforms who are using margin to trade, the move by Interactive Brokers should be a signal that more caution should be heeded throughout October.

No doubt active investors and traders will want to sail into the storm, but good traders know that it’s also important to be able to make it to the other side of the that storm intact. Here’s hoping both online brokerages and investors prepare accordingly.

CIBC Investor’s Edge Teases Changes

This past week, some chatter on investor forums put the latest move by one of Canada’s largest bank-owned online brokerages into the spotlight.

CIBC Investor’s Edge launched a new beta version of their online trading platform earlier this month, and even though there are still more changes to come, the first look at the user-experience enhancements points to a simplified and more modern look and feel to the platform.

For the moment, the updated sections include “My Accounts” and “Account Holdings,” with updates to accessibility features also reported to be available in the new version of the site.

While consumer response via the forums to the new site format was lukewarm, the interesting feature of some of the comments was the interaction with the feedback form, which is part of the new beta site experience. Rather than roll out the new site in its entirety, this partial rollout presumably enables design teams to hear from customers as to the things they do or don’t like about the new site direction. In particular, navigation has substantially changed, which can certainly confuse many users at the beginning of a new layout.

Although the full extent of the new site has not been revealed, it is interesting to see CIBC Investor’s Edge taking the approach to roll out portions of the new look and feel to their clients.

One of the areas of particular interest will be the new trading interface. Will active or somewhat active traders feel confident using it for order entry and execution? Standard commission pricing for CIBC Investor’s Edge is among the least expensive of the largest bank-owned online brokerages, which is why many online investors turn to this online brokerage. That said, platform experience has also been one of the major hurdles to adoption. If CIBC Investor’s Edge can get the new design and rollout to go smoothly, there’s a good chance that more DIY investor interest will turn their way.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

First-Time Caller, Long-Time Listener

A trepidatious Redditor looking to get into investing turns to the forum to determine what the best course of action might be. In this post, users give advice and list the merits and downsides of buying individual stocks.

Which Way Is Up?

In this post, a forum user asks about the continued impact of COVID-19 on the markets and sparks a conversation on what current trends may indicate for the near and distant future.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on what was yet another bombshell-filled weekend. From COVID numbers to CERB to jobs reports to unpaid taxes, filtering through the noise will be especially challenging. On the plus side, working from home in sweatpants is probably going to be a thing for a while longer.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – September 21, 2020

In a “normal” world, fall would be the start of the blockbuster movie launches that viewers expect to enjoy as the weather turns cooler. This, however, is the “new normal.” Instead of movies, IPOs are in the spotlight, with investors watching spectacular IPOs posting incredible numbers and driving FOMO to new heights even as tech starts to show signs of weakness.

In this edition of the Roundup, numbers take centre stage, as we review recent performance stats published by several online brokerages in the US and what it could mean for the current sentiment among Canadian online brokers. Next, we share some exclusive updates to new and exciting features coming this fall to As always, we’ve got a great selection of interesting commentary from investors in the forums and on Twitter.

Painting by Numbers: A Portrait of the Online Investing Marketplace

It’s hard to believe but it has been already/only six months since the market meltdown and subsequent snapback in March. In crossing this milestone, there are lots of questions about how long the “rally” in stocks can continue and whether the surge in online trading has subsided or is still going strong.

This past week, and indeed this month, there have been some important trading metrics reported by US online brokerages that can shed further light into the momentum of online investing among self-directed investors.

Two big firms in the US online brokerage space, Schwab and E*Trade, reported their monthly activity metrics that showed continued strength in the interest of investors to open trading accounts, although it might be fair to say this heightened level of interest is showing signs of plateauing.

Starting first with E*Trade. The iconic online broker reported that its standard trading volume metric – daily average revenue trades (or DARTs) – was up about 2% on a month-over-month basis to 1.04 million daily trades, which is a whopping 256% higher than the same period last year. While robust trading volume was an interesting stat, what really jumped out was the surge in net new retail accounts opened in August at E*Trade, with 80,000 new accounts coming in. This represents a level 76% higher than the previous month and 439% higher than the same point last year.  

The largest online brokerage in the US, Charles Schwab, also saw its trading volume and new account numbers stay elevated – although nowhere near the percentage performance posted by E*Trade. For August, Schwab had amassed $4.5 trillion (with a t) in total client assets and saw a gain of 202,000 new online brokerage accounts, which is a slight dip (-2%) compared to July but still 60% higher than where new-account growth levels were at last year. Trading volume at Schwab still appeared to be significantly elevated, at 1.5 million daily average trades, which is about four times where it was for 2019.

Aside from E*Trade and Schwab, other large firms in the US that report their trading activity metrics regularly include Ameritrade and Interactive Brokers. Interestingly, this past August, the privately held Robinhood also reported trading metrics for the first time, in which they shared staggering figures from a record month in June. However, as of publication, no follow-up post with updated figures has been published.

Earlier this month, Interactive Brokers published its metrics, which showed DARTs were 88% higher than a year ago and new account openings were 374% higher than the same point last year.

Although several Canadian online brokerages are owned by publicly traded banks, the majority of these bank-owned brokerages do not disclose trading data at their online brokerage units in the same depth or with the same transparency as their US counterparts, with, perhaps, one important exception, RBC Direct Investing. The financial reporting for RBC includes reporting for direct-investing trade volumes, which are reported on quarterly. The third-quarter results for their 2020 fiscal year show that trading over the period from May through July was about 125% or so higher than the same point last year.

Six months after the major lows of the stock market in March, it appears that there continues to be very robust interest from investors in participating in online trading and investing.

Across several different data points, the picture emerging is that investors are still hungry for opportunities to grow their wealth via equities, despite the recent downdraft in the tech stocks having probably rattled a few nerves. The recent performance of IPOs like Snowflake, Nuvei, and “magic mushroom” company Compass point to the fast-money crowd looking for opportunities to jump into and out of the market.

On a macro basis, the stretch between now and November, when the US presidential race will be decided (or will it?), is expected to be filled with volatility, which should only be amplified by the increased participation of so many more retail investors. Interesting data on options trading behaviour and volume, for example, points to the “lottery ticket” trade taking place, and investor forums are rife with YOLO and moon-trade talks, which also signal investors are taking outsized risks to chase potentially outsized returns.

Any experienced farmer will say make to hay while the sun shines, and any experienced investor/trader knows it’s never different this time. For online brokerages, whether in Canada or the US, being flexible is going to be key to responding to whichever scenario plays out.  

Good News for 2020: Upgrades to Coming

2020 has been a year of big changes. Not many have been good, but despite the sentiment that this year should be over as quickly as possible, there are still a few months – and hopefully some good news – to come.

One piece of exciting news on our end: is going to be launching a new web experience for individuals interested in learning about and navigating all things online brokerage in Canada.

When first launched (way back in 2011, and officially in 2012), the online investing landscape was considerably different than it is today. Commissions were higher, “trading on the go” meant something very different, and finding information on online brokerages was filled with fragments of keyword- and agenda-driven content.

Since launching, we’ve chronicled the evolution of the online brokerage industry here in Canada (while keeping a keen eye on what’s happening in the US), and over that time we’re glad to report that many of the things that we saw as gaps for DIY investors have either started to improve or have been significantly addressed. One of those items that we saw as an issue was the absence of reliable, objective, up-to-date, and well-organized information about how to choose online brokerages.

Thankfully, there are now sites like that act as credible touchpoints for investor-education basics and have the kind of support and expertise available to improve the financial literacy of Canadian investors (we also love that they share a preference for icons!). Further, there’s also a national strategy on financial literacy being championed by the federal government. And although there is lots of work still to do in educating individuals about investing, there are now some important building blocks in place.

Of course, with over a dozen online brokerages in Canada (and more on the way), there’s still a lot of confusion for consumers and DIY investors alike when it comes to investing online, which is why we’re still as excited and committed as ever to help bring clarity to the landscape. We’re extremely proud to have impacted tens of thousands of Canadian DIY investors who have referenced our simple but effective site as part of their journey into or through online investing.

More immediately, we’re also really excited to be launching a new edition of our Look Back/Look Ahead series, featuring exclusive content and insights from Canada’s online brokerages. This has been an unprecedented year in so many ways, so it will be fascinating to see how different online brokers have fared and what they have their sights set on for 2021. We’ve already got a great response from the industry and look forward to sharing what they have to say about what has been an eventful year.

Finally, over the coming weeks, we will be making some changes in preparation for the rollout of our new digital experience, so be sure to stay tuned to our Twitter account for early previews of features and content.

Here’s hoping that despite the negative news out there in 2020, can spark something positive to look forward to in the coming months.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

Two Roads Diverged

An unemployed musician who has received some inheritance in the form of stocks wonders whether to use it to pay off a line of credit or to hold off until the stocks are back to pre-COVID highs in this post.

Elect to Wait?

In this post, a new DIY investor wonders if they should try to factor the upcoming US elections into their investment timing. Fellow Redditors weigh in on this strategy.

Into the Close

Life in the markets primes you for volatility. Even so, sometimes the pull of gravity on the way down is undeniable. Once again, 2020 has claimed a beacon of hope, with the passing of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The shockwave of this event will undoubtedly be felt for weeks to come and will overshadow an already contentious state of affairs in America. Of course, experience in the market also teaches that there is nothing quite as powerful as hope to fuel ambitious change. Stay rational, stay measured, and here’s hoping for some positive progress to start showing up soon.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – September 14, 2020

If 2020 has any common theme, it’s that the year has been filled with things you never expected to write or say in a sentence. For example, tech giant Oracle decides to (seriously) buy social media platform TikTok’s US operations. Alas, here we are. Ironically, what has made TikTok culturally relevant has been its ability to reach users with short bursts of content, which is exactly what at least one online brokerage is also hoping to do.

In this week’s Roundup, we put the spotlight directly on one US online brokerage that announced they’re launching a video series and unpack what that means for the online brokerage competitors in the US and here in Canada. From there, we cap off this edition of the Roundup with comments from DIY investors on Twitter and in the investing forums.

Lights, Camera, Snacktion: Robinhood Takes Financial Content to Video

Staying on top of what’s happening in the world of finance is both easier and harder than it’s ever been before for DIY investors. There is no shortage of “news” out there about what’s happening in the markets, but for many self-directed investors, sorting through it all can be daunting.

Cue Robinhood and their latest announcement this past week of the launch of their first video series based on their ultra-successful Robinhood Snacks podcast.

While an online brokerage launching a video series may not seem like a big deal, in this case, the tweet referencing the launch of the series portends what the larger vision for Robinhood’s content ambitions are, and, frankly, now when Robinhood does something, the rest of the online brokerage world is wise to pay close attention.

Starting first with their comment “The ultimate goal is to make finance as culturally relevant as music, sports and the arts.”

This is an incredible throwdown: Bringing the conversation about money and investing into the mainstream in a way that puts it on par with everyday experiences is very ambitious. That said, so too was the prospect of a financially sustainable online brokerage offering zero-dollar commissions.

Given all the content (and not just financial content, either) that’s currently out there, the topic of money isn’t one that generally excites people, nor is there anything that stands out as best in class. If their podcast, which was the result of an acquisition of the popular show Market Snacks in March of 2019, is any indication, Robinhood has clearly struck a chord with younger investors by creating “digestible” news. Their new video format is launching with two updates a week (for now) and capping the show at about three minutes in length, which is just long enough to get viewers in today’s attention-challenged day and age to stick around.

Importantly, the format of Robinhood’s new YouTube/Instagram show will be distinct from the predictable business reporting that is typical of most stock market–centric content. It likely will not talk about the swings of the market so much as it will mirror the format of the podcast, which chooses to focus on stories about public companies.

What is potentially most fascinating about this new venture is being able to watch it grow from the ground level. At the time of publication, the current number of subscribers to the Robinhood YouTube channel is 1.85K. Here are some comparable figures at competing online brokerage YouTube channels:

  • TD Ameritrade – 109K subscribers
  • E*Trade – 49K subscribers
  • Charles Schwab – 43K subscribers
  • Interactive Brokers – 40.9K subscribers

Despite what seems like it could be a hard-fought climb in subscribers on YouTube, the numbers from the newsletter and podcast suggest an accelerated growth for Robinhood on YouTube (without having to pay for advertising). Their podcast has 1.9M+ monthly active listeners, and there are 20M+ subscribers to their newsletter, both of which could easily help boost subscribership to the YouTube channel in a hurry. A quick search of other online brokerages with podcasts turned up only TD Ameritrade, which had “market data”–style reporting.

With no real competition on podcasts, Robinhood has gained mindshare with a huge audience, which no other online brokerage can replicate overnight. Moreover, reading through the Instagram comments on the announcement of the video version of the Robinhood Snacks podcasts revealed just how enthusiastic the “Snackers” (present company included) are with the product.

What does all of this mean for online brokerages?

With significant consolidation taking place in the online brokerage industry in the United States, the number of unique players has narrowed. Even with the scale of those new enterprises, Robinhood, through pricing and now through content, is establishing their brand as the one to beat amongst their peers, and especially amongst millennials and new investors.

Even though their goal of bringing financial content into cultural relevancy seems far-fetched, the reality is they have significant momentum on their side to do so. Unlike their peers, Robinhood is distinct and attractive to a whole new generation of investors.

As it pertains to Canadian online brokerages, the gap between what is happening in the US as far as features, user experience, and pricing is only widening.

From a content perspective, there really isn’t anything being produced by Canadian discount brokerages that materially rivals Robinhood for Canadian DIY investors. Of the major online brokerages in Canada, only TD Direct Investing’s parent TD has a dedicated show via their MoneyTalk channel that has consistently provided market commentary and analysis. Recently, National Bank Direct Brokerage launched a “beginner investor” education series with Larry Berman (of BNN fame), which, while short and informative, is not really the same kind of content that investors would continue to tune in to over the long term.

Although most major online brokerages in the US already have some kind of video content going, the reality is that Robinhood’s launch into the YouTube and Instagram video channels will be highly problematic for other online brokerages to compete directly against.

Robinhood’s accelerating popularity in the US also means they are being watched (and listened to) by Canadian DIY investors, and as a result, Canadian online brokerages will be increasingly challenged to offer comparable kinds of experiences if they truly want to win over their clients.

The longer that larger or existing Canadian online brokerages overlook the importance of compelling content, the greater risk they leave themselves open to if, or potentially when, Robinhood decides to enter a new global market. Of course, it needn’t necessarily be Robinhood that comes here directly that could pose a challenge to the mainstream Canadian online brokerage market. It would just take an online brokerage willing to be thought of as the “Canadian” version. Case in point.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

Meme, Myself, and I

A Redditor who has learned a lot from the forums is now concerned that they bought into the meme-ification of VGRO in this post. Fellow forum users discuss how “just buy XGRO/VGRO” has become such common advice and their stance on the topic.

Rise and Grind

In this post, a forum user asks how fellow DIY investors keep their spirits up when saving and investing. Replies to the post offer a look into their personal savings philosophies as well as the age-old advice “comparison is the thief of joy.”

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on this smoky West Coast edition of the Roundup. After a surreal run in stocks, it looks like the stretch from now until the presidential election in the US is going to be filled with all kinds of uncertainty. Typically markets price in as much of the future as they can see, and even if they have made some kind of determination of who will be in the White House, the reality is that a lot can (and will) happen in the next 50-ish days that can’t be predicted. On the plus side, anyone looking for a different kind of portfolio volatility can once again turn to fantasy football.  

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – September 9, 2020

Now that September is officially upon us (and Labour Day behind us), it is officially no longer good form to wear white. For anyone long in the stock market, though, that’s probably sound advice, as a sell-off is upon us. Of course, some sales are welcome, and it looks like Canadian online brokerages are starting to warm back up to the idea of offering deals for online investors.

In this short-week edition of the Roundup, we dig into the latest deals and promotions activity from Canadian online brokerages and examine what they reveal about the lead-up to RSP season. Also, we review some interesting technology pitfalls that have impacted online investors lately and contemplate what online brokers need to get right in order to avoid being in the hot seat with DIY investors. As always, we’ve got some spicy comments from investors on Twitter and in the forums to close out with.

Signs of Spring in the Fall

Even though it seems like “fall” is the right name for the season that stock market investors are currently experiencing, for Canadian online brokerages it looks a bit closer to spring, as deals are once again about to start blossoming.

The start of a new month is always a convenient moment to take a snapshot of the promotions landscape among Canadian discount brokers, especially during this “new normal.” September is particularly interesting, however, because it is the time of year that brokerages start to gear up for their busiest season.

Before diving into the current deals activity, it’s useful to get some quick context around how recent events have impacted the online brokerage industry.

While many sectors of the economy were decimated by COVID-19, Canadian (and US) online brokerages saw their businesses experience an unprecedented surge in popularity. Millions of idled workers had nothing else to do and nowhere else to go, not to mention some stimulus money in hand. These would-be (and formerly sidelined) investors turned their attention to the stock market.

Unsurprisingly, opening an online trading account and trading stocks – such as Zoom and Tesla – became the goal of many an investor. As a result, there was a spectacular surge in interest in opening online trading accounts. This created a perfect storm for Canadian online brokerages, who no longer had to try to incentivize investors into the market or into opening a trading account. Instead, market demand to trade online reached an all-time high.

With such robust demand, almost all Canadian discount brokers opted to pause or halt running any special offers for Canadian DIY investors (aside from transfer-fee coverage). Instead, they chose a wait-and-see approach to determine what the impact of COVID-19 would be on their business and industry. 

Despite the unusual market dynamics, it appears the wait-and-see phase is over – at least in part. New promotional offers launched in July and August from HSBC InvestDirect and National Bank Direct Brokerage, respectively, as well as a contest by Wealthsimple Trade in August, are a signal that smaller names in the online brokerage market in Canada are itching to get out in front of the frenzy of advertising set to take place during RSP-contribution season.

It is perhaps no accident that the two bank-owned online brokerage promotional campaigns that have come to market in a COVID-19 world are both commission-free trading ones. While popular, commission-free trading offers are less popular than cash-back offers. For brokerages, however, this move makes sense. Commission-free trades are more cost-effective for brokerages to deploy, and the reality is that not every customer will use up all the free trades offered to them.

For example, National Bank Direct Brokerage’s offer of 100 commission-free trades is a high bar for most “average” investors to use up. Fortunately, the time horizon to take advantage of these trades is one year. Using up 100 trades in a year is much more likely than having to do so in 30 or 60 days. In contrast, HSBC InvestDirect is offering 60 commission-free trades, but the time limit to take advantage of this offer is 60 days. Unless one is a fairly active investor, executing 60 trades in 60 days would be a challenge. Further, HSBC InvestDirect is not known for having a best-in-class trading platform for active investing, so it would likely be difficult for them to efficiently enter and execute the trades. Thus, headline numbers for commission-free trades sound impressive but are subject to a number of conditions that are important for DIY investors to consider when comparing offers.

Another important development was the contest run by Wealthsimple Trade, which offered up a chance to win one of five prizes of $5,000. This contest, which was linked to Wealthsimple Trade’s referral structure, also managed to avoid the cash-back promotion directly and instead positioned a cash payout for new clients as a contest. Individuals who participate in Wealthsimple Trade’s referral campaign receive a humble $10 for the referrer and $10 for the referee – a considerably lower reward when compared to other offers from competitors. While Wealthsimple Trade’s referral bonus is an amount just short of being able to buy a Big Mac combo, in the current environment, a little something is better than nothing. Also, with zero-dollar commission rates, Wealthsimple Trade is not likely to receive much, if any, pushback from consumers who are really interested in taking advantage of the low commissions.

While “two points a trend does not make,” it is nonetheless telling that the first two bank-owned online brokerage promotions to come into the market during COVID times are commission-free trades. Peer firms or larger bank-owned brokerages might also be inclined to offer up something similar – potentially with more generous timelines to allow investors to use up the free trades over a longer period of time. Interestingly, if DIY investors do have a longer time horizon over which to use their commission-free trades, it may serve as a mechanism to keep clients around longer than if they were to have their free trades expire.

Also worth watching is whether other online brokerages launch contest offers similar to Wealthsimple Trade. There are only a small handful of Canadian online brokerages with referral promotions in place, so linking contest entry to referrals is an interesting proposition to grow a client base. While $5,000 for an individual investor is nothing to sneeze at, larger online brokerages have the spending power to make a headline-worthy contest. The combination of a fixed acquisition cost and the advertising boost a contest would receive could be a viable option for a larger brokerage to consider testing out.

With demand likely to stay higher than normal, online brokerages (especially the prominent ones) have less incentive to launch rebates or cash rewards. The smaller players or newer entrants in the Canadian online brokerage space, however, still need to show up on the radar of investors, which means having to get both creative and compelling. With the first big wave of investor interest now behind us, we’ll be watching closely to see how online brokerages navigate this new normal and how they ramp up into their busiest season in the early part of 2021.

Outages Hit Online Brokerages in US

Some days you’re a bug, and some days you’re a windshield. For many DIY investors, the digital reality of trading stocks online feels mostly seamless. As more of our lives shift to being online – now more so than ever before – it starts to create the perception and expectation that things always work. Celebrity pictures or TikToks aside, there aren’t many things that should break the internet. When it comes to personal finance, though, the expectation is that one’s money and investments will ALWAYS be available online (scheduled maintenance gets kind of an exception).

Earlier last week, despite having ample time to prepare for major changes to the Dow Jones and stock splits from Apple and Tesla, several online brokerages in the US – including Robinhood, Schwab, and Fidelity – suffered from trading outages and glitches.

There are a number of instructive lessons for DIY investors when it comes to the realities of investing online, the key one being that regardless of size and sophistication, errors at the online brokerage level happen, and the results can be far-reaching, if not catastrophic, for active traders in particular.

What makes the outages traders experienced on August 31st all the more concerning is that they were not related to trading volume but rather other technical challenges – and that is just from the brokerages that went on record with a potential reason. According to a report from Bloomberg, Schwab attributed their service interruption to a change in storage systems, but the fact that the Schwab outage coincided with issues at Robinhood, Fidelity, Vanguard, and Ameritrade points to a serious underlying issue.

While active traders and investors are a constant presence in the market, it appears that the recent market volatility, combined with features such as fractional share trading and zero-commission trading, has attracted larger numbers of very active traders.

Based on statistics/probability, this ultra-active investor would necessarily be more likely to encounter and be impacted by the kinds of outages that take place on occasion. The big difference, however, between the active investors of today and those of the dot-com era is that these ultra-active investors are likely on mobile platforms and thus are just a few swipes away from social media channels on which they can express their strong dislike/disdain for any kind of service interruption.

The takeaway for online brokerages is that even at 99.9% system reliability, the impact to clients can be material.

Customer expectations for the stability of systems have never been higher, but so too are the demands that those systems need to meet. From speed to security to ease of use, online trading platforms have a high bar of expectations set on their performance every day. For online brokerages – especially those in Canada – telling the story of system reliability and delivering on system reliability ought to be top priorities. For consumers, however, it is abundantly clear whether or not online brokerages have gotten reliability right, since it’s a story that writes itself on social media.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

Seeing Red

Redditors turn to the forums to discuss consecutive days of markets in the red and to share how it’s impacting (or not) their DIY investing in this post.

Mutual Understanding

A forum user asks if a mutual fund like XEQT or VEQT exists and for guidance on which brokerage will yield them the best results in this post.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on another edition of the Roundup. Playoff basketball and hockey aren’t the only reasons to stress-eat this week – at least for online investors. After a meteoric run-up in prices in technology stocks, there appears to be some profit-taking (or making) in order, which means the only thing cooler than a Tesla Model X with air conditioning is the quickly cooling Tesla stock price (and Ontario weather!). Even though it’s a short week, here’s hoping you keep your cool and reach Friday in the green!

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Discount Brokerage Deals & Promotions – September 2020

*Update: September 18* Although it feels like we’ve barely had enough time to enjoy the simple pleasures of summer this year, the end of the season is now just around the corner. As 2020 progresses, DIY investors continue to be met with market volatility. In fact, as we release this month’s discount brokerage deals and promotions update, stock market indices are continuing their push into record territory. 

Despite September’s chillier weather, the Canadian online brokerage space appears to be heating up this month. After a few quiet months devoid of new promotions, Canadian discount brokers have recently begun to gradually unveil new deals, signaling the return of some sense of “normalcy” in the world of discount brokerages. 

Heading into this month, a pair of new commission-free trade offers from two bank-owned discount brokerages have appeared on our radar. Scroll on to learn more about these recently launched promotions, as well as other deals that are currently being offered by Canadian discount brokerages. 

Be sure to check back throughout September, as we continue to monitor and provide updates on new discount brokerage deals. Here’s hoping these updates will keep you warm as the fall season approaches! 

Expired Deals

No expired deals to report at this time. 

Extended Deals

*Update: Sept. 18 – National Bank Direct Brokerage’s recently launched commission-free trade offer has been extended. Previously set to end on October 30th, this deal will now expire one month later on November 30th. See the table below for full details regarding the promotion and eligibility.*

New Deals

DIY investors looking for free trade promotions can rejoice. National Bank Direct Brokerage launched a commission-free trade offer this summer that is set to run until October 30th. Also, HSBC InvestDirect has jumped into the deals pool with a commission-free trading offer of their own. See the table below for more details. 

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
  6. Offers for Young Investors

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
HSBC InvestDirect is offering 60 days of free online equity and ETF trading (up to 60 transactions) for new accounts opened during the promotional period. There is no minimum funding requirement for the accounts; however, the fund must be from outside HSBC InvestDirect. Trading commissions will initally be charged but will then be credited back to the customer’s account within 120 days after the free trading period ends. $0 60 days of free trading 60 days Please refer to the full Terms and Conditions October 30, 2020
New accounts opened between Jun 22 and Nov 30, 2020 will be awarded 100 free online trades in one year. This promotion applies to new and existing NBDB clients who uses the code “FREE2020” to open new accounts.There’s no minimum funding requirement, however some other restrictions may apply. $0 100 Free Trades 1 year Please refer to the full details of the deal. November 30, 2020
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
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
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 December 14, 2020 BMO InvestorLine Cash Back Offer Details June 1, 2020

Expired Offers

Last Updated: Sep. 18, 2020 10:28PT

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
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: Aug 31, 2020 15:56PT

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: Aug 31, 2020 14:25PT

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: Aug 31, 2020 14:29PT

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: Aug. 31, 2020 15:51PT

Offers for Young Investors

Brokerage Offer Type Eligible Age Range / Client Segment Offer Description Min. Deposit Expiry Date Link
Student Pricing Clients with CIBC Smart™ Account for students $5.95 per trade and zero annual account fees not required None CIBC Student Pricing
Broker@ge 18-30 18-30 years old investors Benefits: * 5 free transactions (Minimum deposit of $1,000 required) * No inactivity fees * No asset minimum to maintain for free registered accounts * Exclusive events * Disnat Mobile App $1,000 None Broker@ge 18-30
Offers for professionals & Students Students in selected fields of study Professionals and students in the below fields can benefit from a reduced pricing structure: * Engineering students * Legal, accounting and business students * Healthcare students * Health sciences students * Nursing students Benefits: * $5.95 commission on equities * $0 commission on ETFs * $0 annual administration fee not required None NBDB Student Pricing
Young Investors Offer 18-30 years old investors Accounts holders who are 30 years old or younger are offered 10 free trades each year. After the free transactions, a commission rate of $4.95 per transaction will be applied (which is just half of the regular price). not required None Young Investor Offer
Young investor pricing 18-30 years old investors Benefits: * $7.75 commissions for stock and ETF trades * No account minimums * No quarterly admin fees min. $50 a month through pre-authorized contributions. None Young Investor Pricing
Waiver of account maintenance fee Clients who have RBC Student account, currently or in the past 5 years. The Maintenance Fee ($25 per quarter) is waived, regardless of the account balance. not required None Zero Account Management Fee
Young Investors Offer Clients below 26 years old Low activity account administration fee and the RSP account administration fee are waived. not required None Young Investors Offer
Zero Account Administration Fee Clients below 26 years old The account administration fee ($24.95 per quarter) is waived. not required None $0 Account Administration Fee
Last Updated: Aug. 31, 2020 15:57PT