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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – January 4, 2021

2020 is now officially behind us. 2021 will be one of those years that most of us will not have any trouble remembering to write correctly, even in the first few weeks. And, speaking of easy to remember, this month and year are off to a memorable start. Once again cryptocurrency FOMO is sweeping through online investors, there’s a whole host of drama in the US in the lead-up to the inauguration, and RRSP season is now in full swing. Lace up your new sneakers because week one of the new-year news cycle is going to hit the ground running.

Keeping things manageable but exciting heading into week one is on our agenda for this Roundup. The first story of the new year is one that will definitely be worth diving into as we look at the huge volatility in deals action heading into 2021 and what online investors can expect in the weeks leading up to the RRSP contribution deadline. Up next are a series of fun announcements about new features to look forward to from Sparx Trading. We know time is a premium as everyone eases back into the workweek so we’ll keep this edition short and sweet. Happy New Year and enjoy!

Volatility Hits Online Brokerage Deals and Promotions

There’s no doubt that the end of 2020 couldn’t come fast enough. In the real world, it was a year of challenges and tragedies, and while there is no question it was a year that many want to leave behind, anyone looking at the “digital world” of equity markets or cryptocurrency would say there were at least some things that 2020 brought that were not bad.

For Canadian online brokerages, the start of 2021 is an interesting moment as it represents the convergence of several key factors that point to one heck of a year ahead. Already the latest deals and promotions activity forecasts a heavy dose of volatility (if not outright drama).

The first key factor to the start off the new year is that this is the time of year when Canadian discount brokerages kick into overdrive to get on the radar of online investors. The RRSP contribution deadline (March 1st) is behind the ramp-up of efforts to win over investors in the market for online investing accounts. And, DIY investors can expect to see even more advertising, offers, and other activities from asset-hungry online brokerages.

From a deals and promotions perspective, December was the busiest stretch since the start of 2020, signaling a return by online brokers to this popular tactic of attracting new clientele. Interestingly, the official start to 2021 (i.e. January 1st) was a holiday, and, as such, many of the offers that were scheduled to end on December 31st were left posted on the websites of several online brokers. It is unclear if the offers that were scheduled to expire at the end of December will actually be renewed or extended or if other offers will be launched to replace the outgoing ones. Suffice it to say, it will be a busy first week back to amend dates, update websites, or launch new offers. So, stock markets aside, we expect a bit of deal volatility to start the year.

Brokerages with offers that expired at the end of December include National Bank Direct Brokerage, Questrade, RBC Direct Investing, and Virtual Brokers. It would be hard to imagine a scenario in which all of these online brokerages stay on the sidelines for the duration of RRSP season, especially considering that all of the other major bank-owned online brokers have live offers and that, as of mid-December, Qtrade Investor jumped into the promotions pool with a new cash-back offer as well.

The second key factor that is bound to play a role in DIY investor demand for online trading access harkens back to the start of 2019. Similar to what took place two years ago, there’s been a huge run-up in the price of cryptocurrencies to start the year. What’s also on the menu this year (akin to the cannabis push in 2019) are rumblings of a new push into psychedelics. These “hot” new investor stories are compounded by enormous gains from tech companies benefitting from the work-from-home boom. The takeaway: Retail investor sentiment to jump into fast money seems to be driving markets to very frothy levels.

For Canadian online brokerages this a very bullish signal – something that could factor into either the scale or the duration of offers that might yet still come to market. Note that during the height of the market volatility here in mid-2020, many online brokerages pulled their deals altogether, with retail investor interest being sufficiently strong to render offering promotions and incentives unnecessary. We believe, however, that RRSP season is too tempting an opportunity to pass up, in spite of the retail investor sentiment, suggesting more offers to come from online brokerages this January. Also coming: increased urgency to open accounts and the accompanying frustration to get started right away.

Given the run-up in cryptocurrency prices, there is one Canadian online brokerage that stands to benefit disproportionately compared to its peers: Wealthsimple Trade.

Heading into the end of the year, we saw them launch a very short and creatively packaged cash-back promotion. Tearing a page out of the US online brokerage Robinhood’s playbook, Wealthsimple Trade pitched a “free stock” promotion that offered new users the equivalent dollar value to certain popular stocks traded on Wealthsimple Trade. The promotion ran for just about a month, and so it is curious from a timing standpoint as to what could be coming next for this online broker. Nonetheless, they are the only Canadian online brokerage to offer up direct cryptocurrency (Bitcoin and Ethereum) trading – something that would undoubtedly attract retail investor interest at this point. For that reason, there is a serious tailwind behind Wealthsimple Trade until (or if) cryptocurrency prices turn.

With so much happening in just the first week, we’ll be keeping our eyes on the deals activity among Canadian online brokerages throughout the month. There’s almost certainly going to be additional promotions updates coming and, if 2020 has taught us anything, probably a surprise or two before the month is over.

Announcements From

One of the fun things that the start of a new year affords us the opportunity to do is to change things up just a bit. Normally, we’d recap the latest developments in this section, but seeing as how we’re coming off a bit of a quiet spell in December (not counting the fact that Robinhood is in the crosshairs of financial regulators in the US), we’re going to take the opportunity to talk about a few big developments taking place at Sparx Trading.

Relaunching of Our Newsletter

Elon Musk won’t be the only one sharing epic launches in 2021. Sparx will also be launching a few big items, although ours will be into cyberspace and way less boring (pun intended).

The first of these will be an epic reboot of the newsletter. After being dormant for more than a few years, the newsletter is being completely remade and will feature a handy way for you to stay on top of the latest online brokerage news – and especially the Weekly Roundups. The newsletter is going to be published monthly and will feature quick recaps of the biggest stories across the online investing space over the previous month as well as any important updates taking place on (of which there will be more than a few!). Look for the first edition to launch in mid-January, and sign up using the following link:

Even More Perspectives on 2021

We’re thrilled with our latest Look Back / Look Ahead edition. Not only does it give readers a unique window into the world of the Canadian online brokerage industry during the pandemic – from the vantage point of those in charge of leading those brokerages – but it also provides previews on what’s coming up next in 2021.

Online brokerages, however, aren’t the only voices that have a unique and influential impact on how DIY investors navigate online investing. We’re excited to be launching a follow-up to Look Back / Look Ahead that features some of the most influential reviewers in the Canadian online brokerage landscape.

This exciting new edition is coming up at the end of January so be sure to follow us on one of our social media handles (like Twitter) for a first look. In the meantime, you can review the online brokerage edition of Look Back / Look Ahead.

A Shiny New Website

This one we’ve telegraphed already, but we’re getting close to launch and are really excited to be testing out features on the new website. A lot has changed about the online brokerage world since we started Sparx Trading, and much has also changed about the team behind the scenes at Sparx. With more hands on deck, and even more excitement about where we can take things, it was only fitting that we tackle something more ambitious. So, fingers crossed, we’re good to launch by the end of January, and users will be able to research online brokerages even faster, look for deals and promotions more intelligently, and track the latest developments at the online brokerages they’re most interested in more conveniently.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

Into the Close

That’s a wrap for this first-of-2021 edition of the Weekly Roundup. With cryptocurrency mooning and stocks in rally mode to start the year, there’s a welcome dose of green amidst some of the negative news still confronting us regarding COVID-19. Clearly, there’s a lot to take in for the week so best of luck catching up, and we look forward to a wild month and year ahead. Happy New Year again, and stay healthy and profitable!

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