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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – March 29, 2021

Now that the Ever Given has been officially refloated, we can all go back to making memes about other things. Bad puns aside, there has been a boatload of activity this past month, and it points to 2021 being a transformative year for Canadian DIY investors.

In this week’s Roundup, we look at an important development in the online brokerage space as a new entrant prepares to toss its hat into the commission-free trading ring later this year. Also, with all of the excitement taking place in online trading this past year, we quickly dip into an important theme raised during Fraud Prevention Month and highlight who we saw participate and who we didn’t. As always, we’ll close out with commentary from DIY investors on the forums and from Twitter..

Mogo Sets Its Sights on Zero-Commission Trading

The Suez Canal wasn’t the only place getting crowded this past week. It seems the Canadian online brokerage landscape is on the cusp of trying to fit even more online brokers into a very tight market.

Canadian fintech firm Mogo announced they are acquiring Moka in an all-stock transaction valued at about $64 million. Moka is a Canadian analogue to Acorns, a service in the US that enables users to automatically “round up” amounts on purchases to the nearest dollar and then invest those funds into portfolios comprised of ETFs.

As part of the transaction, Mogo stands to gain the 500,000 or so users of Moka, which will grow Mogo’s client base to 1.7 million individuals.

It is an interesting move, to say the least, to venture into the online investing space in Canada, especially when starting from the ground floor.

The Canadian online brokerage market is crowded in terms of existing players, with 14 already, and there are clearly challenges to be overcome with regards to generating revenue per transaction using commissions.

By coming to the Canadian market by advertising zero-commission trading, Mogo is going to naturally attract attention from price-sensitive shoppers. However, unlike other online trading choices, Mogo also carries with it the controversy that comes from its short-term loan, aka payday loan, business.

According to the website, the MogoMini Line of Credit product, for example, charges an annual interest rate of 47.42%.

Compare the marketing pitch for their short-term loans against their effective interest rate of over 47%. When the online stock trading capability of Mogo/Moka comes to market, reading the fine print will be a must for potential clients.

Personal finance communities online are reacting with skepticism over the potential hidden costs or fees that may accompany the new online trading provider.

So, how will Mogo gain traction with the online investing crowd in Canada in the current landscape and with the reputational baggage it carries?

One big clue is that they appear to be aggressively leaning into connecting with Gen Z investors by focusing on themes and products, such as Bitcoin, that are clearly coveted by this group and by emulating phrases and calls to action that other zero-commission providers have used in order to sound and look the part of an online broker.

Mogo’s aggressive embrace of Bitcoin, for example, makes no secret of their product or ramp-up strategy in this area. In an open letter about Bitcoin, Mogo stated that “all Canadians should consider having Bitcoin” because of its potential for generating wealth. In that same letter, they essentially make a FOMO argument that not jumping on the Bitcoin rocket means missing out on potential massive gains.

Another clue to their positioning in relation to wealth-building is that they support (or believe they are helping to champion) “democratizing finance.” If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is the famous catchphrase used by US online broker Robinhood, also known for charging zero commission fees.

The tie-up between Moka and Mogo is an interesting one, especially in light of the seemingly conflicting brand promises and services offered by each. Whereas Moka was about eliminating debt and creating regular savings in measured growth ETFs, Mogo is known for just about the opposite. How these two brands ultimately come together is going to take some time and public relations/marketing finesse to achieve.

Then, there are the UX and features issues that accompany competing in the online investing space that will provide a steep challenge to any new entrant.

Any regular reader of the Weekly Roundup will know that Twitter is filled with all kinds of reactions to the expectations and service requirements not being met by online brokerages. How Mogo/Moka intends to address these kinds of shortcomings is anybody’s guess, but zero-dollar commissions won’t be enough to win positive praise or ratings, especially if the typical pain points of online trading platforms aren’t addressed.

Depending on what segment of the online brokerage market Mogo is most interested in pursuing (we can infer that segment skews younger, based on the marketing and positioning of their service offerings), there might be a foothold that Mogo could establish in the online brokerage market in Canada. That said, it won’t be easy, as many competing online brokers will be ratcheting up their efforts to improve different elements of their own service offerings. Also, there is still chatter around more online trading platforms launching in Canada in 2021, notably Tastyworks.

While the news of a new option for DIY investors to trade the stock market, especially at zero commissions, should be cause for celebration, history has shown that even if these kinds of products can make it to market, there are usually feature restrictions or really long periods of time required before which this kind of offering starts to make an impact on the established online brokerages.

When Wealthsimple Trade launched in 2018, for example, it wasn’t clear then exactly how long it would take for it to really challenge the existing online brokerage market into lowering commissions or improving service or user experience.

While incumbent online brokerages were certainly aware of the new entrant and the interest it was garnering, the reality was nobody in the online brokerage industry appeared pressured to act to aggressively compete against Wealthsimple Trade on commission price. Instead, the lack of features such as a desktop trading platform made it difficult for Wealthsimple Trade to establish itself as a competitive threat to online brokerages.

For DIY investors, they appeared to have a love/hate relationship with Wealthsimple Trade.

On the one hand, the modern user interface and price point for commissions were something that invoked joy in users. However, it was clear that technology and feature constraints continued to chip away at users fully committing to the platform for their investing needs.

Building a successful new online brokerage in Canada is no easy feat. There are many elements to get right, and the competition will likely not stand still long enough to allow a new entrant to simply come in and disrupt any significant business. The move by Mogo to acquire Moka and provide zero-commission trading by the end of the year might be possible, but price-conscious and reputation-savvy consumers will also see the online stock trading offering from Mogo in the context of the larger set of businesses.

For every zero-dollar commission provider, there is one central issue to address: Everyone will want to know how Mogo will be able to afford to offer commission-free trading. As we’ve come to learn, free trades don’t mean that there aren’t costs.

Quick Recap: Fraud Prevention Month

March has been Fraud Prevention Month across Canada. As more of our lives have shifted online, so too have the opportunities for fraudulent activity to negatively impact us. For DIY investors in Canada, Fraud Prevention Month is an opportunity to either get to know or get reacquainted with the securities regulators in our respective jurisdictions. Earlier this month, each of these regulators participated in a joint news release that explained what activities they were undertaking for the month.

Among the interesting themes was a focus on younger investors, such as millennials and Gen Z. The BC Securities Commission, for example, had a FOMO-focused initiative that provided a series of videos to educate investors about warning signs of fraud.

In Alberta, the Alberta Securities Exchange had a unique approach to engaging visitors about investment fraud. They created and launched, a chatbot-style site that generates rather colourful excuses to provide to people pressuring them to invest. The hope is to “buy some time” that will enable someone to do more research.

Curiously silent throughout the month were most of Canada’s online brokerages – at least on social media. Given the opportunity to create content and educate potential and existing clients about an important reality of trading online, this seems like a missed opportunity to talk about features that help keep online investors safe and to explain the requirements that ensure companies comply with an anti-fraud guarantee. Maybe next year?

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

Dough Another Day

In the popular movie franchise, Bond never dies. In the world of DIY investing, things might be different for the asset class that shares a name with the suave spy. An investor asks in this post if bonds are dead and if we all should be changing the “safe” part of our investment portfolios to something else, such as preferred stock ETFs. Redditors have much to say on the topic.

Topped Up

In this post, a 31-year-old investor with a full TFSA, full RRSP, and no interest in owning a home right now asks what to do next, especially to minimize taxes. Redditors offer opinions on everything from unregistered accounts to reconsidering the benefits of home ownership.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on another eventful week. It’s hard to believe, but March is almost over. With Easter just around the corner, it means that this week is going to be a shorter one in terms of trading days. Lots has happened this month, and with so much going on it’s challenging to know where to point the spotlight. One place that does deserve more attention, however, is the inequality between women’s sports coverage and treatment versus men’s. While we technically shy away from making investment recommendations, it’s plain to see that underinvesting in women’s sports is a wrong that needs to be corrected. So, to close out the month, this tweet on the NCAA women’s basketball tournament seemed fitting to post here.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – March 22, 2021

Spring has officially arrived. And while the arrival of the new season didn’t fall on a quadruple witching day, in the online brokerage world it nonetheless lived up to its reputation of bringing change, volatility, and the promise of sunnier days ahead.

In this edition of the Roundup, we look at the latest trading commission price drop from a bank-owned online brokerage and the potential consequences it will have for DIY investors and fellow online brokerage competitors. Next, we jump into some interesting deal activity that’s taken place this month, including the launch of a new offer that might trigger even more promotions to start sprouting this spring. As always, we’ve got chatter from DIY investors courtesy of Twitter and the investor forums.

National Bank Direct Brokerage: Commission Price Drop

The days of the $9.95 standard commission pricing for trades at Canadian online brokerages are numbered. How much lower they go from here and how quickly these changes take effect will depend on who among the larger or more popular players decides to act. A recent commission pricing drop by National Bank Direct Brokerage, however, is likely to add significant cause for other Canadian online brokerages, big and small, to revisit their own commission pricing structures.  

This month, we noted that the standard equity commission pricing at National Bank Direct Brokerage (NBDB) dropped about 30%, from $9.95 down to $6.95 for all clients. Previously, NBDB charged $9.95 per trade to all clients, but for those clients who were also a client of National Bank – the parent brand to NBDB – a discounted price of $6.95 was available. That restriction is no longer in place, and the $6.95 price is available to all.

Why NBDB chose to lower their commission rate to the $6.95 level and why they decided to do so now are a good indication of how the industry as a whole has approached lowering their commission prices, even in the face of a growing competitive presence in Canada of zero-commission trading and increasing expectations (thanks to Robinhood and other US online brokerages) that trading online should be commission-free. Online brokerages in Canada, for the most part, are taking a measured and stepwise approach to lowering commission pricing, taking cues from competitors as a way to estimate the prices for commission rates that can be supported.

One important driver for National Bank Direct Brokerage is likely competition from its longtime local competitor, Desjardins Online Brokerage.

The drop in standard pricing brings National Bank Direct Brokerage in line with Desjardins Online Brokerage, which lowered the standard commission pricing for the “everyday investor” product, Disnat Classic, to $6.95 in early 2020. While there are still pricing gaps between these two Quebec-focused online brokerages at the very active trader pricing segment, the interesting consequence to National Bank Direct Brokerage enabling all clients to have access to the $6.95 pricing is that National Bank is pursuing an expansion strategy across Canada, implying that NBDB would now also set their sights on other markets outside of Quebec.

The takeaway for the online investing space in Canada is that a much more robust bank-owned online brokerage offering is now available to Canadian DIY investors. Unlike the lower-cost non-bank-owned online brokerages, National Bank Direct Brokerage brings with it many of the features and the convenience of a big five bank-owned online broker. This means that someone looking for the lower cost pricing typically available at an independent online broker but the convenience and perceived security of a larger institution will now have a serious look at NBDB as an online broker. And, once they start looking, there will be some interesting things for investors of all activity levels to find.

For young investors, for example, National Bank Direct Brokerage offers 10 commission-free trades per year and an even lower commission pricing of $4.95 per trade, simply for being 30 years old or younger. No other Canadian bank-owned online brokerage (yet) has this double feature set. Also, the threshold of 30 years old is higher than at several competitors, where the definition of “young” typically ends at age 25 or 26.

Very active traders at National Bank Direct Brokerage also have access to deeply competitive pricing, at $0.95 per trade, and an advanced trading platform, Market-Q. While Desjardins Online Brokerage’s active trader brand, Disnat Direct, does have cheaper pricing, at $0.75 per trade, the reality is that at the sub-dollar-per-trade range, the other factors of banking convenience might come into play.

Lowering commission pricing is something that Canadian online brokerages have seen as inevitable. That said, how quickly the commission pricing drops has shown itself to be highly dependent on who is the one setting the pace.

Despite the existence of a zero-commission provider, for example, there haven’t been any other Canadian online brokerages that have felt compelled to drop their standard commission prices to that level. Instead, we have observed that certain products, such as ETFs, have become the entry point into zero-commission trading, with firms such as Qtrade Investor, Questrade, Scotia iTRADE, and most recently with TD Direct Investing’s Goal Assist. In the category of commission-free ETFs, National Bank Direct Brokerage has also been somewhat of a leader among the bank-owned segment of online brokerages. In 2017, they launched completely commission-free ETF trading – both buying and selling, albeit with minimum purchase requirements.

For NBDB to capitalize on this latest pricing shift, the challenge, it seems, will be to overcome the marketing and advertising hurdle created by the likes of Interactive Brokers, Questrade, TD Direct Investing, and Wealthsimple Trade in markets outside of Quebec. Another online brokerage that has significant market awareness with large markets across Canada is Qtrade Investor, courtesy of their multiple wins and strong finishes in the online brokerage rankings of influential financial research sources. Each of these brokerages commands significant awareness, and, as a result, NBDB has their work cut out for them to start becoming part of the mainstream conversation of online brokerages.

That said, with 14 Canadian online brokerages for National Bank Direct Brokerage to compete against, their pricing immediately makes them worthy of a top-five or -six consideration. When competing against bank-owned online brokerages, however, they could potentially move into the top three.

Undoubtedly, TD Direct Investing would be high on the list of bank-owned competitors, followed, potentially, by BMO InvestorLine in terms of active marketing and advertising. Clearly, by lowering their standard commission rates to $6.95 per trade, National Bank Direct Brokerage has just earned themselves a major advantage relative to their peers. The online broker with the biggest risk of being displaced is CIBC Investor’s Edge, which, up until now, had retained the position of offering the lowest standard commission among the big bank-owned online brokerages.

When we first reported the pricing drop by CIBC Investor’s Edge to $6.95 per trade in 2014, the impact among DIY investors was immediate. Our data showed that DIY investors soon came to see CIBC Investor’s Edge as a value-based option for trade execution. Even so, the pricing structure reflected some of the limitations for active trader experience at Investor’s Edge.

In this case, National Bank Direct Brokerage has pricing for the “passive investor” but also has platforms and pricing for very active investors and young investors. This makes them unique among the “banking” peer group.

Given the propensity of Canadian online brokerages to make smaller moves – especially among the bank-owned online brokerages – we expect that standard commissions might not be the starting point to match the new pricing at National Bank Direct Brokerage. Other places that online brokerages might be able to target to retain clients would be in their definition of “young” investors, which NBDB defines as 30 and under, or with commission-free ETF trading.

National Bank Direct Brokerage’s latest commission pricing move has made them an option that many DIY investors will be hard-pressed to ignore going forward. As a result, it may not be too much longer before the bank-owned online brokerages cannot ignore them either, and yet another wave of commission pricing drops ensues.

So long as the commission-pricing at NBDB stays quiet, the online brokerage industry in Canada won’t have to move quickly. That said, in a day and age of Reddit threads and social media reach, all it might take is one post for that to change.

Deals & Promotions Updates

March is synonymous with spring and with the changes that accompany a new season. While the beginning of the month saw a significant reduction in the number of Canadian online brokerage offers from larger players, we predicted that it would likely not be too much longer before new offers sprouted up again. And, it turns out, we didn’t have to wait that long after all.

This month, we’ve already seen BMO InvestorLine replace an outgoing deal with a new cash-back promotion, and, excitingly, this past week we noted that National Bank Direct Brokerage also launched a new 100-commission-free-transactions offer. More on that in just a moment.

Starting with the BMO InvestorLine cash-back promotion, the new promotion, like its predecessor, is a tiered cash-back offer. The starting deposit tier for the latest offer is higher, however, starting at $25,000, compared to the previous $15,000. Cash-back amounts have also been scaled back significantly at most deposit tiers. Starting tier deposits qualify for a $50 cash-back (compared to $150 the last time), and the highest deposit tier, $1 million and over, still qualifies for a bonus of $2,000.

For National Bank Direct Brokerage, this has been a big month, with newer pricing (see above) and the revival of a 100-commission-free-transactions offer. The new offer provides 100 commission-free trades, which are good for use for up to one year after the account is opened. This new promotion runs until the end of June and is open to new and existing clients so long as the account type is new.  Interestingly, the offer applies to trades of stocks and options (and ETFs), which are sometimes not available during certain commission-free trade promotions.

The (re)launch of a commission-free trade offer from National Bank Direct Brokerage, along with their new pricing offer, might prompt other online brokerages to consider coming to market with an offer this spring as well. Interest in investing and trading remains elevated among DIY investors. However, if the thesis that the catalyst for the surge of interest was individuals working from home or putting stimulus money into investing products, then the reopening of the economy (and sports and travel) could lead to decreased interest or availability of individuals to continue actively trading.

Most Canadian online brokerages elect to take a “wait and see” approach to emerging trends rather than risking taking the position as a leader in innovation. With that in mind, deals and promotions offer a proven method to continuously stay on the radar of investors – especially those who might be lured to leave because of dissatisfaction with pricing or service.

What deals and promotions cannot do is solve for technology or service gaps (even though we have seen compensation in the form of trading commissions help smooth out some service shortcomings). So, it is likely – perhaps even sound business strategy – for those online brokerages who are confident in their ability to deliver strong service and technology to lean into promotional offers at a time when other firms are struggling or lagging. As such, a promotional offer could be seen as a sign of confidence and strength in the service delivery model, and an absence of one – at least in the near term – might have DIY investors asking why certain brokerages are choosing to stay out of the spotlight.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

My Definition Is This

In this post, an investor who is unsure and nervous about how the Canada Revenue Agency defines day trading asks if it’s okay to sell stocks from a TFSA after owning the stocks for just a few days. The CRA doesn’t provide a clear definition, so Redditors weigh in with their opinions.

New Tuber in Town

A new investor asks in this Reddit post if the Canadian Couch Potato method of investing is still relevant in 2021. An in-depth discussion ensues, touching on ETFs, meme stocks, and more.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on another week. While markets and investing are the focal point of the Roundup, there’s also a human side to this, and this past week was a dark chapter for the AAPI community. Sadly – and, frankly, unacceptably – the level of hate crimes against women and Asians in particular has increased during the pandemic. It is up to all of us to speak up against racist behaviour wherever possible.  Here are some steps from Stop AAPI Hate that anyone can take to assist a person experiencing a racist attack or hate crime:

  • Take action: Approach the targeted person, introduce yourself, and offer support.
  • Actively listen: Ask before taking any actions, and respect the other person’s wishes. Monitor the situation if needed.
  • Ignore the attacker: Using your discretion, attempt to calm the situation by using your voice, body language, or distractions.
  • Accompany: If the situation escalates, invite the targeted person to join you in leaving the area.
  • Offer emotional support: Help the other person by asking how they’re feeling, and assist them in figuring out what they want to do next.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – March 15, 2021

One look at the past week in March and daylight savings isn’t the only reason to be losing sleep. From the excitement of Bitcoin’s highs to the now-constant (like Pi Day) news of platform outages to Beyoncé’s smashing of a Grammy record, March has been full of surprises. Interestingly, it seems like Canadian online brokerages also picked up on this theme heading into the Ides of March.

In this edition of the Weekly Roundup, we review some of the newest features to sprout up at Canadian online brokerages and analyze the shifting landscape of financial services in Canada. From there, we dive into some strange and interesting signals surrounding the “new” retail investor and look at how they are impacting online investing. As always, we’ve got some interesting and…colourful…commentary from DIY investors in the forums and from Twitter.

Out to Launch: New Features Sprouting Up in March

March is synonymous with spring and, therefore, also with new and exciting things.

This year, there’s already much to look forward to. However, when it comes to the Canadian wealth management landscape, there are some interesting developments sprouting.

BMO InvestorLine Launches adviceDirect Premium

Starting first with BMO InvestorLine. This past week, BMO InvestorLine formally announced the launch of a new premium tier of their adviceDirect service offering. The new feature, adviceDirect Premium, is geared toward clients with $500,000 or more in investable assets and offers a range of new functionality, most notably enhanced planning and research resources.

Now over eight years old, adviceDirect has often occupied a niche role in the world of online investing. As a hybrid between the world of DIY investing and digital advice, it has evolved a number of times to find its identity as the “middle child” of the wealth management suite offered by BMO.

The timescale of the product is especially relevant given the context of what the product offers and the current state of online investing. AdviceDirect is unique in that online investors can contact a licensed investment representative to review their portfolio and to get additional insight on possible investment decisions. Although the investment rep does not necessarily have to put orders through, the key value driver is that a DIY investor can get an informed opinion about their particular investment picture and goals.

Prior to the mad rush into the markets instigated by COVID-19, the need for orientation to the markets was somewhat measured. Passive investing was all the rage, and the numbers of DIY investors who were new to trading or who wanted to get into investing were increasing at a manageable pace.

Fast forward to today, however, and the wealth management industry – in particular the online investing space – is filled with chatter centred around the lack of experience of investors entering the market. This past week, for example, a pair of articles essentially found that the kinds of questions new investors were seeking answers to reflected a significant lack of knowledge about the world of investing online. Of particular note was the following stat: “A Deutsche Bank survey found that almost half of U.S. retail investors were completely new to the markets in the past year. They are young, mostly under 34.”

While the Canadian online brokerage market is different, the overall trend of newer investors coming to online investing is likely similar. The takeaway: There are lots of new investors in the market who don’t quite know what they have gotten themselves into.

It is interesting, then, that adviceDirect has chosen to launch a premium product at this point. On the one hand, a premium tier is consistent with an overall trend for BMO InvestorLine to seek out clients with larger deposit amounts or investable assets. At a macro level, however, the timing couldn’t be better to bring on clients who would likely benefit from having a “voice of reason” available for consultation before making some big investing decisions. Investor forums now routinely have stories of DIY investors who bet big and lost considerable amounts of money by taking risky trades. Those risks far outstrip the management fees charged by the adviceDirect platform.

The online investing world has typically been a place where either you’re a DIY investor or you’re not. BMO InvestorLine’s latest enhancement to its long-standing hybrid model offering might have finally found itself ready for a world where “DIY” doesn’t imply an all-or-nothing proposition. The challenge, however, is whether or not adviceDirect can ramp up its marketing and appeal to DIY investors faster than other online brokerages or roboadvisors can.

Questrade Launches Mortgages

This past week, the line between online brokerages and banks got a little blurrier as two wealth management firms continued their push into banks’ traditional territory of mortgages and money transfers.

Starting first with mortgages. Questrade, which acquired Community Trust Co. in 2019, has been quietly building up to a formal launch into the world of offering mortgages. That day, it seems, has arrived, and last week, Questrade clients received the formal announcement that QuestMortgage has officially gone live.

For the moment, QuestMortgage is open to Questrade customers only. Given the current frenzy over real estate in Canada, however, it is likely that the timing of launching to all Canadians is on the minds of the folks at Questrade. The QuestMortgage prime rate is 2.45% at the time of publication, and a five-year fixed-rate closed mortgage ranges between 2.04% to 2.24%.

While these rates are higher than at other firms, the reality is that there will likely be a curious set of existing clients who either know and/or like Questrade and would be willing to see what a mortgage through QuestMortgage might be like. That said, one of the challenges of the bank-owned online brokerage approach is that service in one category of product tends to impact the decisions and perceptions in another.

This past week, for example, Questrade’s platform suffered an outage during trading hours, and, as a predictable result, lots of clients were understandably angry – including to the point of wanting to leave. If there are hiccups and issues during this rollout with Questrade clients, it could alienate existing clients, giving them cause for concern with the brand as a whole.

Wealthsimple Relaunches Cash Solution

Another big development in the world of money for Canadians came from Wealthsimple.

Typically, we would be referencing Wealthsimple in the context of online trading or even online investing through their roboadvisor service. However, this past week, Wealthsimple published an article in their Wealthsimple Magazine and sent out an email campaign highlighting their Cash app, in an effort (it seems) to ramp up the awareness of this new(ish) product.

What’s so special about Wealthsimple Cash? To start, it promised to enable instant money transfers between parties. And, going way back to the announcement of the cash feature in 2020, there are some other key features such as bill payments, ATM cash withdrawals, and a highly sought-after physical card.

As with the comment about Questrade venturing into mortgages, however, the rollout and client experience with one part of the brand will invariably influence the perception of the brand as a whole. There are now several apps in the Wealthsimple ecosystem, each representing a possible relationship with a consumer. As a result, a negative experience in one of these areas has the potential to cause someone to leave the whole set of products.

In the case of the Wealthsimple Cash app, there is already skepticism and negative sentiment brewing – in part relating to the delay in the rollout of the promised features that the Cash app was launched with. While Wealthsimple had hoped to be transformative with the technology and user experience (and, to be fair, the proposed user flow in terms of sending cash seems straightforward), ultimately it comes down to reliability and execution, which is where the current reviews and reactions from Wealthsimple clients stem from.

Despite the slow rollout of the most sought-after features, Wealthsimple is clearly going after the business domain of the traditional big banks in Canada. The convenience factor that emerges when individuals are able to manage multiple parts of their financial lives in one easy-to-use platform is a very powerful force. Equally powerful in Canada, however, is inertia. Individuals who are content to stay where they are because of a perceived amount of effort to change are not yet hearing the kind of enthusiasm about the Wealthsimple Cash feature that would induce them to switch. Though the banks might be safe for now, it’s clear(er) that the winds of change are starting to blow.

Neighbourhood Watch

If there’s one thing that living through 2020 has taught us, it’s that these are really unusual times. Just when traditional wisdom implies that things ought to zig, we see them zag. Nowhere has this been more true than in the world of DIY investing. What has started to emerge from a series of discussions about the world of online investing appears to be a sense of impending doom – almost as if there’s an iceberg in the water and the “new” stock market is the Titanic.

To be fair, there are perennial pessimists when it comes to the stock market. Since the Great Financial Crisis of 2008/9, naysayers have been waiting and calling for a massive correction in the markets. The same could be said for the sentiment post-March 2020. Looking at historical data on crashes and bear markets, however, paints a less dire picture than the market doomsday prophecies would imply.

That said, there appears to be an undercurrent of pessimistic conversation surrounding DIY investors who are new to markets and trading that is unlike anything witnessed in recent memory, such as in a pair of articles from this past week (here and here).

Some of the key takeaways paint a picture of the “new retail investor” who relies on social media for orientation to the markets and for trading ideas. Anecdotally, this would appear to be the case with communities on Reddit, such as Personal Finance Canada, growing to an exceptional size and rivalling traditional media sources for information on topics related to personal finance (including investing). At the time of publication, the Personal Finance Canada community on Reddit has grown to almost 480,000 members.

Data cited in a MartketWatch article (sourced from Magnify Money) is also consistent with this observation. It found that almost 60% of Gen Z and millennial investors (aged 40 and younger) were a member of an investment community such as Reddit. Also, just over 40% of respondents to the Magnify Money survey reported turning to YouTube for investing information.

This past week, there was also yet another hearing held in the United States, this time by the Senate Banking Committee, that put the commission-free trading model of Robinhood under the microscope and, with it, the activities of very active traders or investors.

Other insights from data being shared during the heightened scrutiny of Robinhood show that the majority of the high-volume trading is coming from a very small number of trading accounts. Approximately 2% of clients would be considered day traders, according to one report, which is shockingly small. A similar scope of influence was recently reported by Wealthsimple Trade about its client base, which revealed 14% of clients traded GameStop stock, with 81% of those who did purchasing seven shares or less.

What these different data points suggest is that there’s a very different type of trading behaviour taking place in the current markets. Specifically, with so many new investors joining the markets, with more time and access to some discretionary capital, and with new technologies and lower barriers to trading, the ability for investors to “pile” into a trade – and to do so quickly – the mindset of younger investors is decidedly different and is material to market behaviour.

For online brokerages, while COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions persist, being visible on the channels that online investors are turning to makes sense. It is likely why, in Canada, aggressive advertising by Wealthsimple Trade shows up on YouTube, and Questrade commercials air during sporting events. What remains to be seen is how trading activity changes if and when working from home becomes less common for those younger investors. That said, the data shows that while there might be more excitement and engagement in markets overall, the ultra-active segment of investors might be vulnerable to retreating quickly if market conditions shift or macro conditions – like having to go back into the office – surface.

At the heart of much of what we’ve learned over 2020 and now 2021 is the growing power of the financial community of users on social media platforms. For online brokerages to remain relevant and go beyond commoditized providers of online trading services, job one still remains being able to connect people to the markets. However, not far behind is to figure out how to tap into the power of online communities of DIY investors.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

School Daze

In this post, an investor with two young children who wants to start saving for their education debates the relative merits of setting up two RESPs, a family RESP, or a high-interest savings account. A lively discussion ensues, with Redditors talking about everything from government grants and TFSAs to couch potato investing and what happens if the children decide not to pursue higher education.

No Time Like the Present

A 32-year-old with a spouse and a child is worried about having no savings for emergencies, retirement, or the child’s education and asks in this post how to start investing in the stock market. Redditors offer a wealth of suggestions – and reassure the nervous investor that age 32 is still relatively young to be embarking on the path to financial security.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on another highly eventful week. With so many wheels in motion, the recovery trade and talk of stimulus in the US has put a spring in the step of the economy. It seems fitting that in a week following the Grammys, we’ll be watching some chart-toppers in the stock markets. While the choreography won’t compare, the drama is almost sure to be newsworthy.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – March 8, 2021

March is here in full force. Even though the RSP contribution deadline for 2020 is now behind us, there is no shortage of activity taking place this month on the digital front. From Fraud Prevention Month to International Women’s Day to rising oil prices to NFTs to a bombshell interview from Oprah, there is a lot to tune in to. And one more thing: There’s still a global pandemic.

This edition of the Weekly Roundup leans into the convoluted but interconnected web of signals to pull out two fascinating stories on the online brokerage space in Canada. The first story looks at the deals and promotions for March but dives deep to provide context on the current state of deals activity against a new competitive landscape. And, speaking of competition, Canadian online brokerages that might not be concerned about a new entrant showing up any time soon may want to rethink that position as we profile the long and winding journey of one US online brokerage that is poised to make a move north of the wall. Of course, what would a Roundup be without comments and perspectives from DIY investors? Be sure to check out some thought-provoking conversations taking place in the forums and on Twitter.

Online Brokerage Deals & Promotions Update

It’s official. The 2020 RRSP season is officially over, and while the huge rush to ensure that money moves to the appropriate place by the contribution deadline has ended, the data analysis on the campaigns deployed by Canadian online brokerages is now in full swing.

Normally, the start of a new month is accompanied by a deals update that follows a standard format of recapping the latest deals and promotions offered by Canadian online brokerages, as well as discussing what deals are new and which ones have expired.

Contextually, however, 2021 is still very much an anomalous year when it comes to DIY investing and especially online brokerage promotions.

One of the most important insights to emerge over the past year at Canadian online brokerages is that there can actually be too much of a good thing. Normally, promotions and deals are used by online brokers to incentivize DIY investors – new and experienced alike – to consider choosing a particular brokerage.

Last year, however, we saw numerous online brokerages, especially around March and April, pull back or withdraw their offers altogether. It was the first time we had witnessed that happening in at least five to six years. The reason: Demand for online accounts was simply too high, and Canadian online brokerages were overwhelmed and opportunistic. If people were willing to pay (and also to wait), a promo probably wasn’t required to get them to sign up.

The dry spell in deals started to clear toward the tail end of 2020. At that point, we started to see a more normal course of activity, with multiple large Canadian online brokerages offering up cash-back promotions as part of their lead-up to RSP season. And then January 2021 happened.

Recall that it was just over a month ago that yet another surge of online investors poured into the world of DIY investing and trading, this time fueled by trading communities like Wall Street Bets and social media channels feeding a frenzy of momentum trading.

Data we reported on in the previous Weekly Roundup about Interactive Brokers, for example, showed that January 2021 resulted in a 221% month over month increase in new accounts and an almost 700% increase over the same period last year. The latest metrics released by Interactive Brokers from February revealed that almost 76,000 new accounts were opened during the month. While significantly lower (-35%) compared to January in terms of net new accounts opened, when compared to the same point last year, the number of accounts opened in February is over 400% higher.

In the Canadian marketplace, data from financial services research firm Investor Economics also shows that over 2 million online brokerage accounts were opened in 2020, up from just shy of 850,000 in 2019. It is thus not hard to triangulate that, for the beginning of 2021, and in particular RSP season, Canadian online brokerages have had another exceptional year in terms of volume of interest.

This backdrop is important when looking at the current slate of deals and promotions offered by Canadian online brokerages, especially with a view toward whether or not more promotional offers can be expected to show up in the near- to intermediate-term. Having deals from large providers such as TD Direct Investing, Scotia iTRADE, CIBC Investor’s Edge, and Qtrade Investor expire at the same time is enough to cast some doubts on what happens for the next few months.

The short answer is that it does seem like Canadian online brokerages are willing to deploy promotional offers between now and the kickoff to next RRSP season, which generally happens at the beginning of November. For anyone keeping score, that is about six months away. Here’s why we think that’s the case.

First, there’s the inevitable restart of the economy through the summer. While folks have been working from home, it has probably been a lot easier and less noticeable to nosey coworkers to have a trading window open or be trading online or watching stocks on your phone. When offices start reopening and individuals begin going to the office again – as will happen – the mechanics of being able to trade from work are going to become harder. That bodes well for deals and promotions since a more “normal” cadence of activity is likely to require online brokers to work harder to get individuals to pay attention to investing while those individuals go back to juggling life as usual.

Another reason we’re bullish on deals and promotions heading into the stretch between now and the start of November is that there is increased competition for incumbent Canadian online brokerages – especially from Wealthsimple Trade but also from potential new entrants looking to make a splash in the Canadian market (see next story below).

For anyone who’s spent any time on YouTube, Wealthsimple Trade’s barrage of advertising should be a clue that they’re heavily investing in spending big money to get attention. Wealthsimple Trade’s commission structure alone should garner them attention, but it was still fascinating to see them start to launch promotional offers at the tail end of 2020 as well as some even bigger promotions linked to referral offers mid-February 2021.

Larger or more well-known Canadian online brokerages may have a buffer against this advertising and promotional onslaught, but outside of three to four online brokerages in Canada, the rest of the field has to reevaluate a lot about how, when, and where they show up to Canadian DIY investors.

One viable option for online brokerages to compete is through offering deals and promotions on an ongoing basis, with different offers available at different points in the year. Another option is better marketing around offers that are already available – with a case in point being Scotia iTRADE. They have a promotion for commission-free trades that is bundled with a premium banking package offered by their parent brand, Scotiabank. Despite having traction with value-hungry consumers, this offer is relatively under-advertised to the general public.

On the good news front for DIY investors, there are still online brokerages offering deals and incentives for investors looking to get into the markets or who are interested in a new service provider.

Promotional offers from RBC Direct Investing – a major bank-owned online brokerage – are still available through the end of March, and BMO InvestorLine also launched a new cash-back offer to replace their RSP campaign. In the case of BMO InvestorLine, the minimum deposit amount on their new cash-back offer was raised to $25,000 and expires on June 1st, 2021.

Also, as stated earlier, it is bullish that a firm that currently has zero-commission trading is offering promotions on top of their ultra-competitive pricing. And considering Wealthsimple Trade’s aggressive marketing, it is unlikely that their competitors can afford to stay quiet for much longer.

Whether it is because of elevated trading activity, the dynamic nature of the restart of return to work, or the new competitive landscape for online brokerages in Canada, we believe that more Canadian online brokerages than normal will turn to promotional offers as a fast, effective way to stay relevant to DIY investors.

What the data from 2020 and early 2021 have shown is that large pools of DIY investors can quickly rush to market to get on board with a trading opportunity. Online brokerages looking to get ahead of the next big push, as well as to get in front of the big return-to-work shift, will likely be considering deals and promotions as a tactical way to be visible throughout these next few months. The takeaway: Investors who haven’t already joined the market can anticipate some interesting offers without having to wait until the fall to take advantage of them.

A Taste of Something Different: Signals Point to 2021 Arrival of Tastyworks in Canada

It started out, at least for me, in the Las Vegas airport on a journey back to Canada in 2014. I stared up at the TV in the departure lounge and saw a strange cherry logo alongside messages about online trading. It all seemed very Vegas, but the name tastytrade was something I made a mental note to remember.

Little did I know at the time that the combination of curious name and logo would potentially become one of the bigger stories in the Canadian online brokerage space in 2021.

What Is Tastytrade?

Back in 2014 and 2015, it was difficult to answer exactly what this firm was all about. After doing a little bit of research on tastytrade, it became clear that this brand was something different in the online investing space.

Launched in 2011, it was all about providing content on investing, with a heavy focus on options trading, mixed in with some fun and insightful segments. One thing it wasn’t short on was opinion and debate. But, they were American, and being in Canada meant that aside from an alternative to programming on CNBC or BNN, the talking heads on tastytrade probably wouldn’t have a direct influence on life here in Canada. At best, it seemed like a fun channel to tune in to for trading banter.

The next time tastytrade came back on my radar was October 2015. Back then, my hair, like the Weekly Roundup, was shorter, and the big news of the day was that TD Direct Investing had just “officially” joined Twitter. And, for good measure, one of TD Direct Investing’s early tweets: tastytrade would be coming to Canada for the first time on October 26th as a guest of TD Direct Investing.

I was fortunate enough to attend that first session at the CBC studios in downtown Toronto. In the before times, when travel and live events were a thing, investor education was also something Canadian online brokerages invested in far more heavily than they do today. Calendars on online brokerage websites were crammed with investor education events – which, at the time, is what this seemed like it would be.

Little did anyone know at the time how big of a deal it would be that the largest online brokerage in Canada was bringing a new financial brand north of the wall.

The session itself lasted the better part of a day. While spending a good portion of a day at an investor education event geared toward options was something I had done before (a couple of times), it was clear from the get-go this event was different.

First, it was impressive that instead of an education session, it felt more like a rock concert. There was fancy sushi (no boring sandwiches here), and the auditorium was filled with a community of fans who came to see and hear the founder of tastytrade, Tom Sosnoff, do his thing live. The energy in the room was unique. It could have been, in part, because attendees were actually part of the live broadcast of the tastytrade show. They could see that the personalities they tuned in to for options trading and market chatter were the same in person as they were behind the screen: funny, chill, and very smart.

While the actual segments of the shows were interesting, the most interesting thing to observe and experience was what happened during breaks.

Sosnoff was approached and literally encircled by a flock of adoring fans peppering him with questions about trades and options. He was able to engage an audience with a topic that most people – even back then – found opaque and mysterious. Again, this was Canada and it was 2015. No big rush to Robinhood, no GameStonks, no Reddit army. Whatever the following and fan base here, it was likely significantly higher in the US.

For TD Direct Investing, at the time, it was a big score to have tastytrade come to Canada. This event was a huge deal for their active options trading audience and, as it turns out, for their associates who ran the thinkorswim platform. Fun fact: Sosnoff created thinkorswim and sold it to TD Ameritrade in 2009 for US$750 million.

The next few years for tastytrade were spent continuing to grow and engage with their audience across the globe and launching their own online brokerage, tastyworks, in 2017. In the US online brokerage market at or about that same time, Robinhood was starting to make more waves among online investors. Not too long after the launch of tastyworks did we start to see comments left by DIY investors on that the best pricing for options trading was being provided by tastyworks. 

In a very short period of time, the tastytrade and tastyworks brands established themselves as a powerful force for active traders and investors who want to get the full experience of trading online, offering a unique community and great trading tools and user experience.

In a Weekly Roundup from February 2019, we spotted tastyworks’ rise in the US online brokerage rankings, where they appeared to be gaining ground on traditional online brokerage names in the space. Again, this was just two years after the tastyworks launch. The following interview from the Moneyshow in Toronto was also telling of the footprint tastytrade had developed in Canada by that time.

It wasn’t until 2020, however, that chatter around tastyworks coming to Canada started to pick up steam. To be clear, prior to 2020 the tastyworks team mentioned publicly that they intended to come to Canada. Unfortunately, regulatory and technology hurdles made coming here much slower.

Despite several suggestions in the past that didn’t quite work out, things seem different this time. The series of signals that the arrival of tastyworks in Canada is imminent seems to be growing. If we rewind back to January 2020, a tweet from the current Co-CEO and President of tastyworks, Kristi Ross, about the online brokerage coming to Canada was the first strong indicator big things were coming:

Then, in June, another interesting update, again from Twitter:

Then, in September, on Twitter:

We were primed to see a new online brokerage set up shop in the Canadian market before the end of the year, but it did not end up happening. As it turns out, though, the tastyworks folks were also busy with some big news of their own.

Tastyworks announced at the beginning of 2021 that they were being acquired for $1 billion by IG Group Holdings.

After about a decade, Tom Sosnoff had done it again, turning an idea about trading options and building a community of users into a multimillion-dollar payout. According to the press release, the management of the tastyworks brand was to continue on, but it did raise some questions about whether or not a move to Canada was still in the cards. That question, however, was put to rest in a video in early February:

Although the video clearly signals tastyworks’ own acknowledgement of yet another delay, this article from The Globe and Mail about tastyworks coming to Canada was published last week, lending more weight to the idea of tastytrade’s Canadian launch actually happening this year. One of the biggest questions will be “What is tastyworks?” and, in all likelihood, this article is but one of many to come that will seek to answer that question as the tastyworks and tastytrade advertising machinery ramps up.

The journey to Canada for tastyworks has been a long and winding road.

Since their first hints in 2018 of coming to Canada, the online brokerage landscapes in both Canada and the US have changed significantly, with the biggest change being the shift in commission pricing. As we’ve seen over the early part of 2021, however, just because a platform offers a great user experience and low pricing does not guarantee customer delight. There has to be something deeper.

For online investors, especially active ones, community is huge, and Sosnoff is well aware of this. Tastytrade is a financial content powerhouse, boasting an audience in Canada of 10,000 daily viewers and a global audience of about 900,000. These aren’t just passive viewers, however. Scan comments and forums relating to options trading and pricing conversations and tastytrade comes up a lot – and with a lot of (generally) positive emotion. It has a loyal fan base and a vibrant community.

For Canadian online brokerages, the move north by tastyworks will be an inflection point for the standard of online investor experience. Tastytrade content is engaging, entertaining, and educational. There are 20 shows that take place on the network. There is fresh content every day, and you can watch the founder and other members of his team trade throughout the day. They don’t just talk about this stuff, they actually do it. Add to that the price for trading stocks and options that tastyworks will bring, and the picture forming is that most Canadian online brokerages are staring at a potential game-changer coming soon.

The irony of the tastytrade and tastyworks journey coming to this point in 2021 is not lost on me.

When, seven years after the fact, an online brokerage can get you to remember the first time you ever saw their name (let alone on a return trip from Vegas), that says something about the power of the brand. The fact that TD Direct Investing set in motion the chain of events that led to tastyworks coming to Canada, and that I have been able to watch it unfold, is amazing.

Also pretty cool is seeing that having a penchant for disruption, a passion for giving online investors great experiences, and keeping your hair long can end up working out after all.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

Hitting Rock Bottom

In this post, a 40-something investor with a wife and children asks for advice on how to rebuild after a financial catastrophe – that he brought upon his family through a series of bad bets on leveraged ETFs. Hundreds of Redditors offer words of encouragement and advice on everything from investing in simple ETFs to being grateful for family during tough times.

Risky Business?

A new investor with a lot of money to invest for 20+ years asks in this post how risky an ETF is and wants to know if a HISA or GIC would be a better choice. Redditors have strong opinions on the matter.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on another edition of the Roundup. As alluded to in the opening, there’s a lot happening this month, and the Oprah interview is just the tip of the iceberg. We’re still tuning up the new features on the website and are looking forward to upcoming enhancements. While we might not get Oprah as a guest contributor (just yet), we are looking forward to including more interviews with interesting folks in the near future. In the meantime, we want to wish our readers tuning in today (Monday) a happy International Women’s Day and a profitable week ahead!

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Discount Brokerage Deals & Promotions – March 2021

*Updated March 23* It seems that time flies when you’re hurtling towards the RRSP contribution deadline. At least, that’s the sentiment among many-an-online brokerage as the start of March heralds a new month as well as the end of the busiest stretch in the year for most online brokerages. 

And, speaking of busy, the end of RRSP season also means that many online brokerage deals and promotions have expired or will be expiring soon. Specifically, offers from most of Canada’s largest bank-owned online brokerages are set to expire in the first week of March, drastically reducing the number of cash back offers for DIY investors hoping to open an online trading account.

Interestingly, the news isn’t all bad. Wealthsimple Trade actually launched a new promotion at the tail end of February that is part referral bonus, part contest, and offers clients who refer in new customers a shot at winning one of six prizes of $10,000. The timing and nature of this offer, are like most things Wealthsimple Trade, a challenge to other incumbents in the space. 

“Normally” promotions filter out at this point with only a select number of online brokerages launching new offers which generally extend through the spring. Wealthsimple Trade’s new offer, described below, is relatively short in duration, large in terms of prize money and lands exactly at the point in the calendar where activity is busiest. 

Also new to kick off March, the deals and promotions experience at Readers can still get a quick overview of the latest deals and promotions offered by Canadian online brokerages in this post, but we’ve now added interactive tools to search for and filter deals information based on different parameters like the kind of offer, or account type or even the minimum required deposit. 

The good news for DIY investors is that despite the big pull back in offers from some of the bank-owned online brokerages, smaller brokerages might use this opportunity to launch some new offers without having to fight for a crowded field. There is a higher-than-historically-normal amount of interest in trading and investing which means there are still online investors interested in opening up new accounts. While it is not at the excessive levels seen last March, it is actually a bullish signal for online brokerages to continue to compete by providing some kind of incentive offer. 

We’ll continue to monitor the turnover in the deals space and if you have any offers or promotions that would be of interest to other online investors, let us know so we can highlight them here. 

Expired Deals

At the time of publication there are no deals that have expired however here are the list of deals scheduled to expire on the first day of March:

March 1:

  • Qtrade Investor Cash Back 
  • Scotia iTRADE Cash Back
  • TD Direct Investing Cash Back

Extended Deals

No extended deals to report at this time. 

New Deals

*Updated March 23: National Bank Direct Brokerage (NBDB) has just (re)launched a commission-free trade offer. They are offering up to 100 commission-free trades, which are good for one year, to individuals who sign up for a new account. This promotion is open to new and existing clients and expires at the end of June. See the deals and promotions section for more details.*

Wealthsimple Trade has launched a new contest combined with their referral program that offers existing clients who refer in new clients the opportunity to enter a draw for one of six prizes of $10,000. 

This new promotion, which runs until March 15th, enables existing clients to refer in a new client and if that new client trades at least $100, then the referrer gets $25 plus one entry into the contest and the referee gets $10. Draws for winners will take place on March 2nd, 9th and 16th and in order to enter or receive the prize, an individual must hold or open a Wealthsimple Trade account. Be sure to read the terms and conditions for more information. 

Looking for the deals & promotions data? Head over to the new online brokerage deals index to browse through active promotions.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – March 1, 2021

Even though February is the shortest month of the year, it seems with all of the activity that it flew by even faster than normal. Of course, now that March is here, the theme of the month is going to turn toward spring, and that means some big changes.

In this edition of the Roundup, we roll out the long-awaited new website format for and, with it, lean into a whole new experience for DIY investors and industry enthusiasts looking for information on the online brokerage space. Also, this edition of the Roundup features a series of quick highlights of important news stories that we didn’t get a chance to feature throughout the month. As always, we close out with DIY investor comments from Twitter and the investor forums.  

SparxTrading 2.0 Goes Live

If you’re a regular reader of, you might have noticed something different. Like, very different.

Yes, the website is now in live beta, and while there are still lots of changes coming, we thought what better way to celebrate the end of RSP season than with the launch of a new website for DIY investors to be able to navigate the world of online investing with.

A lot has changed about the world of DIY investing since the launch of the original website (which happened in 2011). Events in the stock market in early 2021, as well as much of the activity after March of 2020, have put the conversation about trading online back into the spotlight.

While we didn’t know that there would be a massive catalyst for getting individuals interested in DIY investing, one thing hasn’t changed about that world: it’s still more confusing than it needs to be. With more than a dozen firms in Canada offering online brokerage services and solutions, figuring out what’s new, relevant, or helpful at any of these firms takes a lot of research, and oftentimes the information is presented in unique – and sometimes unintuitive – ways. So, to help sift through the maze of different providers, features, and pricing, we built

The new website stays true to the original mission of speeding up the research process, but it has been updated for the world in 2021 and beyond. To start, one of the major considerations of the new website has been to streamline the number of menu options and focus on what many DIY investors rely on SparxTrading to help solve.

The new core sections of the website focus on Canadian online brokerage deals, reviews, comparisons, and news.

Unlike the world that first launched in, there isn’t nearly the kind of effort being put into investor education these days, nor is there a lack of reliable resources on getting oriented or started with trading online. As such, these sections have been removed from the site.

There are now several large, reputable, accessible organizations across Canada that provide unbiased and reliable advice on investing for beginners (such as and as well as a number of communities online that help shepherd investors through the myriad of issues that come up in the normal course of tackling DIY wealth management.

Another notable change is moving away from relying on tables for most of the comparisons and instead utilizing a more dynamic interface that computes what users are most interested in.

In the deals section, for example, there are calculators and filters that enable users to specify which online brokerages are most relevant to them as well as which account types and deal types they are most interested in.

The online brokerage deals calculator walks users through a series of short questions to help identify the kinds of promotions that are most relevant to what they’re interested in. This saves time analyzing information that may not be of interest for those users who are more informed about what they want to do more research on.

We also revamped the design and navigation through the online brokerage review section. The new online brokerage reviews feature the quick info section that highlights to users some of the most essential details, like the standard trade commission pricing, as well as other features that are popular with DIY investors, like commission-free ETFs.

Also on the online brokerage review page is a revamped breakdown section that covers the account types offered by an online brokerage, their fees and requirements, their trading commissions, and their most recent and historical rankings. This data is helpful to DIY investors doing their research, and because it is standardized from one brokerage to the next, it makes it much easier to comparison shop.

Speaking of comparisons, this feature has been totally revised on the new website to enable users on mobile phones as well as on full screens to do complex research. The online brokerage comparison tool allows users to compare up to three online brokerages side by side. The primary filter that is used is the account type, since many online investors go shopping for a new online brokerage because they are looking for specific access points to invest online.

With so much information available to be compared, the results are compartmentalized for quicker research. Users can dive into information on account types, commission rates, options trading, deals and promotions, and mobile app ratings in as much or as little detail as they need to.

Finally, the deep-dive content that we know our readers enjoy has now been bundled under the “news” section of the website. Included in this category are blog articles and regular features like the Weekly Roundup, plus other articles on the Canadian online brokerage space. New to this section is the ability to filter posts according to the online brokerage that is mentioned in the article, as well as the ability to filter posts about deals and promotions and to filter for Weekly Roundups.

There are lots of new features and moving parts, so as we push forward from this beta launch, we’ll be working through the inevitable gaps and hiccups that accompany an ambitious overhaul. Users can also expect to see new artwork and a refreshed look and feel to the experience.

It will be interesting to hear feedback from you, the reader, and from users of the site. We’re excited to be actively working to deploy more new features to the website, to truly transform the experience that online investors will have when shopping for and learning about Canadian online brokerages.  

Let us know your feedback here!

Recap of Interesting Stories

There’s so much happening in and around the world of online investing that we don’t always get the chance to dive into every story that crosses our radar.

Questrade Moonwalks Journal Fee

Having covered the online brokerage industry in Canada for many years, we’re always interested to see history repeat itself. In this case, Questrade recently found themselves facing a bit of déjà vu when they announced they would be introducing a journaling fee – something that would impact the individuals typically looking to save money on currency conversions.

The outcry on investor forums, in particular on Reddit, was enough to get Questrade’s attention and prompt them to reverse course on deploying a journaling fee (at this time).

This isn’t the first time Questrade’s decision to launch a new fee has been met with discontent in online investor forums. In 2012, we reported that Questrade was intending to launch inactivity fees after building much of their brand identity around being the low-cost online brokerage (that also did not charge inactivity fees). The ensuing firestorm from online investors caused Questrade to first delay then modify the deployment of inactivity fees. Interestingly, it was just last year that they once again waived inactivity fees.

If there’s one thing 2021 has shown the investing industry, it’s that users on Reddit (and on social media more broadly) can have a significant influence on the decisions of the service providers in the online brokerage space.

It’s tough to imagine a scenario in which customers would be happy (or wouldn’t be unhappy) with a raise in rates or fees, but in addition to the hiking of the fee, there was also significant confusion and ire at charging users for pursuing an online channel instead of using the phone, especially given the current climate of wait times.

Interactive Brokers’ Accelerating Growth

It’s funny how time flies when you’re in the middle of breaking trading volume and account sign-up records. At least that’s what we think is the sentiment over at Interactive Brokers. This story has been simmering since the beginning of February, when Interactive Brokers released their trading figures for the prior month (January).

While it might have been overshadowed by the almost-end-of-the-financial-world, some exceptional performance metrics released by Interactive Brokers indicate how strong the surge in investor interest has been in the new year.

To put a finer point on it, Interactive Brokers saw a 221% increase in net new accounts on a month-over-month basis and an almost 700% increase year over year. In January 2021, Interactive Brokers reported opening 116,000 net new accounts compared to 14,700 in January 2020.

This surge in interest also was reflected in trading activity. Daily average revenue trades (DARTs) were up 43% month over month and 220% year over year. The convergence of a white-hot market for cryptocurrencies as well as volatility in the stock market likely contributed to the sharp increase in individuals opening up Interactive Brokers accounts.

With February’s stats on deck for release, it will be interesting to see how the stampede of interest into markets fared against the trading restrictions imposed by Interactive Brokers and others.

Wealthsimple Trade Launches Referral Contest

If there’s one thing that Wealthsimple Trade is not lacking, it’s creativity. In the final stretch of February, they launched their latest promotion: a contest to win $10,000. This new contest, which has six prizes of $10,000 up for grabs, links entries to the number of referrals individuals generate. As with several other online brokerages, Wealthsimple Trade also makes use of a referral program. In the case of Wealthsimple Trade’s referral program, the referring individual gets $25 and the referee gets $10.    

For most online brokerage referral programs, there isn’t much incentive beyond a modest cash bonus. As a result, the programs largely depend on a combination of an individual knowing about the program, having a positive experience with the brand, and seeking out the referral bonus. In the case of the new Wealthsimple Trade promo, $10,000 for a giveaway makes for a great incentive and headline. There has been a significant uptake in their referral program, with requests to use a promo code becoming more and more popular as evangelists and zealous users push the Wealthsimple Trade promotion, boosting the reach of the online brokerage.

Given the short time frame of the contest (it runs through March 15th) and the fact this is limited to a referral program, it will be interesting to see if the cost of the program ultimately ends up generating the kind of new client that Wealthsimple is looking for. If nothing else, the contest is a unique way to have the Wealthsimple Trade name become more familiar among the stakeholders who they’re targeting the most.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

A Helping Hand

In this post, a family member asks how to start an investing account for a relative with a disability. Fellow investors respond with helpful suggestions such as looking into Registered Disability Savings Plans (RDSPs), which offer matching grant money from the government.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on a very busy month. With the RSP deadline just a few hours away (at the time of publishing), there’s also going to be a significant amount of turnover predicted in the deals and promotions section this upcoming week. March is also the beginning of Fraud Prevention Month and is host to both St. Patrick’s Day and the first day of spring. At, we will also be very busy polishing up the new website and working on new features. However busy February was, March is already shaping up to have its fair share of big stories. Here’s hoping the week, and the month, ahead keep you green.