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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – June 28, 2021

There’s no doubt about it, summer is here. While the prescription for most folks is to take it easy, online brokerages have been doing anything but resting up so far this year.

In this month-end edition of the Roundup, we focus on the launch of a new trading dashboard by a big bank-owned online brokerage who is hoping to make strides with the active DIY investing crowd. More new features abound as we highlight announcements at popular online brokerages and some associated chatter from the DIY investor forums.

RBC Direct Investing Launches New Trading Tools

As any seasoned online investor knows, being adaptable and capable of change is a prerequisite to finding new and interesting opportunities to invest in. That said, when it comes to the platform and interface used to pursue those opportunities, changing things around can often be a stressful affair – especially for those individuals who like to have things “just so” or who are familiar enough with the way things have been for some time. Inertia, it seems, is the enemy of momentum.

This past week, one of Canada’s largest and most recognizable bank-owned online brokerages, RBC Direct Investing, officially announced the launch of yet another new feature this year: a new trading dashboard.

At its core, the trading dashboard is intended to provided active investors with a nimble environment in which to manage and execute trades of stocks and ETFs. Actively trading stocks is more time and opportunity-sensitive than passively trading stocks, and as a result, the features required to make and act upon decisions quickly need to be able to support that.

As popular as RBC Direct Investing may be with investors, one of the areas in which several of their bank-owned peers, such as TD Direct Investing and Scotia iTRADE, have managed to outcompete RBC Direct Investing has been in the active trader segment, specifically because of the trading platform experience.

The existing (and now “Old”) RBC Direct Investing trading dashboard provided some of the essential features of a trading-focused user experience, such as the ability to efficiently place trades, and monitor watchlists and level 2 activities.

In the newest incarnation of the active trading experience, RBC Direct Investing has maintained the purpose of the trading dashboard, which is to provide a streamlined trading experience, but has completely redesigned how users can manage information related to tracking and trading stocks and ETFs.

Of the many changes to the user experience that the new trading dashboard introduced, one of the most striking is that the new dashboard enables significant customization of how information gets organized.

By using floating windows, known as widgets, inside of a “workspace,” a user can organize account information, watchlists, charts, quotes, and more in virtually any layout that best suits them. And with five workspaces that can be easily navigated through, there is enough opportunity to track a respectable amount of information quickly and efficiently.

Another huge improvement to the trading experience is the charting on the new trading dashboard. Although it takes a little getting used to, once over the learning curve, there are multiple chart indicators that users can do research with. And, for active traders, it is nice to be able to look for different kinds of technical setups as well as to create notes on the charts themselves. Being able to annotate things like entry and exit points along with reasons on the chart is a big time-saver.

Ironically, one of the biggest strengths of the new approach to design and rendering of trading-oriented information is that with so many moving parts, finding where things are is going to take some getting used to. While watchlists are at the core of the transition from the old system to the new, not all the information about a security that was available in the old version is available in the new (yet).

On that last point, it is clear that RBC Direct Investing is actively collecting feedback on their new trading platform experience, and will (likely) be continuously working to enhance the offering for DIY investors, so this new platform will still evolve from its current state. The nice thing about the configuration of the design is that it is very modular, so changes and improvements can be made without negatively impacting all clients and new enhancements.

In turning to design and modern interfaces, the new dashboard feels more at home in 2021 than does its predecessor. That said, the new interface also has new jargon for DIY investors to have to learn in order to navigate this platform. For example, labels such as “Hub” and “X-ray” do not clearly convey what those things do, which then requires users to learn and remember this information. If there’s an area in which the dashboard will have to be mindful, it’s focusing on being intuitive while at the same time providing something unique to the brand.

Recognizing that active investors and traders have different, and likely more complex, needs and requirements than novice investors, the new trading dashboard is a step in the right direction for RBC to provide these valuable segments of users with enhanced functionality. By enabling a highly customizable interface, the platform experience can be configured by the user and thus change along with their changing needs and preferences. If there’s one thing that can be counted on, it’s that the world of DIY investing is going to continue to change. The challenge for all Canadian online brokerages is whether or not they can keep up.

More Online Brokerage Features Keep Coming

RBC Direct Investing wasn’t the only Canadian online broker making big feature announcements this past week. Three other online brokerages had new features to showcase, which is a clear signal that the self-directed investing space is going to be incredibly busy heading into the end of the year.

All of the new features will undoubtedly need to be marketed as well, so it seems like even though new items are going live in the summer, they’re going to be around and in the spotlight for quite some time.

Here’s a run-down of some important new developments:

Interactive Brokers Launches Credit Card in Canada

Convenience has always been one area that bank-owned online brokerages in Canada have enjoyed a clear advantage over independent brokerages. Whether it’s Canada Post, tech giants like Apple, or retailers like Walmart, the walls around the banking business are being pursued on a number of fronts. This past week, the credit card landscape in Canada just got a little more crowded, and the online brokerage space a whole lot more interesting, as Interactive Brokers Canada announced the arrival of the prepaid Mastercard for Canadians.

This credit card has been available to Interactive Brokers clients in the US for several years, and offers incredibly low interest rates. The fact that it is now being rolled out into Canada is a signal that this program can be delivered cost effectively and with a high degree of confidence. In short, Interactive Brokers has likely figured out how to position this service to its clients – many of whom are active traders – as a way to deepen the relationship with these clients.

While the headline and interest rate will undoubtedly get the attention of financially savvy investors, the details for this card will certainly be a bit of a barrier to adoption. In particular, there are restrictions on the number of point of sale transactions that can be done in a day, as well as limits on withdrawals and purchase amounts.

That limitation in mind, combined with the ultra-low interest rate, suggests that this product offering may represent an alternative to having to tap into a HELOC. With an advertised interest rate of 1.63% (at the time of publication), it will almost certainly raise some eyebrows. In several reddit forums, it has already generated an interesting discussion regarding how and when this kind of card could be useful.

Questrade Bulks Up on Research

This past week, Questrade announced its latest feature category: more robust research. Using “big data” to process multiple input points, the new service for Questrade clients, called TipRanks, aggregates and reports investor data and provides tools for DIY investors to conduct additional research.

While research may not seem like the most popular user feature, in reality it makes a big difference to finding or validating a trading decision. Historically, Questrade has lagged behind its peers in the research component, however, this latest foray into the research pool will be interesting to watch.  

From the Forums

Who Let the Doge Out?

This past week offered Canadian online investors a boost as Wealthsimple added 14 new coins to its suite of cryptocurrencies offered to trade. With so many coins available to be traded now, users on this reddit post weighed in on the expansion of crypto trading at Wealthsimple, and shared what coins they’d love to see become available.

Mass Market

With a clear interest in increasing the accessibility of investing, is it any wonder that marketing would need to be involved? Cue Wealthsimple Trade, who was called out in a (mostly respectful) exchange on reddit. At issue is the saturation of advertising for Wealthsimple Trade and how clients and observers are “not over it.”

Into the Close

Canada Day is just around the corner, and the week ahead will be shorter because of the statutory holiday. Similarly, the US statutory holiday the following week will also slow things down on the trading front for Canadian DIY investors. Wherever you choose to spend this year’s holidays, we hope it is safe and restful.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – June 21, 2021

Welcome to the official start of summer. With the weather getting nicer, and folks making plans to get out and about, you might be pondering some big thoughts, like where a cow goes on vacation – it’s to the moovies. Yes, pun intended. Here’s hoping all the dads and father figures enjoyed Father’s Day.

Blockbuster features continue to surface this year, and in this summer-ized version of the Roundup, we review an interview with the founder of Interactive Brokers who talked about meme stocks (like the movie chain AMC) and several new features that are slated to be game changers for this innovation-focused brokerage. Also in the new features column, a potentially big new feature – fractional shares – possibly being tested. Find this and DIY investors encountering trading outages in the stories from the forums.

New Feature Spotlight: Interactive Brokers Reveals Big Features Coming Soon

There’s an old trader’s adage that says don’t fight the tape. Most people understand this in terms of the saying “the customer is always right,” or “listen to what the market wants.” In looking at the online brokerage industry, it seems that catering to what the customer wants might be setting the financial and social infrastructure of the world down a dangerous path – or so one executive at an online broker might have us believe.

Heading into the summer, we’ve already observed a flood of new features being announced at Canadian online brokerages, as well as at their US counterparts. Earlier this month, for example, we’ve noted that, at Canadian online brokers, faster account funding has started to surface as an incremental innovation. In the US online brokerage space, this year we’ve seen some interesting developments come from Robinhood in the form of early access to IPOs (likely as a lead up to their IPO), and just announced this month from Interactive Brokers, the launch of cryptocurrency trading by the end of the summer.

News of the announced rollout was delivered by Thomas Peterffy, the founder of Interactive Brokers, at the most recent Piper Sandler Global Exchange & FinTech Conference on June 9.

The interview itself was very intriguing. Contextually speaking, it was fascinating to hear Peterffy’s pessimism with the global state of affairs and disbelief at people buying digital coins on the one hand, while later announcing the launch of cryptocurrency trading (of those very same coins) on the other.

Although he has formally stepped down as CEO of Interactive Brokers, he is still actively campaigning on behalf of the brand, and his lack of enthusiasm about the cryptocurrency product was evident.

Normally, Peterffy brings a clear passion for all things trading. But in this case, it seemed like capitulation to what customers and the market was asking for that led to the decision to launch a cryptocurrency trading offering. One of the formal challenges he cited was ensuring that the trading of cryptocurrencies would be 100% safe – something he deferred providing details into until the product launch at the end of the summer.

While the news of a new product offering launch is big, Peterffy also dropped a hint of another feature announcement that is “coming soon.”

When asked about the way in which the impact of the global pandemic affected customer service, Peterffy revealed that automation was the key to solving many problems, but it could not solve all of them. His answer to discussing customer service was positioned from the perspective of the business itself, breaking down the need for customers to access speaking to an agent in terms of dollars per hour spent on servicing a client.

In the final analysis, Peterffy’s view was that it should not cost more to service the client than the client is worth to the firm. And, it was at that point that he revealed that Interactive Brokers is working on something interesting related to client service, and potentially something that could bring down the cost of servicing clients.

There were several other really interesting nuggets revealed by Peterffy as to the direction and position of Interactive Brokers on a number of fronts, but the final one to highlight was his response to new account growth and what the future may hold for Interactive Brokers.

Specifically, as we’ve noted in the Roundup last month, there has been a consistent and significant downward trend in the number of new accounts being opened this year at Interactive Brokers since the numbers peaked in January. The graph below illustrates this trend, and based on the numbers from May, this is the fourth consecutive month over month decline in the net new account growth. Although there were just over 26,000 net new accounts opened at Interactive Brokers in May, this represented just shy of a 24% decline compared to the number of new accounts opened in April, and reflects a drop of just about 78% from the number of net new accounts opened in January.

Peterffy’s take on what drives new account growth was especially noteworthy. In his response, he stated that the biggest source of new clients at Interactive Brokers is through referrals – somewhere in the neighbourhood of 33%. Regardless of what channel a new client comes in from, the fascinating thing, according to Peterffy, is that the percentages from the sources remain about the same. So, what ultimately drives online investors into opening an online brokerage account is the “buzz” around what’s hot in the markets, and as it turns out, consumers will choose or consider an online brokerage that they’re familiar with. The implications of this revelations are really important – it suggests that online brokerages would be better off continuously advertising. However, the real advantage for doing so would emerge when a “hot” story drives online investors to market.

Although the interview with Peterffy was relatively short, there was a wealth (pun intended) of insights related to investing online. The pessimism about the global and financial state of affairs for online investors was palpable, and summarized by the following statement he made:

“We’ve completely lost our grounding, we’ve become unhinged, nobody knows what our values are, we are floating and hope we land right side up.”

The context of these comments generally center around what investors today are piling into – such as meme stocks – and that the shortcomings of the regulatory frameworks that are currently in place for investors are being laid bare by online investor “armies” that have shown the ability to push back against larger institutional players. This pessimism is worth paying attention to, however, as the domino effect of losses in the meme stocks has a possibility (and a likely one suggested by Peterffy) to be catastrophic.

In the meanwhile, the big picture takeaway from Peterffy’s comments is that whether or not he likes it, everyone, including online brokerages, will have to confront a brave new world of “investing.” That means preparing technical systems for wild volatility. And for other online brokerages hoping to push their own growth agenda, it means being ever visible in anticipation of when the next big thing hits. Because, when it does, that’s when investors will really start to pay attention.

From the Forums

Wealthsimple Testing Fractional Shares?

Online brokerages continue to push new features out this year, however, some may be dropping hints before they go completely live. If this new feature from Wealthsimple Trade turns out to be true, it is yet another possible game changing feature that will undoubtedly capture the interest of DIY investors. According to this reddit post, Wealthsimple Trade is apparently piloting fractional share trading on select securities. While it may be too early to trade in fractions of a share, the presence of a fractional trading tag is raising more than a few eyebrows among DIY investors. And, if true, it will undoubtedly push other Canadian online brokerages to move even faster to deliver innovative offerings for investors.

Stability Now

It’s been a tough month for system and trading outages at Canadian bank-owned online brokerages. Earlier this month, TD Direct Investing had an outage during market hours, and this past week, CIBC Investor’s Edge users suffered a trading outage during market hours. Angry clients took to social media to vent their frustration and provide a clear picture of what DIY investors think when an online brokerage system goes offline during the trading day. Check out what investors had to say in this reddit post.

Into the Close

This week, we’d like to call special attention to Indigenous People’s Day which recognizes the heritage, diverse cultures, and achievements of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. It is our hope that readers make some time to reflect on the history of the Indigenous peoples in Canada, as hard as it may be, and be an advocate for a building a better future. An important starting point is the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – June 14, 2021

Taking a Moment

There’s a lot that goes into the production of a Weekly Roundup that many readers don’t see. Looking back on the week that was is as much a habit as knowing which letters to capitalize in an online brokerage’s name. Despite the hundreds of times having done this, occasionally something happens in a week that forces a pause from business as usual.

This past week there was a terrible tragedy that took place in London, Ontario. Four members of a family were murdered simply for looking and being different than what someone decided was appropriately Canadian. They were murdered because they were Muslim.

Like many Canadians, it is hard to find words to capture how thoroughly awful and traumatic this event was. And so, we are left with yet another heavy but necessary exercise: to not turn away from the terrible news but this time to watch and engage.

The news cycle will move on before the people will. A young boy will be left to figure out the rest of his life without his parents and sister beside him. Muslims and other religious and ethnic communities across Canada will forever be slightly less trusting that everything will be OK.

Before getting back to business as usual, I wanted to call attention to Islamophobia and the responsibility all of us bear to call out prejudice when and where we see it.

Please take a moment and either watch or read about this family.

All of us have a part to play in looking out for each other.

A Tale of Two Tables: 2021 MoneySense Online Brokerage Rankings Released

It’s hard to believe, but the DIY investor datapalooza (or datastravaganza?) that is characterizing 2021 continues to chug along well into June.

Earlier this month, a popular Canadian investment publication, MoneySense magazine, published their 2021 Canadian online brokerage rankings, essentially capping off the last of the major discount broker rankings for the summer.

Even though the fall feels far away, online brokerages are undoubtedly at work planning for their ramp up at the end of the year. These latest Canadian online brokerage rankings will ultimately prove to be a big part of what will help online investors shape their perceptions and decisions around which online broker they choose to go with, and ultimately impact how online brokerages market and talk about themselves for the rest of the year.

Why is this Online Brokerage Ranking Important?

Now in its ninth year, the MoneySense rankings have become a go-to resource for many DIY investors curious about the online brokerage marketplace in Canada. As the landscape evolves for online brokerages and self-directed investing, so too do these rankings.

Helping MoneySense stay on top of those changes is Surviscor, a financial services research firm that evaluates Canadian online brokerages across a number of different parameters.

Frequent readers of the Weekly Roundup will already be familiar with the research and in particular, the online brokerage rankings, produced by Surviscor. For a timely throwback, be sure to check out our Look Back/Look Ahead series featuring Glenn LaCoste, President and CEO of Surviscor, and the author of this year’s MoneySense online brokerage rankings.

With yet another online brokerage ranking appearing this year, it’s a lot for online investors to digest. The MoneySense rankings in particular offer an interesting way to see the importance of defining what’s “best” when it comes to online brokerages. Also, in digging through the data, we uncovered an interesting relationship between a major driver of investor decision making, cost of services, and the performance on measures of investor experience – like service.

There’s lots to dig into, so grab some caffeine and get ready to scroll.


Online brokerage rankings and evaluations help to make sense of the often-confusing question: “which online brokerage is best?”

With several Canadian online brokerage rankings available for online investors to consult, it is important to come back to a familiar concept – that each online brokerage ranking measures the idea of what’s best in a different way.

The MoneySense online brokerage rankings are often cited as a resource to evaluate almost all of Canada’s online brokerages. Like most of the other comprehensive rankings, information is published annually, and as a result, the data takes a snapshot of the past year or so in the world of DIY investing at Canadian online brokerages.

It is important to note that the data for the MoneySense online brokerage rankings comes from financial services research firm Surviscor. Specifically, according to the methodology, the MoneySense rankings are based on a combination of the following Surviscor reviews:

1. Online experience

2. Mobile experience

3. Cost of services experience

4. Service experiences

Points were assigned to each online brokerage according to a points-based system in which each brokerage received a score based on its ranking within the seven sections of the review:

1st = 5 points

2nd = 4 points

3rd = 3 points

4th = 2 points

5th = 1 point

The overall score was the sum of the awarded sections and reported as points.

In addition to reporting on the points earned by each brokerage as part of this review, the MoneySense rankings also reported the “Best online brokers” by category. The breakdown is as follows:

  • Best online broker for fees
  • Best online broker for customer service
  • Best online broker for ETF investing
  • Best online broker for stock investing
  • Best online broker for financial literacy
  • Best online broker for market data
  • Best online broker for customer onboarding
  • Best online broker for mobile experience

Within each of these categories, the top two firms were reported.

Strengths & Limitations

One of the strengths of the review is that there is lots of data reported for investors to consider, and it has been published in a way that identifies the top two firms in each of the stated categories. This saves a lot of time for investors or readers who simply want or need a quick answer from a reputable source.

A big plus this year is that there is a companion publication on the Surviscor blog which dives into detail on the scores and provides more context on the process.

In terms of limitations, presenting this volume of information can be a challenge. For example, the methodology stated:

“Each firm was assigned a score based on its ranking within the seven sections of review (5 points for first; 4 for second; 3 for third; 2 for fourth; and 1 for fifth), and the overall score was the sum of the awarded sections.”

Given that there are eight reported categories (noted above), it was not immediately clear which seven sections of the review were being referred to, and as a result, validating the math or seeing how scores varied across sections would have added important context to rankings.

For example, one of the immediate questions that jumps to mind with the points system is what the maximum possible score would be?  Without that information, it is hard for the reader to get a sense of just how good a particular brokerage is. And, when the scores are close, or tied, the value of points and how they get calculated becomes even more important to contextualize results.


The results for the 2021 MoneySense online brokerage rankings are shown in the following table.

FirmMoneySense PointsMoneySense Rank
National Bank Direct Brokerage312
TD Direct Investing253
Qtrade Direct Investing224
BMO InvestorLine95
Scotia iTRADE66
RBC Direct Investing57
Desjardins Online Brokerage48
Wealthsimple Trade48
Virtual Brokers48
Canaccord Genuity Direct48
CIBC Investor’s Edge212
HSBC InvestDirect113
Laurentian Bank Discount Brokerage014

Questrade took the top spot in this year’s rankings with a total of 36 points, followed closely by National Bank Direct Brokerage (31 points), and TD Direct Investing in third place (with 25 points). Again, without a maximum score, it is difficult to know exactly how well any one brokerage could have done.

The methodology states that there are seven “sections” and a five-point maximum which would imply a maximum score of 35. However, Questrade has clearly exceeded that score, hence some confusion.

Data outside of the top five brokerages was not published in the MoneySense rankings, however, it was available on the Surviscor site, which helped identify additional context on how the entire field of online brokerages performed this year.

One of the first noteworthy items is just how sharp the drop off is from fourth to fifth place in these rankings. Qtrade Direct Investing placed fourth with 22 points. However, BMO InvestorLine, with just nine points, managed to make it into the top five.

Even though on a relative basis, a top five finish may not sound so bad, in the case of this year’s ranking, the distance between fourth and fifth is materially different.

Another interesting observation about the data is the number of firms who tied for eighth place. CG Direct, Desjardins Online Brokerage, Virtual Brokers, and Wealthsimple Trade are very, very different firms, and yet each tied for eighth place with four points.

Somewhat stunning are the positions of CIBC Investor’s Edge and HSBC InvestDirect, who placed 12th and 13th respectively. In the case of the former, being a “Big Five” bank-owned brokerage should in theory enable it to have the resources to score better, but with a score of two points, it implies that Investor’s Edge was rarely a top five brokerage in any of the evaluated categories. Similarly, HSBC InvestDirect scored one point, and it too barely placed in a top five finish in any of the categories measured.

Surviscor’s “behind the scenes” look at the MoneySense rankings also provided some additional context and important takeaways when it came to this year’s analysis. The following five statements were made in reference to the data and the items that online investors (and online brokerages) should pay attention to.

  • Beware the marketing when it comes to fees
  • Firms never get a second chance to make a first impression
  • Financial literacy is weak
  • Mobile experience is still not where it needs to be
  • $0 commission is not always worth it

With so much data to crunch, it can be a challenge for DIY investors and industry analysts alike to form a “big picture” of what’s going on in the online brokerage space.

Surviscor’s multiple studies to measure online brokerages got us curious, so we compiled the ranking data from each of the four online brokerage analyses cited in the MoneySense rankings, and crunched the numbers to see what the correlation would be between the combined rankings of each evaluation and the MoneySense ranking data.

Methodology, Part Deux

First a(nother) note on methodology. The rankings in each of the four different Surviscor evaluations used in the MoneySense ranking were averaged out and reported along with a standard deviation. The computed rank is one that we generated based on the average rank across each of the evaluations.

 To try and get as close to an apples-to-apples comparison of how different online brokerages ranked against each other in each of the four evaluations, it was necessary to make some minor adjustments to the data.

In the Service Experiences, Interactive Brokers was actually evaluated, so for the sake of consistency across comparisons, they were excluded from the data and the ranks of other brokerages adjusted upwards by one. Wealthsimple Trade was assigned the lowest value for not having been able to be measured. For the actual service experience scores, check the link here.

Adjustments were also made in the Online Experience and Mobile Experience rankings. Laurentian Bank Discount Brokerage and CG Direct were assigned the lowest rank since they did not offer anything that could be evaluated using those tools.


One of the first things to stand out is that the top four brokerages in the 2021 MoneySense online brokerage rankings are the same four online brokerages when computing scores across the four Surviscor evaluations, however, the order in which they appear is different.

In the computed rank, the measure that we calculated, Qtrade Direct Investing came in first, followed by National Bank Direct Brokerage, Questrade, and TD Direct Investing, respectively. What also stood out in the top three is that the average rank between Qtrade Direct Investing, National Bank Direct Brokerage, and Questrade is very close, ranging between 4.0 and 4.8. Having the standard deviation handy (shout out to the stats profs who drove home the point about standard deviations) as a measure of consistency, however, adds a bit more nuance to the top three online brokerages.

Specifically, Qtrade Direct Investing has a relatively low standard deviation (2.3) indicating their ranking is relatively consistent from one evaluation to the next. By comparison, Questrade has the highest standard deviation of the group (5.7), which points to the remarkably poor ranking they received in the Cost of Services evaluation (they ranked 13th). Having the context of all the data helps to illustrate where exactly the top three online brokerages excel relative to each other, and to see how consistently (or inconsistently) online brokerages are scoring.

Consistency cuts both ways, however.

RBC Direct Investing had the lowest standard deviation (1.2) of all of the rankings, implying a fairly consistent score across different evaluation studies. Their average rank was sixth, and the computed rank put them in fifth place overall.

By comparison, Virtual Brokers also had a very low standard deviation score (relatively speaking) at 2.1, but their average rank of 9.8 landed them with a computed rank of 13th overall. This implies that Virtual Brokers has consistently performed poorly on the four Surviscor evaluations for 2021.

It was also intriguing to note that after about eighth place in the MoneySense ranking, the divergence between these scores and the computed rank became more pronounced. In particular, CIBC Investor’s Edge ranked 12th in the MoneySense ranking but ninth in the computed ranking, only slightly behind Scotia iTRADE and Desjardins Online Brokerage.


Being able to step back and take a big picture view of the data provides a unique window into how the different evaluations generated by Surviscor come together, and how they compare to the MoneySense rankings.

When placed side by side, the combined Surviscor studies used in the MoneySense ranking show that firms that are strong on experiential factors, such as online, mobile, and service, tended to do better overall in the rankings.

Interestingly, with the exception of National Bank Direct Brokerage, firms that tended to do well on pricing had a negative correlation to performance on the MoneySense or combined Surviscor rankings. This points out that perhaps there is an inverse relationship between the cost of services and the experience of online investing.

Thus, having the additional data presented in a big picture format does help illustrate what exactly online investors would have to trade off. For example, in choosing between Questrade and National Bank Direct Brokerage, investors can see that the tradeoff might be one of “cost of services” versus “online experience.”

Clearly there is lots of data to explore, which can be both a pro and a con for online investors looking for a quick answer to “which online brokerage is best?”

The reality is that rankings help to compress a lot of the analysis into an easy to digest number. However, as illustrated above, how one defines “best” – even when using the same underlying data – can impact how specific brokerages are perceived and reported on by media, online brokerages themselves, and other DIY investors.

What is evident in looking at the big picture of this data is that the field of Canadian online brokerages is crowded, and with even more new entrants poised to add to the numbers, keeping on top of the evolving space is an ongoing challenge. For those that want to avoid the spreadsheets and comparisons, rankings offer a quick shortcut. But like everything else when it comes to investing online, it pays to do your homework.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on this week’s Roundup. It’s been a difficult week but here’s hoping we can look for, find, and create the good in the week ahead.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – June 7, 2021

With warmer weather around the corner, it looks like the Leafs may actually have some fans this summer after all. Couldn’t resist. Fortunately, it’s still spring and the theme of new beginnings and growth are very much in focus among Canadian online brokerages.

In this edition of the Roundup, new is en vogue. First, we take a look at the newest online brokerage deals and promotions, including an interesting development at one already popular online broker that’s sure to spur others into action. Next, we highlight the latest new blockbuster feature being launched by an online brokerage this season. To cap things off, we provide chatter from the investor forums reacting to scary glitches and instant deposits.

New Month, New Deals

And just like that, summer is only a few weeks away. June is now upon us, and with the start of a new month comes a chance to check in on the status of the deals and promotions being offered at Canada’s online brokerages.

This month, it’s a good news, bad news story for DIY investors on the hunt for a promotional bump. The good news is that there wasn’t a drop in the number of promotions, and there are signs that one of Canada’s increasingly popular online brokerages isn’t afraid to commit to promotions as a way to attract the attention of new clients. The not-so-great news for online investors is that after June, there are a pair of promotions that are scheduled to expire, which means that even though there is a good chance more deals are on their way, the exact timing isn’t clear.

Starting first with a quick scan of the current promotional picture, BMO InvestorLine had a new cash back promotion that launched on June 2nd to replace its outgoing cash back offer that expired on June 1st.

The new cash back promotion from BMO InvestorLine is very similar to the one that it replaced in that it’s a tiered promotion that offers increasing amounts of cash back bonuses as the amount deposited increases. The important difference with the new offer is that minimum deposit required to qualify for this promotion dropped from $25,000 to $15,000, a significantly lower amount.

The latest BMO InvestorLine promotion runs until August 31st and features cash back amounts ranging from $50 (for deposits of $15,000 to $49,999) to $2,000 (for deposits of $1M+).

Although not new this month, Wealthsimple Trade is now also part of the deals and promotions mix in a major way. In May they launched a “free stock” promotion for new cash account clients to receive a cash bonus in the equivalent amount of a stock chosen at random from a selection of eligible stocks.

Marketed to online investors as a “free stock” promo, this offer has garnered quite a bit of attention online. It also appears that this promotional offer has been so successful through several trial runs that a recent note from Wealthsimple Trade about its referral promotion indicates that it too will be switching to a “free stock” compensation model.

With Wealthsimple Trade joining in the deals and promotions pool at a time when most online brokerages are electing to stand on the sidelines, it appears to be open field for the newcomer online brokerage at a time when meme stock excitement has resurfaced.

Contextually, this poses a challenge for two other online brokerages with commission-free trading offers that expire at the end of the month.

National Bank Direct Brokerage’s massive 100 commission-free trade offer and HSBC InvestDirect’s 60 commission-free trade promotion are both set to expire by the end of June. National Bank Direct Brokerage has seen a boost to its publicity across Canada as it scored first place in a recent Surviscor ranking of online brokerages, as well as scoring first place in the J.D. Power Investor Satisfaction Study. Also, National Bank Direct Brokerage just launched their annual “Biggest Winner” ETF competition at the end of May, putting yet another spotlight onto this online broker.

The challenge posed by the entry of Wealthsimple Trade into the deals and promotion mix is that those brokerages with existing commission-free trade offers may want to consider extending them, or replacing them with even more competitive cash back bonuses.

Unlike the Big Five bank-owned online brokerages, National Bank Direct Brokerage and HSBC InvestDirect do not have the level of awareness or scale that their larger bank-owned brokerage competitors enjoy, despite being “bank owned.” Conversely, neither of these two bank-owned online brokerages are as well known as some of the “independent” brokerages known for lower cost trading – such as Questrade and Wealthsimple Trade.

Thus, if promotional offers are a low-cost tool used to boost awareness, either extending or launching new offers may be a way to stay relevant and competitive across the summer. With meme stocks and cryptocurrency trading still bubbling away, younger investors are continuing to take note. And while that is generally good for all online brokerages, those online brokers with highly competitive offers will undoubtedly find themselves being considered and recommended for deep value for growth-minded investors.  

Summer Blockbusters are Back

Grab a meme stock and some free popcorn, because it looks like the summer of blockbuster announcements from online brokerages is here.

After a frothy start to markets this year, it seems that Canadian online brokerages are now the ones that are going to be in the spotlight when it comes to making big announcements.

In April and May, there were some significant new features launched by RBC Direct Investing and Wealthsimple Trade. Two weeks ago, BMO InvestorLine announced it was launching commission-free ETF trading on a selection of more than 80 ETFs. 

This past week it was Questrade’s turn.

In what seems like a direct shot across the bow to Wealthsimple Trade’s account funding time, Questrade announced, courtesy of a partnership with fintech startup Zum, that clients can now fund their accounts instantly using Visa Debit, with up to $3,500. By comparison, Wealthsimple Trade enables users to deposit only $250 instantly, or for those willing to pay $3 per month for Wealthsimple Trade premium, the amount rises to $1,000.

The blockbuster features haven’t been limited to Canada either. In the US online brokerage space, Robinhood announced in late May that it is launching a new feature enabling investors to participate in IPOs at the IPO price, rather than having to wait to purchase the security once it hits the open market. This is a huge development for retail investors who have typically been unable to tap into the massive gains that certain IPOs experience, because the investors were not connected to institutional investors or perhaps not wealthy enough to be given early access.

The US online brokerage market is an important proxy for what the world of DIY investing looks like when commission rates all but fall to zero.

What has been clear at online brokerages such as Robinhood, Schwab/Ameritrade, and others is that features and user experience tend to become areas of focus and innovation. Granted, how US online brokerages can monetize zero-commission trading is different than it is here in Canada. However, the likelihood that commissions stay at $9.95 as the standard price for much longer is low. In addition, even those online brokerages with lower commissions can’t stand still when it comes to innovation – they have to keep delivering better experiences to investors because other online brokerages will. (And new online brokerages are still coming to Canada, to boot.)

We’ve already witnessed a number of online brokerages concede ground on charging commissions for trading ETFs, either in part or entirely. As the Globe and Mail’s Rob Carrick put it in a recent article, “We now have some real momentum in getting rid of ETF trading commissions… There are now at least eight online brokers and trading apps that have at least partly eliminated the cost of buying and selling ETFs.” Given how popular ETFs are with online investors, the writing is on the wall at the remaining online brokerages that do not at least match if not beat this new ETF pricing paradigm.

And, as popular as ETFs are, Questrade’s launch of instant account funding clearly strikes at a nerve for DIY investors who want to be able to enjoy instantly jumping into opportunities. Friction, not change, is the new dirty word in technology conversations among financial services providers, and especially incumbent players in the online brokerage world. Instant account opening and funding are frontiers where too many Canadian online brokerages still fall short in the eyes of online investors. Based on Questrade’s latest push to enable instant funding of up to $3,500, they won’t be the last online broker to launch this feature. Several business days is an eternity when meme stock movements strike.

The merits and wisdom of trading fast-moving stocks aside, the reality is that investor behaviour during COVID-19 has shown that certain categories of investors have a very different risk appetite for trading volatility. Online brokerages who can reduce the friction between getting started and participating in exciting stories are themselves going to become the exciting stories that online investors talk about. And that conversation is now worth its weight in digital gold.

From the Forums

Care to Share?

It almost seems trivial, but expecting your online brokerage account view to display the correct information should be a given. Many clients of Wealthsimple Trade found out the hard way, however, that when it comes to online investing, just about anything can go wrong – including what should be the basic stuff. Check out what redditors had to say here and here about technical glitches that left clients scratching their heads at the data they were seeing in their account summaries.

Instant Gratification

One of the biggest stories to get online investors chatting this month (so far) was the launch of instant deposits at Questrade. Interestingly (and is usually the case), the discussions deviated from the new feature to cover issues with existing features, challenges other brokerages might face, and investor preferences when it comes to trading online. Read through the reactions here and here.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on another semi-short week courtesy of a long weekend in the US. Of course, for Leafs fans it certainly felt a lot longer. Again, couldn’t resist. There’s still lots on the radar for online investors that we didn’t get a chance to dive into, so stay tuned for more updates on the DIY investor data-palooza coming next week, and updates on more new features we didn’t have a chance to discuss this go-around. With stock markets at or near new all time highs, meme stocks making a comeback, and crypto now in the doge-house with investors, there’s almost certainly a plot twist in the making coming soon. Have a profitable week ahead!

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Discount Brokerage Deals & Promotions – June 2021

We’re officially in the home stretch to start of summer and like temperatures, we believe that online brokerage deals activity is slated to rise as the month progresses. For the moment, however, most Canadian online brokerages continue to take it easy.

Just because we’re not seeing a flood of online brokerage deals coming to market yet, however, does not mean that activity isn’t taking place behind the scenes.

In a world where unusual is the new normal, signals abound that the wave of investor enthusiasm that started the year (and that has characterized the past 12 months) is continuing to recede taking with it the volume of activity of new account opening at Canadian online brokerages. This is a net-positive for deal-seeking online investors because as investor supply decreases, online brokerages will necessarily look to new promotions as an option to attract new customers.

Another unusual development heading into the new month is deals activity at one of Canada’s newer online brokers – Wealthsimple Trade.

Having garnered a massive early interest based on zero-dollar commissions, this rapidly growing online broker has dialed up its affiliate promotion structure as well as using free stock and cash back offers (see below for more details). The result is armies of affiliate-revenue seeking amplifying Wealthsimple Trade to the broader public at a fraction of the cost that the competitors to Wealthsimple Trade are paying.

Thus, the costs of standing still on the deals and promotions front are not only starting add up for those online brokerages without some kind of campaign in place, they’re actually beginning to compound.

As we launch into a new month, it is worth pointing out that two promotions are set to expire at the end of June. National Bank Direct Brokerage’s huge commission-free trade offer as well as a commission-free trade promo by HSBC InvestDirect are both scheduled to conclude by month’s end.

Head over to the deals and promotions section to review the latest online brokerage offers and as always if there are any promotions for DIY investors that we’ve missed, let us know and we can update our deals section.

Expired Deals

As of the publication of the deals update, the only promotion that had technically expired was the spring cash back promotion from BMO InvestorLine. While it is often the case that BMO InvestorLine has offers for new accounts running throughout the year, they also just launched a slate of commission-free ETFs that is only beginning to be advertised. We’ll keep watching for updates to their promotional offers for any new offers that show up.

Extended Deals

No deal extensions to mention at this time

New Deals

Wealthsimple Trade added a “free stock” bonus promo to new users of the platform. This offer randomly selects stocks valued between $5 and $4,500 and new users are eligible to receive a cash bonus equal to the value of the stock from the pool of eligible stocks when they open a new non-registered account. According to the terms and conditions of the offer, about 90% of new clients receive a cash bonus offer worth less $50. There is no expiry date stated for this promotion.