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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – September 7, 2021

If you find it hard to believe that it’s already September, you’re not alone. With so much taking place this year, especially in the online brokerage industry, the months have flown by, and we now find ourselves on the cusp of what is usually the “busy season.” Another reason that time flies: it’s because we’re having fun.

After a marathon edition of the Weekly Roundup last week, we now return to a more digestible edition of online brokerage industry coverage. First, we launch into the deals and promotions updates to start the month and look at the increased importance that promotions are poised to play in a commission-free world. Next, we recap some other important developments, including the 10-year anniversary (that’s X in Roman numerals!) of the launch of Finally, we close out with commentary from the online investor forums.

Deals and Promotions Update

There are lots of different reasons people look forward to the start of a new month, but here at Sparx Trading, it’s a convenient time to review Canadian online brokerage deals and promotions.

In case you missed it, the big news this past month – perhaps this decade – is that National Bank Direct Brokerage eliminated commission fees for trading stocks and ETFs in August. This is still a very recent development, so while we have yet to witness any immediate reactions in pricing or promotional changes from Canada’s online brokers, we believe it will be a matter of time until we see other online brokers start to lower their pricing as well.

Given the lack of immediate reduction in pricing of commissions, online brokerage promotions and incentives are poised to take on an even more important role for Canadian online brokerages to secure existing accounts and even attract new ones.

Despite the immediate relevance that zero-commission trading provides to National Bank Direct Brokerage, one of the big challenges it faces is the “friction” that online investors who would rather not move. Another challenge is the fact that as an online brokerage, National Bank Direct Brokerage is relatively unknown compared to bigger bank-owned brokers or those that have been aggressively advertising, such as Questrade or Wealthsimple Trade.

Thus, Canadian online brokerages who aren’t yet ready to drop their commission prices to zero have a brief window of opportunity to show up big during the next few months. As such, we forecast that September through November will represent a very volatile period for Canadian online brokerages.

In this month’s deals and promotions, there’s a lot to report on already. Starting with the special Sparx Trading exclusive promotion from Questrade. The now famous Sparx88 promo code for Questrade accounts is having its sunset at the end of September, after having a run of just over four years.

It has delivered exceptional value for online investors opening an account with Questrade as one of the best commission-free offers at that online brokerage and played an important role in the promotions space after Questrade largely pulled back from offering multiple promotional offers.  

There some important changes taking place behind the scenes at Questrade, so we were informed it would no longer be possible to run this offer. For anyone who signs up using the promo code before the expiry date of September 30, they have until the end of December of this year to use up their commission credit.

On the expiry front, there were a pair of deals that officially concluded at the end of August – one from Scotia iTRADE as well as one from BMO InvestorLine. In keeping with historical trends, however, BMO InvestorLine replaced their outgoing cash back offer with a new cash back incentive. Interestingly, BMO InvestorLine’s newest promotion runs until the beginning of November, which is about the point of time in which we expect to see a surge in launches of online brokerage promotions.

Also worth noting, the minimum deposit requirement for the InvestorLine offer has been raised from $15,000 to $25,000. Currently, BMO InvestorLine is the only Canadian bank-owned online brokerage advertising a cash back promotion. Intriguingly, the only other Canadian online brokerage offering a cash back is Wealthsimple Trade, whose “free stock” sign up bonus offers self-directed investors some cash when opening a new account. Questrade and Scotia iTRADE have cash bonuses available through referral codes.

Another interesting development that we first spotted being advertised online in August was a commission-free trading offer from RBC Direct Investing.

Unlike some of its previous commission-free trading offers, RBC Direct Investing’s promotion was both larger and longer in duration. This new offer, which runs until the end of September, is for 50 commission-free trades that are good for two years. Previously, RBC Direct Investing’s free trade offer was typically 25 trades for one year, so this new promotion effectively doubles that.

The move to increase the size and duration of the commission-free trade offer is likely to be something other Canadian online brokerages consider when planning similar commission promotions. As mentioned above, by providing a longer time horizon for investors to use commission-free trades, there is less immediate pressure to switch brokerages and less pressure to lower commission levels outright, especially for passive investors or those who are not yet ready to make the leap to a lesser-known brokerage.

While the beginning of the month started with a shockwave of news, the end of the month provides a natural jumping off point for several online brokerages. Qtrade Direct Investing and RBC Direct Investing both have campaigns that are scheduled to expire at the end of the month, so it will be interesting to see what, if any, offers show up to replace them.

The ramp up to the start of RSP season is also just around the corner, which, based on everything that has transpired these past few weeks, suggests prime time for some big incentives to start showing up. Larger online brokerages may just roll the dice and come to market with similar offers as they had last year, but smaller or less popular online brokers are at a pivotal moment where they will have to be launching exceptional new features or introduce offers that are going either buy time or clients (or both).

With the move by National Bank Direct Brokerage catching many industry observers (including us!) by surprise, these next few weeks and months will bring a host of pleasant surprises for Canadian self-directed investors. And we haven’t even mentioned the new online brokerages slated to enter the online trading scene soon. It seems entirely fitting that “fall” is the season in which we’ll now start to see commission costs for online investors meaningfully drop. Stay tuned.

Online Brokerage Quick Takes

After the marathon read that was last week’s Roundup, we wanted to give readers a bit of a break with some quick highlights of other news stories around the online brokerage space that didn’t get as much press or coverage.

Wealthsimple Trade Increases Fractional Shares & Instant Deposits

The launch of fractional shares at Wealthsimple Trade earlier this year was a very big deal. Despite the rollout only featuring a handful of Canadian and US stocks, a few weeks ago, a lot more were added to the list of stocks eligible for fractional trading. At the time of publication, that list has now grown almost ten-fold to 150 stocks. The vast majority (115) of those stocks are US-listed securities, which, given their popularity, availability, and profitability to Wealthsimple Trade, makes sense.

However, the list of Canadian stocks (35) has some additional names which are very familiar to Canadian investors. Interestingly, on the list of US securities, there are also a number of ETFs.

This much wider selection is going to be of much greater appeal to investors, however, unsurprisingly, the demand for more Canadian securities is likely a priority for self-directed investors (rather than traders) in Canada.

Complementing the launch of more securities eligible for fractional shares is the increase in the amounts that can be funded instantly to Wealthsimple Trade from $1,000 to $5,000. The monthly subscription to enhance features on Wealthsimple Trade is currently $3 which also provides real time snap quotes from Canadian exchanges as well as Nasdaq.

Fast deposits of larger sums of money are an area that non-bank-owned online brokerages have struggled with in the past, so it is no surprise to see “account funding” be a feature that Questrade, as well as Wealthsimple Trade, are working to improve.

The summer has been a busy one for Wealthsimple Trade with no signs of a slowdown in terms of new feature releases. It appears that they are pushing very hard to have some very big features in place for RSP season, and with news coming out almost weekly on Wealthsimple Trade, it is hard to imagine other online brokerages being able to rest easy knowing that current pain points of Wealthsimple Trade customers are going to be that way for too much longer. Turns 10!

Also eclipsed by the big news from National Bank Direct Brokerage:’s official birthday!! It’s hard to fathom that we officially went live 10 years ago in September with a mission to help untangle the journey of self-directed investing and that we’ve been around for this long.

It has been quite the journey to where we are today. From a conversation among friends expressing frustration at the state of online investing to becoming one of the most important voices in the Canadian online brokerage industry, I certainly didn’t picture this world 10 years ago.

In so many ways, the world for online investors a decade ago was dramatically different than the one now. There was no inkling that commission-free trading was “a thing” and we were just coming out of the Great Financial Crisis, so sentiment on markets was understandably skeptical. Nevertheless, it was clear at that point that the world of online investing was prohibitively inaccessible to so many, and it was time to change that.

I would like to think that in some small way, we’ve helped improve the experience of online investors over the past decade, whether it’s been through making it easier to research online brokerages in Canada, improve access to deals and promotions, or advocating directly to leaders across the industry as to what online investors are interested in.

As anyone who knows the Canadian online brokerage landscape will tell you, change often happens slowly, so patience has been a defining trait since day one.

The first “official” post on the original Sparx Trading site is still available – it was a reference to an investment blog called Juggling Dynamite, which is still going strong today. And, in a twist of fate that can only be one of those signs the universe tends to toss our way every now and then, a recent post on that blog happens to be a harbinger of where the parent to Sparx Trading, Sparx Publishing Group, is heading towards to help make the world better.

The Sparx team has now grown to 18, many more if you include new family members, pets, and one heck of a spider plant.

We’re so excited to see what the next 10 years has in store, and with the latest shift in the online brokerage industry in Canada, there seems to be as much of a need today for clarity for self-directed investors as there was when we first started. True to the mission of Sparx Publishing Group, we’re content to make the world better one post at a time.

Like most of the online brokerage industry, we too are actively working on new features and can’t wait to have them launch soon enough.

Thanks to everyone who has helped us get to this point, especially you curious and supportive readers who enjoy the world of online investing as much as we do!

From the Forums

Kind of a Big Deal?

At the start of the month, it seems fitting to be talking about making a move from one online brokerage to another. In this post, one online investor wanted to know what the consequences were of transferring assets into a TFSA from a non-registered account. Check out what fellow online investors had to say about making the shift.

Sliced vs Diced

Smaller portions are all the rage right now when it comes to buying stocks online. With some very popular stocks like Amazon out of reach for many new investors, online brokerages and investment firms have gotten creative, in particular using fractional shares and ETFs to lower the bar to get a literal piece of the action. Find out what one reddit thread had to say about fractional shares versus ETFs on the NEO exchange.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on the long weekend edition of the Roundup. There’s a lot in play – including the return of NFL football – so there’s something extra for fantasy football portfolio managers to stay on top of. We’re thrilled to be stepping into our 10th year with so much change taking place. September is often associated with the “back to school” theme, however, as we’ve come to appreciate (this year more than ever), every day brings something new to learn.