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Review: Dalbar Direct Brokerage Service Evaluation 2014

For Canadian discount brokerages, the idea of providing great client service is a moving target. Not too long ago service used to refer to the ‘offline’ world and meant having a face-to-face interaction at a branch. That gave way to the telephone, and the telephone to email, and email to web chat and web chat to social media.

The result of this communication evolution is that online brokerages are forced to cater to a wide spectrum of touch points that consumers can now access in order to manage their online investments. While consumers benefit from being able to (theoretically) stay connected to their brokerage howsoever they please, the reality is that client service at any brokerage on any channel is only going to be as good as the brokerage’s investment on it.

DIY investors shopping around for online brokerages based on client service should take note of this. If client service, and specifically telephone service, is of interest, then Dalbar Canada’s recently released direct brokerage evaluation of telephone client service interactions is worth looking into. And, while many brokerages are finding their way through the myriad of new technology touch points, telephones, it seems, still matter to online investors.

Who You Gonna Call?

Where and how telephone-based client service fits into today’s highly screen-driven age is a bit confusing. On the one hand while some issues can be resolved via online only methods there are times when getting someone on the phone is necessary.

From highly specific account inquiries to routine trading strategies, such as ‘journaling’ or exercising options, there are still many roads that require DIY investors to turn to telephone agents to address their needs. Of course, when a website goes down or a trading outage occurs, the only way to get an answer is to turn to the phone. Those interactions, as it turns out, impact how a client experiences doing business with that provider and what they ultimately tell others about those experiences.

Dalbar Canada, a financial service analysis firm, understands the value and impact quality service has on direct brokerage client relationships and has been measuring the quality of telephone interactions for many years now.

Given that brokerages use the results of Dalbar’s evaluations in their advertising, it is important for DIY investors to understand some context behind the results.

Widening the Circle

According to Dalbar, “quality” of client interaction at a direct brokerage is broken into four key components:

  • product and procedural knowledge
  • professionalism
  • ease of doing business and
  • the ability to deepen relationships with clients

These categories reflect strategic points around which a firm can either strengthen or weaken the relationship with their clients. While what a telephone agent knows is certainly crucial, how they communicate that information goes a long way in providing a positive experience. Whether the agent takes a ‘big picture’ view of clients question or simply responds literally to the question asked also influences whether a client leaves the call feeling frustrated or satisfied. What Dalbar measures when they analyze the interaction between provider and client is therefore a clear snapshot of the ‘human’ element of the brokerage experience.

It should be mentioned that one of the parameters these awards either don’t measure or report is the availability (i.e. hours to reach an agent) nor the duration. So, while it may be nice to get a nice person, there is still something to be said about getting a person when you need one, even outside of market hours.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – January 23, 2015

If you’re feeling as deflated as Patriot’s football this week, hopefully the fact that markets ended the week on a bit of a positive note is enough to cheer Friday. And, if recent market movements haven’t got you puzzled enough, at least Miss Universe Canada’s costume has got pundits and social media focusing on something other than the plunging price of oil. Like the beauty pageant contenders, Canadian brokerages are definitely dressing up their offers to score big points with DIY investors.

In this week’s roundup we continue to track January’s storm of deals & promotions, shine a spotlight on the first discount brokerage award of 2015, highlight a newcomer into the investor education space, walk through the investor education events coming up and close out with some timely conversations from the investor forums.


The race towards the March 2 RSP contribution deadline continues to draw Canadian discount brokerages into an already overcrowded deals game. This past week a typically quiet deal provider, HSBC InvestDirect, jumped into the promotions pool by offering up a commission-free trading offer. While the offer has been officially listed as live since the beginning of the year, it appeared only recently on their website. The timing of the launch was perhaps intended to coincide with the launch of Dalbar Canada’s Direct Brokerage Service Award (see below).

Another promotion also hit the deals wire this past week, this time from BMO InvestorLine. Their previous ‘smile promotion’ campaign ended on January 18th and was promptly replaced by an RSP focused offer of $300 cash back. Check our deals & promotions page for more details on the current open offers from Canadian brokerages.

That’s we in the Spotlight

Dalbar Canada’s 2014 assessment of the service quality at Canadian brokerages was announced this week as part of their Direct Brokerage Service Award. The two online brokerages that received top honours were HSBC InvestDirect and RBC Direct Investing. Dalbar has made a transition away from naming exclusive winners of the award, instead using the “Winner’s Circle” approach in which multiple brokerages can get recognition for their performance on Dalbar’s assessment.

Interestingly the announcement of the award was made on Wednesday and we’ve yet to see mention on either of the two ‘award’ winners’ website. A further point of interest is that both winners this year were also winners last year. Although both RBC Direct Investing and HSBC InvestDirect have claimed top honours in years past, it is unclear how having to share the accolade will shape their messaging around winning the award this year.   For more information on the Dalbar Direct Brokerage Service Award, check out our feature piece here.

Virtual Brokers Stepping into Education

Keeping up with the Jones’ is no easy feat, especially when those Jones’ are other Canadian online brokerages. As mentioned in our special year-in-review series, one of the big focal points for 2015 mentioned by Canadian brokerages was investor education.  Currently six online brokerages are actively providing (or have partnerships in place to provide) investor education. This past week, however, we learned that Virtual Brokers will be joining in the provision of investor education.

As Virtual Brokers works to keep pace with the value-add features provided by other banks and brokerages, one of the areas they’ve lagged has been in investor education. In an interesting move, Virtual Brokers has teamed up with personal finance author Gail Bebee to hold a two-part webinar on investing and portfolio management.

Event Horizon

A light week of educational activities is in the offering.

Jan. 24 (Sat) TD Direct Investing – Introduction to Investing

Jan. 26 (Mon) TD Direct Investing – Market Outlook – Winter 2015

Jan. 27 (Tues) TD Direct Investing – Introduction to Fundamental Analysis

Jan. 28 (Wed) Virtual Brokers – Investing Basics

From the Forums

It’s a Hard Knock Life

Asking lots of questions and doing due diligence before taking on DIY investing is key – as is frequently checking in on your account. This post from the Reddit Personal Finance Canada subreddit highlights one individuals unfortunate ‘surprise’ at having a margin balance.

That’s a wrap for this week’s roundup. Regardless of how far under ice or water certain folks may be (am I right Vancouver?) here’s a neat and strange tale of what can be found even in the most remote of places. Have fun and stay sharp for next week!

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Review: Dalbar Canada’s Direct Brokerage Service Award 2013

For individual investors, shopping for an online trading account often requires doing a fair amount of research and comparison between brokerages.  While commissions & fees are the most important factor investors consider when choosing an account, what it’s like to be a client of a particular brokerage is also something many investors are often curious about.

Dalbar Award For Discount Brokerage Customer ServiceFortunately for self-directed investors, one Canadian research firm (Dalbar Canada) measures client experience for most of the Canadian discount brokerages as part of their direct brokerage service evaluation (DBSE) program.  As part of the DBSE, Dalbar Canada also recognizes the high achievers in their evaluation with their Direct Brokerage Service Award.

Earlier this year, Dalbar Canada announced  the two highest performing brokerages on the DBSE:  RBC Direct Investing and HSBC InvestDirect.

Quick Overview

In our previous two-part series explaining the Dalbar Direct Brokerage Service Evaluation, we looked in detail at how the evaluation takes place including the components that go into defining ‘client experience’ at discount brokerages.   Here is a brief overview of why client experience still remains an important feature to track when comparing discount brokerages.

More than Just Price

With competition amongst online brokerages increasing, many of them (especially bank-owned brokerages) have adopted very similar pricing models.  Thus, comparing discount brokerages by price alone may not provide enough information for potential clients to make a decision. Going forward, shoppers will have to turn to the other features of a brokerage (such as client experiences) in order to evaluate how ‘good’ they believe the fit will be.

For those shopping for an online trading account, the only somewhat reliable ways to find out about client experiences have been through third party research/reviews and/or from other investors via investor forums or friends, family and colleagues.  The Dalbar Direct Brokerage Service Award is therefore unique in its focus on client experience and tries to provide a picture of what clients can expect from a brokerage when connecting via phone or email.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – January 10, 2014

This week it was bone-chillingly cold everywhere in Canada except for the discount broker deal space (and maybe Vancouver).  Several big promotions heated up the deals space this week in what is likely a sign of the fierce competition for self-directed investors’ assets to come this RSP deadline season.   Just in time for all that were a couple of big announcements too. One from a discount broker lowering their commission fees and another from a discount brokerage customer service evaluation. Closing out the roundup, we’ll take a look at the investor forums for some valuable lessons for those venturing into wild west of online trading.

Discount Brokerage Promotion Bonanza

As many readers may know, the discount brokerage deals section is one of the most popular places for investors looking for an online trading account to review.  This month however, there has been an unusual spike in activity, including from some usually dormant brokerages (such as Qtrade & Credential Direct for example).

On the whole, it looks like it’s a bench clearing deal brawl with BMO InvestorLine, Credential Direct, Qtrade and Scotia iTrade all launching some kind of contest, promotion or deal. Before the hockey tickets & cash settle, there are some insider sources that have mentioned some very big discount brokerage deals still to come.

The Gloves are Off

In a related vein, this past week  Questrade dropped the gloves (and their commission fees) in the competition to offer Canada’s lowest trading commissions.  Following Virtual Brokers’ lead a few months ago, Questrade too has now lowered their minimum commission on a trade down to a penny (on their active trader plan).

There is likely more to come from these two brokerages as RSP season heats up however the title of having the lowest commission in Canada is now one that Virtual Brokers will have to share.

Service with a Smile

Now that January is here, it is time for Dalbar’s online brokerage customer service award announcement.  This year things are a bit different with two brokerages being named as providing, in Dalbar’s assessment, leading customer service.

The two brokerages coming out on top of the field were HSBC InvestDirect (who earned the honor the previous year) and RBC Direct Investing.  Last year’s race was a close one so it is not a big surprise that these two brokerages find themselves atop the field for best customer service this year.

From the Forums:

With more people deciding to spend their time indoors, more than a few of them found their way into the investment forums.  As with the weather, winter can provide its own investing lesson: bundling up can save you a bundle.  Here are this week’s cautionary winter tales from the forums.

Limited Exposure

In this post, one user finds out the hard way about the difference between market orders and limit orders.  Of course, with many investors it’s learning by trial and error however here’s how the community stepped in to clarify when and how order types matter.

Getting out of the Driveway

Even with many of the advances in opening up discount brokerage accounts, there is still a natural drag of transfer time and reporting that seems misplaced in this world of instant everything. In this post from the RedFlagDeals investing forum, a user getting started with Interactive Brokers gets a little helpful informational nudge from fellow forum users.

That does it for this week’s roundup.  Be sure to check out the deals section regularly as this month is probably going to continue to see more deals announced.  Have a great weekend!

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – January 3, 2014

Winter is Here

Welcome to the first discount brokerage roundup of 2014.  Unfortunately for Canadian and US equity markets, the reception to the new year was about as warm as the Toronto winter was this past week.  Thankfully though, January looks like it will be a hot month for activity for Canadian discount brokerages.

In this week’s roundup, we’ll take a look at trading metrics from December, a new name for a growing Canadian stock exchange, some of the whispers going around the Canadian discount brokerage space and finally we’ll top things off a hearty serving of interesting investor forum posts.

Interactive Brokers’ Trading Metrics for December

As it is the beginning of a new month, the trading volumes and account metrics for one of North America’s largest discount brokerage firms (Interactive Brokers) were published for December of 2013. Trading activity improved on both an annual and month-over-month basis for Interactive Brokers across several important categories such as Daily Average Revenue Trades (DARTs), customer equity, margin loan balances and new accounts.   Of particular interest is the average commission (including fees) per equity trade, which came in at $2.46. With these rates in mind, Canadian discount brokerages commission rates (especially at the bigger bank-owned brokerages) still have room to fall and so it will be interesting to monitor how long they will continue to hold out at their current pricing.

CNSX Becomes The Canadian Securities Exchange

Although the roll-out hasn’t officially hit full stride, Canada’s second largest stock exchange, the CNSX, is rolling into 2014 with a change to its name and logo. Going forward the CNSX will now be known as The Canadian Securities Exchange or The CSE.   We’ll continue to provide more information on what the change will mean for the exchange and what the impact will be to retail investors.  The new website can be found (appropriately) at

A Busy January for Canadian Discount Brokerages

The start of 2014 is bringing with it a flurry of activity from the Canadian discount brokerages.  Either late next week or shortly thereafter the winners for Dalbar’s Direct Brokerage Service Award are expected to be announced.   Recall that last year HSBC InvestDirect received the award displacing the multi-year winner in discount brokerage customer service RBC Direct Investing.

This year the format of the direct brokerage service award has changed slightly to include additional electronic service touch points such as chat.  Along with the announcement it is likely that the winner(s) will probably have some promotional campaign. We’ll keep on top of the results for that award as & when they are released.

In addition to the award announcement, there are whispers of a discount brokerage about to launch a major deal for self-directed investors.   Unfortunately we’ll just have to wait on the details however we expect that several brokerages will likely have to come up with something creative to match the proposed offer.  We’ll be sure to monitor & report on the deal announcement(s) as they unfold.

From the Investor Forums

This week saw a big return of individuals back into the investor forums.  While many topics were about the predictions for 2014, there were a number of great discount brokerage related topics.

Is Bigger Better?

In this thread from the Canadian Money Forum, there was a very interesting discussion about the importance of considering the size and/or stability of a discount broker when opening an account.

Growing the Pizza & Beer Fund

Even though for many university and college students, money is tight, there are still opportunities to learn about investing.  In this post from RedFlagDeals, one young investor is shopping around for a discount broker that fits the needs and realities of a student.

That’s it for this first week of 2014.  Bundle up out there and think warm thoughts!

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Special Series: Dalbar Canada’s Direct Brokerage Service Award – Part 2

In part 1 of this series, we took a brief look at how self-directed investors typically access information about discount brokerage customer service and introduced Dalbar Canada’s research in this area.  Specifically, Dalbar’s Direct Brokerage Sales Effectiveness (DBSE) program measures the performance of client service teams at discount brokerages.

In this part of our series, we take a closer look at the evaluation itself to see how Dalbar measures quality customer service, how the evaluations are conducted and what the implications are for self-directed investors when comparing customer service at discount brokerages.

Knowing what counts

Given the number of evaluations being conducted to try and find ‘the best’ Canadian discount brokerage, it is increasingly important that self-directed investors be clear on exactly how a measurement of a discount brokerage is structured.  To avoid falling victim to clever marketing, whenever Canadian investors see a discount brokerage ranking, the following three questions are worth keeping in mind:

  1. What is being measured (ranked)?
  2. How was it measured?
  3. Does the measure actually measure what it says it does?

In the case of Dalbar Canada’s Direct Brokerage Service Award, what is being measured is “quality” of the customer experience when interacting with a particular discount brokerage’s customer service agents.  Of course, how “quality” is defined can be highly subjective so readers should keep this in mind when considering the explanations below.

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Special Series: Dalbar Canada’s Direct Brokerage Service Award – Part 1

When searching for the right discount brokerage, a lot of information can be obtained online about the pricing of discount brokerage accounts, commissions and services.  Some features, such as customer service, require more work to learn about.

After knowing what it costs to be a client of a discount brokerage many self-directed investors value knowing what they can expect by being a customer.  Finding out this information often requires asking friends, relatives, or other clients about their experiences. Some individuals even go as far as searching through forum comments about the experiences of others with particular brokerages.

Unfortunately, the only sure-fire way for an individual to know which discount brokerage best suits their needs is to be a client. Given the time, expense and risk associated with “sampling” a brokerage, however, it is neither a popular nor pragmatic choice for many.  Instead, self-directed investors turn to third-party ratings to help them approximate who the right discount brokerage may be.

As part of our continued look at the rankings and evaluations of Canadian discount brokerages, this two part series looks at Dalbar Canada and in particular their Direct Brokerage Service Award as a tool investors can use as part of their research.

A Quick Background on Dalbar Canada and the Direct Brokerage Service Award

Dalbar Canada is a financial services research company that has been in Canada since 1997. They are a subsidiary of the US headquartered Dalbar Incorporated which has been around for 37 years.

Since 1998, Dalbar Canada has been conducting evaluations of discount brokerages, with a particular focus on the client service experience. Their Direct Brokerage Service Evaluation (DBSE) program takes a structured and methodical approach to understanding how discount brokerages interact with clients on the phone.

Dalbar Canada is probably most well-known among self-directed investors for their Direct Brokerage Service Award (DBSA) which has often been a part of the marketing materials of RBC Direct Investing for many years, and more recently on HSBC Invest Direct’s advertisements. In addition to the recognition, the recipient of the award receives permission to display the official seal (pictured below) of the award on their marketing materials to let consumers know of their accomplishment.

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Getting to the bottom of who’s on top of Canada’s discount brokerage market

In search of Canada’s best discount brokerage

Getting to the bottom of who’s on top in the Canadian discount brokerage market is a lot trickier than it seems.  After all, one would assume that winning the crown of “best discount brokerage” is fairly difficult to do and also when a discount brokerage gets that award, it means they’re actually “the best”.  In our ongoing search to find an answer to the popular question “who is Canada’s best discount broker?”, we found a curious answer – it depends on what is being measured.

Over the past year, 7 of the 14 Canadian discount brokerages have been given titles such as:

  • Canada’s #1 Direct Investing Brokerage
  • Best Canadian Online Broker
  • Canada’s Top Online Discount Brokerage
  • Best Discount Brokerage
  • #1 Online Brokerage for Client Service in Canada
  • Highest in Investor Satisfaction
  • Top Bank-Owned Online Brokerage

With so many high achievers to choose from, it seems hard to believe that Canadians would have any kind of struggle finding a great discount brokerage.  According to these stats, almost 50% of the Canadian discount brokerage providers are “the best” at something, if not the best outright. It stands to reason that if the discount brokerages are doing such a great job, then clients would also be satisfied with the service they are getting.  The data, however, paints a different picture.

Best Discount Brokerages in Canada

To find out more, click the link for Page 2 below.