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Look Back / Look Ahead 2021-2022: Desjardins Online Brokerage Q&A

Q&A with Desjardins Online Brokerage. Marc Girard, Director.

Q1. What can a first-time investor expect at your firm?
The 18-30 age group represents 43% of our users, so we know all about the challenges of taking those first steps toward independent investing! That’s why we focus on education and support. We offer investors a learning centre that covers the most important topics and guides them as they explore the world of investing.

Q2. What can active investors expect?
With Disnat Direct, active investors have access to a state-of-the-art ecosystem. This high-level platform has been designed to meet the needs of the most discerning users who want all the information they need to make sound investments in one place.

Q3. Which online investing trends are likely to be important for independent investors?
There’s no denying the trend of using mobile applications to make investments. That’s why Desjardins Online Brokerage is working hard to make its mobile platform more user-friendly and comprehensive, so our users can expect a great experience whether they’re at home on their desktop or on the road with their cell phone.

Q4. What does “user experience” mean for Desjardins Online Brokerage?
The user experience is the driving force behind change and innovation at Desjardins Online Brokerage. We believe that it is crucial to ensure that our platforms are easy to use and facilitate quick transactions. We want our users to feel that our ecosystem is perfect for their changing needs.

Q5. What sets Desjardins Online Brokerage apart from its competitors?
First and foremost, we are a cooperative. Listening to and understanding our members and clients is an integral part of our mission – it’s in our DNA. Desjardins was founded with the goal of empowering members and clients and their communities. Each year, Desjardins offers a dividend to caisse members and invests heavily in projects that aim to improve the world around us. Doing business with Desjardins Online Brokerage is about learning from the past, making the most of the present, and building a better future for everyone. 

This Q&A was featured in the Look Back / Look Ahead magazine.

Desjardins Securities Inc. uses the trade name “Desjardins Online Brokerage” for its discount brokerage activities. Discount brokerage products and services are consolidated under the trademark “Disnat”. Desjardins Securities is a member of the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC) and the Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF).

Desjardins®, Desjardins Online BrokerageTM and related trademarks are trademarks of the Fédération des caisses Desjardins du Québec, used under licence.

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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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Look Back / Look Ahead: A Review of Canadian Online Brokerages in 2020 & Preview of 2021

After making it through 2020, there are few things that would count as truly surprising anymore. Between COVID-19, the wild US presidential election and everything else that has unfolded this past year, 2021 can’t come fast enough for many of us.

For Canadian DIY investors and Canada’s online brokerages, despite a wild year of volatility, volume and very rapid change the macro picture appeared to be a positive one. Record account opening, revenues from trading and after a sharp selloff, a strong rebound in stock markets have favourably positioned Canadian online brokerages heading into the new year.

In the latest edition of Sparx Trading’s exclusive Look Back / Look Ahead series, Canada’s online brokerages provide a unique snapshot of the past year at their respective firms, as well as provide an enticing view to 2021 – yet one more reason the new year can’t come quickly enough.

This edition is one of the most fascinating yet. If for no other reason, hearing about what 2020 was like at Canada’s online brokerages during such historic times is worth tuning into. There is, however, so much more worth finding out about.

Also included in this issue is a fascinating preview of what Canada’s online brokerages have in store for DIY investors in 2021. Further, our unique Q&A feature zeros in on what beginner and active investors can expect from each online broker as well as what sets each online brokerage apart from their peers.

There is lots more content that DIY investors can dig into, so be sure to check out the featured brokerages that provided detailed submissions of the year that was and what’s coming up.

In the meantime, we’ve put together three key themes that emerged from this year’s series that provide some food for thought when assessing the Canadian online brokerage space.

Theme 1: Agility

COVID-19 forced massive change on everyone, online brokerages included. Withstanding a pandemic-level impact was only one of the major challenges Canada’s online brokerages had to move quickly to address, however.

Compounding the challenge was the sheer volume of interest from DIY investors to open up and fund their online investing accounts. Ultimately it came down to agility, technical capability and operational resilience.

Online brokerages who already had invested in online account sign ups were able to more readily handle the challenges that accompanied the immense interest in opening accounts than those who had to route investors through paper-driven sign up processes.

The key takeaway for DIY investors is that COVID-19 showed which online brokerages were more ‘change ready’ and which features matter during times of heightened market volatility.

Theme 2: Communication

With so much of our lives now digitized, instant access to what’s going on is now the norm. A great example is Uber Eats – where you can find out in real time where your food order is.

In that world, DIY investors will be hungry for more information from their online brokerages. It might be price, it might be service experience, it might be platforms or even promotions. One thing that stands out about online brokerages in 2020 is that those who prioritized connecting and communicating with investors are now better positioned to have their story and message heard.

With so many online brokerages available to service DIY investors in Canada, those that are able to create special content or deliver engaging investor education experiences or simply have a solid, regular communications strategy in place can ensure DIY investors have something worth tuning into.

Theme 3: User Experience

This was one of the more fascinating trends to dive into in this issue of the Look Back Look Ahead feature.

For DIY investors, it was reassuring to see online brokerages define user experience in terms of customer experience. That said, one of the challenges created by 2020 is that there are lots of novice investors who have entered the markets on a whim and for whom the markets only appear to be making new highs.

Providing this new crop of investors with the right tools and resources to navigate the journey of online investing will be important. Further, the balancing act continues between older clients who may not be as tech savvy or inclined towards mobile features, and younger investors who are demanding different aesthetics to websites and apps. Interestingly, there will be several notable upgrades in platforms and online investing experiences coming throughout 2021 so we’ll be curious how different online brokerages tackle the challenges in the new year.

Click the links below to learn about what each Canadian online brokerage had to say about 2020 and what to look forward to in 2021.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – April 6, 2020

April has finally arrived. As much as the year is moving quickly, it simultaneously feels like it is moving incredibly slowly. As with the reality in markets, any bit of information about where things go next with the COVID-19 crisis is highly prized.

In this edition of the Roundup, we wade into the shallow deals and promotions pool to start April – in spite of record online investor interest in trading online. From there, we shine a spotlight on a major Canadian discount brokerage that looks like they will once again shake up the features offered by other online brokers. We close out this edition of the Roundup with highlights from investor forums and chatter from the Twitterverse.

New Month, Familiar Deals

It’s the start of a new month. Not just any month either – the one month in the year that typically starts off with some good humour. Alas, the lack of new discount brokerage deals or promotions to kick off the month is no joke.

Like the markets themselves, there has been a considerable pullback in the number of brokerages participating in the most appealing deals and promotions categories: cash back and commission-free trading offers.

If we were in ‘normal’ times, this situation might not seem as unusual after the post-RRSP deadline push. After all, it is expected that leading into that deadline, investors are already actively thinking about their money and investments.

That said, these are not normal times at all.

Despite what is clearly the grimmest economic picture many of us have ever lived through, for Canadian online brokerages, what should normally have been a very slow period in April has turned into one of the busiest seasons on record.

Likely a result of the unprecedented volatility, many folks self-isolating and therefore working from home, and with only so much streaming content to be viewed, means that there is now attention being put on stocks and trading online in volumes that likely exceed the Great Financial Crisis. What is very different now, however, is the scale and scope of impact to the economy from the measures being taken by countries across the globe to flatten the curve on COVID-19 spreading.

With so many prized stocks now on a literal fire sale, bargain hunting investors have been rushing into the market through the door that is the online brokerage. Normally, when Canadians are this interested in trading stocks, online brokerages ramp up their offers and incentives. To reiterate – these are not normal times – and one clear indicator of that is the lack of promotional offers that have been deployed for DIY investors.

Nobody wants to be seen to be taking advantage of a crisis, however, and the conundrum for Canadian online brokerages is this: do nothing about reducing fees/commissions at this time or lowering barriers for folks getting into the markets, then ‘business as usual’ could be like profiteering. Conversely, launching a promotion that would be talk up getting into the most volatile market ever could seem remarkably tone deaf.

What is becoming clear in the COVID-19 pandemic is that major brands are stepping up to help in whatever ways they can. Apple is stepping up to make 1 million face shields a week. Tesla is building ventilators. Breweries and even Louis Vuitton are making hand sanitizer. As “order execution only” entities, the single best goodwill gesture for Canadian discount brokerages to offer to Canadians would be waiving of commission or administrative fees – especially for low balances or inactivity – and especially to those seeking financial relief.

In these far-from-normal times, a rethink is required on what brands stand for and mean in the face of this collective crisis. Normally a deal or promotion is intended to appeal to new clients. Perhaps this is the moment when it would be appropriate to consider promoting the infectious kindness that shows we’re all in this together and that even small acts of kindness can go a long way.

RBC Direct Investing Takes Trading Quotes to the Next Level

It’s one thing to be making investment decisions in a volatile market – but for many active investors, it’s a must to be able to see where there are areas of demand or supply when trying to fine-tune a decision to buy or sell. The stakes are much higher when actively investing, so getting the most accurate and up-to-date information on market prices are key. Enter the world of streaming and in-depth quotes.

Late last year, RBC Direct Investing enabled free Level 1 real-time streaming price quotes for TSX and TSX Venture equities and ETFs. This past week, RBC DI rolled out what is arguably one of the best data features after real-time streaming Level 1 quotes: free streaming Level 2 quotes for TSX and TSX-V listed stocks and ETFs.

For DIY investors, and the online brokerage space here in Canada, it is hard to overstate the value this brings to investing online.

Level 2 quotes, also known as depth of market, can cost over $100 per month, and while the new feature from RBC Direct Investing does not bring with it a top-tier trading platform, the value here is hard to overlook.

The table below compares the prices per month that streaming Level 2 quotes would cost at comparable online brokerages in Canada and it is evident that this feature is anything but cheap.

Online Brokerage Trades per Month (TPM) or Trades per Quarter (TPQ) to Waive Quote Fees Quote Fees without Activity Waiver
BMO InvestorLine 25 (TPM); 75 (TPQ) $125/mo
Disnat Direct (Desjardins Online Brokerage) 20 (TPM); 60 (TPQ) $95/mo
National Bank Direct Brokerage 100 (TPM); 300 (TPQ) $148/mo
Questrade 81 (TPM); 243 (TPQ) $89/mo
Scotia iTRADE 10 (TPM); 30 (TPQ) $79.95/mo
TD Direct Investing 10 (TPM); 30 (TPQ) $69/mo
Virtual Brokers $99/mo


It is important to once again point out, however, that the prices for this streaming data option at other online brokerages referenced above usually come bundled with a sophisticated trading platform with many more bells and whistles for fast trade execution and charting capabilities than does the web experience at RBC DI.

That said, most of those Canadian discount brokerages referenced above waive some, most, or all of the data fee only when a minimum trading activity or asset deposit threshold is reached. So, the standard offering of the RBC Direct Investing streaming Level 2 quote is of particular appeal to investors who don’t mind the web interface and who can’t or don’t want to constantly have to trade to maintain an activity threshold. Of course, spending on commissions to get a “free” data feed doesn’t quite add up as a winning strategy but that is exactly the position DIY investors would be in at most brokerages.

For everyday investors, free streaming Level 2 quotes may or may not be something that is widely accessed, but for those investors who appreciate the added window into areas of potential pricing support or resistance, this is a very useful feature. In particular, as volatility increases in many illiquid stocks and bid/ask spreads widen, placing market orders can end up in overpaying for a security, and placing a limit order without knowing what else everyone is either selling or buying at puts investors at a significant information disadvantage.

While not quite the bombshell of dropping commission prices, RBC Direct Investing has unquestionably raised the bar considerably for other Canadian online brokerages, especially their bank-owned brokerage peers.

The standard web-based browser experience now including streaming Level 2 quotes means that other online brokerages will have to work harder to adjust their value proposition to a somewhat active or sophisticated investor. Even with so much attention being drawn away from online brokerage features these days, it’s safe to say RBC Direct Investing’s position in the online brokerage race just leveled up.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

The Best Bet

A Redditor puts forward the question of whether anyone is betting against the market in anticipation of a crash in this post. Fellow forum users go back and forth on the merits of buying inverse ETFs and their plans for the coming weeks and months.

The Long Game

A new investor turns to the forum for advice on how to make sound investments for the long term while the market is still reeling from the impact of COVID-19. In this post, Redditors give advice on how to set up the right portfolio and think beyond the immediate market.

Into the Close

Despite the wild swings in the market, the biggest and most important stories that need to be told are the ones of the brave frontline workers putting themselves in harm’s way and fighting COVID-19, or those mobilizing what they can to push back this sweeping contagion. Thank you to everyone fighting the good fight.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – July 7, 2017

Oh boy, where to even begin? With the warm weather upon us it seems like real estate sales in Toronto are melting like ice cream left in the sun for too long, and the world’s attention is turned squarely on the meetings between world leaders for the G20. Of course, there are so many headlines that it’s easy to miss some of the stories that aren’t being generated 140 characters at a time. Paying attention to the slow and steady stories can be quite revealing, however, especially when it comes to Canada’s discount brokerages.

In this ‘trend’ filled episode of the weekly roundup, we kick things off with a look at the latest website update being telegraphed by a bank-owned online brokerage and what might be coming down the wire for the second half of the year. From there, we take a very interesting look at some possible macro factors swirling around the online brokerage industry in Canada that could substantially reshape and redraw an already dynamic landscape. Fortunately, we wind up the roundup on a familiar note with tweets from DIY investors and the latest chatter from the investor forums.

CIBC Investor’s Edge telegraphs an upgrade

Summer is a great time to do renovations and upgrades, and not just around the house. This past week, CIBC Investor’s Edge posted a notice on their website indicating that some updates and upgrades are in the works for their website front end.

screenshot of CIBC Investor’s Edge

But it wasn’t just the announcement that caught our attention, it was also a survey that popped up while on the homepage. Specifically, an online survey that sought out feedback from CIBC Investor’s Edge clients on certain features and functionality related to their online experience as well as the overall satisfaction with certain components of the CIBC Investor’s Edge offering.

If some of this sounds familiar, it is because in April, another online brokerage, Credential Direct, also posted a user survey to help provide guidance on functionality prior to launching their new website. Unlike the survey in April, which was focused on how individuals would locate certain information on a new website, the survey by CIBC Investor’s Edge seemed to looking for satisfaction with experience and taking a top down approach to establishing where improvements might be required.

In the first half of 2017, in fact, that there appears to be renewed interest and resource being devoted to improving the online user experience, especially at the bank-owned brokerages. Several website launches, staffing up in digital content and experience and a general shift towards releasing features to market more quickly all signal that Canada’s discount brokerages are gaining ground and learning from the ‘fintech’ model that is gaining a foothold in the wealth management space.

That said, it also points to the likelihood that changes are going to be more frequent and prevalent. For the last half of 2017, there are strong odds that we’ll see some very big announcements from certain discount brokerages on new website roll-outs of their own.

In the meantime, we’re excited to see what CIBC Investor’s Edge unveils and the accompanying response from DIY investors and clients on the new website format.

Beware of active lifestyles

Unlike some of the more obvious changes and developments in the Canadian discount brokerage space, there appears to be a handful of ‘macro’ trends that might steer the news and behaviour in the near future.

What does that elusive opener refer to exactly?

Over the past few months, the regulatory landscape around the Canadian online brokerages appears to be shifting. There are two forces at play from different government entities that could drastically reshape how DIY investors access online brokerages’ services and, perhaps, severely constrain the DIY investor space as a whole.

On the one hand, there is the issue raised by IIROC on the nature of what Canadian online brokerages (as order execution only entities) can provide in terms of tools or features that cater to investors. Specifically at issue, is what constitutes a recommendation and how much autonomy an individual investor may have in deciding what is or isn’t appropriate for their own investing objectives. While this is an important point, part of it has been covered in a previous roundup which serves as a prelude to this second, and perhaps more disruptive issue.

For the last few weeks, the story of the Canada Revenue Agency’s purported ‘crackdown’ on TFSA windfalls has been gathering media attention and investor ire.

Although this is not the first time that the CRA auditing TFSA account compliance/performance has made news, what is making the news is the rather large sum of $75 million that has been flagged for collection, an indication that efforts to regulate TFSAs has escalated. Before proceeding, there is an important caveat to state, and that is that the CRA ensuring that individuals don’t abuse the tax system is ultimately a net benefit for everyone. That said, the TFSA is a very interesting (and recent) vehicle for wealth building and it is that wealth building that finds itself at odds with a tax system (and it’s rules) for investors that was developed well before the democratization of information on and about securities (such as stocks).

And, while there are lots of very interesting angles to the evolving TFSA crackdown story, at the heart of the issue for DIY investors and for financial advisors, wealth managers and ultimately for online brokerages is what exactly constitutes ‘trading’ versus ‘investing’.

Without delving too far into the past, the CRA has published guidance on the subject of what may or may not constitute a trader but for many DIY investors and the industries that service them, the definition has been far too open ended. From an armchair analyst’s point of view, the issue appears to be ensuring that capital gains should get treated differently than business income, so separating what counts as either is crucial to administering the tax-preferred treatment that capital gains get.

To do so, the CRA has set out a multi-part test when evaluating what does or does not constitute business income or capital gains. That said, it is worth stating that according to the CRA’s documentation, business income is classified as anything derived from an “adventure or concern in the nature of trade.”

While, from the CRA’s perspective, this approach might afford the flexibility to evaluate cases on the merits of particular facts, the counterpoint is that is has created tremendous uncertainty. And, if there’s one thing that efficient markets disdain, it’s uncertainty.

As a result of the somewhat vague test of what could or could not constitute an “adventure or concern in the nature of trade” situations like the following can arise.

The popular DIY tax software Turbo Tax, published an article entitled “How to calculate capital gains when day trading in Canada” which spoke to interpreting how to log investment transactions in TFSAs as follows:

“TFSAs are purchased with after-tax dollars, without any taxation upon withdrawal. There are no restrictions on taxpayers using day-trading techniques for investments, and profits realized can be declared and taxed as capital gains.”

Clearly, if individuals are DIY investors, there’s a reasonably good chance they may also want to use software that helps to take a DIY approach to taxes. In fact, there are examples of some Canadian online brokerages who’ve offered incentives such as discounts on this software as a sign up bonus, so there’s a good chance resourceful individuals might turn to such a document to help figure out how to populate their tax returns.

In this case the language used in the article might lead some people to believe that they can use ‘day-trading’ in the same way as a capital gain. A reading of the CRA guidance, however, seems to contravene that statement. For example, with regards to short selling which the CRA guide explicitly states:

“The gain or loss on the “short sale” of shares is considered to be on income account.”

Clearly, anyone with a margin account who decides to short a stock needs to consider treating such a transaction differently for tax purposes than does anyone going long on an investment – but good luck to DIY investors trying to stumble across this information easily.

As a counterpoint to the information provided by Turbo Tax, recent articles, such as the one in the Financial Post by noteworthy taxation expert Jamie Golombeck state:

“Under the tax rules, if a TFSA carries on a business then it must pay income tax on its business income.”

Considering the points above, one very interesting angle is the moving target on what constitutes an active investor, specifically because this impacts how Canadian online brokerages communicate to DIY investors considering opening an online investing (or trading) account – including a TFSA.

The table below shows that an “active” investor is being communicated differently depending on the discount brokerage. For the CRA, and in the case cited in the Golombeck article above, it may not be interpreted the same way by everyone and that is highly problematic.

Trading level 30 trades per quarter 150 trades per quarter
Bank-owned online brokerages with offers or incentives at these levels NBDB, RBC Direct Investing, BMO InvestorLine; Disnat Direct, HSBC InvestDirect Advance RBC Direct Investing, TD Direct Investing, Scotia iTRADE, BMO InvestorLine
*some firms may appear twice as they have offers in each tier.

Add to this, the fact that there are also incentives that are being offered to individuals (such as discounted commissions or waived platform fees) depending on the number of trades executed. The range is quite extraordinary, going from 30 trades per quarter to as high as 150 or more per quarter.

Of course the other issue with being an ‘active’ investor is the time spent researching and following markets, as well as the level of knowledge of the markets. Both of these components are used in the test to establish whether an individual is considered to be generating business income or is eligible for the capital gains exemption. To do due diligence, however, does require time and effort – even in passive portfolios, to rebalance, read and generally know what you’re buying into.

Finally there’s the pricing for data feeds for active trading platforms. For business (such as sole-proprietor) investing/trading accounts, the data feed costs are significantly higher than for individual accounts, which means that the true cost to active investors who may not want run afoul of the CRA criteria is actually quite high. That’s bad news for the online brokerage industry who would now have to communicate the value proposition of being an active trader, doing so outside of the TFSA (potentially) and incurring huge data and platform fees.

Interestingly these two issues, that of the suite of services offered by order execution only (OEO) firms and what the CRA appears to be doing with TFSAs might actually intersect.

The fact of the matter is there is insufficient clarity on several fronts: what determines ‘trader’ or ‘investor’, the degree to which an individual who opens an account with an online brokerage firm can or cannot decide for themselves as to the level of ‘appropriateness’ of executing a particular transaction and the implication for them doing so in a TFSA.

In fact, it seems like there is a slight misalignment between the list of criteria put forward by the CRA in terms of “knowledge of securities” and the KYC rules put forward by securities regulators that would enable an individual investor to perform transactions in TFSA. On the one hand, individuals may be taxed for knowing too much about securities but on the other hand they may not be able to access tools from their online brokerages because they might not know enough.

In this case, it begs the question, does something need to change about the way TFSA accounts can be used by online brokerages? According to the Golombeck article cited above, the CRA’s position appears to be that TFSA’s are not that special.

That said how do the CRA’s tests for being considered a trader (for tax purposes) mesh with securities regulations that require online brokerages to determine, at some level, the degree to which an individual would be knowledgeable enough about securities to open an account and appreciate the extent of risk associated with online investing?

There’s certain to be much more debate on these issues ahead as the CRA had opened the can of worms of counting ‘wins’ in DIY investor TFSAs as business income but not necessarily equally considered losses obtained through the same set of activities as ‘business losses’ (if they have, it’s not been as widely reported).

Similarly, reconciling tax requirements with securities legislation is sure to come up especially if it can potentially hurt DIY investors in their journey to save for retirement. This very tangled set of issues will be fascinating to watch unfold, and as usual for DIY investors, the playbook seems to suggest: be ready to change.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

A somewhat quiet week by Twitter standards. Mentioned this week were CIBC Investor’s Edge, Interactive Brokers, Questrade, Scotia iTRADE and TD Direct Investing.

Into the Close

So much for keeping it short. Well, on the topic of shorts (not the trade but summer attire) have a great weekend and hopefully enjoy some of that summer weather while it’s still here!

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – June 23, 2017

With summer officially arriving this week, it also brought with it the longest day of the year. Of course, that is literally what happened on summer solstice, but for some traders (Sears, Home Capital?) and even several online brokerages facing outages, there were also some pretty long days that didn’t feel quite so sunny.

This weekly roundup is filled to the brim with news from Canadian discount brokerages. In this special (and extended) edition, we take a look at the Questrade outage that interrupted so many traders last Friday and what the folks at Questrade were able to share about what happened. From there we take a look at more exciting deals news with the official launch of two deals from Virtual Brokers that are bound to get DIY investors’ and competing online brokerages’ attention. Up next, we take a look at the roll-out of a new trading platform for active traders in what is quickly becoming a very crowded trade. With the finish line in sight, we take a quick look at some of the latest developments in the robo-advisor space in Canada and end off this roundup with some fascinating tweets from Canadian DIY investors.

School of Hard Knocks: Questrade Faces Off Against DDoS Attack

For many DIY investors, and active traders in particular, the idea of ‘risk’ when trading online usually extends to thinking about managing position size. The more paranoid among us might take the extra step to ensure they have a backup plan for connecting to the internet in case their ISP randomly cuts out, print out copies of trades or do some due diligence on their online brokerage account insurance and fraud coverage (e.g. CIPF or more if required).

At a certain point, however, seasoned traders understand that with the increasingly connected technical infrastructure, multiple computer networks talking to each other and a big target on the backs of major financial organizations, there is lots that can go wrong. As such, being in the markets as an online trader is intrinsically risky.

This month, however, there was yet another category of risk that appeared that may require online traders to adjust their calculus of risk – Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.

Questrade confirmed on Twitter (and other channels) this past week that they were the target of a DDoS attack on Friday June 16th and it was that attack which was responsible for knock trading platforms and the website offline throughout the trading day. And while having trading systems go offline during trading hours is never good, it didn’t help matters for Questrade’s clients that the DDOS attack also fell on options expiry day – something that seems particularly nefarious.

According to Questrade representatives, although this was a disruptive and hostile cyber-attack, the DDoS was not a hack and no client data was compromised.

When we asked for some additional details of what happened on that day, the Questrade team was obviously cautious about sharing too much, however they did confirm that there were actually multiple DDoS attacks that took place that day. And, while their team was successful at repelling earlier attempts to disrupt access, the subsequent attacks were much larger and increased traffic levels to a point that began to impact service.

Many users took to Twitter and popular investing forums to share their frustration, including several users who shared images of their wait times to deal with customer service agents. Questrade did confirm that “all orders placed across the day were unaffected and executed.”

Of course, this was cold comfort for DIY investors and traders who were left to determine what was happening while positions were open and trade opportunities came and went.

While it is a tough lesson to learn on both sides, the biggest takeaway is that it is possible for a DDoS attack to happen to just about any online organization. True, it would be harder to thwart some configurations (e.g. Cloudflare) rather than others, but the massive DDoS attack in October 2016 that managed to cause outages to sites/services such as Twitter, Netflix and Paypal should serve as a reminder that even the most tech-savvy firms are vulnerable and that the sophistication of attacks continues to evolve as do the protocols put in place to protect against them.

If there is a silver lining for Canadian DIY investors, it is that in Q1 2017 DDoS attacks targeting Canada made up a very small (<1% according to Kaspersky Labs) portion of attacks globally.

Source: Kaspersky Labs

Importantly, according to Kaspersky Labs, the days of the week that are the most likely targets are Saturday and Friday – something that options traders should pay particular attention to come expiry dates.

Whether another DDoS attack could interfere with Questrade or even another Canadian online brokerage (or brokerages) is hard to say. Unlike a hack, DDoS attacks make use of the growing number of internet connected devices, many of which have varying degrees of security, which means that the possibility of increasingly larger attacks is plausible. Understandably, financial services firms are cagey about their security infrastructure. For their part, Questrade has scheduled maintenance and has confirmed that they’ve enhanced protection layers to guard against future disruptions.

That said, a little bit of paranoia can go a long way for active traders. One of the scenarios that online traders should take note of is planning for a full outage and ensuring they have alternate means of communicating with their brokerage. Having their brokerage’s phone number programmed on a phone (or on a post-it note on the monitor) or being able to DM on Twitter (if they have it) seem like reasonable precautions. That and a good luck charm probably wouldn’t hurt either.

Virtual Brokers New Deals Make Waves

As mentioned in last week’s roundup, Virtual Brokers was on the cusp of launching two new promotional offers for DIY investors. This past Thursday, Virtual Brokers officially took the wrapping off their new deals and in doing so, they’ve managed to show that it’s not only the weather that’ll be hot this summer, but the discount brokerage deals action too.

The first promotion from Virtual Brokers is an ETF-focused offer that enables qualifying individuals to trade 20 ETFs (either Canadian or US) commission-free. Specifically, new clients to Virtual Brokers must deposit a minimum of $5,000 and be on the classic commission plan ($9.95 per trade) to qualify. When registering, users must enter the promo code that corresponds to either the commission free US ETF trading or commission free Canadian ETF trading.

Importantly, commissions will be charged at the time the trade is placed but will be rebated to clients in February 2018 provided they meet the eligibility conditions at that time.

Virtual Brokers’ second promotion is a very interesting cash back offer, which rebates $50 every quarter for every 20 trades that are made in that quarter, for up to one year. Again, new clients need to deposit a minimum of $5,000 and will receive rebates on the commissions they incur during the specified intervals.

What makes both of these offers so compelling for DIY investors is the almost unprecedented value being put forward.

In the case of the year-long commission rebate, clients are receiving a $200 cash back offer for 80 trades. At the standard commission rate of $9.99 per trade, that means that for a spend of $799 ($9.99 x 80), there is a rebate of $200 which works out to a 25% discount on trading commissions.

So, while there are deposit and trading hurdles to qualify for the cash back, for somewhat active traders or swing traders, this is essentially a way to get 80 trades at $7.46 flat (i.e. no ECN fees) for a year, plus have the option for commission-free buying of ETFs (which would be required to hold for at least one business day).

Similarly, for those that elect to take the ETF deal, from a ‘value’ point of view, users are getting a rebate of $50 on essentially 20 trades. At the standard commission rate of $9.99 per trade, this also works out to be a 25% discount.

As we had alluded to at the beginning of the June deals report, Canadian brokerages are getting more creative with their offers. In this case, Virtual Brokers put their creative efforts to good use as this is one of the first offers that blends trading minimums and commission rebates over the span of a year.

With lots of time left in the summer months, it will be really interesting to see how other brokerages respond and what kind of ramp-up in promotional activity takes place industry-wide to start winning over DIY investors.

Disnat Direct Launching Market-Q Platform


Screenshot from Desjardins Online Brokerage

This past week, Desjardins Online Brokerage began migrating active trading clients away from their Nexxa-based Disnat Direct trading platform onto a sleeker, more modern interface called Market-Q.

If the Market-Q name sounds familiar, it is because it is the same platform that National Bank Direct Brokerage rolled out for active traders in 2014 – albeit with a few enhancements that make the switch from Disnat Direct less disruptive. And, it looks familiar, it is because the trading platform is similar to the one powering BMO InvestorLine’s Market Pro.

Of course, for Desjardins Online Brokerage, especially the active traders, there are a number of upgrades the new trading platform brings, not the least of which is the ability for users to access this platform across devices (read: Mac friendly)

Based on the famous active trader platform, eSignal, Market-Q is incredibly feature rich.

According to the makers of Market-Q (Interactive Data), this platform is described as “A browser-based, real-time, streaming market data desktop terminal for financial institutions, Market-Q can be accessed anywhere via a PC and web browser, with no software download required. Market-Q has custom workspaces, interactive charts, research, option chains, a market depth feature, searchable news, alerts and data export capabilities.”

On the Desjardins Online Brokerage connection, users can monitor up to 500 symbols simultaneously – which really is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to platform functionality. For active traders, this seriously upgrades the charting, monitoring, position monitoring and trading experience from the previous active trading platform.

Over the next week there are numerous webinars intended to provide an in-depth orientation to the essential features of the platform, including how to set up watchlists, charting, enter and monitor orders as well as navigate the platform generally. Transitioning from the previous platform to the Market-Q configuration is going to be a drastic change so it is great to see that Desjardins Online Brokerage is providing more than just pre-recorded webinars – they’re actually providing numerous training and orientation opportunities where clients (and non-clients) can tune in to learn about the new platform and, importantly, ask questions to a product expert.

Now that both Desjardins Online Brokerage and National Bank Direct Brokerage offer the same advanced platform, it will be even more of a challenge for very active DIY investors to separate these two firms.

That said, for active traders, the good news is that there is yet another top-shelf trading platform on the market.

Ultimately, the ‘trading’ experience – ie functionality, speed of execution, stability and pricing will dictate which platform active traders will turn to.

In a space where ThinkorSwim (TD Direct Investing), Trader Work Station (Interactive Brokers), Power Trader (Virtual Brokers), Market-Q (NBDB & Desjardins Online Brokerage), Market Pro (BMO InvestorLine), Advanced Dashboard (TD Direct Investing) and FlightDesk (Scotia iTRADE) are now battling it out for the active trader segment, it will be up to the marketing teams to determine whether or not they can get the highly demanding active trader segment to pay attention – and ultimately pay for the platform.

Robo Roundup

It’s been an interesting week for Canadian robo-advisors.

The big news this week was the news that WealthSimple is not only peering over the fence to the US but is now also peering further afield into the UK as a possible market to expand into.

Competing in Canada is one thing but the boldness of the WealthSimple franchise to take on two of the largest English speaking markets speaks to their confidence and war chest. Going global is a strategy that’s worked well for Interactive Brokers however there are countless daily updates of firms across the globe pouring money into the robo-advisor space. Case in point, this week Blackrock also managed to raise $33.6M (USD) to expand its push into Europe’s robo-advisor game.

Closer to home, bank-owned robo-advisor BMO’s SmartFolio has expanded its list of supported account types by adding added RRIF (Registered Retirement Income Fund) and spousal RRIF accounts to the menu. With this new addition, there are 8 account types that are supported by SmartFolio with plans to add LIRA and Corporate/Non-Personal accounts on the horizon.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

It was a bumpy week for many online brokerages with trading interruptions and disruptions getting the attention of investors. Mentioned this week were BMO InvestorLine, Questrade, RBC Direct Investing, Scotia iTRADE and TD Direct Investing.

Into the Close

Sometimes Friday is a marathon, other times a sprint. If you’ve managed to make it through this marathon edition, congratulations! Have a great first weekend of summer and get some relaxation in – it seems like this summer is going to be a wild one.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – September 9, 2016

A famous football movie said sometimes life is a game of inches. As the busy season for investors and brokerages kicks off, it looks like there are lots of interesting changes, big and small, that are taking place in and around the brokerage industry, to win over new clients. From growing a client base to new leadership to new products or services, this week has a little bit of everything thrown in.

On the docket this week, we’ll take a look at a lot of little developments across the board. Starting first with stats from one independent discount brokerage that shows they’re making strides with investors. Next we highlight one online brokerage that’s looking for a new vision and some leadership and what that reveals about their plans for the future. After that, we’ve got a new trading app launched from one Canadian brokerage who’s doubling down on mobile trading. From there we’ll take a look at the latest pitch being made to millennial investors and whether it’s a hit or a miss. And finally we’ll recap what DIY investors were chatting about on social media and in the investor forums.

Interactive Brokers’ mixed metrics

The stat sheet from Interactive Brokers’ August trading figures paints an interesting picture of the landscape for online brokerages. On the one hand, it looks like trading volume has significantly diminished compared to last year at the same time. A drop off of 22% on a year over year basis as well as a 4% decline compared to July’s figures suggests the volatility picture is very different this year than last. On the other hand, metrics such as margin loan balances, credit balances and most notably client accounts all continue to show growth compared to last year and last month.

 BMO InvestorLine looking for new president

What does it take to be the president of a Canadian online brokerage? It is an interesting question that was prompted by the recent online posting for a new president at BMO InvestorLine.

Longtime observers of the Canadian online brokerage space will note that senior leadership in the online brokerage space tends to have quite a bit of turnover. Within the past several years, however, BMO InvestorLine in particular has seen a number of individuals take the helm and so it is interesting to be able to take a look at what they’re hoping to bring in.

Aside from the expected components of being a solid leader, there appears to be a trend towards becoming increasingly technologically proficient and to a degree, prescient. To be able to craft a strategy for 3 to 5 years into the future takes a certain comfort level with seeing the big picture for the self-directed investing industry but also being able to track where and how technology will evolve for consumers who also happen to be investors, which is no easy ask.

To that end, it is telling that a core component to the strategy of BMO InvestorLine is to try to become a “technology leader”.

Ironically, this exchange on Twitter (also shown below) that happened just a few days ago showcases the jumping off point the new President is working from. This certainly suggests that there are some hearts, minds and browsers that need some adjusting before “technology leader” springs to mind for many DIY investors when thinking of BMO InvestorLine.

screengrab from Twitter

Regardless of who lands in the driver’s seat next, we’re happy to extend an invite to the BMO InvestorLine team (some of whom are regular readers of the roundup) or the future president to drop us a line if you’re interested in achieving some of your strategic objectives.

Desjardins Online Brokerage launches a new app

On the technology theme, earlier this month Desjardins Online Brokerage released a new app for its Disnat Classic clients on both iOS and Android.

The new mobile trading app adds another way in which to access the Desjardins Online Brokerage or Disnat online trading experience since there is already a mobile site that enables DIY investors to perform the essential functions of trading online.

Some key features of the app include streamlined account summaries, clean charting and an easy to use interface for placing orders or checking their status.

In terms of response, the early ratings in the respective app stores appears to be positive. With a user interface that appears modern and in line with better practices, users have given the app close to a 4.5 out 5-star rating on Android and 3.5 star rating for iOS – the new mobile experience has managed to score high praise (albeit with a small number of reviews) compared to other online brokerage mobile apps.

Active traders who use the Disnat Direct platform, however, are out of luck for the moment. Nevertheless, it appears that evolving the online user experience, especially on mobile, is definitely now on the radar and task list of the team at Desjardins Online Brokerage.

TD Direct Investing selling the sizzle

In a news release yesterday, TD Direct Investing shared some interesting data on what millennials seem to think about DIY investing.

The data, derived from a survey of about 1750 “millennials” which took place between February and March of this year, suggested that a lack of money and know-how were the key barriers to getting started with investing. Also, given the insane volatility at the time, it shows that timing market surveys on the stock market is also a tricky gig – but we digress.

According to TD Direct Investing, there are 3 tips (labelled the “ABC”) which they are hoping might inspire some younger investors to look more closely at the DIY investing world:

  1. Act Now
  2. Brush up on the basics
  3. Choose your own adventure


The nudge towards considering DIY investing comes at an interesting time for the wealth management landscape.

An increasing number of ‘millennial’ investors are being courted by and turning to robo-advisors, the digital wealth management solution that can cut out the tasks of having to act, learn or choose. Showcasing the benefits of DIY investing over and above the robo-advisor route won’t be an easy sell.

Robo’s aren’t the only challenge for Canada’s largest online brokerage either. It looks like they’re increasingly being surrounded by programs or promotions aimed squarely at the same audience they’re hoping to reach.

Last week we reported on Qtrade Investor launching a young investor pricing program as well as highlighting several other initiatives from online brokerages that are directly targeting ‘younger’ (aka millennial) investors.

In TD Direct Investing’s case, this press release might be the signal that they’re preparing to respond more emphatically to the changes going on in the DIY investing space, which should be an interesting set of adventures for all.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

On a short week it may have been a week to be short. Either way clients chimed in about some of the issues on their minds. Mentioned this week were BMO InvestorLine, Questrade, Scotia iTRADE and TD Direct Investing.

From the Forums

Drinking the not-so-Kool Aid

Well this is a new one. This post on reddit from one supposed bank-owned brokerage employee provides an interesting window into a) airing grievances about a job to the world and b) what happens with your trading accounts when you start working in the industry. Fascinating stuff.

What to do with 5K?

Crowdsourcing financial advice seems like an interesting approach to money management however it’s clearly a sign of the times. On this post from the Personal Finance Canada subreddit, one keen would-be investor wanted to know what the best route forward would be to deploy the hard earned cash.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap for this week’s roundup. Coming off the long weekend last weekend, it’s nice to have this one show up a little sooner. For sports fans, it’s a great weekend with football back on the timetable north and south of the border, the Paralympics in Rio and hockey back in focus. Also it’s a welcome distraction from the nuttiness that was today’s trading day – and speaking of distractions, this post on Facebook should hopefully provide a welcomed dose of the chuckles. Have a great weekend!

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – April 8, 2016

While April showers might bring May flowers, April is also about the time to start nervously watching the calendar for the ‘sell in May and go away’ moment. For many Canadian online brokerages, however, the hope is that wherever investors decide to go this spring, that they take their brokerage account along for the ride with a smartphone.

In this week’s roundup, we keep it nice and light (we have to enjoy the great weather sometime right?) and take a look at the latest online brokerage to release a new client website.  From there we’ll take a look at a very handy resource for DIY and mainstream investors to enhance their own financial literacy. As usual, we’ll include a look the latest chatter from investors across social media and from the investor forums.

A Classic Move

Another week, another website release. Following on the heels of RBC Direct Investing’s announced rollout of a new website last week, this past week Desjardins Online Brokerage announced that they are launching a new client website for their Disnat Classic account type.

In 2015 Desjardins Online Brokerage unveiled their current website and their latest rollout of an update to the Disnat Classic website provides users with a consistent, clean look and feel. According to their description of the new website, the new ‘classic’ interface will create an easier navigating experience especially around account management.

Even though their branding has changed some time ago, Desjardins Online Brokerage still uses their original branding of Disnat for the two primary DIY accounts offered to investors: Disnat Direct and Disnat Classic.

While Disnat Direct is geared towards more active investors/traders, the Disnat Classic product is geared towards less active investors. And, as such, the new Disnat Classic interface does a good job of catering to the specific needs of the long-term or less active investor.

Screenshot of Disnat Classic’s new website teaser.

One of the great features of the new roll out is the support material that accompanies it. Desjardins has put together a solid selection of tutorials that walk users through the basics of navigating the new layout as well as performing key tasks (such as entering an order or managing accounts).

As far as interfaces go, the classic platform strikes a good balance between usability and features that investors/occasional traders use. In particular, there are handy research tools such as charting and analytics all within the same page and a ‘research’ tab offers more in-depth fundamental insights. While several of these tools (such as Recognia and Morningstar) are available with other brokerages

Similar to the rollout of their refreshed site just over a year ago, this new site for Disnat Classic users offers an interface geared towards modern investors.

The ability to access their new site across multiple devices and screens is even more appropriate for investors who want to stay informed about or manage their account on the go. What continues to be clear though is that Desjardins Online Brokerage continues to focus on user experience and it may just be a matter of time before more and more investors take notice of the efforts being made.

In the Loop

For individuals that are looking for a trusted resources to learn about current events impacting investors, there is a great resource in the newsletter from the Investor Office of the Ontario Securities Commission.

This week’s edition of their newsletter features a great selection of articles on topics such as the risks of binary options and understanding mutual fund series. In fact, there are a number of articles and alerts related to the dangers of binary options and binary options providers that most investors ought to read and stay on top of.

Launched at the end of October 2015, the Investor Office is specifically focused on providing quality information about finance and investing to ‘main street’ investors. And, while the content does definitely contain geographically specific information, the bulk of the material contained pertains to investors across Canada.

To sign up for their newsletter or to access previous issues of the Investor News, click here.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

Event Horizon

Spring has sprung, and it’s a spectacular week ahead for discount brokerage-sponsored investor education events. Here are some upcoming sessions that may be of interest to options enthusiasts, yield hounds, and those who are new to investing. ETFs, technical analysis and trading strategies round out this week’s selection.

April 12

NBDB – Equities and ETFs – [Fr]

TD Direct Investing – Introduction to Fixed Income

Scotia iTRADE – Leveraged and Inverse ETFs – Understanding them and strategies for using them with Horizons ETFs

TD Direct Investing – Options Trading Using Technical Analysis

April 13

TD Direct Investing – Introduction to Investing in Options

April 14

TD Direct Investing – Introduction to Technical Analysis

Scotia iTRADE – Top Ten Investor Myths with AJ Monte

From the Forums

Green with ETF envy

ETF providers may be more than a little green with envy as TD’s six new ETFs commanding quite a bit of attention this past week in a couple of posts (here and here) on Worth a read for those considering what TD may have to offer with the ETF mix.

Small Potatoes

Every investor has to start somewhere. For this investor from reddit’s personal finance Canada section, using Questrade’s RESP for a couch potato portfolio required a little bit of help from the DIY community.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on another crazy week. Wherever you happen to be when reading this week’s roundup, don’t forget to take some time out to relax from behind the screen to have a little fun. In the meantime, for those considering the ‘sell in May’, here’s an idea that can get you in the summer spirit. See you next week!


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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – July 10, 2015

Source: Twitter (@Sweetfacefergie)

Even though the official kick off to the Pan Am Games was today, in the week leading up to it markets have given traders more than enough diving, hurdles and nail-biting drama for weeks to come. For a handful of Canadian discount brokerages, this week proved to be equally eventful with contests and competitors going at it full swing. It looks like it’s game-on for the brokerages once again.

In this edition of the roundup we kick things off with a look at a major bank-owned brokerage tearing a page out of the Kardashian playbook with their new selfie contest. Next we’ll look at some big news from two Quebec-based discount brokerages that is sure to create a few sparks in that market for years to come. Also we’ll scan through the investor education events and take a look at some really interesting exchanges that took place on Twitter. Finally we cap off the roundup by looking at the forum chatter from DIY investors across Canada and close off with one funny/scary view of this week’s market glitches.

But First, Let Me Take a Selfie

In a quirky bit of timing, not long after the selfie aficionado Kim Kardashian was interviewed about her financial wisdom tips, Scotia iTrade launched their selfie-themed promotion. This latest contest, which runs during the month of July, involves people taking selfies at the recently launched Scotia iTrade investor centre at Scotia Plaza in downtown Toronto. The “eligible winners” will be awarded a movie pass for one (approximate retail value of $13).

While they’re not the first big bank to try and capitalize on the selfie (TD put a twist on it with their ‘housie’ campaign) Scotia iTrade might be the first Canadian online brokerage to run a selfie-themed promo. And, although contests are nothing new, this particular one shows some interesting quirks of mixing the world of personal finance with the worlds of selfies, millennials and Twitter.

Here are a couple of interesting observations.

First, there are the contest’s terms and conditions. At about 2300 words long this is one of the longest scrolling workouts folks are going to have before they fully know what they’re getting themselves into.

Once in the terms and conditions, however, there are some interesting finds such as this phrase: “Take a selfie of yourself at the branch”.

Not only has ‘selfie’ made it into the vernacular of the financial world, the way in which its used is like the Hugh Grant moment in Mickey Blue Eyes (the la Trattoria).

And, while it may seem mildly comical, as it turns out, the details actually matter. According to the Wikipedia definition of a selfie, it is “a self-portrait photograph featuring the photographer”. That would make the following image submitted by @carr71 for the promo technically seem to not count (it looks like a photo of a person that was taken by someone else).

Unfortunately, it looks like @Scotia_iTrade didn’t accept either of @carr71’s submission(s) and she got directed to read those rather lengthy terms and conditions.

With 10 days now gone in July, it looks like the contest has yet to gain significant traction. Of the 3 photos submitted thus far one may not be a selfie, one appears to have been disqualified (not sure why) and one went unacknowledged (at least publicly) so it’s not clear by looking at it if it counts. That’s a tough batting average a third of the way through the contest window.

Of course, figuring out what will or won’t work on Twitter is all about experimentation. Like most things on Twitter, it’s difficult to predict where things will go and the timeline for events to happen. The fact that Scotia iTrade is willing to get creative on social media is a good sign and it should hopefully spur other discount brokerages to flex their creative muscles. We’ll keep watching to see how the contest unfolds.

New Pricing at Desjardins Online Brokerage

After numerous commission price adjustments by Canadian discount brokerages, Desjardins Online Brokerage has updated their standard commission pricing for the active trader-focused Disnat Direct service.

Instead of a standard rate of $19.95 for less active traders (i.e. those who traded less than the 10 trade per month threshold to qualify for lower commission pricing) Disnat Direct account holders can now qualify for the best commission rates of between $5 and $9.95 per trade. Standard options trading has also been adjusted to $1.25 per contract (down from $1.50) and the minimum per options trade is now $8.75.

The actual commission paid still depends on the combination of the volume of shares purchased/sold, the currency of the trade and the price of the stock. This means that there is still some extra effort involved to keep track of what a transaction will cost however for the less active traders, this is definitely a smaller price to pay than the higher upfront fee.

Some other fees were also announced to be changing. The platform fees for individuals not meeting the trading threshold look to be rising by between $5 and $8 depending on the platform (see table below). The new fees are scheduled to take effect on October 1st.

Trading Places

For many professional sports players, the off-season is where the major trades take place. This past week the Canadian discount brokerage space also saw a rather dramatic trade (of sorts) happen.

As mentioned in this article in the Globe and Mail (for subscribers only), the general manager of Desjardins Online Brokerage, Laurent Blanchard, will be leaving Desjardins and assuming the role of president of National Bank Direct Brokerage. Blanchard has been instrumental in working with Desjardins’ online brokerage unit since its early days and had been the general manager since 2012.

The rivalry between NBDB and Desjardins Online Brokerage is amicable but nonetheless present. Both are quite well known within the Quebec market and both have been especially close in the competition for the J.D. Power Investor Satisfaction Survey award over the past several award cycles.

As both firms will now be seeing transition at the top, it should be interesting to see where the competition between these online brokerages goes next.

Event Horizon

July 13

Scotia iTRADE – Trading Weekly Options As An Income Strategy with Sarah Potter

July 14

NBDB – Introduction to Technical Analysis : Supports and Resistances – [Fr]

Scotia iTRADE – Technical Analysis and Seasonal Investing with Horizons ETFs

TD Direct Investing – ETFs 101

July 15

TD Direct Investing – Investing Idea: An Introduction to REITs

Scotia iTRADE – Preparing for Rising Interest Rate Environments with iShares

July 16

TD Direct Investing – Introduction to Investing with Options

Scotia iTRADE – Risk Management Trading with the 1% Rule with AJ Monte

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

This week on Twitter, Questrade continues to field requests for features while the larger bank-owned brokerages were being kept busy with client service questions. What was most interesting, however, were a couple of conversations between traders regarding the pricing and functionality of certain discount brokerages.

From the Forums

The hard sell

For most DIY investors it’s challenging enough to keep Mr. Market from taking back trading gains. In this post from reddit’s personal finance Canada subreddit, it was interesting to note the report of one large bank-owned brokerage deciding to use outbound sales calls to see if users of their discounted mutual funds would consider also using some premium products.

Son of a glitch

This past week has seen a major airline and a major stock exchange have technical difficulties cause some mayhem. For one user of the Financial Wisdom Forum, their online brokerage experience got a little nerve-wracking when they had login difficulties. Check out this post for a great example of the some of the stranger technical difficulties that can occur while trading online and on-the-go.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap for this week’s roundup. With so much going on in the markets (China, Grexits, interest rate hikes, computer glitches and more!) it’s enough to make anybody’s head spin. Thankfully with the sun shining for most Canadians this weekend, there are lots of fun ways to not have to worry about it (at least for a little while) starting first with the big opening to the Pan Am Games in Toronto. Good luck to all the athletes on and off the GTA highways this weekend!

Source: Twitter (@TorontoPolice)

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – February 6, 2015

Canadian discount brokerages are hitting February at full speed. With a slew of deals, events and the roll out of new features it doesn’t appear like very much will be slowing down the activity at Canada’s brokerages.

In this week’s roundup we cover the ramping up of the new feature launch at one of Canada’s oldest discount brokerages, a highlight reel of deals and promotions to kick off the month, a tour through the educational events taking place in February and finally a new twist on an old favourite in the forums.

On a Roll

Late last year Desjardins Online Brokerage quietly unveiled their conditional order feature. This past week, they were not so quiet any more as the front page of their website announced the presence of this feature and the official roll out to both the Classic and Disnat Direct clients.

According to their website, the conditional order settings available via Desjardins Online Brokerage include:

  • A trade execution triggers one or more orders
  • A trade execution triggers one or more cancellations;
  • An event triggers one or more orders.

Included on the landing page explaining the conditional order types are also three video tutorials (also viewable on YouTube) that provide additional detail on how these order types work and can be used on the Disnat trading platform.

In both the year in review/look ahead article and the video interview with Desjardins Online Brokerage, 2015 was flagged as a year in which a number of new features and upgrades are coming.

Be sure to check out next week as we have an exclusive first look at another one of Desjardins’ major new projects for 2015.

New Month New Deals

One of the biggest stories from January was just how many promotional offers were being put forth from Canadian discount brokerages. The competition for consumers has certainly paid off as there are now 21 open offers on our deals page as well as additional special offers and contests not listed.

Just how do the offers stack up? This month the deals picture is somewhat unchanged to last month. The count of offers at each brokerage shows Questrade as the most active in terms of promotional offers with at least seven followed by BMO InvestorLine with four and Scotia iTrade with two. All other brokerages had one offer.

Count of Canadian discount brokerage deals for February 2015

Of all the Canadian discount brokerages Questrade is aggressively pursuing clients as seen in their promotional activity, advertising and outreach efforts in most of the Canadian investor forums, Twitter (and reddit). With ultra-low pricing on their side as well, the other Canadian brokerages are going to have to become much more nimble in order to keep pace.

It’s worth mentioning that Qtrade Investor does have a contest running but was not included in this list because it does not meet the standard criteria for commission rebate/credit or reward.

Also, thanks to a user comment from Kris, we’ve updated the transfer fee promos section to include an offer from CIBC Investor’s Edge that wasn’t posted on their website but was confirmed by their client service reps.

Event Horizon

This upcoming week features a number of free investor education events, with a particular focus on options trading. Click on a link below to find out more information.

Feb. 10 (Tues) NBDB – Introduction to Call Options – [Fr]

Feb. 10 (Tues) Scotia iTRADE – Transitioning to an ETF Portfolio with Horizons ETFs

Feb. 10 (Tues) TD Direct Investing – Introduction to Investing in Options

Feb. 11 (Wed) Scotia iTRADE – Options Trading and Volatility with Montreal Exchange

Feb. 11 (Wed) TD Direct Investing – Advanced Options

Feb. 11 (Wed) TD Direct Investing – Option Strategies for your RSP and TFSA Accounts

Feb. 11 (Wed) TD Direct Investing – Building Wealth Through Registered Accounts

Feb. 11 (Wed) TD Direct Investing – Technical Analysis – Candlestick Charting

Feb. 11 (Wed) Desjardins Online Brokerage (Disnat) – Options Trading Mistakes to Avoid

Feb. 12 (Thurs) NBDB – Learn About Investment Basics – [Fr]

From the Forums

This week’s from the forums section, we’re going to try something a little different. We’ve collected some interesting threads from the past week that are related to discount brokerages. The threads have been summarized in our corresponding community sections. Click on the links below to view them.

That’s a wrap for this weekend. No matter if you have a snow shovel or umbrella to fight the elements, stay out of trouble and see you next week. Of course if you somehow don’t manage to stay out of trouble, here’s a guy who knows some guys.