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Special Series: An In-Depth Look at the 2014 J.D. Power Canadian Discount Brokerage Rankings – Part 1

This year’s J.D. Power & Associates’ Canadian discount brokerage rankings were recently announced. As with years past, the rankings and the underlying survey they’re based on, provided a unique window into the collective voice of Canadian self-directed investors and their perceptions of Canada’s online discount brokerages.

In the first of our multi-part special series on this year’s discount brokerage rankings, we take a look at the survey that produces the rankings, including how it measures investor satisfaction as well as some of the unique features of this year’s survey and results.

The next part of our series will drill down into the actual performance of Canada’s brokerages on this year’s ranking and what these results mean for the online brokerages as a whole as well as self-directed investors.

A Quick Recap of the 2014 Canadian Discount Brokerage Rankings

When it comes to the various Canadian discount brokerage rankings, the J.D. Power & Associates evaluation occupies a special niche. Unlike other rankings that focus on direct evaluation of features, the J.D. Power ranking of Canadian brokerages is unique because its is the based on the systematic organization of opinions, experiences and perceptions of discount brokerage clients – what they call the “voice of the customer”.

Between mid-May and mid-June of this year, the Investor Satisfaction Survey polled just over 2500 clients from a number of Canadian discount brokerages to find out just how satisfied (or dissatisfied) these investors were with their current online brokerage. In total, 7 Canadian discount brokerages ended up having sufficient data to participate in the rankings (compared to 11 last year), with an average investor satisfaction score of 736 (compared to an average of 724 last year).

The firms covered in this year’s ranking (along with their overall investor satisfaction score) are shown in the chart below.

J.D. Power & Associates Canadian Discount Brokerage Rankings 2014
While numbers help to make the assessment and ranking easier, the process behind how these numbers are generated is actually fairly complex.   (For those who want a more detailed explanation of the survey and scoring system, click to read our overview on the J.D. Power Investor Satisfaction Survey here)

It is useful, however, to get a quick sense of how these numbers are derived to better understand what they mean.

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J.D. Power & Associates Canadian Discount Brokerage Rankings 2013 – Part 1

For Canada’s discount brokerages, fall not only means a busier season with investors, but for many of them it is also the time of year they either dread or cheer. The stretch of time between September and January is typically when a number of Canadian discount brokerage rankings get published – something that could be known as “rankings season.”

Just before the end of September, one of the biggest of the ranking companies, J.D. Power & Associates, officially announced their 2013 Canadian Discount Brokerage Rankings.  This year’s winner, National Bank Direct Brokerage, finally managed to grab first place by narrowly edging out the reigning winner for the past four years, Disnat who came in second and BMO InvestorLine who placed third.

In the first of a two-part series on the 2013 J.D. Power & Associates discount brokerage rankings, I’ll take an in-depth look at this year’s award winner, how they managed to land in first and what the ripple effect of their win might mean for self-directed investors as well as the Canadian discount brokerage industry as a whole.  The second part in the series will drill down into the numbers from this year to see what they reveal about the sentiment of investor satisfaction with discount brokerages and how it has shifted relative to prior years.

For those of you interested in learning more about the awards are produced, check out the special series on the JD Power & Associates Canadian discount brokerage rankings.

How “The Best” Was Won

Getting to number 1 has been a story of persistence for National Bank Direct Brokerage (NBDB).  Over the past 5 years, NBDB has consistently scored among the top three Canadian discount brokerages in terms of investor satisfaction yet first place was always elusive.  This year, however, NBDB scored 757 (out of 1000) and narrowly managed to edge out the reigning winner Disnat (who scored 750) by 7 points.  While the margin is small, a victory is still a victory.

For NBDB the win is a sign that they continue to hit the right notes with their clients in terms of providing an experience clients feel is satisfying – the metric the ‘investor satisfaction’ survey is designed to measure.  As is explained in the special series on the discount brokerage rankings, what goes into measuring “investor satisfaction” might help account for why NBDB was able edge out Disnat this year.  Fortunately, the President of National Bank Direct Brokerage, Nancy Paquet, helped to provide some background into what might have contributed to her firm’s win this year.  As a bonus, she also shared her views on the Canadian discount brokerage industry and provided a glimpse into how this industry continues to meet the challenges of innovation demanded by clients and competitors.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – September 27, 2013

As hard as it is to believe, September is almost over and with it there was some major news this past week in the discount brokerage space.  In this edition of the roundup, I look at the big news in discount brokerage rankings that was announced earlier in the week as well as highlight what month end means for some deals.  Also included in the roundup are some interesting events spotted taking place at a major brokerage and some informative posts in the investor forums.

Another Best Online Discount Brokerage Announced

Earlier this week JD Power & Associates released the results from their annual investor satisfaction survey and the discount brokerage rankings that go with them.  This year’s winner was National Bank Direct Brokerage who narrowly edged out the reigning winner Disnat.   Some highlights from this year’s investor satisfaction survey were that the overall average satisfaction for the Canadian discount brokerage industry rose to 724 (out of 1000) up from 700 a year earlier.  While the rankings did cover most of the Canadian discount brokerages, there were a couple of popular brokerages (Virtual Brokers, Credential Direct and Interactive Brokers) that just didn’t have enough of a sample to be included.

To learn more about how the JD Power & Associates discount brokerage rankings work, check out the special series explaining this award.   Also coming up shortly is an in-depth look at the award results for 2013 as well as commentary from National Bank Direct Brokerage on the win.

So You Think You Can Trade?

National Bank Direct Brokerage has also been busy on the contest front.  In partnership with Horizons Exchange Traded Funds, National Bank Direct Brokerage is sponsoring the Horizons ETFs Biggest Winner Contest.  The simulated ETF trading competition awards cash prizes to those whose ETF portfolios outperform other competitors.   The contest has a grand prize of $7500, second prize of $2500.00 and weekly prizes of $500.   The competition starts on October 7th, 2013 and runs until November 15th. For more information about the competition check this link.

Guess Who’s Back?

Earlier this week, one of the major bank-owned discount brokerages, RBC Direct Investing, revived their investor education seminar series by holding some introductory sessions at their investor centers in Vancouver and Toronto. This article goes over what the event was like and what attendees can expect if they wish to attend.

What’s the Deal?

As we near the end of the month there a couple of discount brokerage deals are set to expire.  Scotia iTrade’s “Refer-a-Friend” offer is scheduled to expire at the end of September however on several occasions in the past this has been extended at the beginning of the next month.

Another notable deal expiring at the end of September is BMO InvestorLine’s Air Miles/$250 cash back offer. With the recent launch of deals by RBC Direct Investing, HSBC InvestDirect and the extensions of deals by a number of other brokerages earlier in the month, it will be interesting to see what BMO InvestorLine decides to roll out through next week as this is their major promotional offer currently being advertised. Although it was originally set to expire in early September, the expiry date for the “AirMiles/Cash Back” deal got pushed out until the end of the month so it will be interesting to spot what, if any deals will be announced.

Unhappy (Divid)Ending

In the RedFlagDeals forums this past week there was an interesting post spotted that discussed how dividends are treated while trading on margin.  Specifically, the answer to the following post by user Mark77 indicates that rules about where a dividend originates can determine how they get classified.

RedFlagDeals Investing Forum Post - Margin Trading and Dividends


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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – June 21, 2013

While storms were raging across stock markets this past week, it was definitely calmer waters in terms of discount brokerage news and chatter.  In this week’s roundup, we look at the actions that landed another Canadian discount broker in the IIROC penalty box, a report by TD on Canadian investors as well as a review of the chatter on stock forums about brokerages and some useful cautionary investing tales. Finally, we take a quick look at the results from the twelfth edition of  the U.S. Self-Directed Investor Satisfaction Survey results from J.D. Power released earlier this week.

Scotia Capital gets called for an offside

Over the past several weeks, it seems that that Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC) has been handing out a series of penalties to Canadian discount brokerages. Joining the likes of Questrade and Interactive Brokers, the decision against Scotia Capital Inc (the parent of Scotia iTrade) was based on activity between 2009 and 2011, shortly after it had acquired E*Trade in 2008.

Scotia Capital was hit with a $150,000 fine for failing to have policies and procedures in place that could detect potential wash trades and high closing prices.  To read more about the settlement, check out the IIROC press release or a great write-up about it in the Globe and Mail.

The Investor Survey Says…

TD Bank Group released results from a recently commissioned a survey of Canadian investors. The survey asked just over 1000 Canadian investors about their thoughts and perspectives on the investing climate in the next 12 months.  Of those surveyed, 41% felt that their personal portfolios would improve even in the face of mild Canadian and US economic recoveries and a poor global economic outlook.    This suggests that investors surveyed might be more interested in looking closer to home for investing ideas rather than looking abroad.

Another interesting finding from the survey is a classic illustration of behavioural finance in action.  Given the run up in the markets experienced for the first half of this year, the rising prices seemed to have also lifted the outlook of investors. Paradoxically, investors are constantly told or reminded that past performance doesn’t guarantee future results, yet it is interesting to see how the past does, in fact, shape investor perceptions.   As described in their press release, those investors surveyed who experienced a loss were more prone to being pessimistic about the future than those investors who experienced a gain.

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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.

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Special Series: JD Power & Associates Discount Brokerage Rankings Explained – Part 3

In this final section of our special series on the J.D. Power & Associates Discount Broker Investor Satisfaction Survey, we look at the survey from the perspectives of its creators as well as the company that has placed first in investor satisfaction for the past four years.  Dr. Lubo Li, Senior Director and Industry Practice Leader for Canada at J.D. Power and Associates and Laurent Blanchard, Vice President and Manager of Online Brokerage at Disnat – shared their perspectives with us on the value of the investor satisfaction survey, and what it means for both consumers as well as the discount brokerage industry.

As we’ve learned from the previous sections in this series (click here for part 1 or here for part 2), the Investor Satisfaction Survey measures the experiences of consumers with different discount brokerages in Canada.  According to Dr. Li, however, the value of the survey goes beyond simply looking at experiences.   The real strength of the survey, he explained, is its ability to measure the “voice of the customer” and uncover “perceived customer value.” In short, the survey results reflect what consumers believe are important components to having a discount brokerage account.

Reliability matters

As any quick Google search will reveal, reliable and impartial measures of consumer opinions on Canadian discount brokerages are hard to come by. Thus, for consumers of financial products, the opportunity to access reliable feedback from their peers is invaluable.  Since a survey is only as useful as it is accurate,  consumers must be skeptical when coming across ‘polls’, surveys or other rankings by asking how they were devised and measured. As we’ve seen over the past year, several discount brokerages have been considered “the best” depending on who’s doing the ranking. Defining and measuring “investor satisfaction” accurately and transparently was therefore critical to the overall reliability of the investor satisfaction survey. For example, Dr. Li was able to explain that the reason the rankings (covered in section 1) were ordered in the way they were was because that was the priority most investors placed on those items.  To review, the six categories of investor satisfaction are:

  1. Interaction
  2. Trading Charges and Fees
  3. Account Information
  4. Account Offerings
  5. Information Resources
  6. Problem Resolution

Interestingly, when asked why something as seemingly important as “Problem Resolution” was placed last on the scale, Dr. Li answered that while the importance of receiving help when it is needed is high, the frequency with which that occurs relative to other situations is actually quite low.  The example he gave was using the insurance industry where although the essence of why insurance is useful is precisely because one may need it in an emergency, the frequency of those occurrences is actually quite rare. Similarly, for discount broker customers,the more immediate concerns of being able to get a hold of someone or how much a transaction costs score higher on the list of priorities hence they  are given greater importance for scoring.

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Special Series: J.D. Power & Associates – Discount Brokerage Rankings Data Visualized

How to use the Visual Discount Brokerage Rankings Table

We’ve collected the results from the J.D. Power and Associates Investor Satisfaction survey from 2012 (Table 1) as well as historical results from 2009-2012 (Table 2).  To help visualize how the different discount brokerages have performed on the surveys relative to other discount brokerages, we’ve created small graphs called “sparxlines”.  Each graph shows a series of dots that represent the order in which a company ranked according to the survey results and ordered from left to right (with 1st being on the far left).  A red dot on each graph corresponds to the company referenced in the same row.  The average for the industry is presented on the graph for a point of reference to identify which companies are at, above or below average.  Lastly the scores are provided for a numerical reference point.   To find out more about a particular discount brokerage, simply click on the logo of the company to be taken to the brokerage profile.


Table 1: J.D. Power and Associates 2012 Investor Satisfaction Results

Sparxline Company Investor Satisfaction Survey Score Rating
768 5/5
720 4/5
719 4/5
707 3/5
690 3/5
687 3/5
686 3/5
686 3/5
678 3/5
656 2/5

Source: J.D. Power and Associates 2012 Discount Brokerage Investor Satisfaction Study

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Special Series: J.D. Power & Associates – Discount Brokerage Rankings Explained Part 2

JD-Power-Data-Ranking - Discount Brokerage Rankings

If you missed the first part of our J.D. Power & Associates Discount Brokerage Rankings series, read it here.

The two main objectives of this section are to provide readers with:

  1. A look at the overall discount brokerage marketplace to see what, if any trends in investor satisfaction there are that matter to consumers
  2. A detailed look at the company results in the survey to see how each company has performed over time so that consumers get an idea of the responsiveness of a particular discount brokerage to the needs of investors

When choosing a discount brokerage, you can either “go it alone” and find out for yourself what a discount brokerage is like or you can turn to the opinions of other self-directed investors to help you decide. Even though both approaches exist, surveys of Canadian investors have shown that many of them like to do research, turning to friends or family for recommendations, as well as third party reviews and research, before making a choice to go with a particular discount broker. While external opinions are valuable sources of information to help avoid potentially costly or unpleasant experiences they can also help to find a service provider that can hopefully keep you a satisfied customer.

Looking at what thousands of other self-directed investors have said about their experiences can certainly shed light on what you’re likely to encounter with a particular discount brokerage and at the very least help to provide some context around informal discussions with friends or family. There are some questions, however, you may want to consider when looking to these sources. Questions such as:

  • How well does the source I’m looking at consider and describe my needs?
  • If they are a friend, family member or opinion in a forum, how long has this person been a client with the company and
  • What, if any, issues have they encountered with the service/experience along the way?

Also, because numbers and statistics often get presented to support marketing and sales, we thought it prudent to state several “qualifiers” readers need to consider about such numbers up front instead of at the end. First, it’s worth stating that the range of data this section references covers four years of results of the investor satisfaction survey. This four year time period is a small time frame, especially since the interval that the survey is conducted on is annual. Second, the number of companies in the ‘pool’ is fairly small so we must be cautious about inferring too much about the performance numbers and possible trends of the industry as a whole. Instead, looking at a particular company’s change in performance over time is probably more reliable an approach than comparing companies to one another. Lastly, not every year had the same number of discount brokerages covered. In 2009 and 2010 for example, the number of discount brokerages covered by this survey was 6 and 8 respectively. Smaller or newer discount brokerages, therefore, are less likely to appear on the survey and so the inferences made about “the industry” actually apply to the discount brokerages covered in this list.

Investor satisfaction with the overall discount brokerage industry in Canada

Over the four years the investor satisfaction survey has been conducted, more than eleven and a half thousand individuals have been consulted about discount brokerage services in Canada.

Canadian Discount Brokerage Industry - Investor Satisfaction Scores 2009-2012
Figure 1: Canadian Discount Brokerage Investor Satisfaction Scores from 2009-2012

When looking at the four year picture, the average industry satisfaction scores have fluctuated year over year, bouncing between a low of 679 in 2011 and a high of 707 in 2010. The four year average score for the industry is 696 (out of 1000) with an average standard deviation of 27.5 points. When graphed, it is clear that as a group no clear industry-wide trends in the satisfaction of Canadian discount brokerage investors are visible.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – Nov 30th 2012

On the heels of the results from the annual Globe and Mail Canadian Discount Brokerage rankings, the 2012 Morningstar Canadian Investment Awards were handed out on November 28th and included a “Best Discount Brokerage” category.  While not nearly as well known as the J.D. Power and Associates award for Investor Satisfaction, the Morningstar Awards offer discount brokerages the chance to submit themselves (for a fee) for consideration by a panel of judges for the title of “Best Discount Broker.”  This year, Qtrade took top spot and maintained their three year reign as the title holder of this award.   Certainly it’s a bright spot for them after recently having been displaced from the top of the Globe and Mail rankings by Virtual Brokers. To learn more about the Morningstar methodology for “Best Discount Broker” click here. BMO Investorline’s  “Advice Direct” also earned recognition for “Best Use of Technology” (another category for which entrants had to submit a fee to be considered).  Unfortunately, neither the list of candidates nor the scores were published so we are not sure how many discount brokerages participated in this year’s submission.

Another big piece of news for self-directed investors came in the form of an increased contribution limit to tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs).  Most Canadian discount brokerages offer TFSAs so for those who choose to invest via their TFSAs, the news is definitely welcomed.  Starting in January 2013 Canadians will be allowed to contribute a maximum of $5500 dollars (instead of the previous limit of $5000 per year).  To learn more about which discount brokerages offer TFSAs, click here.

If you want to learn more about TFSAs themselves, check our special “The Mighty TFSA.”

Event Horizon

As we turn the corner into December, an interesting opportunity for individuals to sit and discuss some investing related topics is being held at the TD Waterhouse Discount Brokerage centre in downtown Vancouver.  The event, entitled “stock chatter” will take place on December 5th from 1:30 PM to 3:00 PM.

Best Discount Brokerage Tweet of the Week

This past week saw the finale of Financial Literacy Month but also it was the conclusion of the now infamous “Mo-vember”.  @Jitneytrade deserves a tip of the hat for getting their team on board and actively participating in this great event.  Check out their tweet here which has the link to their movember ‘stache pics.

The People Have Spoken

Questrade is one of the most active discount brokerages when it comes to offering discounts and promotions.  Recently they’ve offered individuals either an iPad mini if they transfer in $100K or a chance to win one of 10 ipad minis for a smaller deposit.   The retail value of an ipad mini is $329.  In our discount broker deals section, we’ve seen deal “value” far higher for smaller deposit sizes, and so it piqued our curiosity – what do others think of this Questrade promotion? Is an iPad mini enough value to deposit $100,000?  Sure enough, the Questrade promotion caught the attention of some folks on the following Red Flag Deals forum.

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Special Series: J.D. Power & Associates – Discount Brokerage Rankings Explained Part 1

JD-Power-Section 1 - Discount Brokerage Rankings


In the first part of our special series on discount brokerage rankings and reviews, we take a look at one of the most popular consumer research organizations, J.D. Power and Associates, and their annual survey of self-directed investors’ impressions of Canadian discount brokerages known as the Investor Satisfaction survey.  The results from this survey form the basis for the highly coveted J.D. Power and Associates award for the Canadian discount brokerage industry. As such, both consumers and the discount brokers pay close attention to the results of these surveys.

For consumers trying to choose between the many options in the discount brokerage market, using reviews and data from actual customers is a popular strategy to help make a decision.  With several ratings systems now being provided to self-directed investors, there seems to be some confusing and potentially conflicting messages being communicated about different discount brokerages. Not all reviews are created equally, however, nor do they measure identical features, which is why sometimes the results can seem confusing.

To help demystify the ratings and to give Canadian self-directed investors a better understanding of J.D. Power’s rankings, we’ve taken a look at the following four questions:

  1. Who is J.D. Power and Associates?
  2. What does the Investor Satisfaction survey measure?
  3. How is Investor Satisfaction measured?
  4. What does this survey and its ratings mean for consumers?

1.      Who is J.D. Power and Associates?

J.D. Power and Associates is a professional consumer research firm.  They are among the most widely recognized names in marketing research and have a solid reputation for conducting thorough research on the experiences of consumers with brands or products.  Although they are well-known for their work in the auto sector, J.D. Power and Associates (J.D. Power) also conducts surveys across a number of different sectors, including the banking and financial services sectors.  Of particular interest to Canadians looking for a discount brokerage, J.D. Power has been conducting surveys of investor satisfaction with Canadian discount brokerages since 2009. Over that period of time, they have surveyed over 11,500 clients of Canadian discount brokerages asking them about various components of their experience with discount brokerage account providers.  J.D. Power makes their money by selling the detailed results and analysis of their research to major brands so that these brands can better understand the needs and experiences of their customers and, in theory, work to improve those experiences.