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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – January 6, 2022

Happy New Year and welcome to 2022! The start of a new calendar year is typically the time of year when we all struggle with writing the correct year for a few weeks and then eventually get the hang of (or accept) being in a new place. Ironically, time distortion is a hallmark of a pandemic, and aside from not knowing what day of the week it is (every day is sweatpants day!), it seems that timing was topsy-turvy at online brokerages in Canada and the US. But this is the definition of the new normal, and like markets tend to do, we’re embracing the ability to adapt with the times.

Change is a big theme in this mega-edition of the Roundup. First, we dive into the biggest review of Canadian online brokerages: the Look Back / Look Ahead for 2021/2022. This in-depth look at the latest issue picks out some important themes that impacted Canadian online brokerages and self-directed investors in 2021 and what’s in store for 2022. Next, we recap the year with memes & themes in an epic rundown of the big (and small) stories of 2021. So, in case you missed the past year or simply just need a quick(ish) primer on what happened with Canadian online brokerages in 2021, be sure to read through this ultimate roundup of Roundups. Finally, be sure to get to the end for an important announcement on the schedule changes to the Roundup coming this January.

Online Brokerages Review 2021 & Offer Exclusive Preview of 2022

When given the opportunity and spotlight to speak directly to online investors, what did Canadian online brokerages have to say about an exceptional year and how to build on top of that?

Well, we found out just that in the latest edition of the Look Back / Look Ahead series in which Canadian online brokerage leaders shared their perspectives on the past year, as well as what they have planned for the year ahead.

This year’s edition featured submissions from BMO InvestorLine, Desjardins Online Brokerage, HSBC InvestDirect, National Bank Direct Brokerage, Qtrade Direct Investing and RBC Direct Investing, with senior leaders from each of these firms, sharing unique and intriguing perspectives into how various factors over the past year have influenced the priorities and direction of their respective firms going forward.

On a thematic level, it was clear that one of the biggest challenges and opportunities for the online brokerage industry in Canada was the meteoric rise of retail investor interest in trading stocks online. The stats provided were incredible. Desjardins Online Brokerage, for example, shared that 30% of their user base is between the ages of 18 and 30, and BMO InvestorLine reported nearly 50% of their new clients are under 35. And they’re likely not alone. The huge demographic shift in clients means that online brokerages are working to deliver features and experiences that align more closely with this group – including investor education resources.

Having covered the online brokerage industry in Canada for the past decade, an important theme of this issue we’ve witnessed is effort into investor education gradually recede. When Sparx Trading first launched, at least half a dozen or more online brokerages would regularly hold investor education seminars, webinars, or education-focused events. Gradually, however, as markets moved steadily higher and volatility subsided, interest in education waned, and whether it was supply or demand driven, “investor education” resources began to disappear.

Fast forward to today and it seems we are experiencing a renaissance of investor education based on the feedback from online brokerages, as well as in several of the trends we’ve been tracking throughout the industry. National Bank Direct Brokerage, for example, highlighted the fact they offer Options Play for free to their clients. This digital tool enables clients to simulate and learn about options trading strategies – something that is of growing interest to younger investors, especially coming out of the meme-stock craze of early 2021. At RBC Direct Investing, education is also on the roadmap for 2022 as is building out additional content for investors via the Inspired Investor magazine. And, at the industry giant TD Direct Investing, it is clear that investor-focused content will play an important role given their sizeable investment in building an entire content team that is likely going to be producing content at an unmatched volume.

Of course, the big story for 2021 in the Canadian online brokerage industry was the launch of commission-free trading by National Bank Direct Brokerage in August. Undeniably a surprise for many, the fact that a bank-owned online brokerage with a national footprint would be the first to offer full commission-free trading changed the competitive landscape for larger and smaller players alike. Not long after NBDB lowered their fees, Desjardins Online Brokerage followed suit. With both of these Quebec-based institutions taking trading commissions to zero, clearly commission-free trading is on the minds of self-directed investors and online brokerages alike. When polled about the issue, Canadian online brokerages revealed that they are clearly aware of it and would be looking to enhance value for investors with new features and offers rather than lower prices for trading commissions – at least at this point.

As we round the turn into 2022, however, zero-commission trading looms large. Just ahead of the end of 2021, Mogo Trade announced it had received the official green light to launch its commission-free trading app, and in our special section on commission-free online brokerages, we listed a total of four (including Mogo Trade) that we are currently tracking that are likely to come online either in 2022 or 2023. So, the reality for Canadian online brokerages is that zero-commission trading is coming, as is more competition.

Given the pace of innovation and change that are on the horizon, the Look Back / Look Ahead series provides visibility on which Canadian online brokerages are actively innovating, which firms are working on important infrastructure components, such as client experience, and which firms are clearly capable of doing both.

For self-directed investors, moving from online brokerage to online brokerage is (at least for now) a slow and painful exercise. Consumers would much rather stay where they are; however, without confidence in their online brokerage’s ability to innovate or be competitive on cost or value, alternatives are increasingly present.

Perhaps one of the most compelling stories in 2022 beyond commission-free trading will be a new feature telegraphed in the Look Back / Look Ahead from National Bank Direct Brokerage: paid securities lending.

In addition to offering zero-commission trading, the fact that clients could be compensated for lending their securities out to those seeking to short them lays a strategic foundation for NBDB to not only hang on to clients in a way that other brokerages are not (at least not yet), but it also is a draw for active traders who are looking to source shares for shorting. It’s a feature that currently exists only at Interactive Brokers, which is a signal or validation that active investors are either direct or indirect benefactors of this program. In short (pun intended), our call on National Bank Direct Brokerage in early 2021 appears to continue to play out: they are increasingly going to be an online brokerage to watch as they expand their presence across Canada. Until another major online brokerage in Canada drops their commission pricing to zero or close to it, National Bank Direct Brokerage is going to continue to be a top contender among self-directed investors looking to for a value-oriented online trading experience. Unlike other providers, however, NBDB isn’t waiting around for that to happen – they are clearly positioning themselves well with Options Play and the paid securities lending feature to be an attractive destination for active investors, as well as passive ones, and they’re working towards launching a mobile app which would only deepen the appeal with younger investors.

With 2021 now officially in the books, the Look Back / Look Ahead series is a great opportunity to get a unique perspective from industry insiders on the world of self-directed investing. As it falls on the tenth official year of the launch of, it also represents a significant milestone to have been covering the activity in this space to the depth and consistency that we have. Over the course of the decade, it’s been amazing to connect with industry analysts, online brokerage leaders, and self-directed investors to chat all things online investing. Most fulfilling, however, has been getting to be able to level the playing field for DIY investors and help, even in some small measure, make self-directed investing easier and more accessible.

True to the spirit of the Look Back / Look Ahead series, we also took the opportunity to announce the launch of Sparx Trading Pro. While it is still in development, we’re excited to be building something special for the community of users that regularly turn to for in-depth insight and analysis of the online brokerage industry. We love analytics and numbers, so a big part of what we hope to introduce is more data on what self-directed investors are interested in, and as a result, help serve as a catalyst to drive innovation.

Finally, on behalf of the entire Sparx Publishing Group organization and team, thank you to our loyal readers, visitors, and supporters. We’re amazed that 10 years has flown by, and we’re bullish on where the next chapter in self-directed investing goes from here. Thanks for tuning in!

Themes and Memes: Online Brokerage Highlights from Q2 2021 onwards

April: In with the New

From Qtrade’s new look and new name (Qtrade Direct Investing) to the preview of long sought-after features from Questrade and Wealthsimple Trade, April showered self-directed investors with the promise of new things to come.

The launch of the new brand direction for Qtrade Direct Investing was a huge milestone for this popular Canadian online brokerage. Executing a rebrand is no small feat; however, Qtrade managed to strike the right balance between a connection to what people know it for (i.e. its first name) and what it wants people to know it for. With a bold, new look and energy, it felt like Qtrade was ready to embrace the new landscape of online investing and bring something emotion into what has typically been a conservative brand.

Also looking to stir up some excitement, Questrade telegraphed the launch of a new mobile app – something that they hoped would help them compete more effectively against a design-savvy, mobile-first competitor: Wealthsimple Trade. It wouldn’t actually launch until November (see below) but the hype train on the new mobile app officially pulled out of the station in April.

And speaking of Wealthsimple Trade, new feature releases were a regular occurrence throughout the year, but one big announcement from the zero-commission brokerage was the news that they would be launching US dollar trading accounts. Long the Achilles heel for this very popular brokerage, the final form of the US dollar trading offering from Wealthsimple Trade ended up launching in December (see below).  

May: Statistics and Outliers

Strange, almost by definition, is not normal. For the (fellow) statistics nerds out there, data is a great way to get a handle on what is considered normal and what’s an outlier. This month happened to be filled with DIY investor data from all over the world.

One of the big developments was the online brokerage ranking by Surviscor, which put online brokerage fees into the spotlight. Remarkably, even before going to zero commissions, National Bank Direct Brokerage took the crown of lowest cost provider which is no small feat in a fiercely price sensitive industry.

Another watershed pricing moment came later in the month from popular bank-owned online brokerage BMO InvestorLine. In a calculated move, BMO InvestorLine launched 80 commission-free ETFs, and while they are not the only Canadian online brokerage to offer completely commission-free ETF buying and selling, the move gave both active and passive investors a compelling reason to choose this online brokerage over others (especially bank-owned brokerage competitors).

June: More New Features

Summer is typically the time for big blockbuster movies. Although the silver screens weren’t as busy this past year, DIY investor screens were filled with blockbuster reveals in the summer.

Perhaps the biggest one for Canadian self-directed investors (up until that point) was the launch of fractional share trading by Wealthsimple Trade. This highly-prized feature is something that US online investors were able to have access to from a variety of online brokerages, but for mainstream investors in Canada, Wealthsimple Trade was able to make a huge splash by bringing this trading to the masses in Canada.

The huge news from Wealthsimple Trade essentially overshadowed a lot of other new and newsworthy feature releases that month, including the launch of faster deposit times for Questrade, new advanced trading tools for clients of RBC Direct Investing, and the launch of the Interactive Brokers credit card in Canada.  

July: No Strings Attached

The Robinhood IPO and the opportunity to “buy buy buy” into the game-changing commission-free online brokerage was undeniably one of the biggest stories in the space this past year. By venturing into the public markets, it was possible to look under the financial “hood” to see how this commission-free brokerage managed to grow so rapidly, and, more importantly, how they made their money despite keeping commissions at zero. As it turned out, the prospectus for Robinhood’s IPO made for some fascinating reading.

No stranger to life as a publicly traded online brokerage, however, Interactive Brokers managed to pull off a deft mic drop moment of their own when they waved bye-bye-bye to inactivity fees for their clients worldwide. This included Canadian online investors, so it was a huge win for DIY investors everywhere who, prior to the removal of inactivity fees, were reluctant to have more than their most active accounts with Interactive Brokers. By lowering the friction to stay a customer of Interactive Brokers, this savvy online brokerage turned the math of customer churn on its head and managed to find a way to get customers to stay, even if they needed to step back from active trading for a while.

August: Coming This Fall

Twenty twenty-one was many things, but typical it was not. For that reason, we probably should have known better than to think it would be business as usual – or more appropriately – quiet business as usual. August happened to be an historic month for Canadian online investors because that was the month National Bank Direct Brokerage chose to launch commission-free trading.

Not only did National Bank Direct Brokerage take their commission fees for trading stocks to zero, they simultaneously took the vacation plans for other online brokerage leaders to zero as well.

And, while there wasn’t a story bigger than that, there was one that came close. We spotted and reported on the potential launch of yet another commission-free online broker, FreeTrade, here in Canada. In addition to Mogo Trade, FreeTrade represented yet another online brokerage interested in launching direct trading services in Canada with no commission.

Between the news of National Bank Direct Brokerage and the potential launch of another commission-free online brokerage in Canada, a clear trend is forming, and now it seems only a matter of time before existing big-bank online brokerages follow suit with significant commission rate drops.

September: Adding Up

We had to do a double take when it came to turning double digits. September marked 10 years since launched with a mission to level the playing field for online investors and “discount brokerages” as they were then known.

It has been a spectacular journey, and despite a very different landscape for online investors today, it was clear that a resource like Sparx Trading is needed as much now as it was when we first started. We also recognized that to prepare for a very dynamic future in the online brokerage space, we had to make some big changes – starting with a full redesign on the website, and in September, we also added the ability for online investors to research what other people are saying about online brokerages on Twitter and reddit, two areas which saw huge gains in participation by retail investors.  

We weren’t the only ones launching a retail investor sentiment tool, however. As it turned out, TD Direct Investing  launched the TD Direct Investing Index to measure Canadian investor sentiment in the stock market. With several Canadian online brokerages regularly reporting what their clients have been trading, this new feature from TDDI takes things to a whole new level by providing data on demographics and location, as well as sectors.

Of course, when it comes to online investors in 2021, stocks weren’t the only asset class of interest to them. In a stunning pivot (and/or a capitulation to giving people what they want), Interactive Brokers announced they would be enabling cryptocurrency trading to their clients. The big story here is that founder and very public face of Interactive Brokers, Thomas Peterffy, has been an outspoken critic of cryptocurrency for years, and so to see him personally acknowledge the material relevance of cryptocurrency as well as make the feature available to Interactive Brokers clients underscores the trading adage of “not fighting the tape.” Demand for cryptocurrency trading was simply too high despite the potential regulatory peril it could represent. Interactive Brokers was by no means the only big name in the US to adopt or support cryptocurrency trading, but it does signal that there is a sufficiently high level of interest among new and experienced investors in trading this digital asset class.

October: And Another One

And speaking of listening to customers, the launch of the QuestMobile app by Questrade generated a tonne (yes, it felt like the metric kind) of responses from clients and observers who weighed in (pun intended) on the new feature. There are only a handful of examples of feature launches from online brokerages over the past decade that generated so much response online, and the QuestMobile launch ranks high on the list of lightning rod discussion points.

Questrade’s unique success online with DIY investors ultimately became its undoing in this case because so many of its clients were not shy about providing their (negative) feedback on social media and investor forums. Regardless of the merits of the app, the roll-out of a new interface is a highly instructive case study change management, especially in an era of increasingly tech and design savvy clientele.

It seemed fitting in a month often known for trick or treating that a huge treat for self-directed investors was the announcement that (yet) another commission-free online brokerage was looking to formally launch in Canada in 2022. TradeZero, a name familiar to very active traders, indicated their plans to expand globally with Canada being an important jumping off point in that roadmap. Excluding the perennial “are we there yet?” questions about tastyworks coming to Canada, the announcement by TradeZero brought the total number of new online brokerages (new commission-free online brokerages) looking to launch in Canada in 2022(ish) to three. In the decade prior to 2021, the number of commission-free online brokerages that were publicly looking to launch in Canada was exactly Wealthsimple Trade long (we announced this back in 2018).

Finally, October was also the month where Virtual Brokers officially rebranded to CI Direct Trading. It had been just over four years since CI Financial acquired Virtual Brokers in 2017; however, the highly recognizable low-cost online brokerage had clearly been paring back on news and announcements post-acquisition. In an interesting (cryptic?) move in September, Virtual Brokers announced its name would be changing; however, it didn’t specify what it would be changing to. Nonetheless, 2021 brought some answers as to what’s going to happen next with Virtual Brokers / CI Direct Trading, and as we saw through the year, rebranding is big project but does set the stage for some transformative moves.

November: Let the Games Begin

In a month that has now become synonymous with bargain hunting, November didn’t disappoint for DIY investors either. There was a dizzying amount of news to report on but the biggest story for self-directed investors in Canada was the unofficial (but now kinda official) launch of RSP season. While the contribution deadline comes at the beginning of March 2022, the deals and promotions for online trading accounts have now started to appear at the beginning of November, and 2021 was no exception. Some big players in the Canadian online brokerage space came out swinging early, among them, CIBC Investor’s Edge and TD Direct Investing, both of which provided a preview to the highly competitive promotional offers available this season.

Another big theme for this year was in the non-bank-owned online brokerage group launching features to help self-directed investors get started and funded as quickly as possible. Qtrade Direct Investing announced the launch of rapid account opening knocking down the time required to open an online trading account at Qtrade from days to minutes. While getting an account opened quickly is a huge step forward, another big hurdle to clear is account funding. Competitor online brokerages such as Questrade and Wealthsimple Trade worked feverishly in 2021 to address instant account funding (albeit with limited amounts).

On the topic of opening accounts quickly, Robinhood, the poster child for rapid growth in online brokerage accounts, in 2020 and 2021 reported earnings, and for anyone keeping score on their stock price recently, the outlook was not great. Being winter, the phrase “getting ahead of your skis” characterizes the Robinhood story, and the now publicly traded stock has seen a massive sell off in large part because of the stall in momentum from retail investor trading. Specifically, the pull back in options and cryptotrading have clearly hurt the top and bottom lines for this zero-commission brokerage. Beyond the trading in those products, it also appears that after the meme-stock debacle, the “for the people” branding took a significant hit, something that might be keeping newer clients away from considering Robinhood as their online brokerage of choice.

And, speaking of choosing, Interactive Brokers once again reflected that the power of capitalism is ultimately in listening and providing to the market what the market wants. Ironically (or perhaps appropriately), ESG-driven trading is something that Interactive Brokers offers to its clients with the launch of their IMPACT app. Commission-free trading that enables you to make the world better through your investment decisions pretty much nails it for the demographic this app is clearly targeting.

December: Free Fallin’

Even with ice and snow on the ground, it seems like stock markets (and a couple of online brokerages) were doing all the slipping and sliding heading into the end of the year. Yet again, 2021 proved that time distortion and normalcy are not a thing because feature launches and big announcements continued to roll in despite it traditionally being a month when activity among online brokerages gears down for the holiday season.

But the giving season did giveth, or at least asketh to taketh, in the case of Wealthsimple Trade which launched a new subscription-based service. The commission-free brokerage finally addressed (sort of) one of their clients’ biggest pain points, the high cost of trading US-listed stocks by launching access to US currency trading accounts. The devil, however, was in the details, and despite the sizzle on rolling out the feature, there were many important unanswered questions about how converting between currencies would work with the subscription model.

Questrade managed to slide in some interesting new features ahead of the end of the year as well, launching a wonderfully named “RoundUP” service to help make investing digital spare change easier as well as a “cash back” shopping feature in which the worlds of online shopping and online investing collide.

Also, just casually sliding some big news in before the end of the year, Mogo Trade received approval for it to launch its zero-commission online trading platform and opened up the waiting list to be notified of the official go live date.

Finally, we shipped the annual Look Back / Look Ahead series for 2021/2022 in December (see above), and with it we wrapped up what has clearly been an eventful year with insights from Canadian online brokerage leaders. As busy as the year was in 2021, all signs point to even more activity in 2022, with new features continuing to launch, new pricing drops likely to come from existing online brokerages (who haven’t already lowered their prices), some interesting new players on the field, and, naturally, the unknown.

Into the Close

If you’ve made it to this point reading top to bottom, congratulations! Not only are you all caught up on the biggest developments in the online brokerage space for the year, but you’re also well prepared for what’s about to come next in 2022. The start of a new year is often a time for reflection and resolutions, but this new year brings even greater cause for reflection as well as celebration.

After 10 years of publishing the Weekly Roundup from pretty much everywhere life has taken me, there are only a handful of instances where publication has been paused, and they’ve been to tend to the greatest investment anyone can have: family. For that reason, the Weekly Roundup will be going on pause until mid-February.

In the interim, we will continue to be publishing deals and promotions updates, as well as monitoring and sharing interesting content to our Twitter channel and newsletter, so be sure to subscribe to those if you haven’t already done so. Also, we will continue to monitor the online brokerage space for big developments, and like all of life’s great surprises, perhaps don’t be surprised if we drop some interesting posts between now and the return of Roundup.

Until then, Happy New Year, and wishing good health, prosperity, and joy to you and your loved ones for 2022! Here’s hoping we get back to a time where can all fist bump in person again soon.

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Look Back / Look Ahead: A Review of Canadian Online Brokerages in 2021 & Preview of 2022

If there’s one thing that all self-directed investors have in common, it’s that they pay attention to trends. This year, we officially crossed the 10-year mark at Sparx Trading, and if there’s one thing that we can speak to after a decade’s worth of data and analysis, it’s being able to spot trends in the Canadian online brokerage industry. 

Taking stock (pun intended) of the past year and a half, it’s fair to say that we’re living through events unlike anything we’ve ever witnessed before. And yet, one of the most striking features of the Canadian online brokerage industry, even in the face of such dramatic events, is the ability of the Canadian market to sustain firms that move at paradoxically different speeds when it comes to innovation. That world, however, is about to change. 

In this fifth iteration of the Look Back / Look Ahead magazine, it’s abundantly clear that the Canadian self-directed investing industry sits at the cusp of a major transformation. 

From the launch of commission-free trading by National Bank Direct Brokerage, to a structural shift in demographics of investors who entered the online trading world, 2021 was a year that online brokerage executives told us challenged them to establish a new normal when it comes to delivering outstanding experiences for Canadian self-directed investors. 

Drastic change was also prevalent at this year. Our choice to completely overhaul our website and lean into refining our brand identity appears to be in line with where leaders in the industry are as well. And we, too, have some incredibly ambitious projects slated for the next year that we can’t wait to share more about, especially the launch of Sparx Trading Pro.

After 10 years of consistently producing content on the Canadian online brokerage landscape, it’s remarkable to reflect on the breadth of audience that we serve. 

Analysts, journalists, executives, enthusiasts, and investors turn to Sparx Trading for in-depth insights and newsworthy developments, as well as puns, gifs, and fun artwork. In today’s parlance, we’ve helped to democratize online investing by providing industry-grade content and insights to all. Today, investors have more technology, platforms, products, providers, and pricing options than they have ever had before, which means our place in the DIY investor ecosystem is even more important today than it was a decade ago when we first launched. 

On behalf of the exceptionally talented Sparx team, I would like to thank our loyal readers, supporters, and, especially, the online brokerage community for 10 years of wonderful memories, and for keeping things interesting. 

Where the next 10 years takes us all, we’re not sure. But we’re excited all the same, especially if where we’re going next won’t need roads. See you in the future!

Click below to learn more about what each individual online brokerage had to say about 2021 and what’s coming up in 2022:

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – November 8, 2021

The end of 2021 is just a few weeks away. Incredible. It definitely feels like we’re on an express train through the calendar, and it is only going to speed up now that the official start to RSP season appears to be here. Thankfully, those of us fortunate to live in a spot with daylight savings have one extra hour to enjoy it!

In this edition of the Roundup, we review the latest promotions from Canadian online brokerages, including some big offers from bank-owned brokerages to try and sway interest their way in what is the most competitive landscape yet. Next, we call out an interesting trend forming among most online brokerages who appear to be pulling back from digital engagement on Twitter despite the record high numbers of investors flocking to online trading. Finally, we wrap up with the ever-entertaining banter from the investor forums.

Online Brokerage Promotions: Playing Cash Up

The RSP deals and promotions activity at Canada’s online brokerages is already off to a strong start this month. And, given who is now in the pool, it shouldn’t be too much longer before we see others follow suit.

Now a week into November, three of the big five bank-owned brokerages have published their seasonal promotions, and they all seem to have one important feature in common: cash.

The latest deals from BMO InvestorLine, CIBC Investor’s Edge and TD Direct Investing are all cash back offers, and as with past years, they are once again tiered promotions where the more you deposit, the more (at least in absolute terms) you stand to receive.

What is very different this year, however, is that it seems like TD Direct Investing (the largest online brokerage in Canada) has shown up with an historic offer for lower deposit amounts. TD Direct Investing’s newest promotion offers an eye-popping $100 for a minimum deposit of $1,500 and an extra $100 on top of any tier for individuals who set up regular deposits. In fact, it appears that among the cash back promotions of the (current) three bank-owned brokerages, TD Direct Investing has the best promotion bonus on deposits up to $25,000 and is tied for top deal up to deposits of $50,000.

By comparison, CIBC Investor’s Edge has staked out its sweet spot in the cash back promotion tier in the  $100,000 to $250,000 range. In that window, CIBC Investor’s Edge is offering up $500 which is more than either competitor by a lot. After deposits of $250,000, however, all three bank-owned brokerages are offering up identical rewards for comparable deposit tiers. Cash back amounts max out at $2,000 for deposits of $1M or more, which is similar to last year in terms of amount and associated tier.

For its part, BMO InvestorLine appears to have played their cards close to their chest in terms of the offer expiry date. The promotions from CIBC Investor’s Edge and TD Direct Investing that launched at the beginning of November run until the beginning of March 2022. The expiry date for BMO InvestorLine’s current offer, however, is the end of December 2021, which leaves enough time for them to decide how (or if) to respond with a slightly different promotion heading into the RSP contribution deadline.

Despite it still being early on in RSP season, the offer by TD Direct Investing is indicative of the competitive landscape this year. With zero-commission trading now a reality at a bank-owned competitor (i.e. National Bank Direct Brokerage), it looks like TD Direct Investing is going to challenge their peers hard at the sub $50,000 deposit level. This is especially interesting because it pits TDDI against brokerages like Wealthsimple Trade and Questrade by offering a more generous bonus than either of these brokerages provide at these deposit levels.

Unlike other online brokerages in Canada, it is hard to ignore or dismiss TD Direct Investing. For online investors looking to start out, TDDI might be a difficult choice because of inactivity fees for balances under $15,000. That said, it looks as if users who are willing to commit to a monthly pre-authorized contribution plan of at least $100 per month, they also stand to benefit from an additional $100 bonus and be able to waive the inactivity fee for a sub-$15,000 balance.

The early and aggressive launch of cash back offers from both TD Direct Investing and CIBC Investor’s Edge are a clear signal that the value equation has changed for self-directed investing. Now that there are at least three zero-commission trading options in Canada, one of which is becoming an increasingly better-known bank-owned brokerage, deals and promotions need to follow suit.

The reality is that it is a matter of when – not if – bank-owned online brokerages in Canada start to drop their commission fees, and as such, this could be one of the most opportunistic windows for online investors looking for a bonus offer on the way into a new account to secure one before pricing ends up shifting lower and promotional offers with them.  

Flying the Nest: Online Brokerages Migrating Away from Twitter

When it comes to quirky stories, Elon Musk seems like as good a reason as any to tune into Twitter. For some Canadian online brokerages, however, Twitter just doesn’t seem to hold the appeal that it used to, and we’ve spotted an interesting communications trend that reflects some of the challenges Canadian online brokerages are having engaging investors online.

Last month, we spotted the rather abrupt disappearance of Scotia iTRADE’s Twitter channel. And upon further inquiry, it seems that this channel had been folded into the customer support Twitter handle for the parent of the online broker: Scotiabank.

Normally, the disappearance of a social media channel would seem innocuous; however, Scotia iTRADE is not the only Canadian online brokerage over the past year to pull a sudden about-face on social media (much to the confusion of many users). As recently as last month, Virtual Brokers also folded up their Twitter handle because of their rebranding as CI Direct Trading, and earlier this year, Wealthsimple Trade also did something similar, opting to use the parent Wealthsimple handle instead.

A quick scan over other Canadian online brokerages who had Twitter accounts also shows that there hasn’t really been a whole lot going on there either. The last published tweet from the TD Direct Investing Twitter account, for example, was from February 2021. With that paucity of activity on social media despite having lots to talk about in other areas, it could be a signal that TD Direct Investing might take a similar approach to Scotia iTrade and wrap up its Twitter presence in favour of other channels being actively used by TD for either customer support or content creation.

As it stands, Questrade and Qtrade Direct Investing appear to be the only Canadian online brokerages using their Twitter handles for both broadcasting of messages as well as customer support responses. With many of their peer firms appearing to abandon pursuing a direct presence on Twitter, it could signal an opportunity for either of these firms to pull ahead with audiences who spend time on the social network.

Given the strategic importance of Twitter to the kinds of individuals that would pay attention to market-moving eccentric billionaires (like very active traders), it seems curious that online brokerages with tools and services catered to active traders aren’t doing more on Twitter. A quick look at the Twitter accounts of TradeZero or Interactive Brokers confirms that there is content being created for active traders there.

The most recent lightning rod tweet from Elon Musk got over 3.5 million people to cast a vote. Granted, he occupies rarefied air for a businessperson to be among celebrities whose primary job it is to entertain, so for brands such as online brokerages (especially Canadian ones), it is tough to compare. That said, if there is any lesson to be gleaned, perhaps it helps to realize that in order to succeed being on Twitter, it’s to make content that’s engaging and entertaining.

From the Forums

Hold the Music

Wait times on customer service lines are back – at least as a topic of discussion. Several weeks ago, we noted the hold music at TD Direct Investing had been replaced with banter. This past week, it seems like the wait time combined with the choice of non-musical accompaniment ruffled a few feathers. Here’s more of what redditors had to say about wait times and musical choices on customer service lines.

Character Flaw

Practice accounts are intended to give users a sense of what the trading experience is supposed to be like – much like a test drive. Unfortunately, one user on reddit discovered that their last name didn’t meet the minimum length requirements to sign up. Find out what others had to say in this post here.

Into the Close

That’s it for another week of curious developments in the online brokerage world. We’re hurtling towards the end of the year and for any die-hard readers of the Roundup, the good news to report on here is that we’ve got a very exciting Look Back / Look Ahead edition planned for this year. Stay tuned!

On another note, this upcoming week is Remembrance Day, and we wanted to take the opportunity to thank the brave individuals who have served and sacrificed in our armed forces, as well as those who continue to stand at the ready. Thank you.

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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – November 9, 2020

It’s official, sort of. With the US presidential election now (just about) over and a clear winner declared in the contest, markets and the world can turn their attention to what comes next. Regardless of the direction things take from here, though, it’s safe to say that the vote was a very big deal.

Serendipitously, the focus on the one big story that is kind of a big deal for DIY investors in this week’s Roundup is, in fact, a story of big deals. In this edition of the Roundup, we take a deep dive into the flurry of deals activity that took place last week against the backdrop of the US elections. Find out which three Canadian discount brokerages got a jump on RSP season by launching their latest offers now. Also included in this week’s Roundup, a healthy dose of social media and investor forum commentary.

New Deals Spell Green for DIY Investors

While there was nothing quite as big this week as the outcome of the US presidential election, in the Canadian DIY investing space, November continues to make history when it comes to deals and promotions.

Though “normal” is a word that has taken on a different meaning in 2020, in relative terms, this is about the time of year when Canadian discount brokerages would begin their ramp-up in marketing and promotional activities in anticipation of RSP season.

Despite everything that has changed in 2020, however, we’re happy to report that as expected, discount brokerage deals activity has suddenly spiked. This past week we saw three big deals come from three of Canada’s big bank-owned brokerages and, wait for it, they were all cash-back offers.

Despite a significant pullback in promotional activity among Canadian discount brokerages over the spring and summer, this definitely counts as coming back with a bang. Among the offer types that these online brokerages could have come to market with, cash-back offerings are sure to get the attention of deal-savvy investors. Indeed, they already have.

News of these offers has already been posted to DIY investor forums – notably on – and investors have weighed in on the series of offers that have been launched by BMO InvestorLine, CIBC Investor’s Edge, and TD Direct Investing.

The details of these offers are interesting in and of themselves; however, so too is the picture that emerges when comparing each of these offers against one another. With cash-back offerings ranging from $50 to $2,000, there is an equally wide range of investors that these incentives could appeal to.

As you’ll see below, the amounts of the cash-back offers and the deposits required in order to qualify reveal which segments of the DIY investor market certain online brokerages are interested in targeting.

First, let’s dive into each of the offers to see what’s coming to market and then compare them all to see how they stack up against one another

BMO InvestorLine Deal

The latest cash-back offer from BMO InvestorLine ranges between $100 and $2,000 and was the first of these big bank-owned brokerage offers to launch in November. The minimum deposit required to qualify for any of the cash-back offers is $50,000 (which lands a cool $100 bonus), and for deposits of $1M or more, clients can be eligible to receive a cash-back bonus of $2,000.

The range of deposit requirements for BMO InvestorLine’s new deal appears to be geared to more established investors, higher-net-worth individuals, and likely those with more sophisticated investing needs. Interestingly, this offer is timed to expire in early January, which enables BMO InvestorLine the flexibility of changing its offer strategy in line with the realities of other offers planned at that time. Importantly, this offer was posted to the homepage of BMO InvestorLine’s website and prominently on their pricing page, too.

CIBC Investor’s Edge Deal

The next deal to cross our radar last week was from CIBC Investor’s Edge, which stepped into the deals competition with an interesting cash-back offer that spans from $50 to $2,000.

Of the new offers that were launched last week, this one has the widest dollar-figure range, likely a reflection of the desire to appeal to as many DIY investor types as possible. The minimum deposit to qualify for CIBC Investor’s Edge cash-back offer starts at $10,000, and even though the cash-back is a modest $50, it nonetheless sticks out in a field where there isn’t much at that deposit level in terms of cash-back offerings, especially among bank-owned brokerages. At the top end of the deposit range, CIBC offers up $2,000 for new clients bringing in at least $1M in assets. In the world of DIY investing deals, the $2,000 offer makes for a catchy headline, and it is exactly that which gets displayed on the CIBC Investor’s Edge homepage. The expiry date for the CIBC Investor’s Edge promotional offer is March 2nd, 2021, which is just after the contribution deadline for RSPs. As such, it looks like CIBC Investor’s Edge is locking in for a ride for the next few months regardless of what other brokerages bring to market.

TD Direct Investing Deal

TD Direct Investing, Canada’s largest online brokerage, is also not shying away from competitive cash-back offerings this year.

Their latest cash-back offer ranges between $100 (for deposits of at least $15,000) and $1,000 (for deposits of $500,000 or more). An interesting component of this offer is that users can receive another bonus of $100 for setting up automated deposits. So, it is conceivably possible without the use of extra referral bonus offerings to add $100 into each cash-back category, making TD Direct Investing offers (in total) some of the highest at various deposit tiers. Also interesting for this offer is that TD Direct Investing requires users either to set a goal or to execute at least one commission-generating trade in order to qualify for the cash-back bonus. Comparable to CIBC Investor’s Edge, this deal is set to expire at the beginning of March 2021, to coincide with the RSP-contribution deadline.

Unlike their peers, however, the offer for TD Direct Investing is not directly or prominently visible on the TDDI homepage. In fact, at the time of publication, it was also not visible on their current offer page tab on their pricing page. The lack of presence of their flagship promotion on the website homepage (yet) is an interesting decision, as it is clearly visible in different online advertising campaigns.

Comparing the Cash-Back Promotions

In comparing the three cash-back offers, some interesting trends and strategies become clear.

The first interesting observation is that there isn’t one Canadian online brokerage that is leading across all deposit tiers. Instead, it looks like there are specific ranges that online brokerages are putting their efforts into being most competitive at.

Deposit TierBMO InvestorLineCIBC Investor’s EdgeTD Direct Investing
$10,000 $50 
$15,000  $100
$25,000 $100$200
$250,000$450 $500

At the entry-level deposit tier, $10K, CIBC Investor’s Edge has the best offer, of $50. Moving up to $15K, however, TD Direct Investing has the most competitive offer, of $100. In fact, from deposit levels of $15K to $50K, TDDI either has the best offer or is tied for the best offer with CIBC Investor’s Edge.

At the $100K deposit tier, however, CIBC Investor’s Edge has the upper hand over both BMO InvestorLine and TD Direct Investing, offering up $500 cash-back compared to $250 and $300, respectively, at the other bank-owned brokers. From the $250K to just under $1M deposit tiers, both CIBC Investor’s Edge and TD Direct Investing are tied for having the highest offers, starting at $500 and going to $1,000.

Beyond deposits of $1M, however, TD Direct Investing drops out of the race and BMO InvestorLine steps in to compete with CIBC Investor’s Edge, with both brokerages offering $2,000 cash-back.

The strategies emerging reflect BMO InvestorLine’s priority on DIY investors with assets greater than $50K. In contrast, both TD Direct Investing and CIBC Investor’s Edge have cash-back offers under the $50K deposit threshold, which should make both of these online brokerages more appealing to younger or more-novice investors. Interestingly, TD Direct Investing elected not to put out a tier above deposits of $500K, while both BMO InvestorLine and CIBC Investor’s Edge did.

Of the three firms, CIBC Investor’s Edge has the widest range of deposit tiers – from $10K to $1M+ – a signal that they are looking to drive growth across all customer segments. Perhaps a bit of a step change from years past is that this year TD Direct Investing is being the most aggressive with its promotional offers at the lower deposit segments – something that may have to do with its new offering (TD GoalAssist) and a general push to grab market share away from competitors.

The race to RSP season is clearly heating up among Canadian discount brokerages. With the entry of three cash-back offers from big-name online brokerages in the span of a week, we anticipate other brokerages will follow suit very quickly.

This year, we believe, will create an added sense of urgency among Canadian online brokers to come to market with something bigger than what they would have in years past. The offer from TD Direct Investing is going to make waves because of TDDI’s size in the market; however, layer in the launch of their new commission-free trading option (TD GoalAssist) and the regular contribution bonus of $100, and this is a year in which TD Direct Investing is throwing down a challenge to other peer firms and non-bank-owned brokerages alike to get on the radar of DIY investors.

For DIY investors, the increased competition is good news – especially heading into what is likely to be a year filled with market volatility, opportunity, and a very active conversation about DIY investing, thanks to the tsunami of new investors who flooded the market in 2020. We’ll be monitoring the deals section for more activity through the month, so be sure to check back in for new developments as they occur.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

Safe Mode

A Redditor asks in this post if one online brokerage is as secure as the others, sparking a lively debate that focuses a lot on two-factor authentication.

Gamble on the Gambit?

In this post, an investor asks if it makes sense to switch from one online broker to another solely for a single feature: to be able to do an easy Norbert’s Gambit – possibly saving thousands of dollars a year.

Into the Close


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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – October 12, 2020

As much as turkey and mashed potatoes are a staple of the menu for many Canadians on Thanksgiving, so too is discussion of what’s happening in the world. Inevitably for DIY investors, the gravy comes in the form of what’s been hot and what others are looking at in terms of potential money-making ideas. During COVID, however, the gatherings are likely (or should be!) smaller, and that might make for less banter about what folks are trading (not including recipes for turkey). Nonetheless, this month, despite the dour news, some Canadian discount brokers are giving DIY investors reasons to be optimistic for the remaining few months in 2020.

In this short-week edition of the Roundup, we highlight a new twist on a story of inactivity fees at one Canadian online brokerage that will be sure to get DIY investors chatting as news spreads. Following that, we review some of the latest activities taking place during Investor Education Month, including World Investor Week, and who is (and isn’t) showing up in the Canadian online brokerage space. Despite the short week, we’ve served up a healthy portion of DIY investor chatter from Twitter and the investor forums.

Questrade Eliminates Inactivity Fees

With all the big headline news swirling, it’s easy for some important news to get lost in the shuffle. In the case of Questrade, one of Canada’s most popular online brokerages, their latest move regarding inactivity fees is almost certainly going to make waves once word catches on.

The big news for DIY investors: As of October 1st, Questrade has eliminated inactivity fees on all accounts.

Yes, that’s right, the storied history of inactivity fees at Questrade has added another chapter to it, and in this case, Questrade has returned to its low-cost roots and put an end to quarterly inactivity fees.

For those who have followed the Questrade inactivity fee saga for as long as we have, there is almost no forgetting the firestorm that emerged on social media – in particular on investor forums – when Questrade first made the decision to introduce inactivity fees to clients in July 2012.

At that time, the launch of the inactivity fees was a step change in the identity and perception of the brand. Up until that point, Questrade had become a fixture in the minds of value-conscious DIY investors, and one of the reasons why – aside from the low commission rates – was the lack of inactivity fees.

Understandably, then, the first iteration of inactivity fees proposed by Questrade did not go over well. The first rollout involved charging a monthly fee of $9.95 for clients who did not make at least one commission-generating trade in the month or who had a balance of assets across all accounts of less than $5,000.

When the news of this fee change broke, the very vocal dismay of the Questrade community of clients on a popular forum on caused Questrade to revisit the decision and modify the terms and conditions around the inactivity fee. Aside from substantially changing the structure of the inactivity fee, they also pushed back the date of the rollout of their inactivity fee to the beginning of October 2012.

A post on set in motion the official response and policy on inactivity fees for Questrade for the better part of the past eight years:

Unlike many of their Canadian online brokerage peers up to that point (and arguably since), Questrade had successfully built up a strong following and audience in various online investing communities and on social media. Because of its appeal as a lower-cost option for online investors, and the propensity of investor communities to provide “helpful” suggestions to one another regarding DIY investing products/services, Questrade often stood out as a natural counterpoint to most other online brokers at the time.

Although introducing inactivity fees at Questrade brought them into line with “the rest of the pack” of Canadian discount brokers at the time, the exercise of hearing out many online investing clients’ concerns and responding with changes to Questrade’s pricing was one of the more extraordinary moments in the history of the Canadian DIY investing community.

More than anything, it showed that as a service provider, Questrade was prepared to listen to their customers and respond with changes.

At the time, there were only two other online brokerages that didn’t charge inactivity fees – Qtrade Investor and Virtual Brokers, both of whom eventually came around to launching these fees as well.

Over time, the quarterly inactivity fee at Questrade increased from $19.95 per quarter to $24.95 per quarter, and the requirement to maintain $5,000 as a minimum value of assets was reduced to $1,000.

Now, almost exactly eight years after it was launched, and even though a lot has changed about the online investing industry and commission pricing in Canada, Questrade is venturing forward with no inactivity fees. Other Canadian online brokerages, with the exception of Wealthsimple Trade, will now be forced to re-evaluate their stance on inactivity fees altogether, or at least the threshold minimums required to have them waived.

As a tactical move, heading into the coveted RSP season, Questrade is now able to claim to be one of the only Canadian online brokerages that does not charge inactivity fees with no other strings attached.

What is curious about the latest drop in inactivity fees at Questrade is that, as of the time of publication, there hasn’t (yet) been much chatter online about this move – perhaps owing to the fact that there hasn’t been too much in the way of formal communication about the change in pricing.

It is likely, however, that Questrade will be shining a spotlight on dropping the inactivity fee heading into the end of the year and that it will undoubtedly spark a conversation among DIY investors. Hopefully, said conversation will also encourage online brokerages in Canada to consider what they can do to lower the barriers for DIY investors to access markets and to take their time when learning the ropes without being penalized for “going slow.”

Investor Education Month Activities Underway

In case you missed it, October is the official month for investor education awareness in Canada. This past week it was also World Investor Week, an initiative promoted by the International Organization of Securities Commissions, or IOSCO (yes, that last O is intentional). IOSCO is an international body that “brings together the world’s securities regulators and is recognized as the global standard setter for the securities sector.”

Now in its fourth iteration, World Investor Week was “conceived to raise awareness about the importance of investor education and protection. The project, organized and implemented by IOSCO’s Committee 8 on Retail Investors (C8), consists of up to a week of outreach activities carried out by participating IOSCO member jurisdictions.”

A quick search of the hashtag #WorldInvestorWeek on Twitter illustrates the many international organizations that participated in last week’s event. For the most part, the messages from securities exchanges and regulators around the world reinforced the messages around prudent investing strategies. To assist with getting their core messages out, IOSCO also prepared a list of key “investing basics” messages positioned around being a “smart investor.”

Below are the 10 messages set out for World Investor Week 2020:

On the home front, there were a few Canadian organizations that did make an appearance in support of World Investor Week, with one of the more active ones being the Ontario Securities Commission’s Investor Office via their “Get Smarter About Money” initiative.

Among Canadian discount brokerages, however, World Investor Week was largely invisible.

That said, when it comes to Investor Education Month more broadly, there was only one Canadian online brokerage that stood out: TD Direct Investing.

To their credit, TD Direct Investing has actually put together a comprehensive set of investor education activities in recognition of Investor Education Month – something that other online brokerages in Canada will want to take note of, especially if they are positioning themselves as serious about investor education. In fact, a quick look at the Twitter account for TD Direct Investing reveals that even in their description, investor education is the first thing they reference as being available.

While the spirit of promoting investor awareness and education is something all Canadian online brokerages would (likely) be on board with, it is noteworthy that only TD Direct Investing has compiled dedicated educational content for this specific month. In putting this together, TD Direct Investing has reinforced one of its strongest value offerings as an online broker that provides access to robust educational materials for DIY investors.

As many Canadian (and international) online brokerages wrestle with the reality that millions of new (or novice) investors have stepped into the world of DIY investing, it will be increasingly important for Canadian online brokers to provide resources to better inform these investors about the realities of investing online.

For the moment, TD Direct Investing has managed to take the lead among Canadian brokerages in tackling this – and given their depth of educational content, TDDI is well positioned to curate existing information that could apply to the current market uncertainty.

Looking at the social media accounts of their peers, it seems like most Canadian online brokers are taking a “wait and see” approach, or are too busy focusing on other areas to put investor education in the driver’s seat, or are simply relegated to having to watch and learn.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

HI(SA) School Musical

In this post, a Redditor ponders if the advice to keep all funds needed in the next five years in a HISA holds up when interest rates are so low. Commenters weigh in on if this course of action still seems wise.

(Half a) Million Dollar Baby

A would-be DIY investor turns to the forums in this post to find out what returns they might reasonably expect if they invest some of their money.

Into the Close

That’s a (turkey) wrap on another eventful week. Sports fans were not disappointed by this past weekend featuring NBA championships and yet another nail-biting performance in the NFL (looking at you, Russell Wilson) – and Prime Day! Of course, there are plenty of less fun but anxiety-inducing days ahead, as the US presidential election looms large. Whether you’re a spectator to the markets or thinking of playing the field this week, there’s no doubt you’ll have lots to watch.