Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – March 11, 2016

As week two of March comes to an end, there was one clear story that seemed to dominate the news cycle for Canadians – the visit of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with US President Barack Obama. Of the many angles on the coverage of this visit, one of the most interesting was the theme of friendship between Canada and our neighbor to the South. The notion of friendship is something that Canadian discount brokerages also know a thing or two about, especially when it comes to trying to somehow rewarding clients for bringing their friends over to the same brokerage.

To kick off this week’s roundup, we take a look at the trading activity from a major US online brokerage who continues to gain market share with the most lucrative segment of online investors – active traders. Next, we provide a glimpse into an in-depth story on refer-a-friend promotions that we referenced in last week’s roundup. From there we’ll cover the conversations investors were having with Canadian online brokerages and with each other on Twitter and in the Canadian investing forums.

Interactive Brokers Trading Metrics

The machine that is Interactive Brokers continues to fire on all cylinders. Trading metrics from the month of February were released earlier this month and numbers across key company metrics continue to point to Interactive Brokers doing something right.

While trading volumes (measured as daily average revenue trades) were lower than last month by 8%, on a year over year basis, trading volumes of 767 thousand DARTs was a whopping 21% higher than the same period last year, reinforcing the fact that traders love volatility and traders tend to love Interactive Brokers. To that end, Interactive Brokers continued its monthly client growth chart with a 1% bump over January and 340 thousand clients now under their belt – with each client making an impressive 527 trades (on average) per year and an average commission per cleared client order of $3.78.

Another interesting observation of the Interactive Brokers Canada website is the requirement that individuals actually be an active trader to be their client. More specifically, the announcement on the Interactive Brokers Canada website section for RSPs and TFSAs, states that they require the following from customers:

“You must have executed at least 100 trades for any product type or 100 simulated trades in our real-time demo”

Source: Screenshot from Interactive Brokers Canada Website

This qualification is especially interesting within a registered account, since many individuals look at the RSP account as a ‘long-term’ play and a place to let dividend investing work its magic (since it is exempt from the US withholding tax on dividends from US listed stocks). It could also be equally contentious for individuals considering actively trading in their TFSA, since there have been some stories of the CRA scrutinizing individuals who’ve managed to substantially grow their TFSA by trading.

Nonetheless, it is also a very interesting approach to qualify who it is they want as a client. Clearly Interactive Brokers’ stats show they appeal to and are built around a strong base of active traders. The move to either require a history of a relatively arbitrary 100 trade threshold or to have an individual not only sign onto their demo but also place 100 trades with it means that they’re actively funneling prospective clients into their system in a much more meaningful way than just giving a simple demo platform access away.

In short, it looks like Interactive Brokers is continuing to build their strategy and product around the active trader experience, and with this latest qualification to join them, they’re not only building their brand as one that traders have to aspire to (century club anyone?) but at the same time, they’re very cleverly qualifying who they want as a client and who they are ok with turning away.

That’s What Friends are For

This week we saw a great story about friends getting together on an international stage. Of course while much of the goodwill is also about great public relations, there is no discounting the fact that the recommendations and referrals that come from one leader to another will impact the decisions each leader makes.

On a much smaller scale, the value of referrals to financial services is a pivotal way in which online brokerages can lower their cost of acquiring new clients and also likely get better clients as a result.

As part of our continued look into the deals and promotions landscape, this week we launched the first in a two-part series that analyzes the current refer-a-friend promotions available from four popular Canadian discount brokerages.

Specifically, the first part of this series take a detailed look at what the incentives are like for those who refer a friend or family member as well as the incentives for those actually opening and funding the account. When comparing the different offers side by side, it is not only interesting to see just how different the offer amounts are, but what was especially interesting to discover was how each online brokerage is actually valuing clients who have more money/assets. Click here to read part one of the series & stay tuned for part two next week.

Extra Mileage

While PM Trudeau was busy making front page news, SparxTrading also got a great little plug from Canadian personal finance writer Rob Carrick in the Globe and Mail. Specifically SparxTrading.com made the list of his top web links, especially for those on the hunt for a new brokerage. For any Air Miles enthusiasts the article is a good read especially in light of that program’s recent announcement to retire miles. Judging by the comments and shares from that article, the announcement has made some serious waves for passionate collectors.

Tweets of the Week

From outages to outrage, this week DIY investors voiced their concerns that technical glitches continue plague Canadian discount brokerages this week. Mentioned in this scan were BMO InvestorLine, Questrade, RBC Direct Investing, Scotia iTrade, TD Direct Investing & Virtual Brokers.

From the Forums

Which way to robo?

As readers may have already guessed, we love to compare things. In this post, from RedFlagDeals.com, one investor asks about some feedback on some of the more popular robo-advisor platforms currently available. Worth a read for those interested in seeing what folks are thinking about.

Questrade vs Virtual Brokers

It’s been a while since we’ve mentioned this ongoing debate between two of the long standing deep discount online brokerages, but this latest post on Reddit provide a good look at why people online have tended to stick up for Questrade more so than Virtual Brokers. Interestingly, Questrade’s community team rep also weighs in on the conversation.

Into the Close

Nothing takes the edge off losing an hour like the prospect of the opening bell coming an hour sooner. For those lucky enough to get some great weather this weekend, make the most of the extra sunshine! For those who need to fill their post-House-of-Cards binge Whitehouse cravings, here is some fun footage of President Obama and PM Justin Trudeau trading jabs at the state dinner. Have a great weekend!

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