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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theme 1: Agility

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

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

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

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

Theme 2: Communication

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

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

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

Theme 3: User Experience

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

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

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

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

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