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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – January 13, 2020

Welcome to 2020! Lots has happened while the Weekly Roundup has been on hiatus, however much like the snow blanketing rooftops all across the country (including Vancouver), there’s lots of news to shovel through and remarkably a lot to look forward to for DIY investors this RSP season.

In this first edition of the Weekly Roundup in 2020, we highlight the biggest story so far of the new year, the launch of new deals for DIY investors. From there, we report on the latest commission price drop from a turf war in Quebec that might actually start spilling over into the rest of the Canadian online brokerage market. Also, we’ll cover a neat feature for DIY investor clients of one bank-owned online brokerage that will start a new kind of streaming war (that doesn’t feature a baby Yoda unfortunately). Alas to make room for some extra stories, we’ve sidelined the sardonic tweets and put investor forum commentary on ice, but they’ll be back next edition.

New Year, New Deals

What better way to start the new year than with news of big deals and promos for DIY investors eager to open an online investing account. This year, there appears to be quite the battle between bank-owned online brokerages.

With 9 cash back or free trade promotions for Canadian DIY investors to now choose from, this isn’t the highest number of offers we’ve seen in this category, however what does stand out is the number of bank-owned online brokers in the category as well as the type of offers in play.

The new month has already seen deals from BMO InvestorLine launch and as of publication of the Roundup, a new promotion from Qtrade Investor.

Most of Canada’s online brokers have come to market with cash back offers which suggests they mean business when it comes to getting the attention of DIY investors.

In particular, the battle between bank-owned brokerages CIBC Investor’s Edge, Scotia iTRADE, and BMO InvestorLine is a fierce one with the latest offer by BMO InvestorLine narrowly edging out competitor deals in each of the deposit tiers except for the $500,000 mark (at which point they’re tied with Scotia iTRADE).

For the non-bank-owned online brokerages as well as the smaller bank-owned online brokers, however, competing against the bigger players is going to be especially difficult. In the absence of blockbuster features (like the one that RBC Direct Investing rolled out at the end of 2019), the options for competing online brokerages are limited. Nonetheless, Qtrade Investor’s latest offer appears to hold its own in several deposit tier categories – and even is higher than the largest online brokerage in Canada, TD Direct Investing.

Of course, for those that are on the sidelines, there is always the ‘nuclear’ option of dropping commission prices substantially to get attention this RSP season. As we’ve witnessed already this year (in 2020) there is one online brokerage that has dropped commission rates lower AND offered up a commission-free trading bonus, so it is possible to do both, however the first challenge of getting on the radar of investors is a unique hurdle that less popular online brokerages have to overcome.

With the RSP contribution deadline now just a few more weeks away, it will be interesting to see if any online brokerages not currently offering up either a cash back or commission-free trade offer will step forward and what they will step forward with. It is highly likely that we will see more offers in the next few weeks so we’ll keep monitoring this increasingly active space.

Desjardins Online Brokerage Drops Commission Prices

Snow and temperatures aren’t the only things falling to start 2020, prices for online trading are also coming down. Even though it took a while for them to respond (they also may have been dealing with that whole data breach thing too), Desjardins Online Brokerage finally found a way to counter the incredible commission price drop launched last year by their crosstown rival National Bank Direct Brokerage.

To start, the standard commission for Desjardins Online Brokerage has been reduced from 9.95 per trade down to 6.95 per trade. Compared to National Bank Direct Brokerage, this works out to a slightly better deal since only National Bank clients receive the $6.95 per trade pricing. Standard pricing at National Bank Direct Brokerage is still $9.95 per trade.

For active investors, however, Desjardins Online Brokerage really dropped the gloves on National Bank Direct Brokerage by beating them the commission price for this lucrative customer. For active investors, defined at Desjardins Online Brokerage as those who trade at least 30 times per month, commission pricing has dropped to $0.75 per trade. At National Bank Direct Brokerage, the rate for active investors (defined as those who trade at least 100 times per quarter) is $0.95 per trade. Thus, on both the cost per trade as well as the hurdle to qualify, Desjardins Online Brokerage has come out ahead – at least for equities trading. For options trading, however, the required minimum charge for active investors at National Bank Direct Brokerage is $8.20 which is cheaper than the minimum charge at Desjardins Online Brokerage at $8.75.

For investors aged 30 or younger, National Bank Direct Brokerage still holds an edge over Desjardins Online Brokerage. NBDB offers younger investors a $4.95 per trade commission rate as well as 10 commission-free trades per year. By comparison, Desjardins Online Brokerage has their “Broker@ge 18-30” offer which has 5 commission free transactions (one time). Clearly, there is still some work to do for Desjardins Online Brokerage to catch up to National Bank Direct Brokerage for the younger investor segment. However, this latest series of price reductions by Desjardins Online Brokerage highlight another important storm brewing in the Canadian online brokerage space.

While it is an open secret that no major Canadian online brokerage wants to be the first to lower their commission rates to zero, the reality is that the price brawl between Quebec’s largest online brokers could spill over into other parts of Canada too. The price drops for active investors make sense as a starting point, since active investors will certainly be inclined to trade more volume but also subscribe to data packages and trading platforms as well as to dabble in options trading. Keeping these customers happy is crucial as they are the most savvy of what’s going on in the online brokerage world. Ultimately, however, it is a matter of time before mainstream investors get access to lower standard commission rates.

With Desjardins Online Brokerage lowering their active trading commission rates down to $0.75 per trade, the Canadian discount brokerage industry is plumbing new lows for commission rates (Wealthsimple Trade excluded). While the major Canadian online brokerages are still likely to take a wait and see approach, the smaller players are already flashing signs of what is needed to compete in a world where zero commission stock trading is a reality for millions of investors.

Lowering prices may not be fun for Canadian online brokers, but the price of leaving commission prices higher than everyone else seems like it’s going to be more costly in the long run.

RBC Direct Investing Gets Real

An investor is going to be only as good as the information they receive. When it comes to DIY investing, one of the biggest challenges investors face is finding convenient access to the prices of stocks they’re invested in and those they’re following. For most DIY investors, delayed quotes or ‘snap quotes’ (the kind you get from hitting refresh on your browser) were the norm unless you were prepared to pony up significant fees for streaming data.

Last month, however, RBC Direct Investing unveiled an incredibly valuable feature for DIY investors – streaming real-time quotes – at no additional cost and with no trade minimums required to access this feature for free.  Unlike most of their peer firms, streaming real time quotes are not part of the standard offering. Interestingly, as a shift has taken place in website formats to only display a minimum amount of information on websites, finding information on platforms and data has become a bit more challenging than it historically used to be. One possible reason for this is because “most” users aren’t really active traders and it would therefore be less of a prominent feature to talk about or make space for on a ‘minimalist’ design website. Nonetheless, a quick scan of other online brokerages shows that TD Direct Investing offers snap quotes as does Questrade, however the streaming option at both of these brokerages will cost extra. On top of providing free access to streaming quotes, one nice touch that cuts down on the amount of paperwork is that there aren’t any additional agreements that are required to be signed with the exchanges from which data is being pulled. This simply means it’s easier to get going for existing clients and potential new clients who wouldn’t really have wanted to go through the hassle of a feature they wouldn’t likely use.

Of course for Canadian DIY investors, the upside here is that while RBC Direct Investing’s commission prices are still at the standard levels, there is certainly more value to be gained with these features now in place. It is unlikely that the ultra-active investors or day traders will need or want to sign on to RBC Direct Investing for this kind of feature, but for moderately active or curious passive investors, this is certainly a ‘nice to have’ feature that can provide additional context on investing opportunities.

Certainly, features that improve the ability of investors to make better-informed decisions are welcomed. Of course, it is equally important for any investors who now have more convenient access to the flashing numbers and colours that accompany real-time information to exercise caution and discipline when pursuing a trading opportunity.

Into the Close

That’s a wrap on the reboot to the Weekly Roundup. There’s lots of action taking place for investors to digest to start the new year. A heads up to investors in Vancouver to check out the annual Vancouver Resources Investment Conference for a look at mining-related investment opportunities as well as for some fun investor content. Stay warm out there and for those contemplating account openings, this is the time of year to go shopping for a bargain. Good luck and have a profitable start to 2020!

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