For many families, the reality of March break is about to set in. What it means is that, while there may be a change in pace, the word ‘break’ doesn’t quite mean the same to the parents as it does to the kids. Unfortunately for everyone though, there is no break from the mania that is Trump coverage. And, for online brokerages and DIY investors in the US and possibly here in Canada, there is the very real possibility that there are still more waves to be made when it comes to DIY investing.
In this week’s roundup, we recap a couple of interesting stories from the SparxTrading blog roll. Specifically, we look at the escalating commission-fee price war between major US online brokerages, the evolving regulatory landscape for investment product/service providers and how these events may shape Canadian DIY investing in the near term. Next, we look at how Canadian discount brokerages are approaching online security and what DIY investors should be doing to better protect themselves online. As is usual fare, we’ll also be looking at the tweets from DIY investors and close out with chatter from the Canadian investor forums.
Fee-ling the Pinch: US Online Brokerage Fee Wars and the Fiduciary Duty Rule
Turn on the TV, surf the internet, open a newspaper and the one thing dominating the news cycle is Trump. For DIY investors, in the US and potentially here in Canada, however, there are a pair of stories that are probably worth tuning into more closely.
In this week’s blog post, we examine the latest explosive fight between giants in the online brokerage space in the US and the fallout from a price war. But there’s more to the story than just a simple race to the bottom. There’s also the likely possibility that the largest players, such as Schwab, smell blood and sense an opportunity to gain ground on their much smaller (but still sizable) peers.
Here’s a quick recap. US online brokerage fees and commissions have been on the chopping block since last year, in part prompted by competitive dynamics and the announcement from the Department of Labor’s new fiduciary duty rule, which was slated to come in to effect next month, in April. That rule could bring financial advisors into conflict of interest with their clients as it sets higher standards demanding advisors act in the best interest of their clients and not their own or their firm’s.
The tumble in commissions and fees for the biggest asset management firms such as Fidelity, Blackrock, Vanguard and Schwab also impacted their stock prices. Stock prices have waivered since the fees war escalated, and new EPS estimates were impacted by the millions lost in fees from cost cuts hovering at the 30% mark in plenty of cases.
Fidelity, for example, dropped its online stock trading fees by a whopping $3, costs sit now at $4.95/trade. And a few days ago, Schwab lowered its base trade commission to match Fidelity after already lowering its prices in February; other brokerages have followed suit including TD Ameritrade and E*Trade Financial. Firms are saying the price wars are just part of doing business, but Blackrock, at least, acknowledged that their fees were dropping in response to the DOL’s impending fiduciary rule.
For Canadian DIY investors, and discount brokerages, there are several important lessons.
First, Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) are considering setting similar standards for financial advisors here in Canada. While there is a lack of consensus between provincial regulators as to exactly what a ‘best interest standard’ would look like, recent admissions by TD Bank staff that they put profits and performance ahead of client best interests may accelerate the timetable and will to push these standards into being.
Second, larger online brokerage players are in a very strategic position to benefit from this rule and they can essentially force smaller online brokerages into a very challenging position by lowering standard commission pricing. In other words, the US online brokerage market is an interesting playbook for any large, competitive bank-owned brokerage to emulate.
Finally, although the US and Canadian markets may be different, there are still fundamental economic forces at play. Canadian DIY investors will, like their US investor counterparts, be drawn to better perceived value. One of the reasons Schwab has been able to withstand (and in some cases instigate) a fee drop is because beyond lowering commissions on trading, they’ve also expanded the selection of commission-free ETFs, introduced a robo-advisor service and provided other advisory services to clients.
For the full analysis on how the fee wars and regulatory shifts could influence the Canadian online brokerage marketplace, click to read the blog here.
Online Security for Canadian DIY Investors: How to Stay Safe While Trading Online
As part of Fraud Awareness Month, we continue our look into how DIY investors can better inform and protect themselves about online fraud when trading online.
In our most recent blog post, we take a deeper dive into the world of online brokerage security guarantees and what they do (or don’t) cover and what they require DIY investors to do to qualify.
Fraud is kind of a big deal
Fraud has grown to epic proportions in the last decade, becoming a local, national and international security concern. Worldwide costs of cybercrime are estimated to run between $375 billion and $575 billion annually. In Canada, recent survey results show that companies here lose an average of about $6 million with every data breach.
For Canadian discount brokerages, there hasn’t been any major public, large scale breach that’s made headlines. Rather than become a news story, however, the financial services industry has started – albeit slowly – to adopt a variety of good practices to keeping clients safe. One such approach that is favoured by many in the tech community is two factor authentication (TFA).
Two factor authentication essentially ads an extra step to the traditional user name and login in which a security code (or secondary ID source) is used to confirm identity. Interestingly, only a handful of Canadian discount brokerages do offer this, but it is increasingly getting attention from IT departments across the Canadian brokerage community as a feature which could offer a more robust approach to security.
Like most insurance policies, the devil is in the details. For Canadian online brokerages offering up a security guarantee, we found it particularly interesting that there were many different approaches and instructions given to DIY investors regarding online security.
Aside from some of the more well-known preventative measures, such as not sharing a password with another person or using a public computer to log into a trading account, there were other measures, such as ensuring you have an up to date anti-virus, logging out after every session AND closing the browser or sharing a password with an account aggregator (such as Mint) that could invalidate the security guarantee.
Perhaps the best suggestion to address possible fraud is to regularly and frequently check account status for any suspicious activity. Discount brokerages, such as BMO InvestorLine and RBC Direct Investing, stipulate that clients must report a breach within five business days of receiving a monthly statement. For the buy and hold crowd, this means taking the effort every month to check what’s happened on every statement.
The biggest takeaway from looking at the different online security guarantees offered by Canadian discount brokerages is that the brokerages do put quite a bit of responsibility for security on clients themselves so if the security guarantee is a ‘selling point’ for any brokerage, make the effort to check what’s required to comply before getting going.
Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week
The conversation on Twitter this week highlighted the special role that it plays as a customer service tool for DIY investors. Mentioned this week were BMO InvestorLine, CIBC Investor’s Edge, Questrade, Scotia iTRADE & TD Direct Investing.
From the Forums
Some good advice we could all heed out of the forums this week: “Never bet with money you’ll regret losing” sent out to one young investor who lost $6K in the past year with risky investments . . . hopefully a lesson you only learn to learn once . . .
ETF or e-Series
The ever-popular debate continues for DIY investors looking to stretch the most value out of their investment dollar. In this post from RedFlagDeals’ investing forum, users chime in on whether TD e-series or Questrade’s commission-free ETF buying would be the better bet.
Into the Close
Another sure sign of spring being just around the corner: losing an hour of sleep for daylight savings ending. For the traders out there it just means one less hour to wait to get back into the swing of things. Have a great (shortened) weekend!