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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – March 16, 2020

To paraphrase a quote from Bad Boys, things just got very real. Markets are already in unprecedented territory with record volatility and anyone who looks at the hard right edge of a chart might be seeing just how important having some kind of visibility into the future is to financial markets. Let’s just say, capital is doing some major social distancing from risk right about now.

In this edition of the Roundup, we’ll keep things shorter than usual. In the spotlight, the latest online brokerage rankings are out – dial in for a look at which online brokerages continued to score well and which have room to improve. From there we provide a quick deals update, and then relay commentary from DIY investors on Twitter (viewer discretion advised) and from the forums.

More Canadian Discount Brokerage Rankings

Just because major league sports are on hold, doesn’t mean sports metaphors need to be. The latest rankings of Canadian discount brokerages were launched last week and in case you were distracted by other headlines, there was a familiar name taking the top spot.

Financial services research firm, Surviscor, announced their latest Canadian discount brokerage review, which is actually a compilation of four separate reviews conducted. The four areas that were measured as part of the inaugural edition of the “Canadian Digital Brokerage scorCard” include online experience, mobile experience, service experience, and cost of services.

In total, 11 Canadian online brokers were assessed as part of this combined ranking, with Qtrade Investor coming out on top of this set of rankings with a score of 91 percent, followed by Questrade at 85 percent, and TD Direct Investing at 73 percent, to round out the top three firms.

When viewed through a combined lens that looks extensively at “experience,” it is important for DIY investors to understand what that refers to and to consider that the word can mean different things to different people. As cited in their announcement, Surviscor reviewed “over 7000 objective usage-related criteria questions” at each online brokerage (which is a lot of questions!), so there was considerable ground covered in capturing different facets of the DIY investor experience.

The net result of the various analyses conducted paints an interesting picture of the Canadian online brokerage marketplace. To begin with, these rankings suggest that despite having deeper pockets and resources, simply being an online brokerage arm of a big five bank in Canada doesn’t necessarily translate into a great experience or value for investors. While TD Direct Investing (73 percent) and RBC Direct Investing (71 percent) were relatively even in terms of their performance, they were significantly higher than BMO InvestorLine, CIBC Investor’s Edge, and Scotia iTRADE.

In contrast, Questrade, one of Canada’s most popular non-bank-owned online brokers, scored 85 percent. Although Qtrade Investor’s parent is technically not a bank per se (the parent to Qtrade Investor, Aviso Wealth, is owned by Desjardins Group – a financial cooperative) it does have some very strong financial support. Coincidentally, the other online brokerage owned by Desjardins Group, Desjardins Online Brokerage, also managed to land within the top five online brokerages.

For Canadian DIY investors, the extremely volatile markets are likely to push many to the sidelines – if not heading for the exits. Traders and bolder investors, on the other hand, are coming back to these markets. Interestingly, the features and experiences that active traders turn to for research and decision making will undoubtedly come into play in these market conditions. The biggest and most important one of those features, however, is uptime. And, while it is difficult (perhaps not advisable) for any online brokerage to report 100 percent uptime, there is a trail of commentary on social media that gets formed when online brokerage systems falter or fail altogether.

Against the current backdrop of extreme volatility and uncertainty, there are clearly investors willing to step into the market. That said, the latest online brokerage rankings were compiled during relatively positive and less-volatile times and so it will be very interesting to see how current market conditions impact the rankings in 2021.

Quick Deal Update

In spite of the market meltdown, perhaps because of it, stocks are being repriced. As challenging as it is for society and traders alike to make sense of what is unfolding, a little piece of good news is that the cash back offer from BMO InvestorLine is being extended.

Originally scheduled to expire at the beginning of March, the cash back promotion from BMO InvestorLine has been extended to the beginning of June.

For DIY investors brave enough to step into this market, there are still deals available from several Canadian discount brokerages. March is still going to be a time of volatility for online brokerage deals though, with offers from RBC Direct Investing and Qtrade Investor set to expire at the end of the month.

With such a dynamic situation unfolding, perhaps the moves by central banks offer a hint of what Canadian online brokerages need to do in order to get attention in these wild times: extraordinary measures.

Although just speculation, perhaps a big deal is what is needed to help encourage investor confidence. Even better if it came with coordinated action.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

From the Forums

The Road Less Traveled

A young Redditor turns to the forum for advice on alternative ways to diversify their assets without investing in the stock market. Fellow forum users point him towards local investment opportunities and offer their advice.

Déjà Trade?

A forum user points out the apparent differences between the most recent market correction and that from 2016 in this post.  A lively discussion on the state of the markets and the impact on individual investors follows.

Into the Close

At this point, March Madness has taken on a totally different connotation. For DIY investors, the panic selling is creating all kinds of volatile market conditions, some of which would certainly warrant the purchase of toilet paper. As we collectively move into this social and economic experiment in real time, there will soon be many more investors at home – by force or choice – watching and trading markets. Wherever things go from here, we hope all of you are practicing sound risk management and taking things quantitatively easy.

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