Canada's BEST and WORST Online Brokerage Experiences

Canada's BEST and WORST Online Brokerage Experiences

Qtrade Direct Investing provides the Best Online-based Brokerage experience for Canadian Self-Directed Investors

A partnership with a Canadian self-directed discount brokerage firm has long been based on the investor experience of using a firm's online brokerage platform. Despite one small industry disrupter, the truth holds true today as the online platform experience remains the key cornerstone of an overall digital investor experience. The online DIY self-directed brokerage investor experience represents the investing experience an investor is faced with using either a traditional desktop or laptop to perform every day self-directed investing needs. It is important to note that the discount brokerage industry was the disrupter in the 1990's and it grew in popularity as investors turned from expensive advice-based fees to lower cost DIY solutions. The other three experiences that round up the overall digital investor experience are mobile, cost of services and customer service.

The discount brokerage industry has long been associated with profits as seen by the number of firms that are operating in the industry. During volatile markets, one could say that the industry has a license to print money. Of course, life is not always rosy for self-directed discount brokerage firms but the moment the stock market is hot, good, or bad, that is when the investor will heavily rely on a firm to execute an investment plan which means that investors should demand more of each relationship and look elsewhere if not satisfied. The sad reality, as seen through the lack of movement in the results, is that firms do not have to offer strong platforms to survive because today they serve a dual-purpose, produce revenue and introduce new investors to the financial service's family.

QTRADE DIRECT INVESTING, former Qtrade Investor's new branding, returns to the top spot despite its older design and small improvements. The reality is that the platform is well-tested and provides a well-rounded investor experience that doesn't always rank as the best in any category or sub-category but is positioned as one of the industry leaders in most. Alternatively, WEATHSIMPLE TRADE provides the worst overall online self-directed investor experience for the second straight year with, what appears to be, an online afterthought development strategy. In simple terms, the platform lacks any DIY self-directing substance which is evidence by its 20% score.


I have personally been involved analyzing online brokerage experiences for over 20 years and my advice to Canadian investors is expanding due to the existence of paid reviews. Remember to Question your status-quo, explore alternative relationships by doing legitimate homework, beware the non-experienced single-writer reviews and remember that marketing messages are designed to sell you, not tell you, the whole story.

Glenn LaCoste, President and CEO of Surviscor Group

Go to Lessons Learned

Go to The BEST and WORST Firms by Category

Go to Online Features and Functionality Insights

Go to The Bottom Line - Zero Commissions Could Hamper Development

Surviscor Online-based Brokerage Experience Rankings

The 2021 Online Brokerage Experience Review audited 12 Canadian discount brokerage firms whose primary business is to offer self-directed DIY investing capabilities to its customers. The audit took place in October and November 2021 and evaluated each firm by analyzing over 400 individual usage criteria that are derived using more than 3300 objective questions to establish the best self-directed brokerage experiences. The review is highlighted by 6 main categories made up of 27 sub-categories.

Mobile Experience RankBrokerage FirmExperience ScoreDetailed Company Review
1Qtrade Direct Investing93 %Detailed Company Review
2Scotia iTRADE91 %Detailed Company Review
3TD Direct Investing89 %Detailed Company Review
4Questrade88 %Detailed Company Review
5BMO InvestorLine82 %Detailed Company Review
6RBC Direct Investing81 %Detailed Company Review
7CI Direct Trading80 %Detailed Company Review
8Desjardins Online Brokerage76 %Detailed Company Review
9CIBC Investor's Edge75 %Detailed Company Review
10National Bank Direct Brokerage69 %Detailed Company Review
11HSBC InvestDirect66 %Other Company Reviews
12Wealthsimple Trade20 %Detailed Company Review
Not ReviewedCanaccord Genuity DirectCompany Reviews
Not ReviewedInteractive Brokers CanadaOther Company Reviews
Not ReviewedLaurentian Bank Discount BrokerageOther Company Reviews

The % score represents a Peer Score. It provides guidance as to the availability and depth of online brokerage functionality, and the features surrounding the functionality, while evaluating each firm based on the complete industry availability.

NOTES:

LAURENTIAN BANK DISCOUNT BROKERAGE was not reviewed as they have not made any significant improvements in the past 2 decades and the executive team ignores countless requests to participate each year. Some would consider CANACCORD GENUITY DIRECT and INTERACTIVE BROKERS as discount brokers, but they are not reviewed as Surviscor sees both of them as more day-trading and ultra-active trader platforms who realistically try to take advantage of having platforms to lure investors.

Go to The BEST and WORST Firms by Category

Go to Online Features and Functionality Insights

Go to The Bottom Line - Zero Commissions Could Hamper Development


Lessons Learned

It Has Always Been Discount Brokerage - Not Online

Let's start with some fun facts and pick on the marketing built into the firm names. There are 12 firms in the Online-based Brokerage review and the wealth of different branding is comical to traditionalists. There are basically 5 key words used in firm names: Investor, Direct, Trade, Investing and Brokerage. A quarter of the firms use Direct Investing, and one turns the same two words around. Three firms use Trade and one expands it to Trading. Two firms use Investor. Two firms use Brokerage, and of those firms, one places Online before it and the other Direct. Only Laurentian Bank Discount Brokerage has not abandoned the original branding, but it has its customers. It's simple and new investors should take note. This is self-directed DIY investing which requires a brokerage firm to execute trades and the prices are discounted from advice-based services. #DiscountBrokerage

Most Firms are Not Paying Dividends back to Investors

Dividends is a standard investing term and represents the payout back to an investor on a per share basis, based primarily financial success on. In terms of the self-directed discount brokerage industry, when are the investors, who have made each firm successful with record trades and account openings, going to reap the rewards of loyalty and receive better online platforms? In this case, the dividend is a re-investment in digital platforms to enhance the overall investor experience, something that has been missing, by most firms, for several years. The lack of notable movements in the rankings the past few years is proof. #NoMoreExcuses

Zero Commission Firms are Down in the Rankings

The were two more entrants to the zero commission offerings in Canada in 202. National Bank Direct Brokerage lead the way then Desjardins Online Brokerage followed suit to join Wealthsimple Trade. Surviscor has been well quoted on its thoughts around zero commissions and no free lunch in life and the dangers of a rookie investor using a firm like Wealthsimple Trade. Self-directed investing is all about risk, no matter who the firm is or what type of platform they have, but in life, higher fees are charged for enhanced products and services and good service is typically rewarded with tipping. The rankings prove that nominal fees per trade may be worth the enhanced experience. #ZeroMeansLess

Rookie Investors Continue to Be the Focus - Tune Out the Marketing

Each new, or beginner, investor should take note that the self-directed discount brokerage firms are focused on them and are attempting to win their business and trust. Not having digital order-taking capabilities at a digital self-directed brokerage firm is like not having payment facilities with Amazon. Obviously, it is a necessity, but not having access to all types of products, services and industry standard features and functionality puts any investor behind the eight ball. Tune-out the marketing messages that try to convince investors that less features and functionality is better and find reliable partners. There are so many to choose from. #BewareTheWealthsimpleMessage

Timing is crucial to investing - Understand the Quote

Timing is crucial when it comes to investment decisions. It typically starts with a fluid when to buy decision and ends with a much harder when to sell decision, whether the investor is making or losing money. The internet is full of free quotes for almost any stock or ETF on the planet, but the question becomes, how valid is the quote and its relevance to the immediate stock or ETF purchase. Was it a snap quote to simply view the last trade? Was it a delayed quote, and if so, did the investor know to refresh the screen for the most recent price on most order screens? Market data is always worth the cost of acquiring pure knowledge but in today's world, it may be better from a third-party source then the brokerage firm. #MakeInformedDecisions

The Next Generation Desktop Platforms May Take a Backseat to Mobile Platforms - A Concern

The online platform experience has always been the key cornerstone of an overall digital investor experience at self-directed discount brokerage firms. The first development was software-based to replace human contact when placing orders. Then came the online platforms that expanded with essentially the same information the broker was seeing. As the years went by, so did the level of sophistication. The concern today is the industry's race to acquire the new investor and development decisions being based on simplicity and mobile access. What is changing is that online platform development appears to be driven by mobile platform usage and translating the needs back to the desktop decisions, something that will result in less, not more for all level of investors. #FieldOfDreams?


Go to Online Features and Functionality Insights



The BEST and WORST Firms - By Category

It is important to keep in mind that the depth of any Surviscor review translates to an environment of tough marking and firms being required to earn rankings. Ranks are not given to firms by sponsored ghost writers or false marketing pieces and messages. In addition to being tough, Surviscor will also give credit where credit is due. The hope is that all Canadian self-directed and DIY investors hold each discount brokerage firm accountable to the highest standards of customer experience and platform functionality.

INITIAL EXPERIENCE

The Initial Experience category audits the pre-login experience by benchmarking the features and functionalities offered to investors prior to entering the platform as a customer. Leading firms allow visitors to establish a relationship through a strong account opening process, ensure multiple service capabilities are present and educate prospective, and possibly existing, customers with 'free' market-related or investing-related resources.

BEST Online ExperiencesLink to Company ReviewWORST Online ExperiencesLink to Company Review
QUESTRADEFull ReviewWEALTHSIMPLE TRADEFull Review
BMO INVESTORLINEFull ReviewCIBC INVESTOR'S EDGEFull Review

USER EXPERIENCE

User experience, also referred to as UX, covers a broad range of factors that influence how it feels when an investor uses an online brokerage platform. The challenge for all platforms is balancing customer-driven usage and product needs, maintaining a consistent look and feel between the online and mobile experiences while understanding that each customer shows up having used 1000's of different websites and internet-based applications.

The User Experience category audits the general design and contents of the platform including navigation, the availability of usage customization features, product availability, and security protection features that are especially important to digital users. Different users with identical experiences may see the experience through different coloured lenses but investors should be aware that fancy new designs do not always equate to a better experience. #NewOftenMeansLess

BEST Online ExperiencesLink to Company ReviewWORST Online ExperiencesLink to Company Review
QUESTRADEFull ReviewWEALTHSIMPLE TRADEFull Review
TD DIRECT INVESTINGFull ReviewDESJARDINS ONLINE BROKERAGEFull Review

ACCOUNT EXPERIENCE

Account information has always been one of the core reasons for the genesis of the online brokerage platforms, even more than placing trades. The reality is that all firms provide an investor with their financial situation, transactional history, holdings, statements, and outstanding orders data. The progressive firms continue to enhance the experience with more in-depth account information.

Investors should demand more information depth and in the areas under review, including a fast and efficient additional account opening process, multiple methods of contacting and communicating with the firm, in-depth account information along with analytics, expanded e-documents, and account management service capabilities as they do exist as some firms. #GiveMeMoreInformation

BEST Online ExperiencesLink to Company ReviewWORST Online ExperiencesLink to Company Review
SCOTIA iTRADEFull ReviewWEALTHSIMPLE TRADEFull Review
QUESTRADEFull ReviewNATIONAL BANK DIRECT BROKERAGEFull Review

MARKET ANALYSIS EXPERIENCE

Prior to the internet and online brokerage platforms, real-time market data was something only brokerage firms and news outlets had access to. Investors called their broker for quotes or waited for the morning newspaper to see how their stocks were performing. The bottom line is that market data drives every aspect of DIY investing and there are varying degrees of access levels including individual quotes, key stock market data, access to fundamental data on companies and more than ever, analyst consensus data and recommendations.

The Market Analysis Experience category is generally well covered by industry firms, but the differentiators are, like they always are, in the details. Industry firms cannot hide behind usability excuses like they do with mobile platforms. The bottom line is there are no excuses for the bottom-tier firms and the key is that we label this industry as DIY or self-directed which means investors require as much information as they see fit and there are firms that simply do it better, whether its quotes, watchlists, interactive charting, fundamental data, technical analysis, or research.

The lesson for investors remains the same each year. Be careful of firms #CueWealthsimpleTrade who try to convince you that most of these items are not important, and they are doing you a favour by not offering them to you. #FakeNews

BEST Online ExperiencesLink to Company ReviewWORST Online ExperiencesLink to Company Review
TD DIRECT INVESTINGFull ReviewWEALTHSIMPLE TRADEFull Review
QTRADE DIRECT INVESTINGFull ReviewHSBC INVESTDIRECTFull Review

TRANSACTIONAL EXPERIENCE

Online-based transactional capabilities have come a long way since the early 2000's and they continue to grow in terms of usability and relevance. Today's best order screens are dynamic in nature, meaning they change as the user makes early choices, provide quick-entry options such as pre-determined quantity levels, and compliment the overall experience with supporting information such as real-time quotes, depth of order data, daily and historical charts and placing additional orders on the account. Trading passwords have been introduced for apparent increased security, but the best firms allow the user to turn them off as they add an unnecessary layer to the process.

The expansion of self-directed DIY products means that there is a need to expand the availability of order entry capabilities. Stocks, ETFs and mutual fund order entry is not enough. Options, GICs, Bonds and New Issue expressions of interest are now available, and some firms have taken the basic order entry for stocks and options to the next level. By the way, stop orders or short selling should be standard investor options not marketed as extras. Did you know that some firms allow you to buy a stock or ETF on the close? Or how about Questrade and TD Direct Investing taking option trading to the next level by offering multi-leg strategies? Yes, at first glance they are far-beyond the day-to-day investor knowledge, but they are a valuable trading vehicles that warrant some education.

BEST Online ExperiencesLink to Company ReviewWORST Online ExperiencesLink to Company Review
TD DIRECT INVESTINGFull ReviewWEALTHSIMPLE TRADEFull Review
QTRADE DIRECT INVESTINGFull ReviewHSBC INVESTDIRECTFull Review

INVESTING & PLANNING EXPERIENCE

The hard reality is DIY self-directed investing is not for everyone. For new investors, it can be very intimidating and even scary at times. So how does one reduce the fear and anxiety? The answer is resources that compliment the investing experience and provide guidance to the overall DIY self-directed goal.

Today's DIY investor should never feel alone because there are so plenty of great resources to help and most are available, in varying degrees, at each online brokerage firm. Screeners, market notifications, tools, calculators, and educational resources are essential parts of a DIY relationship. Investor should self-reflect as they self-direct and ask these questions? Why would I not like the ability to find my optimal stock using a stock screener? Or why would I not want to watch a video on how to invest or things to consider while investing or being able to receive market notifications of key stock-related information like news or earnings? The poorly ranked firms would make an investor believe that all these resources are overkill and not required for self-directed investing success. That is simply NOT the truth. #LearnToTrade

BEST Online ExperiencesLink to Company ReviewWORST Online ExperiencesLink to Company Review
TD DIRECT INVESTINGFull ReviewWEALTHSIMPLE TRADEFull Review
RBC DIRECT INVESTINGFull ReviewQUESTRADEFull Review

Go back to Complete Online Brokerage Rankings



Online Features and Functionality Insights

Features rolls better off the tongue with Functionality following it but the reality is Functionality is the core banking item of importance and Features represent the level of support built around the core functionality. Why highlight it? Because it is the key message to understand how firms differentiate from others through features when the same core functionality exists amongst all firms. Think about it, every firm reviewed has a login page, transactional capabilities, and an area to see account history so how do we differentiate one from another? It's easy, the better firms design surrounding features to enhance a user experience with the functionality and that is what consumers should look for. #NotAllFirmsAreEqual

Yes, it can be very confusing. Why does an investor really care if the current experience is ok? An investor should because this is the reason why Surviscor does what it does so both new and seasoned investors don't have to. The following summary highlights some of the enhanced functionality and features (see what we did there?) trends to help investors see if the firm they have chosen is at least keeping up with the best firms:

Education is Gaining Steam

Educating self-directed investors has long been the Surviscor message to industry firms. Firms tend to market them with fees and promotions then forget about the single most important support a self-directed investor needs, which is education. Education is learning and not to be mistaken with an FAQ or glossary. Leading firms provide videos, tutorials and articles surrounding an investor experience that are designed to improve knowledge and help with the investor's personal investing growth. The good news is that many firms are speaking that language now. #EducateToGrow

Becoming a customer is Getting Easier - Or is it>

Time heals all wounds, right? Well, time will tell. Opening a self-directed online brokerage account in Canada has been quite the ordeal since day one, mainly due to regulatory roadblocks, but the reality is that Canada has lagged its US-based peers for the past 20 years and appears to still be a step behind. In fairness to Canadian firms, the process has come along way and has been brought to the forefront due to the COVID pandemic as traditional in-branch, or mailing processes, needed to be more streamlined online. The information gathering has been there for decades, but the reality is that verifying electronic identity and anti-money laundering requirements are still not perfected at most firms. #NoLastMInuteTrades

Technical Analysis is Simply Too Much to Grasp

Technical Analysis can be described as charting on steroids but the expansion of the product at most firms is surprising as it is well beyond the intellectual concept of most investors, and even the staff of the firms who offer it. The discipline of charting stocks to identify buy and sell patterns has been around for decades and was used by sophisticated traders who literally used pencils and rulers on man-made charts to analyze data. Today, the discipline sends mix messages to the average trader as they are encouraged to use the functionality, but it is truly too advanced for even an active trader to grasp. #DontFeelBad

Enhanced Data and Dashboards costs an Investor More

The Surviscor saying no free lunch in life remains intact and stronger than ever. Today's self-directed discount brokerage platforms cast a larger customer net and one platform must cater to both investors and traders alike. The difficulty is that, in the beginning, they have very different needs, especially when it comes to market data. At Surviscor, we believe in investor growth so having a next-level data set that allows an investor to shoot for the next level of analysis is welcomed, just not at the requirements in place today like account size and trading activity. The expense of providing the data is real for the firms, but data is what drives every investment decision and transaction, and no investor should be hampered by inferior information and trading capabilities. #DataDrivesTrades


Go back to Complete Online Brokerage Rankings


THE BOTTOM LINE - $0 Commissions Could Hamper Progress

Discount brokerage firms have made good money for years but most of the firms have not kept pace with providing improved digital capabilities. Now introduce an age of zero commissions and one could guess that the future looks bleak for current and new self-directed investors. These firms won't go away but if firms weren't investing back in its account base when they are making money, it won't get any better once there are no profits. Our fear, warranted or unwarranted, is that zero commissions will lead to less features and functionality for self-directed investors and simply turn these once powerful engines into order-taking machines. #FutureInQuestion


Learn More about Canadian DIY Self-Directed Investing Firms

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