Canada's BEST DIY Online Brokerage Experiences
TD Direct Investing provides the best DIY Online Brokerage Experience in Canada
It is well known that Canadians were early adopters of the internet. What is not as well known is the fact that one of the first Canadian financial services industries to adopt internet-based services was the self-directed discount brokerage industry which took flight in the early 2000's, following the lead of the progressive US self-directed brokerage pioneers like E*Trade, Ameritrade and Datek Online. It is an understatement that 2020 has been a challenge for all Canadians. The new work from home orders. Job losses, Income losses, financial stress, the list goes on. For this industry and the firms in this review, it has been a challenge of keeping up as they have seen record-breaking activity and profits through the pandemic, levels not seen since the early adoption of the online platforms.#Pioneers #RecordProfits
Many firms have experienced outages which many deem unacceptable as our reliance on the system was being challenged to new heights. Our rankings do not address all these outages which is evident through our winner TD Direct Investing who typically is at the height of all the outages, most likely due to the size of its account base. We gave them, and others, a small 'pass' for those issues as it can be compared to every member at a gym showing up at the same time looking for a treadmill. We are not excusing them as there are many moving parts that can be attributed to these outages, we are simply stating that not all the issues rest with the individual firms but do not be mistaken, Investors should hold all financial partners accountable. #NoExcuses #ItsYourMoney
Our main concern is why has it taken so long for firms to refresh the look, the feel, and the usability of the old and dated online platforms? The answer could be focus meaning that the bank-owned firms were forced to make digital everyday banking channels the priority. Or maybe it could be that the mature industry, long been known as 'a license to print money', did not see the need until now as they adapt to the new target markets and the new world of digital financial services that surround them. Whatever the reason, the new version of our longest standing review, now in its 15th year and 20-plus edition, focuses solely on the online experience for self-directed discount brokerage platform that affect the DIY investor. We removed the other noise that often swayed the results like service levels, mobile accessibility, and cost of services to focus on the online experience or customer journey. Do not worry, they are all key determinations for an investor when choosing an online discount brokerage partner and will soon all have individual reviews, the last one being the cost of services to be launched in January 2021. #BuyerBeware
The BEST Canadian Self-Directed Online Brokerage Experiences
We have a long history, 15 years to be exact, of big statements at Surviscor and with big statements comes the responsibility, and necessity, to leave no stone un-turned. That means our results are based on numerous, not nominal, facts and intensive simulated-usage analysis of each firm. We pride ourselves on not being known for quick and dirty, advertisement-driven, rankings favouring the firms who pay that inevitably come with baseless claims, like the editorial bias or sponsored studies that are taking over the internet. When Surviscor declares a winner, it is a big statement based on hundreds of hours of simulated-usage reviews answering typically over 3,300 questions and 400 plus criteria points pegging each firm versus its peers under equal scrutiny.
The bottom line is we act like YOU but we look at every firm not just your own. Go through the results and find your firm, if you can, or even learn about other firms that may be better suited to your DIY financial adventure. #KnowledgeIsKing
Here is what we like, and some areas we do not, about the best firms:
#1 - TD DIRECT INVESTING
TD Direct Investing, Canada's largest discount brokerage firm by accounts, is finally ranked at the top, largely due to the new format for 2020 as its cost of services and service levels tend to disappoint. What does not disappoint is the online experience and investor journey as TD Direct Investing captured 3 category honours with a well-rounded and informative online brokerage platform. #BestOnlineExperience
What We Like:
- Educational videos
- New GIC order entry
- Placing Orders experience
- Depth of market information
- $0 ETF commissions in Goal Assist accounts
What We Do Not Like:
- Limited online account opening options
- Lack of account notifications
#2 - QTRADE INVESTOR
Qtrade Investor has been at the top of the rankings for a long time and never disappoints. The consistent pattern is that Qtrade Investor rarely wins a category award but typically wins many sub-category awards demonstrating that it is a well-rounded platform, but it needs a refreshed look. #CreditUnionStrong
What We Like:
- Account opening experience
- Educational resources
- Account dashboard
- Analyst research screener
What We Do Not Like:
- Older design
- New Portfolio Tool can be very confusing
#3 - SCOTIA iTRADE
Scotia iTRADE is a firm that keeps sticking around despite its lack of digital improvements that could be attributed to ongoing management changes and direction. Like TD Direct Investing, its review score benefitted from the new format for 2020 but the truth is, it is still a solid and reliable DIY investor platform. #RestingOnItsLaurels
What We Like:
- Account management experience
- Stock screeners
- New 'snackable' video tutorials
What We Do Not Like:
- Lack of planning tools
- Limited account analytic tools
- Basic research and fundamental data
The WORST Canadian Self-Directed Online Brokerage Experiences:
HSBC INVESTDIRECT and WEALTHSIMPLE TRADE
HSBC InvestDirect has been in this game for a long time but never seems to be interested in improving its platform. Its claim to fame is its access to foreign market trading and multi-currency accounts which is all that any investor should consider with HSBC InvestDirect. #TimeToStepUp
The newest kid on the block, Wealthsimple Trade, despite its marketing campaigns, fails to let DIY investors know that they do not have a fully launched online brokerage platform. The beta platform is basic at best and based on its mobile platform, we do not expect much with the full version launch as they have built the limited functionality with its Crypto business in the same platform. #BuyerBeware
Education finally taking the next step
DIY investing is not easy and should not be taken lightly by anyone, especially the newer generation of DIY investors who are attracted to price rather. It is true that the internet provides a wealth of information and reports on stocks and market trends, but investors should expect that information to be readily available from their investing partner. We were pleasantly surprised to see an increase in educational videos and platform usage tutorials in 2020. Regardless of why it happened, it is a welcomed addition to an industry that needs to be better at educating the novice and even experienced investors. #MaximizeTheExperience
Online platform designs catching up to features and functionality
Finally a few of the notable big firms decided it was time to provide a new online user experience. National Bank Direct Brokerage and CIBC Investor's Edge took the safe, and highly recommended, road transforming the older experience into a more modern experience with little to no loss in features and functionality. The baffling change was with BMO InvestorLine, once the industry darling in user experience, who took the approach that launching a new scaled-down version would be best while ensuring customers can still use the older version if they want more. The message, and our opinion, is that firms are not giving much credit to the new investor by giving so little to them while playing a dangerous game with the investors who got them to where they are today. #RiskyBusinessBIL
Be careful of relentless advertising and fake reviews
Active markets breed competition which breeds new entrants. New entrants breed the need for awareness leading to increased marketing and advertising which firms love when profits are at record levels. What does it mean for you? Simply put, be careful. Understand that the newest entrant, Wealthsimple Trade, wants you to think that they are reputable self-directed discount brokerage but based on the poor platforms they have designed, we would question that. Sure $0 commission sounds great. Just look around the internet for reports that name the new firms as the top industry firms because, typically, those rankings or stories are due to affiliate marketing plans where the firm in question pays the publisher to write the story. Just so you know, because we know what you are thinking, TD Direct Investing did not pay even a penny to Surviscor in 2020 but we still ranked them #1. #RealRankings #RankingFacts
The BEST and WORST firms by CATEGORY
All Surviscor scorCard reviews are comprised of several hundred individual experience criteria that are then grouped into sub-categories and ultimately into the larger categories to round-out the analysis. Let us take look at how Canadian discount self-directed brokerage firms performed in each category by not only focusing on the two best firms in each category but identifying the bottom 2 firms who are clearly missing the mark and should be held accountable by Canadian DIY online brokerage customers.
The hardest part of many journeys is deciding to take the journey. Well, it may be easy once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted to book a flight south or to see family but getting back to the gym takes effort and is not always easy. That is the way we perceive the DIY investing journey to be, especially when the future relationship partners do not provide a warm welcome, the initial impression, right from the start. One could argue that a first impression lasts the longest, but we believe it to be true. If an investor does not get a good feeling from the get-go, chances are its not worth the effort.
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.
The BEST Firms for Initial Experience:
QUESTRADE - #1
When you do not have the big bank behind you and most Canadians deal with one of the big banks, you need to be good at telling your story. Questrade does that and more including a comprehensive account opening process, strong service interactions and strong educational resources.
SCOTIA iTRADE - #2
Most of the banks provide similar marketing introductions, but Scotia iTRADE gets the nod as runner-up for its strong and informative navigational design and array of educational resources.
The WORST Firms for Initial Experience
CIBC INVESTOR'S EDGE and WEALTHSIMPLE TRADE
In CIBC Investor's Edge case, its not as bad as it looks and there is tough company. In terms of Wealthsimple Trade, its a simple analysis. Little to no information along with cross-selling other more lucrative platforms. #TheFirstImpressionIsKey
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 overall user experience focuses in on four main online brokerage experience buckets including the general design 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 and newly designed sites does not equate to a better experience. #NewCanMeanLess
The BEST Firms for User Experience
QUESTRADE - #1
Questrade, who also won this category in the recent mobile review, can contribute a lot of its industry differentiation with customized investor usage capabilities, including default trading settings to expedite the transactional process and industry leading login reporting that identifies devices as well as actions performed.
TD DIRECT INVESTING - #2
TD Direct Investing provides investors with a strong navigational design with good situational awareness and the availability of next-level customization items.
The WORST Firms for User Experience
DESJARDINS ONLINE BROKERAGE and WEALTHSIMPLE TRADE
Desjardins Online Brokerage falls in the bottom due to a lack of depth and customization options in its design while Wealthsimple Trade lacks product, user customization and depth. #CustomizeYourExperience
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
The BEST Firms for Account Experience:
SCOTIA iTRADE - #1
Despite an older design, Scotia iTRADE offers investors online account management tools, availability of more online account openings and strong integration features which allow investors to move from account information, to research, to trading in a quick manner leading to a better overall account experience.
QUESTRADE - #2
Questrade provides investors with in-depth account information, strong service interaction capabilities including online chat and various account management requests and capabilities.
The WORST Firms for Account Experience
NATIONAL BANK DIRECT BROKERAGE and WEALTHSIMPLE TRADE
Being last does not mean that a firm does not provide access to good account information. In National Bank Direct Brokerage's case, it equates to providing basic information and account services. Wealthsimple Trade's limited offering is not its issue but rather the lack of usability of the information at hand is. #InformationLeadsToAction
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 list goes on and since newspapers are a thing of the past, investors can now rely on advanced online platforms for all their information needs. The beauty of the online platforms, versus mobile platforms, is the ability to fully view the vast amount of information that is available.
We mentioned in the 2020 Mobile Brokerage review that the category is generally well covered by the industry firms but that the differentiators are in the details. The same is true with online platforms but 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 Do-It-Yourself 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. 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
The BEST Firms for Market Analysis Experience:
TD DIRECT BROKERAGE - #1
Why should we be surprised that the largest firm by size is leading the industry when it comes to market information? The truth is they simply do it the best with not only all of the necessary data features and functionality, but it is also packaged up visually to be effectively used and understood.
QTRADE INVESTOR - #2
Qtrade Investor is a close second to TDDI. Qtrade Investor has never skimped-out and always provides the latest data sources to keep its customers fully informed to enhance decision-making.
The WORST Firms for Market Analysis Experience
HSBC INVESTDIRECT and WEALTHSIMPLE TRADE
It is not that HSBC InvestDirect does not offer core data, it is the amount and depth of data that is the issue despite being one of the few firms to offer global stock information. It is a simple message when it comes to Wealthsimple Trade. $0 commissions means no money for data so if you are a customer, you better be getting the much-needed data somewhere else. #InformationDrivesSuccess
Online-based transactional capabilities have come a long way since the early 2000's and 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-use options such as pre-determined quantity levels, and complimented with supporting information such as real-time quotes, depth of order data, daily and historical charts and 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.
As the availability of self-directed DIY product continues to expand, so does the need to expand the availability of order entry capabilities. Stock/ETF 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 and that does not mean allowing stop orders or short selling that by the way, should be standard. Did you know that there are order types that 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 vehicle to get to know and National Bank Direct Brokerage has introduced an interactive learning and selection tool that can help. #WhatAreMyOptions
The BEST Firms for Transactional Experience:
TD DIRECT INVESTING - #1
TD Direct Investing offers industry-leading Equity/ETF order entry experiences with extended good-until dates along with advanced option order entry, IPO expressions of interest and new GIC order entry capabilities.
QTRADE INVESTOR - #2
Qtrade Investor offers an industry-leading bond, or fixed income, trading experience, a strong equity/ETF experience along with GIC order entry and IPO expressions of interest.
The WORST Firms for Transactional Experience
HSBC INVESTDIRECT and WEALTHSIMPLE TRADE
Offering less does means ranking low but the key takeaway from this category is that no two experiences are alike. Simply put, some do it better and understand that an order is not just an order but an investing experience, an important start and finish to each investment strategy. Why can one firm make it so easy and relevant while others make it clunky and tedious? Each firm has access to the same functionality and an investor should demand order entry excellence. #DemandExcellence
Some may call a quote, or maybe a research report on a targeted company a resource. We would not disagree with them, but we are looking way beyond that in this category. DIY investing is not for everyone and 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 goal and elimination of financial advisor guidance. Today's DIY investor has no excuse for feeling alone because there are so plenty of great resources to help and most are available, in varying degrees, at each online brokerage firm. The bottom line is that screeners, market notifications, tools, calculators, and educational resources are essential parts of a DIY relationship.
Ask yourself 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 relationship should be based on investor trust, trust that instructions are acted upon and trust that an investor can learn and grow with each individual experience. The poorly ranked firms would make you believe that you, the customer, do not want or need all these resources. Just remember that it is YOUR choice to make, not the firm's. #LearnTradeLearn
The BEST Firms for Mobile Resources:
TD DIRECT INVESTING - #1
TD Direct Investing is the industry leader due to its vast number of screeners including a strategy builder tool, a custom market information alerting system and a dedication to educating DIY investors using various tutorials regardless of the platform.
RBC DIRECT INVESTING - #2
RBC Direct Investing finally makes the results storyline with a runner-up finish, mainly due to its industry-leading portfolio tool that allows an investor to incorporate goals into the equation, good tutorials, and the availability of practice accounts to test the waters.
The WORST Firms for Mobile Resources
QUESTRADE and WEALTHSIMPLE TRADE
Questrade is a top-notch overall self-directed brokerage firm but they have dropped the ball when it comes to screeners, planning tools and calculators despite strong educational material. There is no need to further discuss Wealthsimple Trade as they managed a bottom finish in all categories for obvious reasons. #GiveMeMoreNotLess
The Surviscor DISCLAIMER
Keep in mind that we are tough markers and have been for close to 15 years. Sure, we can be tough on many firms, but we also have no issues praising the ones who work hard to offer best of breed, industry-leading products, and services to deserving customers. Canadians work hard for their money and having a great investing partner should not be a privilege but rather a requirement. Brokerage firms do very well by us, and we should hold them accountable to the highest standards of customer experience. Do not forget that you hold the cards, not them and there are a lot of firms to choose from. #DemandTheBest
|Online Experience Rank||Discount Brokerage Firm||Experience Score||Full Company Review|
|1||TD Direct Investing||90 %||View Company Review|
|2||Qtrade Investor||89 %||View Company Review|
|3||Scotia iTRADE||88 %||View Company Review|
|4||Questrade||86 %||View Company Review|
|5||RBC Direct Investing||81 %||View Company Review|
|6||BMO InvestorLine||79 %||View Company Review|
|7||Virtual Brokers||76 %||View Company Review|
|T-8||Desjardins Online Brokerage||72 %||View Company Review|
|T-8||CIBC Investor's Edge||72 %||View Company Review|
|10||National Bank Direct Brokerage||68 %||View Company Review|
|11||HSBC InvestDirect||65 %||View Company Review|
|11||Wealthsimple Trade||17 %||View Company Review|
Note: Laurentian Bank Discount Brokerage and Canaccord Genuity Direct, formerly Jitney Trade, refused to participate in the review.