Canada's Best and Worst Online Brokers

Canada's Best and Worst Online Brokers

TD Direct Investing is the Best Online Broker in Canada

The history of what many today call Online Brokerage has two storied beginnings and no doubt, too many current sub-brandings. A traditionalist goes back to the late 1980's when the firms were classified as Discount Brokers, a new set of investment firms that were built to offer non-advice investment access to the markets for a fraction of the cost of full service, or advice-based, stockbrokers. A more progressive critic uses Online Brokers to define the firms and starts in the late 1990's, focusing on what the firms became with the introduction of software, and internet-based, access to account information and trading screens. Despite the slight branding differences firms use to differentiate, like direct investing or direct trading, the bottom line is these firms function as go-betweens for do-it-yourself, self-directed, no-advice investing at a highly discounted rate. #DiscountedInvesting

Despite 30 years of experience in the industry, Surviscor has also struggled with the overall branding as the total offerings are no longer based solely on an online platform. Digitally speaking, the industry is no longer only traditional desktop or non-mobile platforms. Most firms now offer mobile-based applications or platforms that, in most cases, provide quite different investing experiences compared to online-based platforms. For 2022, Surviscor has taken the approach of returning its all-encompassing review branding back to Online Broker, the most reliable search term that resonates with investors and consumers, but not to be used in the same narrow focus of many internet writers and press narratives. The Surviscor Best Online Broker Review centers around the complete investor picture no matter what device or platform is used with the overall goal to educate Canadian investors on the various platforms, products, service, and pricing experiences required to make informed partner decisions. #CornerstoneInvestingExperiences


The Cornerstone Experiences of an Overall Investor Experience

Lessons Learned


The BEST and WORST Online Brokerage Firms for 2022

In a tightly contested online brokerage environment, the smallest differentiation can prove to be the reason for an investor to choose a firm. Being crowned the Best Online Broker in Canada is fast becoming a watered-down accomplishment with the countless number of internet-based rankings plastered all around the internet, most of which are basic reviews at best, some paid for by industry firms, or reviews that do not include all industry firms.

Surviscor reviews have always been known for depth, and relevance, while going Between the Lines and providing guidance at each level of the marketing campaigns to shed light on the merits and truths at each firm and the results and are not swayed by firm marketing or relationships with the firms. For the protection of all Canadian investors, we demand business integrity from all the firms in our reviews and we never shy away from pointing out misleading investor-based claims by any of the firms, big or small.


We cannot announce TD Direct Investing as the winner without stating the dark cloud that hangs over its management group over its surprisingly misleading and false claim to have been recognized for its industry-leading research centre, noting the MoneySense.ca Market Data category as the source, on its aggressive TV commercial campaigns into late 2021 and into 2022. Our efforts to rectify the issue fell on deaf ears and I am personally surprised that TD Direct Investing crossed the advertising integrity line.

Glenn LaCoste, President and CEO of Surviscor Group



Snapshot of TOP TIER Firms

Snapshot of TIER 2 Firms

Snapshot of TIER 3 Firms

Snapshot of BOTTOM TIER #BUYER BEWARE Firms


The Cornerstone Experiences of an Overall Investor Experience

Being one of the Best Online Brokers in Canada does not mean having either the best desktop platform, mobile application and/or the best service levels. The honour is not given to a firm based on its lowest advertised price. To win the prestigious Surviscor award, a firm must be effective at the four key cornerstone experiences which make up an investor's complete experience. The experiences are:

Online Platform Experience

Surviscor's Online Brokerage Experience Review explores a typical desktop-based online investor experience, including both the pre-login and login areas, which evaluates the online journey through each investor process and typical investor experience.

Read the Latest Online Experience Review

Mobile Platform Experience

The Mobile Brokerage Experience Review explores a typical mobile device-based investor experience, including both the pre-login and login areas, which evaluates the mobile journey through each investor process and typical investor experience.

Read the Latest Mobile Experience Review

Commission & Fees Experience

The Commissions & Fees Experience Review evaluates each firm using five trade-related investor profiles and approximately 13,000 individual trades to determine the best overall commissions and fees offered to self-directed investors.

Read the Latest Commission & Fees Experience Review

Customer Service Level Experience

Service reputation is the cornerstone of any consumer and business relationship. The Service Level Experience Review explores daily service responsiveness and service interaction capabilities at all firms, both inside and outside the customer login process and across all digital devices. The service responsiveness portion included 157 service interactions in a 12-month period ending December 31, 2021.

Read the Latest Customer Service Level Experience Review



Snapshot of TOP TIER Firms

Top Tier Firms provide self-directed investors with the best overall online brokerage experience across the Four Cornerstone Experiences. Top Tier firms offer self-directed investors an above-average overall experience with typically strong individual cornerstone experiences.

#1: TD DIRECT INVESTING (75%)

  • Investor Education
  • Depth of Market Data
  • 50 free trades a year for non-active investors
  • Consistent Investor Experience across platforms
  • False advertising claims of having award-winning research as noted in the MoneySense.ca reviews
  • TD Easy Trade platform - Poor solution for new investors
  • Service Responsiveness
  • Becoming a customer can be difficult at times

BETWEEN THE LINES

TD Direct Investing, Canada's largest online brokerage firm, narrowly slips into the top spot on the strengths of its online and mobile platforms and its new commissions structure for low-activity investors through its newly branded TD Easy Trade. Despite the win, TDDI needs to improve its customer service levels and not discriminate against its long-time customers by offering the new low activity pricing to those customers without stripping the platform down to its bones.

OPEN the Full TD DIRECT INVESTING Review


#2: DESJARDINS ONLINE BROKERAGE (74%)

  • New $0 commission for Stocks and ETFs
  • Industry-leading Research
  • Investor education modules
  • Competitive fees and commissions
  • Always participates in review findings
  • Platform designs need improvements
  • Becoming a customer can be difficult at times

BETWEEN THE LINES

Desjardins Online Brokerage is Canada's oldest online/discount brokerage firm and offers investors multiple programs to consider. DOB's recent entry into the $0 commission game helped better position its overall online brokerage position but it has always been known for its industry-leading research and competitive commissions and fees. The next step is for DOB to enhance both its online and mobile-based platform experiences.

OPEN the Full DESJARDINS ONLINE BROKERAGE Review


#3: NATIONAL BANK DIRECT BROKERAGE (71%)

  • $0 commission for Stocks and ETFs
  • Various levels of market data
  • Participated in review findings
  • Removing non-social, non-phone, customer service capabilities
  • Fees associated with market data
  • Becoming a customer can be difficult at times

BETWEEN THE LINES

National Bank Direct Brokerage was the first bank-owned firm to move to $0 commissions for Stocks and ETFs despite having already been known as a competitive fees firm. Time will tell if the move to $0 commissions translates into reduced product or services as there has been a drop-off in service methods to non-customers. The mobile-based platform is in needs of improvements.

OPEN the Full NATIONAL BANK DIRECT BROKERAGE Review


#3: QTRADE DIRECT INVESTING (71%)

  • Service responsiveness
  • Online-based experience
  • Portfolio management tools
  • Participated in review findings
  • Fees and commissions are on the higher side
  • Mobile-based experience

BETWEEN THE LINES

Qtrade Direct Investing has been a leading firm for many years and Investors would never be disappointed using QDI but will have to pay higher than average commissions. In return, an investor receives industry-leading market data, unmatched depth of account information, industry-leading customer service responsiveness and a strong online-based investor experience.

OPEN the Full QTRADE DIRECT INVESTING Review


#5: QUESTRADE (70%)

  • Service responsiveness
  • All digital investor experiences
  • Process of opening an account
  • Always participate in review findings
  • ECN fees
  • Commissions on ETF sales
  • Data fees

BETWEEN THE LINES

Questrade is one of the most well-rounded self-directed brokerage firms in Canada as it can cater to both new and seasoned investors as well as active traders and offers industry-leading customer service methods and responsiveness. The one potential issue with Questrade is its fee structures and cost of data, both that can be both attractive and expensive depending on an individual's investing patterns.

OPEN the Full QUESTRADE Review


Snapshot of TIER 2 Firms

Tier 2 Firms provide self-directed investors with a respectable overall online brokerage experience across the Four Cornerstone Experiences. Tier 2 firms offer self-directed investors an average overall experience with some strong cornerstone experiences and maybe some weaker ones.

#6: RBC DIRECT INVESTING (64%)

  • Availability of practice accounts
  • Investor Education
  • High fees and commissions
  • Mobile-based Investor experience
  • ETF investing resources

BETWEEN THE LINES

RBC Direct Investing is sitting well ahead of several of its bank-owned peers but still outside the best industry firms which is puzzling due to the success of its digital banking platforms. RBC Direct Investing boasts strong investor education modules and the ability to be agile and launch new features, but the overall digital functionality remains average at best.

OPEN the Full RBC DIRECT INVESTING Review


Snapshot of TIER 3 Firms

Tier 3 Firms provide self-directed investors with a respectable overall online brokerage experience across the Four Cornerstone Experiences. Tier 3 firms are not firms that should be ignored, but they are firms that a self-directed investor must fully understand the individual firm merits, and drawbacks, that may affect the overall experience.

#7: CIBC INVESTOR'S EDGE (58%)

  • Competitive commission structures
  • Mobile-based Investor experience
  • Indications of platform improvements
  • Below-average online-based Investor experience
  • Inadequate service responsiveness
  • No significant changes to digital features and functionalities over the last decade

BETWEEN THE LINES

CIBC Investor's Edge has made small strides up the Online Brokerage rankings despite its industry-leading digital banking platforms. The overall experience is highlighted with competitive commissions structures, an average mobile-based platform, and updated online platform features, but its poor service responsiveness for non-customers is reason for concern.

OPEN the Full CIBC INVESTOR'S EDGE Review


#8: SCOTIA iTRADE (56%)

  • Availability of practice accounts
  • Market data
  • High fees and commissions
  • Mobile Investor experience
  • General transactional experiences

BETWEEN THE LINES

Scotia iTRADE may represent the industry's largest fall from grace over the past 10 years as during the period, falling from the industry's best bank-owned firms to now one of the weakest. iTRADE's platforms provide adequate self-directing investing features and functionality but its failure to provide acceptable levels of service is reason for concern.

OPEN the Full SCOTIA iTRADE Review


#8: BMO INVESTORLINE (56%)

  • Mobile-based functionality
  • Market data
  • Consistently ignores requests to participate in review findings
  • Poor service responsiveness
  • Expensive commission structures

BETWEEN THE LINES

Once an industry leader, BMO InvestorLine is now an average, bank-owned self-directed investing offering with an older mobile platform that packs a punch and a newer online platform that could be stronger. The most glaring downfall over the years is BIL's lack of commitment to customer responsiveness and its unwillingness to reduce commission fees.

OPEN the Full BMO INVESTORLINE Review


#10: CI DIRECT TRADING (55%)

  • Process of opening an account
  • Always ignore requests to participate in review findings
  • Fees and commissions
  • Investor Education
  • Digital platforms experience

BETWEEN THE LINES

CI Direct Trading one of the newer CI Investments takeovers, formerly Virtual Brokers. The overall experience has some bright spots, but the new branding has yet to lead to a new focus to improve the overall self-directed investor experience.

OPEN the Full CI DIRECT TRADING Review


#10: INTERACTIVE BROKERS CANADA (55%)

  • Mobile Platform Experience
  • Non-Canadian messaging and content
  • Search Engine advertising of being ranked #1 in a non-Canadian ranking
  • This is a professional trader offering

BETWEEN THE LINES

Interactive Brokers Canada is a professional trading platform that could be used by an investor. The continuing issues with IB is its industry claims and accolades that have never been obtained within the Canadian industry and the fact that the platforms highlight a lot of US-centric language and linkage which has not adapted for Canadian investors.

OPEN the Full INTERACTIVE BROKERS Review


Snapshot of BOTTOM TIER #BUYER BEWARE Firms

Bottom Tier Firms typically miss the mark for self-directed investors unless they have a niche product or service offering. These firms typically offer a below-average overall online brokerage experience across the Four Cornerstone Experiences but could have the occasional bright spot to consider.

#11: CG DIRECT (49%)

  • Service responsiveness
  • Account minimums for Investor accounts
  • No Mobile platform
  • Online-based Investor experience

BETWEEN THE LINES

Canaccord Genuity Direct is a Surviscor #BuyerBeware firm as it really is not built for self-directed investors. Parent company Canaccord appears to be looking at gaining some share of wallet for larger opportunities as the platform does not cater to the discipline of self-directed investing despite some strong first impression service levels.

OPEN the Full CG DIRECT Review


#13: WEALTHSIMPLE TRADE (46%)

  • Select $0 commissions
  • Small fee for real-time quotes
  • Limited amount of North American stocks and ETFs
  • Poor foreign exchange rates
  • Digital platforms provide weak investor experiences

BETWEEN THE LINES

Wealthsimple Trade is the most basic offering in the industry with little to offer either online or mobile self-directed investors except $0 commissions which have product limitations. The important #BuyerBeware message to self-directed investors is that the platforms may appear easy to use but they do not support a DIY learning experience or provide the necessary tools and supporting resources for self-directed investors to be successful.

OPEN the Full WEALTHSIMPLE TRADE Review

Do I really believe that a firm is willing to pay for my fees and lose money doing so just so I can be a customer?

An Attentive new Self-Directed Investor


#14: HSBC INVESTDIRECT (44%)

  • Competitive fees and commissions
  • Foreign trading capabilities
  • Participated in review findings
  • Poor service responsiveness
  • No Mobile platform
  • Online-based Investor experience

BETWEEN THE LINES

HSBC InvestDirect can boast competitive fees and being the only firm to offer pure foreign trading and foreign account balances as its differentiators. The lack of a mobile-based solution, poor service capabilities and responsiveness, and consistent bottom-tier platform rankings make HSBC InvestDirect a Surviscor #BuyerBeware firm.

OPEN the Full HSBC INVESTDIRECT Review


#15: LAURENTIAN BANK DISCOUNT BROKERAGE (31%)

  • Recent service responsiveness indicates the lights are on
  • Always ignores participation in review findings
  • The Whole Offering
  • No Mobile platform
  • Online-based Investor experience

BETWEEN THE LINES

Laurentian Bank Discount Brokerage is a Surviscor #BuyerBeware firm for too many reasons to list here. The Bottom Line is that self-directed investors contemplating using the platform should think twice and current customers should look for another alternative. The one small bright spot is Laurentian Bank Discount Brokerage has started to respond to service requests of late.

OPEN the Full LAURENTIAN BANK DISCOUNT BROKERAGE Review



Lessons Learned

Self-Directed DIY Investing is NOT Easy

Despite the countless marketing messages and the new scaled-down digital platforms designed to attract a new crop of investors, the one thing that must be pointed out, and heard, is that self-directed DIY investing is NOT easy or simple, and never has been. Firms claim that new investors want simple and easy but how does a new investor know what they want if they have never invested before? Step up new investors and understand that your self-directed DIY success will be contingent on more education and information, not less, and never believe that these firms are giving you less, so it is easier for you. #InvestingNotEasy

$0 Commissions Could Hamper Progress

Online 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. The firms will not go away but if firms are not investing back in its account base when they are making money, it will not get any better once there are no profits. The fear, warranted or unwarranted, is that $0 commissions will lead to less features and functionality for self-directed investors and simply turn these once powerful engines into simple order-taking machines that resemble online gambling sites. #FutureInQuestion

Beware the Marketing when it comes to Fees

Much of the marketing we see for online brokerage firms tends to focus on fees, and with good reason. Unfortunately, those advertised fees do not always tell the whole story. For example, many low-cost firms charge an Electronic Communication Network (ECN) fee that can double your commission costs, while others exclude some popular stocks from their investment offerings. Or how about firms who market free ETF trading through limited product or only for purchases? Don't fall for the shiny marketing message. #AvoidSparklingObjects

Concern - Desktop Platforms may take a Development Backseat to Mobile Platforms

Online platforms have traditionally been the key cornerstone of an overall online brokerage investor experience at self-directed discount brokerage firms. The concern today is the industry's race to acquire the new investor is leading to development decisions based on simplicity and mobile access. What seems to be changing is that the online platform development is driven by mobile platform usage patterns and translating the needs back to the desktop decisions, something that will result in less, not more for all level of investors. #MobileOverOnline

Mobile Experience is Still Not Where It Needs to Be

The Canadian online brokerage industry was late to the financial services mobile party and continues to lag its Canadian banking counterparts and its US-based online brokerage counterparts. With the current sophistication of mobile devices, investors should expect to have the same experience on phones as they would on a desktop or laptop, and have access to more than basic quotes, account information and limited trading capabilities. Progressive online brokers offer near-full account experience via mobile devices, offering all the same tools and analysis investors would find on desktop platforms but in general, most Canadian online brokerage firms are far from that level. #TimeToStepUp

The Big Banks continue to Miss the Service Mark

Service levels at the Big Bank owned online brokerage firms improved in 2021 but when the true numbers indicate that the improvements went from bad to not so bad, congratulation may not be in order. RBC Direct Investing provided the quickest response time at 29.68 hours in 2021. TD Direct Investing was the only firm to deteriorate and provided a 56-hour response time while BMO InvestorLine responded in 48 hours, CIBC Investor's Edge 54, and Scotia iTRADE, a whopping 64 hours. #ServiceNotTopPriority


THE BOTTOM LINE: DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Online Brokerage firms do very well by Canadian consumers and should be held accountable to the highest standards of customer experience and cost of services. Surviscor takes the ultimate pride in being tough markers and having zero bias in calling-out any firm for both good, and poor, experiences. The mandate is to Identifying firms that offer best-of-breed experiences and industry-leading products and services to deserving customers. There are many firms to choose from so sift through the mixed messages, do some homework, and find the right firm for your needs. #FindTheRightFirm