Table Of Contents

    Key points

    Time flies when you’re up against a deadline. That seems to be the theme for many Canadians looking to take advantage of the RRSP contribution deadline for 2015 coming up this Monday. For Canadian discount brokerages, however, it seems that at the end of RRSP season may be signaling the start of an even stormier […]

    Time flies when you’re up against a deadline. That seems to be the theme for many Canadians looking to take advantage of the RRSP contribution deadline for 2015 coming up this Monday. For Canadian discount brokerages, however, it seems that at the end of RRSP season may be signaling the start of an even stormier season ahead.

    In this week’s roundup, we take a look at what’s around the corner for deals and promotions as we head into a new month and how we might be seeing the first signs of troubled waters for Canadian brokerages as they try to keep pace with one another. Next we take a look at a recent BNN interview with one ranking agency that highlights how tricky it can be to pick an online brokerage without doing some homework first. From there we take a look at the latest discount brokerage tweets and close out the roundup with a look at what investors were talking about on the forums this week.

    Peak Deal?

    As the RRSP deadline is fast approaching, Canadian investors will be busy trying to calculate their contributions and limits to ensure they can qualify for the 2015 tax year – at least those who intend to make a contribution. This recent survey from H&R Block stated that only 18% of Canadians surveyed intend to contribute to an RRSP this year. Whether it’s the volatile markets or because of other factors, it is against this backdrop that Canadian discount brokerages have had to figure out how best to encourage DIY investors to sign up for an online brokerage account. Clearly they’ve had their work cut out for them.

    For Canadian discount brokerages, the RRSP season is typically among the busiest all year and so it is interesting to reflect on who did (or didn’t) post a promotion this year and what that could mean for deals landscape looks as the next big season i.e. tax return season takes effect.

    Looking back at last year, there were 24 deals and promotions being advertised in February with that number shrinking slightly to 20 or so by the time March rolled around. This year, however, there are only 18 offers that have been advertised for February and four of those are set to expire within the first week of March.

    So, could this be a signal of firms playing defense because of the DIY investing climate or could this be the first real hint that the Canadian online brokerage landscape may soon be thinning out?

    Consider the following. Two big bank-owned brokerages, CIBC Investor’s Edge and RBC Direct Investing, opted to sit out the promotional race RRSP season this year despite having run promotions around the same time last year. While it is not clear if other means they’ve used to fuel the interest in their DIY investing products and services have worked the fact remains that this year, they’ve yielded what little market share there is to be had to big bank-owned competitors as well as independent brokerages who have been running promotions.

    Another interesting observations between last year and this year is that some brokerages are running promotions that offer lower value incentives year (or higher barriers to qualify) despite the increased competition.

    Virtual Brokers, for example, had an offer last year of 50 commission-free trades which required deposits of $5,000 whereas in 2016 that same number of commission-free trades requires a deposit of $25,000.

    All is not doom and gloom, however.

    Desjardins Online Brokerage upped their commission-credit offer for new clients to $500 from $300 and Credential Direct entered the deals race earlier this year than they did in 2015. Also, encouragingly for investors, Questrade has continued to put forward more incentives and promotions than other Canadian brokerages which implies that they’re committed to providing incentives to get DIY investors’ attention and ultimately business.

    Looking at the big picture, with online brokerage margins being squeezed, a turbulent economic situation and now an added factor of robo-advisors competing for client assets, getting more clients or more assets per client will likely be as important as improving operating efficiency. In either case, offering a promotion or incentive enables them to do both.

    There are already whispers from several brokerage sources that making deals and promotions a bigger part of their planning in 2016 is in the cards. Of course, just like in any market, when the value becomes compelling enough, the buyers step back in so for Canadian discount brokerages, the next two months will be their chance to make their case.

    Know Thyself

    As seasoned or new DIY investors continue to kick the tires on their online brokerage options, what it takes to make a good choice still remains somewhat tricky. After all, almost all brokerages are willing to accept a client’s money however finding out what makes a great ‘fit’ is not something brokerages look at the same way as clients do. What is clear about DIY investing and perhaps about wealth management in general is that nobody will care for your money more than you do.

    For DIY investors, the reality of choosing the right online brokerage comes back down to knowing what kinds of services and costs are appropriate for their particular needs. This past week, the president of financial services research firm Surviscor Glenn LaCoste was on BNN offering viewers tips on what to look out for when choosing a brokerage.

    Three questions that were highlighted as important for DIY investors looking for an online brokerage to ask were:

    • Do I know what I am getting myself into?
    • What kind of account am I looking for?
    • Do I need the firm to offer both online & mobile options?

    Of course, the online brokerage industry is constantly evolving and the differences between firms are narrowing which highlights why DIY investors need to know more about what they want and need since relying on rankings and ratings may cause some confusion.

    A good case in point of just how fluid the results of a top online brokerage ranking may be was also illustrated in that same interview.

    Of the five brokerages listed as “top picks” (BMO InvestorLine, Scotia iTrade, Questrade, RBC Direct Investing and Qtrade Investor) there were other brokerages that seemed to score higher on Surviscor’s recent rankings that were left off the list. So, for example, RBC Direct Investing was ranked 6th (along with TD Direct Investing) in Surviscor’s 2015 Online Discount Brokerage Review and behind Credential Direct who ranked 5th. Further, in Surviscor’s most recent Service Level Assessment analysis RBC Direct Investing and Questrade ranked 13th and 14th (out of 14) respectively. As such, it was interesting to note that despite scoring higher than RBC Direct Investing on various Surviscor rankings, these top picks did not include Credential Direct (who placed 4th on the service level assessment) and underscores the point that measuring and recommending discount brokerages is always a moving target.

    A brokerage that does well or poorly on a ranking or rating in one period may do worse or better on a relative basis when measured at another time frame. Further, even rankings that might measure similar components (such as customer service)will do so in different ways and thus yield different results. In fact, this was the focus of an article published in 2013 that still holds true today: when looking at a rating, ranking or recommendation for a brokerage it is important to understand how and what’s being measured to get a clear picture of what the ranking means. For those shopping around for a brokerage account, the lesson appears to increasingly point to knowing what you want and need before making any decisions on a provider.

    Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

    This week technology strikes again as brokerages big and small work their way through some digital hiccups. Mentioned this week were BMO InvestorLine, Questrade, RBC Direct Investing, Scotia iTrade, TD Direct Investing & Virtual Brokers.

    From the Forums

    A DRIP of this, a dash of that

    The power of compounding is an essential ingredient for the long term dividend investor. In this post from RedFlagDeals’ Investing thread, one user was curious how to get up and going with setting up a DRIP at RBC Direct Investing.

    Adjust Cause

    Tax time is here and with it come the flood of questions from investors trying to make heads and tails of the proper method of tracking their buys and sells. In this post on reddit’s personal finance Canada section, one user has a question about the adjusted cost base calculation for shares purchased in US dollars.

    Into the Close

    That’s a wrap for this week’s roundup. For the movie buffs, this is the big screen equivalent of the super bowl as some of hollywood’s best and brightest will be walking down the red carpet for the Oscars. Of course, in 2016 in addition to the glitz and glamour, there’ll also be many entertaining (and sometimes NSFW) tweets to go along with it all. Here’s a highlight (or lowlight) reel heading into the big show. Have a great weekend!