Table Of Contents

    Key points

    If you thought 2021 was an eventful year (and it was!) at Canada’s online brokerages, wait until you see what’s in store for 2022. In this milestone issue of the Look Back / Look Ahead series, we hear from leaders at Canadian online brokerages about what they saw as the biggest highlights, as well as what they’re working on to impress self-directed investors in the next year. Also, we’ve got the scoop on four new online brokerages moving into the commission-free trading game.

    If there’s one thing that all self-directed investors have in common, it’s that they pay attention to trends. This year, we officially crossed the 10-year mark at Sparx Trading, and if there’s one thing that we can speak to after a decade’s worth of data and analysis, it’s being able to spot trends in the Canadian online brokerage industry. 

    Taking stock (pun intended) of the past year and a half, it’s fair to say that we’re living through events unlike anything we’ve ever witnessed before. And yet, one of the most striking features of the Canadian online brokerage industry, even in the face of such dramatic events, is the ability of the Canadian market to sustain firms that move at paradoxically different speeds when it comes to innovation. That world, however, is about to change. 

    In this fifth iteration of the Look Back / Look Ahead magazine, it’s abundantly clear that the Canadian self-directed investing industry sits at the cusp of a major transformation. 

    From the launch of commission-free trading by National Bank Direct Brokerage, to a structural shift in demographics of investors who entered the online trading world, 2021 was a year that online brokerage executives told us challenged them to establish a new normal when it comes to delivering outstanding experiences for Canadian self-directed investors. 

    Drastic change was also prevalent at this year. Our choice to completely overhaul our website and lean into refining our brand identity appears to be in line with where leaders in the industry are as well. And we, too, have some incredibly ambitious projects slated for the next year that we can’t wait to share more about, especially the launch of Sparx Trading Pro.

    After 10 years of consistently producing content on the Canadian online brokerage landscape, it’s remarkable to reflect on the breadth of audience that we serve. 

    Analysts, journalists, executives, enthusiasts, and investors turn to Sparx Trading for in-depth insights and newsworthy developments, as well as puns, gifs, and fun artwork. In today’s parlance, we’ve helped to democratize online investing by providing industry-grade content and insights to all. Today, investors have more technology, platforms, products, providers, and pricing options than they have ever had before, which means our place in the DIY investor ecosystem is even more important today than it was a decade ago when we first launched. 

    On behalf of the exceptionally talented Sparx team, I would like to thank our loyal readers, supporters, and, especially, the online brokerage community for 10 years of wonderful memories, and for keeping things interesting. 

    Where the next 10 years takes us all, we’re not sure. But we’re excited all the same, especially if where we’re going next won’t need roads. See you in the future!

    Click below to learn more about what each individual online brokerage had to say about 2021 and what’s coming up in 2022:

    BMO InvestorLine

    Looking Back: InvestorLine 2021 in Review

    Andrea Casciato, Head of North American Digital Investing Sales & Service

    By Andrea Casciato, Head of North American Digital Investing Sales & Service

    Exciting and significant changes have been happening at BMO InvestorLine. A surge of demand in digital investing over the past year has led to an increase in both our active client base and the number of trades being placed on our platform. 

    Of the new clients to InvestorLine, many are younger investors who are investing online for the first time. We also experienced record growth in clients signing up for adviceDirect, our investing platform that combines the power of the InvestorLine platform with personalized advice, advisor support, and real-time alerts.

    InvestorLine highlights for the year

    • Client acquisition for InvestorLine rose 20% year-over-year
    • Nearly 50% of new clients are younger investors (under 35 years old)
    • More clients are placing trades with InvestorLine (trade volume increased 30%)
    • New adviceDirect accounts increased by 70% year-over-year

    Always-On Innovation

    The surge in account growth and trading increased client call volumes exponentially. To better serve our clients, we tripled new hires at our contact centre and introduced our call-back-assist feature. We’re well positioned for the increased demand to our contact centres as the market and our client base continues to expand.

    We also introduced industry-leading changes to our web platform. InvestorLine 2.0, available for both self-directed and adviceDirect clients, now includes upgraded features that elevate the client experience and empower investors to make smarter investment decisions. 

    As well, updated designs and user interface focus on improving user experience by providing:

    • Greater access to meaningful investment data and third-party research
    • Planning and ideation tools, including a dividend calculator for equities, and a screener and compare tool for ETFs

    With the introduction of pricing changes across our products, we positioned ourselves to capture a whole new segment of clients:

    • Minimum investment required to become an adviceDirect client has been lowered from $50,000 to $10,000
    • adviceDirect’s fee structure has been simplified to 0.75% of billable assets capped at $3,750 per year
    • Self-directed clients can now trade 80+ ETFs from Canada’s largest three ETF providers with absolutely no commission fees. Since launching in June, we’ve seen a 40% lift in clients investing in ETFs

    Looking Ahead to 2022

    With a year of expanding growth under our belt, we’re excited to offer Canadian investors even more of what they’re looking for in an online brokerage: personalized advice and support, an enhanced mobile experience, and expanded ETF offerings.

    Personalized investing with adviceDirect

    We believe the demand for digital investment advice will continue to rise. Investors want to control their investment decisions, but they want support and advice along the way. 

    Our adviceDirect offering combines BMO InvestorLine’s easy-to-use platform with personalized advice, empowering investors with the confidence to make smarter investing decisions. With a lower minimum investment to open an adviceDirect account, we’re excited to welcome a whole new generation of investors, and we’ll keep expanding our platform to provide clients with the right advice at the right time.

    Upgrading InvestorLine mobile

    We’ve heard our clients loud and clear: they want to invest not only how they want, but where they want. To help Canadians realize their goals, we’ll be upgrading our mobile app.

    Building on the improvements we’ve made with InvestorLine 2.0, the new app will sport a modern look and feel, new biometric security features, and an enhanced trading experience. We are also working towards supporting advanced options trading and real-time cash and margin balances, further enabling clients to take better control of their investments.  

    Increasing our value

    With the popularity of our no commission-fee ETFs, we’ll soon be introducing the ETF Hub for InvestorLine. This will be a dedicated resource where investors can find ETF-focused screeners with more detailed criteria (including ESG scores and third-party ratings), research tools, and educational content. We expect continued momentum with ETF investing, and we believe investors will be looking for the tools and insights to help them trade in this category.

    Canadian investors will continue to value online brokerages that give them more value for their money. By expanding our support of ETFs and improving our mobile capabilities, we’re looking forward to giving Canadians the value, tools, and features they need to invest smarter and with more confidence.

    Desjardins Online Brokerage

    by Marc Girard, Director, Desjardins Online Brokerage

    Marc Girard, Director, Desjardins Online Brokerage

    Looking Back on 2021

    Rising interest and robust platforms

    The year 2021 was rich in learning, challenges, and successes for Desjardins Online Brokerage. With a 150% increase in clients since 2019 and a 265% increase in transactions in just one year, the question arises: how can we continue to improve our offerings while maintaining the excellent customer service and client experience that have made us market leaders for nearly 40 years?

    Growing interest in independent investing has, among other things, underscored the importance of robust platforms. When the industry was hit by several outages early in the year, our systems were able to accommodate not only the steady influx of new users, but also the increased volume of transactions made by our existing users. The stability of our ecosystems has long been identified as one of the keys to our success, and we have made major investments in this area. As more and more investors turn to online brokerages, trading platform reliability and robustness are more important than ever. 

    Markets accessible to all

    The year 2021 was also pivotal in terms of market accessibility, with Desjardins Online Brokerage eliminating fees for transactions conducted online. Doing so made sense, given the service offerings we have been developing and tailoring to our clients’ needs for nearly 40 years. Looking back, it’s easy to see how the advent of the web in 1998 led to a steady decline in transaction fees, both at Desjardins Online Brokerage and throughout the industry. Eliminating these fees allows us to make independent investing accessible to even more investors of all ages. At Desjardins Online Brokerage and across Desjardins, we have always made decisions with the best interests of our members and clients in mind.

    Looking Forward to 2022

    Forty years of education and guidance

    Founded in 1982 and acquired by Desjardins Group in 1990, Disnat – now Desjardins Online Brokerage – is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. We’re proud to have been the first Canadian discount brokerage firm, but we’re certainly not resting on our laurels – the world of independent investing is constantly evolving, and our teams are working hard to enhance our service offerings.

    As we move into 2022, we want to ensure we’re not only preserving, but also enhancing the services that are the cornerstone of our success. The financial education and guidance we provide to our members and clients is one of our core values and part of what makes us a leading partner. That’s why we’ll be putting considerable effort and resources into improving the educational experience of our users in order to support them in all aspects of investing. At Desjardins Online Brokerage, financial literacy is key to how we work. 

    Investments, check. Now what?

    Desjardins Online Brokerage is about more than just independent investing. Supported by Desjardins Group and powered by a high-calibre 360-degree wealth management offering, Desjardins Online Brokerage wants to focus on providing wealth management support to its members and clients in 2022.

    Investing is becoming increasingly important in the lives of our users, and we want to help them broaden their perspective. With the support of our partners, we have been developing content and solutions to ensure our members and clients are aware of all that our wealth management offering entails. From life insurance to home buying, retirement planning and wealth transfer, we want to remain an important partner in their financial success.

    HSBC InvestDirect

    By Attilio Montanari, Vice President, HSBC InvestDirect

    Attilio Montanari, Vice President, HSBC InvestDirect

    HSBC InvestDirect, the self-directed brokerage arm of HSBC Securities (Canada) Inc., is an online brokerage suited for not only domestic, but also globally-minded investors, which provides access to 30 domestic and international markets. With HSBC InvestDirect, you can access an integrated suite of research tools and trading capabilities right at your fingertips.

    For HSBC InvestDirect, the surge in interest in the online investing space has been tremendous. A major component of our priorities in 2020-21 was to improve the stability and capacity of our website so that our customers can have a better trading experience. This proved timely as trade volumes continued to increase, particularly during the meme stock trading craze in early 2021. It is very important to us that our trading site remains reliable and is available to our customers.  

    Some other recent improvements we’ve made:

    • Digital forms with e-signature feature – making it easier and more convenient for customers to sign and send in a form.
    • Call-back feature – busy customers can use our call-back feature and we’ll call back as soon as an agent is free.
    • Trading site improvements – we made some key features more visible and easier to find. 
    • Enhanced Tools & Resources page with great tips and demos.

    HSBC InvestDirect has been motivated throughout the pandemic to maintain our high standards in customer experience. We are very proud of how all our teams came together with one goal in sight, despite the numerous challenges in a difficult time.

    Looking Forward to 2022

    HSBC InvestDirect will be focused on the launch of our new mobile trading app.  The new trading app will allow customers to quickly execute trades in North American and overseas markets.

    As a first phase to our digital strategy, in 2021 we added HSBC InvestDirect customer account balances to the HSBC mobile banking app. This gives customers a view of their full wealth holdings across banking and investments, and the feedback received was very positive. In the second phase planned by mid-2022, we will be introducing mobile trading capabilities.

    We are also very excited about rolling out our “click to chat” feature on our trading site, which will allow our customers to communicate with us in real time.  HSBC InvestDirect has a lot in store for 2022. We will continue to listen to feedback and focus on what is important to our customers.

    Offering more educational pieces has also been an important trend in the industry. HSBC InvestDirect has supported customer education goals by partnering with the TMX this year for two virtual options trainings. We look forward to providing our customers with access to more of these events, along with access to additional investor insights from our HSBC affiliates.

    We also realize that pricing and fees are very important to any investor, so we are constantly reviewing our fees to remain competitive and to be amongst the lowest in commission rates. We are also looking to introduce more educational pieces for our new younger investors to help them navigate the self-directed investing landscape.

    National Bank Direct Brokerage

    By Claude-Frédéric Robert, President, National Bank Direct Brokerage

    Claude-Frédéric Robert, President, National Bank Direct Brokerage

    How was 2021?

    The year 2021 was another great year for us and our clients. To begin, as hinted in last year’s edition of this publication, National Bank Direct Brokerage (NBDB) wanted to continue being a disruptive force in our industry with our pricing and tools, and on August 23, we launched our $0 commission pricing on stocks and ETFs for all clients. This accomplishment was the culmination of years of preparation, and we are very proud of being the first bank-owned direct brokerage to offer zero-commission pricing that benefits all investors.  

    Following last year’s launch of our new platform and reviewing customer feedback, we’ve continued to invest in tools that clients will want, one of them being OptionsPlay. NBDB is the only Canadian direct brokerage that offers it free of charge, and we’ve integrated it into our platform. This financial education and analysis tool allows the investor to visualize and compare options trading strategies and their risks and rewards using technical analysis. OptionsPlay can also help easily find and choose covered call strategies.

    We believe that options trading will continue to grow in importance, and NBDB will support its clients with educational content via webinars and our newsletter. We are also working on a new options education series for our YouTube channel.

    Another feature that was added is our enhanced ETF Centre, where you start by using our screener to quickly identify ETFs, then compare them side-by-side via our comparison tool, and finally, access ETF research reports to validate your choices, all within the same section.  

    During the summer, NBDB was recognized by J.D. Power as #1 in investor satisfaction and by Surviscor for our pricing, even before we went to zero-commission. All these factors allow us to say with conviction that we are leaders in the direct brokerage industry. And more is planned for 2022! 

    What we are Looking Forward to in 2022

    Building on our 2021 momentum, NBDB will continue to invest in improving our customers’ experience with new tools and services that will set us apart from the competition. One such service to be made available in the first months of 2022 will be our Fully Paid Securities Lending Program that allows the investor to lend their fully paid securities held in non-registered accounts and earn additional income while they are on loan. Previously only accessible to institutional investors, NBDB will once again be the first bank-owned brokerage firm to offer this service to its clients. Not only can clients trade for free, but under certain conditions, they will be paid for being NBDB clients.  

    Another interesting addition will be a reverse lookup feature added to our ETF Centre: type in the stock symbol, and a list of ETFs with the highest percentage holdings of the stock will appear. We are also excited to announce a mobile app that will improve our overall trading experience and will become available in 2022.

    Having already adopted commission-free pricing, the feedback received from self-directed investors has been positive, but pricing is only one aspect of their decision. Clients place a lot of value on having access to real-time quotes, USD investment accounts, research on stocks and ETFs, and tools that can help them find investment ideas and manage their portfolios. This is why we continue to innovate to stay ahead of the curve.

    In addition, investors also want educational content on how to better use the tools made available to them, which is why NBDB has expanded the number of monthly webinars and topics covered to address that need.

    Qtrade Direct Investing

    By Christine Zalzal, SVP, Head of Qtrade Direct Investing and VirtualWealth

    Christine Zalzal, SVP, Head of Qtrade Direct Investing and VirtualWealth

    How was 2021?

    This year opened with a bang! Interest in growth and “meme” stocks fueled an upsurge of market momentum and volatility. Across the Canadian online brokerage industry, trading volumes doubled, and it was a challenge for brokerages to keep up. We’re proud that Qtrade Direct Investing™ empowered clients with a secure and reliable platform, and a high standard of service from our award-winning client service team.

    More recently, activity has settled down. But investors remain engaged, and trading volumes are still much higher than pre-pandemic levels.

    We know clients want to get their new accounts up and running quickly. This year, Qtrade Direct Investing made big leaps forward in access and convenience. When you open an account, real-time identity verification allows you to confirm your identity by simply taking a selfie from your mobile device. And real-time account opening means you can access your new account without any wait times.

    Personalization was another key theme this year. You’ll notice some great enhancements to the dashboard, which is your personalized landing page. It displays analyst ratings for your top holdings, as well as a Portfolio Score for your accounts. (Portfolio Score is a popular tool that grades your portfolio on key dimensions including performance, diversification, and risk exposure.) The dashboard displays alerts including upcoming dividend payments. The total portfolio graph is bigger and includes timeframe options so you can easily gauge progress towards your goals.

    Canadian investors love exchange-traded funds (ETFs), so we’ve expanded our lineup of commission-free ETFs to over 100. You’ll find additional responsible investing ETFs, along with other thematic ETF options. There is no minimum trade amount and, of course, no commissions to buy or sell any of the 100+ free ETFs.

    This year, Qtrade Direct Investing got a whole new look. Investors have said they love the new brand and we love it too. It tells the story of what Qtrade has always done exceptionally well: providing investors with the confidence of knowledge. Confidence in a click on a top-ranked platform and a simple, intuitive experience. And confidence in the relationship with expert client support when you need it. We will continue working to build investor confidence and humanize the digital experience for Qtraders, so you can Write Your Own Future™.

    What we are Looking Forward to in 2022

    We know self-directed investors prize fast, convenient, and reliable access to their online trading service. They want a simplified investing experience and knowledgeable, responsive support.

    Looking ahead to 2022, we’re excited about delivering an enhanced experience across multiple devices. This is a high priority, and we think Qtraders who manage their investments from different devices will love the new experience.

    The ability to seize market opportunities quickly will get a boost with the upcoming rollout of instant funding, meaning you can access deposited funds sooner in order to execute on your trading decisions.

    Qtraders have asked for and will soon have more flexibility to enter multiple orders at one time. For example, you will be able to place a stock order combining both a Sell Limit order and a Stop Loss order. If one order is filled, the other is automatically cancelled.

    We’re also adding a new layer of protection to help keep your accounts and your information secure. With two-factor authentication, when you log in to your Qtrade account, you’ll be prompted to input a numeric code, which we’ll send to you via text message or phone call.

    Industry trends we’re monitoring closely include the emergence of new investment offerings, such as new asset types, most notably cryptocurrencies, which investors are interested in accessing and exploring.

    Qtrade’s pricing structure is competitive, and we add value through innovation, research, expert client service, and investor tools. This should all be taken into account when choosing an online brokerage. The Globe and Mail’s 2020 online brokerage review encouraged this approach:

    “If investing to you is a years-long journey of wealth-building for goals like retirement and your children’s postsecondary education, then you’ll get more value from Qtrade’s tools and informative website than you will by paying a few bucks less per trade: Grade: A+”

    —Rob Carrick, The Globe and Mail

    RBC Direct Investing

    By Lori Darlington, President & CEO RBC Direct Investing

    Lori Darlington, President & CEO RBC Direct Investing

    How was 2021?

    How has the surge in interest in online investing impacted your firm?

    At RBC Direct Investing, a record number of new clients joined us in 2021, many under the age of 35.  With this generational shift, we’re seeing greater adoption of our mobile platform, with over 25% of trades placed on mobile.

    Any changes in pricing, new features or key milestones in 2021?

    In the past year, we’ve optimized the experience across all of our digital platforms. 

    Trading Dashboard:

    In June, we launched a new Trading Dashboard. This completely customizable, web-based dashboard is powered by FactSet, a global provider of integrated financial information, analytical applications, and industry-leading services. The dashboard offers personalized views of markets with widgets for news, research, advanced charting, and more, enabling investors to monitor investments and quickly spot and act on trading opportunities. Featuring real-time quotes1, it is free for every client.


    We brought many of the design, navigation, and functional enhancements made to the online site in 2020 into mobile this year, including free Level 2 quotes on TSX and TSX-V. By improving filtering on Order Status and Account History pages, and adding margin excess balance to the Account Holdings page, we reduced the need to scroll – all based on client feedback. 

    Online Investing Site:

    On the Detailed Quote page, we introduced free real-time streaming quotes2 and added Value Analyzer, Trading Central’s interactive forecast tool for fair value, putting powerful information right at clients’ fingertips. The Portfolio Analyzer tool was refreshed to allow account grouping, making it easier to get a holistic look at asset mix and compare a portfolio to RBC Global Asset Management investor profiles.

    What motivated these changes and what does it mean to clients and the firm?

    We want all of our clients to be comfortable and confident trading across our digital platforms. This means listening to feedback and responding to continually improve the experience.

    What is your team most proud of accomplishing this past year? 

    We are proud of the ways we are empowering self-directed investors to thrive, including working to ensure that all platforms are accessible for clients with visual, auditory, or mobility impairments.  It also means providing important investor education content in our Investing Academy and Inspired Investor online magazine. Investing Academy articles like “8 Essential Direct Investing Self-Serve Tools, Tips and Resources enable clients to grow their knowledge and become more comfortable and confident making investment decisions using the resources and tools we provide.  

    Looking Forward to 2022

    What will you be focusing on for 2022 and what are you most excited about?

    In 2022, we will continue to listen to our clients and introduce features to improve the trading experience. With the influx of younger investors, we are taking the time to understand their preferences. We’ve commissioned IPSOS to conduct a survey of younger self-directed investors to gain deeper insights on why they’ve chosen self-directed investing, and what they want to learn about. The findings will inform and shape the investor education we build out over 2022. 

    What features are coming soon or in progress?

    Self-directed investors want to be independent, and our “self-serve” options are valuable in saving time and effort. We’ll continue to provide helpful content in our Investing Academy, like the popular “8 Essential Direct Investing Self-Serve Tools, Tips and Resources.”  

    We have a digital onboarding journey for new TFSA account holders that provides timely and relevant information and will look to extend that type of personalized communication throughout 2022. 

    What trends or important features do you think self-directed investors will be interested in this year?

    With the influx of younger investors, we see there’s greater interest in our learning resources. For example, our “Getting Started” guide and “How To” videos are popular among new clients. Our Inspired Investor online magazine – free to all clients – includes a “Question of the Week” feature based on what our Contact Centre colleagues are hearing from clients. It’s a great way to respond to frequently asked questions as they surface.

    We also know that investors want to learn from each other. Our Investing Truths series features young adults sharing their investing journeys – a great way to connect with and learn from others.

    What are your views on commission-free trading in Canada?

    We know that pricing is an important consideration when choosing an online brokerage. For that reason, we continually review our commissions and fees structure – as well as the services, resources, and tools we provide – and we believe it delivers high value to our clients. We are monitoring industry pricing to ensure we continue to deliver a competitive investing experience.

    Online Brokerages on the Radar

    While all Canadian online brokerage firms we regularly cover were invited to participate in this year’s issue of Look Back / Look Ahead magazine, not all chose to participate. Nonetheless, true to Sparx Trading form, we wanted to ensure we provided coverage of all brokerages to highlight our thoughts on important developments in 2021 and what we see coming in 2022. 

    CIBC Investor’s Edge

    CIBC Investor’s Edge spent a good portion of 2021 flying under the radar. As with their peers, the flood of interest in opening online trading accounts early in the year overwhelmed client service channels.

    Despite the radio silence for much of the year, there were some interesting enhancements that reaffirmed the Investor’s Edge strategy of measured improvements. They added new online order trade types, extended the duration of orders and improved the buying power experience. Further, CIBC Investor’s Edge leaned into promoting research tools such as TipRanks and TC Market Buzz resources. 

    CI Direct Trading

    Formerly known as Virtual Brokers, 2021 was the year this online brokerage officially transitioned into an identifiably CI Financial brand. As the year draws to a close, however, reskinning of apps and the website point to the rebranding as a work in progress. 

    Change looms large at CI Financial. Ambitious corporate growth objectives (such as rapid US expansion) have taken priority over large self-directed investing developments here in Canada. That said, despite the slow pace of change on the front end (to date) of their self-directed platform, CI Financial has shown its ability to move quickly and boldly, which means that improvements to key features could come sooner than we think in 2022.

    CG Direct

    After the acquisition of Jitneytrade by Canaccord Genuity (parent of CG Direct) in 2018, not much appears to have changed on the front end. Behind the scenes, however, is a different story.

    A pattern of hiring by their parent brand Canaccord Genuity reveals that they are in the midst of hiring a sizable marketing team and some support roles for the CG Direct business line. 

    Canaccord Genuity’s relationship with Morgan Stanley Wealth Management Canada could be worth keeping an eye on. Morgan Stanley Wealth Management Canada recently launched a mobile app which revealed a zero-commission direct investing platform, Access Direct. 


    Despite some big feature rollouts and award wins in 2021, Questrade is keeping a low profile heading into the end of the year. 

    The response to the new QuestMobile app launch in September might have something to do with it. Forum chatter and feedback dealt Questrade some tough lessons about technology expectations among online investors, despite having previously released a quality mobile app.

    The next big challenge facing this brand heading into 2022 is how it is going to maintain its perception as a “low cost” leader. Now that some large financial institutions have launched commission-free trading and with more zero-commission trading alternatives poised to arrive, Questrade needs a big new feature (and smooth launch) or better pricing to regain ground. 

    Scotia iTRADE

    Like several other online brokerages, rebranding was the driver for what we saw on the front end for Scotia iTRADE

    After quietly upgrading their public-facing website, Scotia iTRADE appeared to pivot away from social media by decommissioning (no pun intended) their longstanding Twitter account. Though a pull back in marketing might be a reason, another seems to be a multi-year struggle with customer service response times. 

    Although the better-looking website is a step in the right direction, getting people to listen to what’s coming next in 2022 will be directly related to how well Scotia iTRADE can restore confidence in its service experience. 

    TD Direct Investing

    When you’re an online brokerage as big as TD Direct Investing, scale matters. The sheer number of DIY investor clients creates a business case for features like content and education at a scale that other online brokerages find hard to justify. However, scale is a double-edged sword, especially when there are gaps in service experience or platform outages, both of which they navigated this year. 

    Customer service wait times and platform interruptions at TDDI made news headlines. The asymmetry of media coverage, however, meant that there wasn’t much of a spotlight on some of the positive developments. 

    In 2021, TDDI invested heavily in the development of content infrastructure. Heading into the new year, momentum for their content machine is revving up, giving them a chance to tell their story their way. 

    Wealthsimple Trade

    Early in 2021, Wealthsimple Trade was one of the only online brokerages in Canada to provide easy access to a trifecta of high-demand features including cryptocurrency trading, fractional shares and zero commission fees. 

    After record success, however, came a serious downtick in investor sentiment. 

    Outspoken active traders saw just how much conversion fees for US dollar trades ate up in costs and voiced their displeasure. Compounding Wealthsimple Trade’s challenges in 2021: hypercompetitive cryptocurrency trading alternatives, the launch of CDRs and the launch of commission-free trading by two large financial institutions. 

    We expect 2022 to be like 2021, with regular new feature rollouts to bring them closer to other online brokerages, bonus offers and a continued push into crypto.

    Commission-Free Online Brokerages Launching Soon(ish)

    If the field of 15 Canadian online brokerages felt a little crowded before, things are going to get even cozier over the next two years since that number could grow to 19, or more. 

    One of the biggest stories in the online brokerage industry in 2021 was the launch of commission-free trading by two large financial institutions in Canada: National Bank Direct Brokerage and Desjardins Online Brokerage. However, there hasn’t been much press about a record-breaking number of new no-commission online brokerages looking to launch in Canada. 

    Neither the presence of existing competitors, Canada’s relatively small population, fragmented regulatory landscape, nor the price point for commissions have dissuaded an unprecedented number of online brokerages from proposing to launch in Canada over the next two years. We’ve spotted at least four online brokerages (and are eyeing a fifth) who’ve indicated publicly that they are working to launch DIY investor solutions in 2021 and 2022.


    Chalk this one up to global ambition. Freetrade, a commission-free online brokerage based out of the UK, has a bold vision of becoming a leading commission-free trading platform around the world. To that end, their expansion plans reveal Canada is on their roadmap. 

    We first broke the news in early August, and since then we’ve seen the number of job postings increase for interesting positions related to setting up this online broker in Canada. The timeline to seeing Freetrade go live is a bit fuzzy, but it wouldn’t be surprising if they opened up a waiting list and took a run at launching later into 2022 or early 2023.


    In March of 2021, Canadian financial services firm Mogo Financial acquired a fintech company called Moka. While Moka’s core product is about helping individuals contribute what is essentially spare change into an investment account, Mogo rounded up to a whole other level by announcing they would be stepping into the world of zero-commission trading as well. 

    Originally road mapped to launch by the end of 2021, the window for official rollout appears to be in motion. An important acquisition of an order-execution-only firm (Fortification Capital Inc.) as well as a partnership with CI Investment Services and approval from regulators puts MogoTrade on the right path to go live in 2022. To close out 2021, individuals can sign up for the official waitlist. 


    If tastyworks and tastytrade received a nickel for every time they stated they were coming to Canada, there would be a lot of Canadian beaver coins to go around. Tastyworks has been “coming to Canada” for several years now, however, the regulatory logjams have created hurdles. 

    In the absence of more data on when exactly this busy beaver brokerage might go live in Canada, the latest update from the summer is that clearing and settlement firm, Apex, was working through regulatory approval to operate in Canada. Of course, one very big development is that tastytrade was acquired for one billion dollars in June by IG Group, something that deepens the pockets behind this online brokerage and sets the stage for the Tasty brand to go international. 


    October 2021 brought more than just fall colours to online investors, as another online brokerage outside of North America announced that they were looking to establish a foothold in Canada. 

    Unlike some of the other online brokerages catering to investors, in particular passive investors, TradeZero is all about active trading. As part of their roadmap to global ambition, TradeZero is looking to launch in Canada and support both crypto as well as options, which would land them in pretty exclusive company for a zero-commission brokerage.