TABLE OF CONTENTS
- What is an “Online Discount Brokerage” or “Discount Stock Broker”?
- How Does An Online Discount Brokerage Work?
- The Best Canadian Discount Brokerage for 2020
- Who Should Use an Online Trading Platform?
- Top Discount Brokerage Promo Offer Code for 2020
- Comparing Canadian Stock Broker Fees
- The Best Discount Brokerage for ETFs in Canada
- The Best Discount Brokerage Mobile App in Canada
- The Best Canadian Discount Brokerage for Customer Service
- How to Use an Online Broker for Beginners
- Comparison Summary of Canada’s Best Online Brokers
What is an “Online Discount Brokerage” or “Discount Stock Broker”?
Before we dive into this topic, let me take a minute and explain what an online discount brokerage, or a discount stock broker is. An online discount broker is essentially a way for you to trade stocks, bonds, ETFs, and a few other types of more niche investments, online. However, there’s no “middle man” like the old movie idea of “stock broker” when you use an online discount brokerage. You don’t get a person or company to do the buying or selling for you. You are the one in charge. A discount stock brokerage account operates in the same way as traditional brokers do in that these platforms allow investors such as you and me to buy and sell assets such stocks, bonds, mutual funds, GICs, and ETFs. However, as mentioned above, with an online discount brokerage it is you, the investor, calling the shots. This DIY-type of approach comes with a significantly lower commission cost than what you would pay to a traditional Canadian stockbroker (leaving more money to compound as your investments grow!) making it a very attractive option for those willing to do a very small amount of leg work.
How Does An Online Discount Brokerage Work?
The reason why online discount brokerages fees are so much less than what you would pay if you went to a traditional Canadian stockbroker is because, at the end of the day, they are an online business and it’s you, not them, that is doing the majority of the work. A traditional broker will do the planning and research for you, then give you advice during your personal consultation. Online brokers don’t offer those services, it’s all DIY. You need to do the research and planning to build your own portfolio as you see fit. (Although we’d make a strong argument that with Canada’s all-in-one ETFs and our top Canadian dividend stocks there isn’t much research and planning left for the average investor.)
The online broker just serves as the platform to execute your requests. This is great in terms of the money that you can save by taking this online approach. However, as I said above, you do need to be confident and sure of what you are doing as there is nobody else to step in and advise you like a traditional stockbroker would. If you are interested in opening an online brokerage account, it can be done relatively quickly from the comfort of your own home.
Once you open an account with a discount brokerage in Canada (don’t worry, we’ll be sharing more about the best online brokers later in this article), you can transfer your money from your chequing or savings account (or another brokerage account if you are changing firms). The money transfer will take a couple of days, or up to a week depending on your financial institution. Once you have the money in your online brokerage account you can start purchasing investments as you see fit.
The Best Canadian Discount Brokerage for 2020
When it comes to finding the best discount brokerage in Canada, we have a few choices depending on what you are looking for. These are our top picks for online brokerage in Canada in 2020.
Who Should Use an Online Trading Platform?
The promise of low investing fees is attractive to everyone, but the concept of doing your own trading can also be quite intimidating. However, it doesn’t have to be. Part of what makes online trading platforms so enticing is that they really can work for everyone due to the fact that they are so customizable. Online trading platforms can work well for both active and passive investing. For those who are unsure of the difference between the two, active investing is a much more hands-on approach.
An active investor will try to pick and choose which stocks or bonds will perform best and trade accordingly. Passive investing, on the other hand, involving having a little piece of every company or bond in a market, rather than relying on a select few. Passive investors usually rely on index investing (the couch potato strategy) when it comes to their investments and is seen as an effective long-haul investment strategy. For those interested in active investing, you will essentially have to become your own portfolio manager.
This requires knowledge and understanding of the stock market and also involves you needing to do your own research. It will take time and effort; however, if this is the strategy you wish to use and you are confident in your abilities, then using an online trading platform instead of a traditional financial planner can save you a lot of money. That being said, you don’t need to be an active investor to make an online trading platform work for you.
You can also use them for passive and index investing which doesn’t require the same amount of expertise or commitment. If you want to copy the same index investing strategy as a robo advisor, you absolutely can; no one will stop you. That being said, using an online trading platform will require slightly more time and effort than a robo would but, again, you are saving yourself money in terms of the fees so it just might be worth your time.
Check out our Questrade vs Wealthsimple article for a detailed look at whether robo advisors or online brokers would be the best fit for your passive investing strategy. Using an online trading platform does not necessarily mean you need to be trading on a regular basis; 4 times a year is enough if that’s your preferred strategy. However, you do need to be interested and disciplined enough to keep up with your research as nobody else will step in to help you if you take this approach. If you aren’t confident in your abilities, don’t have the time, or would rather have some personal interaction or advice to help you out along the way, then you are probably better to go with a financial planner or even a robo advisor.
However, if you are willing to put in some time and do the research, then an online trading platform could work really well for you, whether you are interested in pursuing active or passive investing.
Top Discount Brokerage Promo Offer Code for 2020
With discount brokerage fees getting slashed to the bone in the competition between Questrade and Wealthsimple Trade, the discount broker promo offer code 2020 battle is almost irrelevant to ETF index investors. That said, it never hurts to have $50 in free ETF trades available, or $50 in free trades available if you are pursuing a dividend investing strategy, and/or using a Smith Maneuver. Simply click below to check make use of our best Canadian discount brokerage offer code.
Questrade promo (no code needed):
Comparing Canadian Stock Broker Fees
Everyone is looking for low investing fees in Canada, and there’s no doubt that online discount brokerages offer the best rates relative to mutual funds and even robo advisors. But, just how much better off are you with a discount broker? Let’s take a look.
Fees to Trade ETFs: When it comes to ETFs we need to remember that even though a few of the online brokerages mentioned in this article offer free ETFs to buy, you do need to pay a fee to sell. Here’s a breakdown of ETF fees among our selected discount brokerages.
- Questrade: $0 to buy, $4.95-$9.95 to sell
- Qtrade Investor: $0- $8.95 to buy and $8.95 to sell
- BMO InvestorLine: $9.95 to buy and sell
- Wealthsimple Trade: $0 to buy and $0 to sell (select ETFs)
Wealthsimple is the winner here when it comes to fees to trade ETFs; however, keep in mind that their ETF selection is also quite limited right now.
ECN Fees Another fee that you will want to keep in mind are ECN fees. So, what exactly is an ECN fee? ECN stands for Electronic Communication Network and these fees are essentially service charges that you will pay on your trades, although they can sometimes be avoided. Here’s what you can expect to pay in ECN fees with each respective online broker.
- Questrade: $0.0008- $0.004 per trade
- Qtrade Investor: $0; Qtrade tries to avoid having you pay any ECN fees. However, they do indicate that if you have repeated high volume trades on the active side of the Canadian market you may be charged. In this case, they will try to contact you first to notify you of any ECN charges.
- BMO InvestorLine: $0
- Wealthsimple Trade: $0
As you can see, our top pick, Questrade is one of the only online brokerage that regularly charges ECN fees. While these fees are annoying, when you consider that Questrade also has much lower trade fees than some of the other options, those pesky little ECN fees don’t seem so bad. When you actually do the math on investing $1,000 or $5,000 at a time, you’re looking at under a loonie in ECN fees.
Annual Fees What about annual fees? Here’s the breakdown.
- Questrade: None
- Qtrade Investor: No official annual fee; however, you will be charged $100/year if your combined accounts go under $25,000
- BMO InvestorLine: $100/year for non-registered accounts of less than $15,000
- Wealthsimple Trade: None
Questrade and Wealthsimple Trade come out on top when it comes to comparing annual fees. However, do keep in mind that Questrade does have a minimum requirement of $1000.
Comparing Questrade Fees to BMO InvestorLine Fees Questrade is my overall winner for the best Canadian online discount brokerage for 2020, but, again, I do recognize that some people are hesitant about these new-comers in the financial sphere and prefer more tried and tested names. However, before you make up your mind that you want to stick with one of Canada’s biggest financial institutions rather than trying someone newer, let’s take a second to pit the two against each other. For trading fees, Questrade ranges from $4.95-9.95 with the added bonus of offering users to buy ETF for free.
BMO InvestorLine has a flat trading fee of $9.95 for everything. Perhaps the biggest difference though, in terms of fees and where you can save, is the annual fee. Questrade has a minimum initial funding requirement of $1,000, which is very reasonable, and charges $0 annual fees. BMO on the other hand allows you start a registered account for free, but charges a $100 annual fee on every non-registered account under $15,000. At the end of the day, being comfortable with your chosen online broker is important. But, if you are really looking to cut down on those fees, then it’s probably worth your time to try someone new and try Questrade.
I think it’s also worth mentioning that Canada has some of the highest investment fees in the world. This 2017 global study compared the investment fees and expenses in 25 different countries around the world. So, where did Canada fall on the scale? At the bottom. We paid the highest investment fees out of all the other developed countries on this list. When you read or hear stats like that, it’s really no wonder that more and more Canadians are becoming interested in taking the proverbial bull by the horns and getting into trading themselves rather than paying others to do it for them. After all, the end goal is to make money, not flush it away on unnecessary expenses.
Ultimate Summary of Canadian Discount Brokerages Fees and DRIP Options
In addition to trading fees, keep an eye on annual maintenance fees if you are below the minimum balance, and especially foreign exchange fees. Most discount brokers will hide the fee in the exchanged amount. Some investors also like the simplicity of a Dividend Reinvestment Plan (DRIP), and while it shouldn’t be a primary comparison point, we’ll including that in the feature table below as well (last update January 4, 2019):
|Questrade (Rated #1)||$4.95 for up to 495 shares ($9.95 max) $9.95 per mutual fund trade ETFs are free to buy, reg commission to sell||Yes (for buying)||$0 for balance above $5k $19.95/ quarter if balance < $5k|
|QTrade||$8.75/ trade or $6.95/ trade if assets > $500k||Yes (select group)||$100/ yr admin fee if under $25k balance $60/ yr for USD RRSP|
|Scotia i-Trade (formally e-trade)||$24.99 or $9.99 /trade with $50k in assets or 30+ trades /quarter, $4.99/trade with 150+ trades /quarter||Yes (select group)||Yes|
|IB||Min $1 /USD trade. Max 0.5% of trade value ($0.005/ share)||No||$10 USD $50/year annual RRSP fee Min $10k to open an account|
|BMO InvestorLine||$9.95/ trade no minimum balance||No||$100/ yr if balance < $25k|
|RBC Direct Investing||$9.95/ trade no minimum balance $6.95/ trade if 150+ trades / quarter||No||$25 / quarter if balance < $25k|
|Credential Direct||$8.88 / trade||No||None|
|TD Direct Investing||$9.99/ trade no minimum balance $7/ trade if 150+ trades / quarter||No||$100 / yr if balance < $25k|
|Virtual Brokers||$0.01/share with cap of $9.99 + ECN fees||Yes (for buying)||$50/ yr if balance < $15k, $50/ yr for USD RRSP|
|Brokerage||Forex Fee/Spread (each way)|
|E-Trade||1.5% (not confirmed)|
|IB||0.01% + 2.50USD|
|QTrade||1.75% for < $10k, 1.60% for > $10k but < $25k|
The Best Discount Brokerage for ETFs in Canada
Before I share my thoughts on the best discount brokerage for ETFs in Canada, let’s dig a little into ETFs, what they are, and how they work. ETF stands for Exchange Traded Fund and an ETF is a collection of stocks or bonds that can be purchased at one price. ETFs can be both actively or passively managed, however, they are most commonly used for passive investing as most are not managed by humans (whereas mutual funds are) and are programmed by an algorithm. Due to the fact that they can be passively managed and require much less monitoring and work than mutual funds, ETFs are one of the most popular investment options among Canadians.
For a detailed look at the fees and services involved with picking your own ETFs vs going with an all-in-one ETF vs robo advisors vs mutual funds, check out our Best Canadian All-in-One ETFs article. So, what’s the best discount brokerage for ETFs in Canada? Well, I’d have to go with Questrade. As you’ll remember from above, Questrade allows you to buy ETFs for free, though you will pay a fee to sell them. Now, you might be remembering that Qtrade also allows you to buy for free; however, Qtrade only offers a selection of ETFs free to purchase, not all. The rest come at a fee which, in my books, put Questrade at the top. Of course, you could argue that Wealthsimple Trade allows investors to both buy AND sell their ETFs for free, whereas Questrade only lets you buy for free. Again though, Wealthsimple Trade falls short when it comes to selection and the overall platform.
Wealthsimple Trade only offers 3 types of accounts (basic RRSP, TFSA, and non-registered accounts) versus Questrade who offers, well, pretty much any account option you could want. I will say though, while I choose Questrade over Wealthsimple for DIY brokerage, I do prefer Wealthsimple’ robo advisor. You can read more on my comparison between these two in this Wealthsimple Vs Questrade article. For these reasons, I’d say that Questrade takes the top spot for the best discount brokerage for ETFs in Canada.
The Best Discount Brokerage Mobile App in Canada
Since discount brokerages are online, it’s important to have a portal that is easy to use, read, and understand. Most (but not all) discount brokerages can be accessed online from your laptop or desktop as well as from an app on your phone. What you prefer to use is a personal choice, but apps help keep everything close and handy. After all, does anyone ever leave home without their phone anymore? So, what’s the best Canadian online brokerage app? Again, based on my experience, I say Questrade because it really lets you stay on top of everything all on one platform. This wasn’t always the case, but with Questrade’s latest updates, they are on par with anything the big banks have going. To start with, I like the look of the app. It’s pretty clean-cut and clear to read and understand. It lets me trade in real time and manage all my Questrade accounts.
The Questrade app also has some great features. These include:
- Symbol Lookup: which allows you to look up the symbol you are interested in. From this feature, you can access news and history to help you make a more informed decision.
- Alerts: You can customize your alert settings to get instant alerts on the items you put on your watchlist.
- Charting: Take a look at a range of charts that show patterns and volatility to help you better build your trading strategy. There are also some handy research tools available on the app as well. These include built-in research from industry leaders including Morningstar and Recognia. You can also get access to real time data and, as mentioned above, create your own personalized watchlists. Right now, the Questrade app can be used on iOS devices (iOS 8 or higher) or Android devices (Android 5.0 or higher).
The Best Canadian Discount Brokerage for Customer Service
Quality customer service is essential for every business, and while each of the options in the Canada discount brokerage review has a customer service option, when it comes to the best discount brokerage for customer service it’s pretty neck in neck right now between Qtrade and Questrade. Everything you read about Qtrade mentions their customer service. First of all, they make it really easy to get a hold of their customer support team. You can reach them by phone or email, or even have them call you with the call-back option.
They also have a walk-in office located in Vancouver, BC. Sure, that doesn’t help everyone but the fact that they actually do have an in-person office that you can visit makes them pretty unique in the world of online financial businesses. However, there have been a few recent changes to the Qtrade customer service within the past 2-3 years.
They used to have an online chat option which customers loved but that disappeared in recent years. There have also been recent comments in online threads about exceptionally long wait times recently which customers who have been around for a while are finding incredibly frustrating. Questrade, on the other hand, has really upped their game in the past couple of years. There is a toll-free number you can use to give them a call and, unlike Qtrade, Questrade does have an online chat option to help you get the answers you need right away.
There has been plenty of positive feedback for both of these online brokers and their customer service. Additionally, both options seem to have a number of loyal users which also speaks to customer care. Qtrade has definitely been the long-time leader for this category, however, their recent decline in services has left room for Questrade to push forward and, perhaps, even ahead.
How to Use an Online Broker for Beginners
Interested in trying your hand at online brokerages? Here’s how to get started.
First of all, you’ll need to figure out your purpose for trading and how aggressive or active you want to be. Do you want to be trading daily? Or are you more interested in the couch potato style of approach? There’s no right or wrong answer, online brokerages work equally well for both strategies. You just need to know what you want to do and have a plan in place that you will keep up with.
Once you are confident in your knowledge of the stock market and know what type of approach you want to take in your investing, you need to choose your online brokerage platform. I’ve shared what I consider to be the best options in this Canada discount brokerage review, but the final choice is up to you. For those who want to practice before getting started with real money, Questrade has a free practice trading account that you can demo for up to 90 days.
Not only is perfect for trying your hand at trading to see if you enjoy it, but it also allows you to test-drive the Questrade platform and see if it is a good fit for your needs as well. Once you’ve chosen your preferred online broker, filled out the required paperwork, and transferred the funds you’ll follow these steps to start buying:
- Log in to your chosen platform
- Figure out which stocks you want to buy. You can use the ticker symbols to look them up.
- Decide how many shares/units you wish to buy. Note, before you purchase, you’ll need to do a bit of math here; cost of share/unit x amount you want to buy.
- You will then need to enter the details of the trade. This includes the order type you want to use as well as the duration; how long you want the order to be active for.
- The discount brokerage will then confirm with you that you want to purchase “x” units or shares of an ETF or stock, at a price of “x” dollars, for a total cost to you of “x”.
- Click “buy”
And that’s it! Congratulations, you just bought your first stock.
Comparison Summary of Canada’s Best Online Brokers
If you know DIY investing is for you (and that’s a big if) and you are looking to minimize your trading fees, as well as your annual fees, while wanting to remain your money to be kept safe by a reputable, Canadian, financial establishment, then in our opinion it boils down to the 4 best stock brokers in Canada for 2020. Our absolute #1 choice for the majority of Canadians is Questrade but using either of the 4 makes sense (depending on the usage).
|Questrade||Qtrade||BMO InvestorLine||Wealthsimple Trade|
|Fees to Trade ETFs||$0 to buy, $4.95-$9.95 to sell||$0- $8.95 to buy and $8.95 to sell||$9.95 to buy and sell||$0 to buy and $0 to sell (select ETFs)|
|ECN Fees||$0.0008- $0.004 per trade||$0||$0||$0|
|Annual Fees||None||No official annual fee, however, you will be charged $100/year if your combined accounts go under $25,000||$100/year for accounts less than $25,000||None|
|Strong points||Smoothest online platform and app, no ETF fees, and $50 sign up promo||Easy to reach, professional customer service||Award winning platform, impressive 3rd party research, bank security||No ETF nor stock fees (but 1.5% base conversion fee for US trades) and very limited platform|