CI Direct Trading (Virtual Brokers) Review 2023
Virtual Brokers Review Summary
- Fees and Pricing
- Account Options
- Non-Resident Accounts
- Customer Service
- User-friendly platform and mobile app
Virtual Brokers Review Summary:
In 2017, Virtual Brokers was acquired by CI Financial, one of Canada’s largest investment companies. Since then, CI Financial has grown in size and presence while Virtual Brokers stayed relatively quiet (as if it has almost disappeared). That is because it has essentially been rebranded as CI Direct Trading, so in a way – it has disappeared! Don’t worry, it sounds a lot more ominous than it actually is.
Former Virtual Brokers clients still have the same access to their accounts, but new CI Direct Trading clients will be part of the new CI Direct Trading options. There aren’t too many changes making it worse or better… just different.
In short, CI Direct Trading is still a low-cost way to invest in ETFs, stocks, and mutual funds. They provide a safe and convenient way to DIY your investment portfolio. It is still cheaper than its big bank counterparts, but since Virtual Brokers has become CI Direct Trading, it’s not as competitive price-wise as it used to be. We’ll get into detail on that and more in our full CI Direct Trading Review, so read on for more information.
We think it’s worth comparing the former Virtual Brokers to our most recommended online broker, so check out our Qtrade Review for more details. In our view, you can get the same low fees and free ETF purchases at Qtrade – but with much better platforms and customer service (plus free RESP accounts).
- Very competitive fees, similar to industry leaders
- Good solution for Canadian expats
- Has a variety of trading platforms for various levels of investors
- Robo-advisor access for the CI Direct Investing platform
- New pricing structures make it less appealing
- Difficult to navigate investment research centre on the platform
- $1,000 minimum investment to start
- No promo offers for new signups
With no signup bonus and an outdated app, CI Direct Trading is not one of the best Canadian brokeragesView Alternative, Better Rated Canadian Brokers
CI Direct Trading Overview
In 2009, Virtual Brokers came out onto the scene as one of Canada’s best online discount brokerages with a commitment to offer rock-bottom prices to help investors cut costs to the bone.
In 2023, CI Direct Trading continues to shine when it comes to fees and pricing for self-directed investors. It continues to offer zero cost ETF and mutual fund purchases. Unfortunately under the new management, it’s just not as competitive compared to other low cost brokers.
With a $1,000 minimum investment, annual fee, a $3.99 per ticket equities trading fee, and up to $24.95 per quarter administration fee, CI Direct Trading’s costs can add up fast.
CI Direct Trading Fees and Pricing
When it comes to CI Direct Trading, it’s similar to the former Virtual Brokers’ fees and pricing, there are a few different levels of costs that you have to be aware of. There are different models for ETFs, Options, Active Traders, and Non-active Traders.
It should be noted here that there is a minimum deposit of $1,000 GBP, USD, or EUR to get started, which compared to some of the other free-to-open accounts out there, makes CI Direct Trading a little less desirable in comparison.
Virtual Brokers No Fee ETF Purchases
Just like many other brokers, Virtual Brokers allows investors to purchase ETFs for free if they trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX).
They do charge a fee when you sell ETFs, but it’s a mere $0.01 per share for a minimum share price of $1.99 up to max $7.99 per trade, so even if you’re selling your ETFs, it’s not a huge cost to you. That said, most passive investors who use basic vanilla index options such as all-in-one ETFs are not likely to sell any ETFs until they are retired and withdrawing from their portfolio.
You have to have accumulated quite a substantial nest egg before you can’t re-balance your asset allocation simply by purchasing more of one ETF than another (if you’re not using the all-one-one options).
Virtual Brokers Trading Fees
There are two different paths when it comes to trading fees at Virtual Brokers.
The first path is the one that 98%+ of the people reading this article will choose, and that’s the basic penny-per-share model. This CI Direct Trading pricing model applies if you make less than 150 trades per quarter. The investors who prefer Canadian dividend stocks or who are putting the Smith Manoeuvre into action will likely make 5-30 trades per quarter, and are often investing $1,000 – $5,000 at a time.
Under this model, it’s a penny-per-share that you purchase, with a minimum cost of $1.99 (even if you buy less than 199 shares) and a maximum cost of $7.99 (even if you buy more than 799 shares). There are some very small fees tacked on in addition to this amount on most trades (usually a couple of pennies, at most).
The second path is for folks who are investing big time money and/or making many trades each quarter. It allows ALL trades to go on at the flat rate of $3.99. You can only access this rate if you made more than 150 trades last quarter. If you do some basic math, you’d have to be buying and selling a lot of shares to make that level of activity worth it.
We wouldn’t recommend going down that route.
It might be worth mentioning briefly that the CI Direct Trading fee for options trading is $7.99 per trade + $1.25 for the options contract. That drops to $3.99 + $1.25 if you do 150+ trades per quarter. We’re personally not into options trading, but some folks love that adrenaline rush.
Virtual Brokers/ CI Direct Trading Platform Fees
The vast majority of people reading this will be fine with the free dashboard and mobile app that Virtual Brokers provides. They do offer a wide variety of other options for more advanced traders, however.
Below is a complete breakdown of the CI Direct Trading Fees.
CI Direct Dashboard Web-Based and App
ITS Trader Lite
CI Direct Trading Admin and Account Fees
One area where discount brokerages like to bury some of their overall pricing is the account administration fees, and CI Direct Trading is no different. The two costs that really stand out to me are the RESP administration fee and USD RRSP/USD TFSA quarterly fees (multiply by four to get the per-year costs).
See the below table for the complete look at Virtual Brokers’ Account Admin fees.
RRSP, Spousal RRSP, LIRA, RIF & LIF
Deposit-Bill Payment (CAD Only)
Deposit-Wire Transfer (CAD/USD)
Withdrawal-Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT)
Partial Transfer out
$50 per account
Account Transfer Out
$150 per account
Withdrawal-Wire Transfer (CAD/USD)-Canada
Withdrawal-Wire Transfer (USD)-International
US RRSP, US Spousal RRSP & US LIRA
US $15 per quarter
US $150 per year
US $15 per quarter
$25 per year
US $15 per quarter
Account Administration Fee
$24.95 per quarter
Electronic Trade Confirmation (e-Confirmation)
Cheque Cancellation Fee
Electronic Monthly Statement (e-Statement)
Paper Trade Confirmation
Paper Monthly Account Statement
Copy of Tax Statement
$35 per account per year
Copy of Monthly Statement
$20 per account per month
Virtual Brokers TFSA, RRSP and Other Accounts
Like all of the leading Canadian discount brokers these days, Virtual brokers offers all of the usual accounts including:
- Non-registered accounts (both CAD and USD)
- RRSP (both CAD and USD)
- Non-registered (All-in-One) Accounts include Options and Margin capability
Canadian Expat Non-Resident Investors
The one area where CI Direct Trading really shines is their commitment to Canadians who live overseas. Many discount brokers don’t want to take expat clients on because of the increased paperwork involved. CI Direct Trading doesn’t gouge you on extra administration fees and their pricing is still very low.
While there is no minimum amount needed to get started with CI Direct Trading in Canada, non-residents are required to have $25,000 CAD to open an account. They will also pay additional fees for trading equities and options that residents do not.
This makes sense considering the increased administrative burden they are taking on with expat clients. Given how expensive non-USA discount brokerages are to use around the world, I know that many non-residents are happy they have the CI Direct Trading option back home in Canada.
CI Direct Trading and Wealthscope – a New Addition
With several of Canada’s leading online brokerages adding a portfolio analysis tool to their platforms in 2020 and 2021 CI Direct has not been left behind. Their partnership with Wealthscope has provided CI Direct users information about their portfolios appropriate risk level, diversification, market exposure, and fees.
The Wealthscope features offer a great way for those who already have a CI Direct Trading account to try out robo-advisor services, if that is something that interests them.
Kambiz Vatan-Abadi, CEO and President of Toronto-based BBS Securities Inc. stated, “With this new partnership, Virtual Brokers’ clients have access to a data-driven, state-of-the-art portfolio level analysis, one account at a time, or combined for a big picture view.”
The tool also allows investors to answer some of their own questions when it comes to retirement target setting, RESP goals, and probabilities of future returns based on past results (which is admittedly of questionable value).
What Is the VB Kickstart Investors Program (KIP)?
One of the more unique programs that Virtual Brokers has implemented is their Kickstart Investment Program (KIP). The idea is to get investors used to systemically building their wealth through automation.
In order to give investors an added incentive, Virtual Brokers is willing to allow a small amount of free share purchases each month. Here’s the steps that have to be taken in order to get the benefits of the KIP program:
1) Fill out a form that allows Virtual Brokers to automatically debit (withdraw) a specific amount from your main chequing/savings account each month.
2) Decide on up to 5 ETFs or Canadian Stocks that you want to automatically buy each month.
3) Understand that you won’t be able to determine which stock gets a specific amount of money or anything like that – it’s all automated (like a robo advisor).
4) The price for this program (assuming you’re not a student or recent graduate) is a flat rate of $50 per year.
It’s a pretty cool way for Virtual Brokers to nudge investors towards index-based couch potato investing.
Virtual Brokers Review: FAQ
Who is Virtual Brokers / CI Direct Trading Best For?
1) The small percentage of investors who do a lot of trading.
2) Canadian expat investors who are not residents of Canada, but want to keep their stock portfolios nice and safe at home.
Our Virtual Brokers review clearly outlines why these two groups of Canadians should check out what VB has to offer. On the other hand, the customer service reports and relatively high account administration fees clearly leave Qtrade a step ahead as our preferred Canadian discount brokerage.