Virtual Brokers Review 2021: Fees, ETFs, and Account Options

   (Editor Rating)

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Virtual Brokers Review Summary:
  • Virtual Brokers Fees and Pricing
  • Account Options
  • Non-Resident Accounts
  • Customer Service
  • User-friendly platform and mobile app
3.7

Virtual Brokers Review Summary:

Virtual Brokers is an excellent option for Canadian citizens who are living overseas. Their rock-bottom pricing makes them an excellent candidate for investors who place a high priority on cutting fees to the bone. The two areas that concern me are the consistent complaints about customer service over a prolonged period of time, and the non-beginner-friendly trading platform.

I think it’s worth comparing Virtual Brokers to our most recommended online broker, so check out our Qtrade Review for more details. Personally, I think 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).

Pros

  • Very competitive fees, similar to industry leaders
  • Good solution for Canadian expats
  • Nice platform for very active professional traders

Cons

  • Confusing for beginners
  • Platform is not user-friendly
  • Pretty basic mobile app
  • No promo offers for new signups

With no Signup bonus and an outdated app, Virtual Brokers is not one of the best Canadian brokerages

View Alternative, Better Rated Canadian Brokers

As one of Canada’s best online discount brokerages, Virtual Brokers’ trading fees and pricing has consistently been on the leading edge of cutting costs since they entered the market back in 2009.

In 2021, Virtual Brokers continues to shine when it comes to fees and pricing for self-directed investors. The company is a subsidiary of BBS Securities Inc., which was recently purchased by CI Financial (the same company that owns CI Direct Investing).

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Virtual Brokers Fees and Pricing

When it comes to 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.

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Virtual Brokers No Fee ETF Purchases

Just like Questrade, 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 is likely only going to be around $2.00-ish.  At a penny-per-unit (a unit of an ETF is similar to a share of a stock), and a cap at $8.00 total, even selling ETFs is quite cheap with VB.  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 Virtual Brokers 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.  I wouldn’t recommend going down that route.

It might be worth mentioning briefly that the Virtual Brokers 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.  I’m personally not a big options trading guy, but some folks love that adrenaline rush.

Virtual Brokers 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 Virtual Brokers Platform Fees.

Platform

Monthly Fees

VB Dashboard

FREE

VB Wave

$75.00 CAD

VB Mobile

FREE

PowerTrader Pro

$250.00 USD

RealTick

$400.00 USD

ITS Trader Lite

$580.00 USD

IRESS

$1120.00 USD

Virtual Brokers Admin and Account Fees

One area where discount brokerages like to bury some of their overall pricing is the account administration fees, and Virtual Brokers 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.

Item

Fees

Account Transfer-In

FREE

RRSP, Spousal RRSP, LIRA, RIF & LIF

FREE

TFSA

FREE

Deposit-Bill Payment (CAD Only)

FREE

Deposit-Wire Transfer (CAD/USD)

FREE

Withdrawal-Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT)

FREE

Partial Transfer out

$50 per account

Account Transfer Out

$150 per account

Withdrawal-Wire Transfer (CAD/USD)-Canada

$50*

Withdrawal-Wire Transfer (USD)-International

$100

DAP (C.O.D) Transfer In/Out

$50 per name

Courier (Canada)

$45

Courier (US)

$75

Courier (International)

$100

Registered Mail

$20

US RRSP, US Spousal RRSP & US LIRA

US $15 per quarter

UK QROPS

US $150 per year

US TFSA

US $15 per quarter

RESP

$25 per year

US RESP

US $15 per quarter

Account Administration Fee

$24.95 per quarter

Partial Deregistration Fee

$25

Full Deregistration Fee

$50

Lifelong learning plan (LLP)

$25

Home buyer's plan (HBP) partial deregistration

$25

Position Journal

$25

DRS (Direct Registration System)

$200 USD per name

Certificate Deposit/Withdrawal

$200 per Certificate / Name

Certificate Deposit/Withdrawal Rush

$450 per Certificate / Name

Safekeeping of Certificate

$50 per certificate / Month

Research Request (Minimum 1 hour)

$75 per hour

Electronic Trade Confirmation (e-Confirmation)

Free

Cheque Cancellation Fee

$50

Electronic Monthly Statement (e-Statement)

FREE

Paper Trade Confirmation

$3

Paper Monthly Account Statement

$5

Copy of Tax Statement

$35 per account per year

Copy of Monthly Statement

$20 per account per month

Option exercise/assignment

$40

NSF Cheque/Returned Items

$50

Stop Payment

$25

Unclaimed property

$29.95 per quarter

Estate transfer

$250 per account

Legend Removal Rule 144/33

$300 per name

Settlement of non-DTC eligible securities

$450

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)
  • TFSA
  • RESP
  • RRIF
  • LIF
  • LIRA
  • Non-registered (All-in-One) Accounts include Options and Margin capability

Canadian Expat Non-Resident Investors

The one area where Virtual Brokers 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. Virtual Brokers don’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 Virtual Brokers in Canada, non-residents are required to have $25,000 CAD to open an account. 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 Virtual Broker option back home in Canada.

Virtual Brokers 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 VB has not been left behind. Their partnership with Wealthscope has provided VB users information about their portfolios appropriate risk level, diversification, market exposure, and fees.

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).

Virtual Brokers Review: FAQ

Who is Virtual Brokers 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.

Justin Bouchard

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J Stephen
6 months ago

Had to convert currency today and Virtual brokers charge 1.95% to convert USD to CAD, and i think that is ridiculous

Rookieman
7 months ago

You write, “Just like Questrade, Virtual Brokers allows investors to purchase ETFs for free if they trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX).”  I don’t know about VB, but Questrade does not offer no-fee purchase free ETFs exclusively to those listed on the TSX. It’s for all ETFs. From the QT website: “You can buy any Canadian or U.S.-listed ETF in the Questrade trading platforms and skip the commission.