Sunday, 12 October 2014

Brokerage Review: Scotia iTrade vs. Questrade

    So in this post I will be comparing the Bank of Nova Scotia's trading platform: Scotia iTrade and Questrade's trading platform IQ and IQ Essential. Before I started out investing on my own, the first thing I had to do was figure out, where am I going to do that? So initially I took a look around all the common places(for Canadians anyways) like the big banks: Scotia, TD, Royal Bank, BMO, CIBC. This was around the same time I first started looking for, finding and following investing blogs while researching for brokerage information; you can checkout my blogroll for those helpful sites!


    So starting off on the comparison will be the online(discount) brokerage that I use, Questrade. After doing some comparison shopping and reading reviews about the various services I settled with Questrade.

    Now I realize that the pricing and trading fees are not everything to everyone, so starting off will be the important features that Questrade has to offer its clients. Bear in mind, that Questrade truly does earn its online, discount brokerage status; that does not mean its light on the features either.

1) Features:
- Questrade offers two full trading platforms from which to manage your portfolio. The full on IQ web for your desktop and laptop. And IQ Essential, which as the name says has all the essentials that you need, while at the same time being able to run smoothly on your tablet or other mobile device. I personally use IQ Essential at home, as I prefer its cleaner image and layout. Both platforms have customizable bars for displaying portfolio information which is nice. There is also the Questrade FX for trading foreign currency, however I do not use that feature.

- Setting up with Questrade is fairly easy. You can easily setup your $US/CAD RRSP's, TFSA's, RESP's and Margin accounts. All that is required is the standard forms of ID which can be scanned and uploaded. Once your forms are accepted you can fund your account as a bill payment to your newly made account. The funds settle within 3 business days and then you are ready to trade!

- For that curious researcher in all of us Questrade has a nice Market Intelligence and stock screener feature powered by MorningStar. This feature has fully customizable stock screeners and access to fairly detailed analyst information and summarizes. The downside to this feature is that only the larger and generally NYSE/NASDAQ traded Canadian companies are covered with the full analyst reports, otherwise its just fairly basic information available, still useful though.

- There is a handy watchlist feature to track all your favourite hot stocks. Built within the watchlist and your portfolio holdings there is a new feature which where any new press releases by the company or analysts come up as a notification next to the stocks ticker name. I particularly like this one as it saves me time from individual having to check for news and press releases on the companies I hold and am keeping an eye on. However this feature is not all encompassing, so its still recommended to do further individual research before buying or selling your stocks.

- There is an 'in-house' forum called the Exchange where users can post questions, talk stocks and interact with each other; its also actively moderated so user questions get answered pretty quickly and issues resolved.

2) Fees and Costs, the all encompassing important detail savvy and frugal people look for when making an investment of any kind.
- Questrade offers .01/share with a $4.95 trade minimum, max $9.95. So generally speaking unless you are trading penny stocks, your per trade commission is very low.

- Buying ETFs is free, selling your ETF positions however follow the same commission price of $4.95 per trade. Which is great for those who need to slowly build a position up with low levels of new capital. Also great for diverting your monthly dividends into an ETF share or two :)

3) Promotions are quite varied and depends on specific offers at the time of opening an account.They range from bonus cash deposited into your account to getting free trades which have their commissions reimbursed to your account.The current new account promotion is with a minimum of funding of $1,000 you get 10 free trades, $10,000 will get you 100! They must be used within the first 60 days of the accounts funding and the accounts balance cannot go below those values unless its due to market fluctuation for the first 6 months.

- Transfer fees: There is an ongoing offer to pay for your account transfer fees from your current brokerage/bank.

- The Mutual Fund Maximizer will be of interest to you if you have mutual funds as it pretty much lowers the fees of the fund, here is their brief breakdown of it:
"Hold mutual funds with Questrade, and your mutual fund portfolio is simply worth more. With the Mutual Fund Maximizer®, a service that reimburses trailer fees directly to our clients, you'll decrease the fees you pay, and increase your returns."
 - Questrade also runs referral bonus's which benefits both referrer and referee. The benefits currently for the Referrer are:
- $25 for each referral and every third referral is a bonus $50 put into your designated trading account.
The Referred person gets more cash depending on how much they fund their account with:
- $1000 gets $25, $10,000 gets $50, $25,000 gets $75, $50,000 gets $100 and $100,000 gets $250. And even if you only deposit the minimum $1,000 at the start, you have 90days to deposit more to get to a higher bonus $$.

    Unfortunately the referral bonus cannot be used with the new account bonus, it can only be one or the other. So it is best to compare both of them and figure out which is best for you. For example if you plan on just holding ETF's, than the 10 free trades has no value to you and the referral bonus's cash deposited into your account would be better, or if you are not going to be doing more than 5 trades. If you like, you can use my QT referral number if you find it will suit you better than their current new account promotion: 686412366378534 .

4) Customer Support is pretty good, they hold regular office hours if you need to call them and they also have live chat. Additionally they are very good at getting back with question through email and there is also the option of using their forum the Exchange as it is actively moderated and other users can sometimes give advice as well. There are also offices in downtown Toronto and Vancouver, Canada; which also have mailing address and fax numbers.

    To open an account with them or to take a look around for yourself you can click here or put into your browser search bar.
In the end I went with Questrade due to the low commission fees since my trades tend to be for between $500-800, and the ability to buy ETFs commission free when I don't have the capital to make a non-ETF buy worthwhile. I'm also a fan of the IQ Essential trading platform, even more so since recent updates.

Scotia iTrade

    The Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS) calls its online brokerage Scotia iTrade. It shares many of the same features as Questrade just with different names and layouts. The following summary of iTrade is based off of the public information they provide on their website and what I have been able to experience based off of their practice account. I currently do use BNS as my primary bank for daily/general use. I'm sure they just love seeing my cash transfer to my Questrade account!

1) Features: Their primary/basic platform is the Trading Desk, they have the Mobile Scotia iTrade for mobile devices, including an App for phones, and their premier platform Flight Desk which offers real time bid/ask spreads, market data and research analytic. Any iTrade account comes with access to their research tools and support. A major advantage that I see is that they are partnered with for additional US/CDN market coverage and is an independent source for investing ideas.

2) Fees and Costs vary on how many trades you do per quarter and how much money you have within your BNS accounts.  It is broken down as follows:
i)150+ trades a quarter:
- $4.99 flat rate with paperless documentation or $6.99 with paper documentation, add $50 if you trade over the phone. Trading options are an additional $1.25 per trade.

ii)$50,000 or more with BNS, or 30+ trades a quarter:
- $9,99 flat rate with or without paperless documentation, add $50 if you trade over the phone. Trading options are once again an additional $1.25 per trade.

iii)Less than $50,000 and fewer than 30 trades a quarter:
- $24.99, with $.03 a share after the first 1000, and the additional $50 if the trade is done over the phone. Options are an additional $1.75 per trade.

They advertise commission-free ETF's, but upon further research I found that was for only certain ETF's which were being promoted by BlackRock (iShares) and not all ETF's in general; this information was not mentioned in the small print of their commission and fees page. Also to keep in mind when buying one of the promotional ETF's you will still be charged the commission at the time of buying the ETF, but will be reimbursed the fee later on, and the fee is determined by which trading/account value bracket you fall into as depicted above. On the bright side Scotia mutual funds have no additional trading fees to buy and sell. Just keep in mind if the fund has a front-end or back-end load which will affect your purchasing power and returns.

Platform Fees once again are broken down depending on how many trades you do, or your account value held with BNS. The following is taken from the BNS Platform Fees page as of 09/14.

Trades or Total Assets per Quarter

30 – 149
or >$250k
9 – 29
0 – 8
Scotia iTRADE FlightDesk Premium Free Free $39.95 $69.95 $79.95
Scotia iTRADE FlightDesk Standard Free Free Free $29.95 $39.95
Scotia iTRADE Trading Desk Free Free Free Free Free
As you can see, the basic service is free and from their the standard/premium services are given at a discount or for free with the more commission based trades, or the higher your net worth to the company is. My overall impression here is that if you already have considerable assets or are a frequent trader, then there are a lot of perks to be had from trading with Scotia iTrade.

Promotions here are straight forward for and on a per person basis for referring new business. 
Referrer Bonus's are split between two categories depending on how much the referred person invests. Sticking with the previous theme of the $50,000 threshold there is also a lower limit to getting a bonus of needing to fund an account with at least $10,000 as well. BNS gives the account holders the choice of whether they want the cash bonus deposited in their account or to be rewarded with the free trades instead which is a nice option to have depending on your trading preferences.
-$10,000-$50,000: You get $50 in cash or 10 free trades.
-$50,000+: You get $100 in cash or 50 free trades.
Referee Bonus's are the same as the referrer's bonuses, however BNS also allows them to combine other limited time offers as well which depending on the other current promotions could be quite good.

Customer Support is extremely well supported as one would expect at one of Canada's largest banks. You can contact them pretty much anytime by phone; Mon-Fri 8am-9pm EST, Sat 8am-6pm EST. 24/7 via an automated tel-trader client service. Full email, mail and fax support, as well as in person at any one of their numerous branches. You can also go to their site and leave your name/phone and a preferred language(English, French or Chinese) of communication and have them call you within 1-2 business days, now that is premium customer service.


    Based off of my time using the Scotia iTrade trading platform versus when I initially tried the Questrade practice account I was fairly underwhelmed. I did like how you could place multiple orders at the same time quite easily. I was quite frustrated in that I had a lot of trouble navigating to try and find where to view my overall portfolio. For my account summary it would show the current value of the account, but I found no easy way to simply view the individual holdings that I had 'bought' to see how they were doing. This might just be part of the limited functionality of the practice account however, and I certainly hope that it is. A big advantage to using Scotia iTrade if you are an existing BNS account holder would be that any funds you want to transfer from your chequing account to your registered or non-registered account would appear instantly, compared to the usual three days it would take for a fund transfer between institutions.

   In the end I did go with Questrade and I am currently quite happy with Questrade. I like the simplified and easy to navigate IQ Essential and their research tools. It would be very convienent though for me to use Scotia's iTrade in order to transfer money instantly into the brokerage account rather than waiting 3 business days for my 'bill payment' to appear in my Questrade account. Though the delay does make me plan out my trades a bit better and makes it harder to invest emotionally with new capital as the markets swing, which is probably a good thing.

   What does everyone else use? And why did you pick them over somewhere else and how do you feel about them? Would you ever change?


  1. Nice review. I am a user of Questrade myself. Have been a customer for 6-7 years now and have never regretted the decision.

    1. Thanks. So far I have been with them for almost 2 years and its been a good experience, love the low cost trades.

  2. Fantastic and well written and detailed review...thank you so much. I am only started to do research and new to the trading/investing game, so your analysis helps a lot. Even though I have an account with Scotibank, it seems like their fees are still a lot more and higher than Questrade, no? Also, can you please explain this "150+ trades a quarter @$4.99"....really confused by it. Does it mean, as long as I do 150 trades or more every 3-4 month I will only pay $4.99 per trade??? If so, what would happen if say in a 3 month period, I only executed let's say 20-50 trades?? Would they charge me me more or would I have to pay some sort of penalty fee for not doing 150+trades?

    1. Thanks for the kind words and your Question. To clarify a bit, many brokerages/trading platforms offer discounted trading commission rates to those who do higher volume in trades. For this particular review I was taking information directly off the site. However, how that may be practically applied via your tradings fees you would be best served by calling their direct line.

      For instance, I would guess that the system wouldn't know at first that you were to do 150+ trades till after you do them. So would you get the rate the next month, quarter or a rebate at the end of the quarter? I can't say.

      Thanks for stopping by though.

    2. Okay cool...thanks for the feedback...greatly appreciated.