Having a discount brokerage account at your disposal can be a very useful and cost-saving tool if you have the knowledge and resources to make your investment decisions without the help of a financial advisor, or if you simply want to be able to make the occasional trade when an opportunity presents itself. However, the process of opening up a discount brokerage account, particularly in a registered plan, can be quite tedious.
There are many discount brokerages available. All the major banks in Canada are affiliated with one, and there are a handful of independents such as Qtrade, which earned the title of Best Discount Brokerage at the 2011 Canadian Investment Awards. Before choosing a discount broker, make sure that you do research and compare them.
There a few elements to consider when researching brokerages. The first one is fees and commissions associated with the account, such as the minimum balance required to open the account and the cost per trade. Cost per trade may be lower if you maintain a certain minimum balance; for example the regular cost may be $15.99 per trade, but if you have over $50,000 in your account, then the cost may drop to under $10 per trade.
The fees and commission structure will affect every investor differently, as it depends on your investment style. If you’re an active trader you won’t be holding on to stocks very long so you want low execution fees. On the other hand, if you’re a passive trader who makes very few transactions, transactions costs aren't as important as making sure you have the lowest monthly or annual fees -- or none at all.
Next, the availability of dividend reinvestment plans (DRIP) is something to consider. A DRIP allows you to use your stock dividends or mutual fund distributions to automatically buy more shares instead of receiving the payment in cash. Some companies, such as CIBC, offer plans that allow shareholders to automatically reinvest dividends, usually without paying commissions.
Finally, check out the research available on the site. Since you’re going with a discount brokerage, you won’t be getting advice like you do at a full service broker. So, ensure the research is reliable and that it’s simple to navigate.
In a discount brokerage account you can purchase and hold stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and ETFs. Those are the basics, but if you're a more adventurous investor you can also purchase other assets such as options and initial public offerings (IPOs) once you’re comfortable with your account.
I recently opened a registered Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) with TD Waterhouse Discount Brokerage. I picked TD Waterhouse simply because I am long-standing TD Canada Trust customer, and I prefer to do all my business with one financial institution in order to keep my finances streamlined. “By sticking with your own financial institution the process is smoother because you already went through that authentication process when you opened your bank account,” said Orion Szathmary, manager of sales support and marketing at TD Waterhouse Discount Brokerage.
The major issue I had with signing up for a registered account online is the paperwork involved in the process. The forms are extensive, asking for financial history, employment information and personal documentation numbers. Since, the account I’m opening is a registered account, it’s even worse because they are government documents, so if there's one zero that looks like an O then everything will be sent back.
I was told to anticipate 10 to 30 days to gain access to my account, depending on the type of assets being transferred. This was not the case. After I completed the forms online, I assumed that I would have to print and sign a few of them, mail them in and then wait during the suggested time period.
However, a screen popped up on my computer asking me to print out the forms I had just filled in online and fill them in again manually, which seemed counterintuitive, since I had just spent 90 minutes doing that; the simple 90-minute process just turned in to a three-and-a half-hour project.
So I decided to take the manually completed documents to my local branch and explain to a financial advisor that I'm not happy with the online process; it seems absurd to do everything twice.
What's more, after the advisor double-checked my documents she told me that my postal code was one letter off in the bank's system–, and that the documents would have been sent back to me. Therefore, it would have taken longer than 30 business days to gain access to my account.
She looked quite frustrated and told me that she encounters this problem frequently, and it's always because of paperwork. When a client fills out the forms on their own, there is absolutely no room for mistakes -- all the information has to be perfect, and it rarely is.
My advice? Open your registered discount brokerage account at your financial institution if possible. The bank is more familiar with the forms, they fill them electronically and the end process is more efficient.