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The 12th annual online broker rankings Add to ...

Each of the 13 firms included in this ranking (a newcomer this year is Virtual Brokers) have been evaluated on how well they serve the needs of investors who may want bonds, GICs and mutual funds in addition to stocks, and who also need proper tools to help them plan their portfolios and then monitor how they're doing. The mainstream focus dictates that brokers offer registered retirement accounts, as well as registered education savings plans and tax-free savings accounts.

Read more about this year's trends: and see in-depth scores:



Here are the ranking criteria:

  • Costs: Stock-trading commissions dominate, but mutual fund fees and administrative and inactivity fees are considered as well.
  • Trading: How clean and easy to use is the platform for trading stocks, as well as for trading bonds and funds?
  • Customer Satisfaction: Results are based on 1,279 replies to a survey last month by users of Globeinvestor.com and ReportonBusiness.com who invest online.
  • Tools: How good is a broker at helping clients choose investments and develop an overall plan? Online brokers are strictly prohibited from offering advice, but they can provide the means for clients to make their own decisions.
  • Account Information: Not enough brokers provide it, but personalized long-term performance reporting is essential for clients to assess how well they're doing in meeting their investing goals. The importance of this category has been increased this year.
  • Website: Security and website utility are the focus here. It's a given that all brokers in this ranking are members of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund, which protects client assets in case a firm goes bankrupt for amounts up to $1-million.




#1: Qtrade Investor











qtrade.ca/investor

Ownership: privately held

Comment: Here's an insight into why Qtrade has nailed top spot for five straight years in this ranking. A few days after Scotia iTrade and TD Waterhouse announced their price cuts last month, Qtrade dropped me a line announcing it would meet or beat those offers. "You know how we don't like to be left out," Qtrade CEO Scott Gibner said in an e-mail. So true. Hardly an innovation has been introduced to online investing that Qtrade hasn't jumped on. Personalized rates of return -- got 'em. U.S.-dollar RRSPs -- got 'em. The website's a little washed out, and electronic communications network (ECN) fees may apply to some stock trades, but Qtrade nails it for the most part.







#2: RBC Direct Investing









rbcdirectinvesting.com Owner: Royal Bank of Canada

Comments: Of the big bank-owned online brokers, this is the one trying the hardest right now to provide a better experience for clients. State-of-the-art tools have been introduced for analysing your account to see how well it's performing. Practice accounts are available for newbies and you can reduce foreign exchange costs drastically by holding U.S. stocks in a U.S.-dollar RRSP. RBC now needs to find a way to improve customer satisfaction numbers that were a touch lower than for its peers in our survey. Oh, and discount bond trading would be great.





#3: BMO InvestorLine







bmoinvestorline.com

Ownership: Bank of Montreal

Comments: Newcomers to do-it-yourself investing, BMO's got your back. This is a broker that understands more than most that clients need tools to plan, build and monitor their portfolios. There's a useful Getting Started page, tonnes of educational material and a feature called MyLink that keeps you in touch with the securities in your account. Two negatives: InvestorLine is stingy with analyst research on stocks, and it has yet to set a date for adding U.S.-dollar RRSPs.





#4: TD Waterhouse









tdwaterhouse.ca

Owner: Toronto-Dominion Bank

Comments: Thanks, TD, for making sub-$10 online stock-trading commissions more accessible. Very quickly, Qtrade, RBC DI and BMO InvestorLine moved to copy your recent commission cut. Now, about your shortcomings. First, better tools are need to help clients monitor the long-term results they're getting in their accounts. Second, U.S.-dollar RRSPs are needed to provide relief for investors buying U.S.-listed stocks. Online global stock market trading was recently added, but U.S.-dollar RRSPs are more important.





#5: Credential Direct









credentialdirect.com

Owner: The credit union movement

Comments: Credential is a good-guy firm that takes the high road in many areas, including fee transparency and simplicity. The problem is that Credential has been a spectator through recent and earlier rounds of price-cutting. Most clients will pay a minimum of $19 to trade stocks online, which would be justifiable if the Credential investing experience was exceptional. It's not. In fact, aside from the lamentable ScotiaMcLeod Direct Investing, this could be the broker most in need of a website refreshing.





#6: Scotia iTrade











Scotiaitrade.com

Owner: Bank of Nova Scotia

Comments: Scotia iTrade has the cost side of things covered off well, and that's no small thing for a bank-owned firm. You can trade for $9.99 flat with $50,000 in assets, bonds are sold with small transparent commissions instead of a bloated markup and mutual funds are a virtually fee-free proposition. Otherwise, this firm is falling behind. The website's getting stale, proper financial planning tools are lacking and you're totally on your own trying to figure out how well your portfolio is doing. The coming merger with sister firm ScotiaMcLeod Direct Investing is a great chance to improve things.









#7: Questrade











questrade.com



Owner: Privately held



Comments: Fast-growing and scrappy, Questrade is the king of low-cost investing. You pay as little as $4.95 to trade stocks, bonds are sold commission-free (by phone only), U.S.-dollar RRSPs are offered and the gnat-like account fees you find at other firms are virtually non-existent. The price you pay for low fees is a lack of resources for helping you plan and monitor your investments. Questrade has made small strides in this area, but more is required if it's to rise in this ranking.











#8: CIBC Investor's Edge











investorsedge.cibc.com

Owner: Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce

Comments: The do-nothing days are over at this firm, which now offers one of the most innovative pricing plans around. If you have $100,000 worth of business with CIBC, including mortgages, loans and deposits, you'll pay a $6.95 per trade. No need to worry about how much money is in your brokerage accounts or how often you trade. CIBC is also kind to mutual fund investors (no fees to speak of) and it offers reams of CIBC World Markets research. Add the new pricing and you have a good enough package to keep CIBC banking clients from looking elsewhere to open an online brokerage account.







#9: Disnat (Classic)









disnat.com

Owner: Groupe Desjardins

Comments: Disnat did well in our customer satisfaction rankings, and it has for two years been ranked by J.D. Power & Associates as providing the highest customer satisfaction among online brokers. Over all, it's a steadily improving player that for this year has added an ETF centre and trimmed some fees.







#10: National Bank Direct Brokerage













nbdb.ca



Owner: National Bank of Canada



Comments: Nothing to wow customers here, but NBDB does offer lots of research for clients from National Bank Financial, a select list of mutual funds and some good tools for analyzing your portfolio to see what it holds and how it's doing. Costs for trading stocks and many good fund families are on the high side.







#11: ScotiaMcLeod Direct Investing













scotiamcleoddirect.com



Owner: Bank of Nova Scotia



Comments: SMDI, a perennial dud in this ranking, will be merged into Scotia iTrade in the months ahead. Title this story Nobody Waved Goodbye.









#12: HSBC InvestDirect













investdirect.hsbc.ca



Owner: HSBC Group



Comments: This firm's main edge has long been that it offers online trading on the Hong Kong, London, Paris and Frankfurt stock markets. You can now get that from TD Waterhouse, which you'll find near the top of this ranking as opposed to the bottom.







#13: Virtual Brokers









virtualbrokers.com

Owner: BBS Securities

Comments: Virtual Brokers is a service for serious traders that is hoping to entice mainstream investors with its low fees. You can trade stocks for as little as $5 per transaction, there are zero fees for mutual funds (you have to buy over the phone) and there are no annual administration fees for RRSPs and TFSA accounts. The website is light on tools for clients, but it's strikingly easy to navigate. Note: The overall mark is incomplete because we didn't get enough data to create a proper customer satisfaction score.



For in-depth rankings, see:



Send questions and feedback to OnlineBrokers@globeandmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @rcarrick

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