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While U.S. online brokers slash stock-trading commissions to zero, a lone Canadian broker is adjusting with its fees.

U.S. commissions were already about half of what they are at the big Canadian online brokerage firms before recent cuts that took them to zero in some cases. The Canadian response so far has been silence, which is to be expected. Whether it’s mutual fund fees, exchange-traded fund fees or brokerage commissions, Canadian firms typically charge more. They always say it’s because our market is smaller than the United States, but the real reason is that they can get away with it.

One Canadian online brokerage did announce commission fee changes this week, but they were in the works before Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade, Interactive Brokers, E-Trade and Fidelity slashed commissions over the past month or so.

Starting Oct. 15, National Bank Direct Brokerage will offer 10 free trades annually to young clients between the ages of 18 and 30 and then charge them $4.95 a trade. National Bank customers with a bank account linked to their brokerage account will pay $6.95 a trade, and active investors who make 100 or more trades per quarter will pay 95 cents. Everyone else pays a flat $9.95 per trade, which is in line with the rate at most big bank-owned online brokerages.

If we didn’t have a price war raging in the U.S. market, the NBDB fee changes would be seen in a different light. It’s a great idea to give young investors a break. You have to wonder why more firms don’t do this to lure young clients away from robo-advisers. But in the context of brokers eliminating commissions altogether, NBDB’s targeted cuts look pretty modest.

We have seen competition on brokerage commissions in Canada in the past. Longtime DIYers will recall the standard $29 minimum commission. It took years to bring us to today’s pricing environment of commissions just below $10 at the biggest bank-owned brokers and then a lower tier of pricing from a handful of firms. CIBC Investor’s Edge, the bank that is most competitive on basic commissions, charges $6.95, independent Questrade charges one cent a share with a $4.95 minimum (electronic communications network, or ECN, fees may apply on top of that) and Virtual Brokers charges one cent a share with a $1.99 minimum. The Canadian arm of U.S.-based Interactive Brokers charges one cent a share with a $1 minimum.

The NBDB announcement is one of the first price-related changes we’ve seen in ages on the Canadian online brokerage scene. Too bad it’s just fiddling compared with the price war going on south of the border.

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