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A whole lot of investors were rightly angry at online brokers earlier this year because of their terrible client service.

Social media and my e-mail in-basket were saturated with complaints about this problem. Now, nothing. I haven’t heard a reader complain about long waits to speak to a live representative at a brokerage, or website issues, in months. There’s a lesson in all of this for people on how to pick the right broker. Don’t be quick to leave a broker in anger.

I do an annual ranking of online brokers, and I think the three best are Qtrade Investor, TD Direct Investing and Questrade, in that order. TD, as the market-share leader, generated a large number of service-related complaints late last year and in early 2021. In particular, clients complained of endless waits on the phone, and being disconnected before reaching anyone.

TD failed its clients – that is clear. But TD Direct is a very good online broker, over all. A heck of a lot of work was put into designing the website for clients and, if you look at other firms, it really stands out. Over the years, TD’s online interface will provide huge value in helping you build and manage a portfolio.

You’d miss out on that if you pulled an account from TD in anger last year. The run of bad service from TD and others seemed endless when it was happening, but it really lasted a few months. You’ll likely have many decades as an investor.

Dumping a broker because it did something to make you angry could be counterproductive. Here’s a checklist of things to consider before you leave your current brokerage:

  • Service in normal market conditions: Trading was frenzied in early 2021, an entirely abnormal situation. How is your broker the rest of the time?
  • Website: Does it get overloaded and non-responsive at busy times? Is it well-designed enough that you can navigate it quickly and easily?
  • Mobile app: The way of the future – does your broker ace this feature?
  • Features: Research, portfolio-building tools, account reporting on performance, income received from dividends, bond interest.

Finally, there are commissions to consider. Two brokers, National Bank Direct Brokerage and Desjardins Online Brokerage, have joined the U.S.-led trend toward eliminating commissions. Everyone else charges anywhere from $1.99 at CI Direct Trading (formerly Virtual Brokers) to $9.99 at some bank-owned brokers.

Commissions are kind of like bad service – they’re important factors to consider, but don’t base a decision about leaving a broker on them alone.

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