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7 Best Online Trading Platforms In Canada

Learn how to create and manage your own self-directed investment portfolio. Online brokerages offer expert research and educational tools.

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You don’t need to be a professional portfolio manager to buy and sell investments. When you open an account with an online trading platform, you’re in control of placing trades, deciding asset allocation and managing your portfolio. These trading platforms are also called online brokerages or brokers and are an accessible way for individual investors to directly buy and sell stocks, bonds, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), guaranteed investment certificates (GICs) and more.

What is online trading?

Canada’s first online trading platform debuted in 1996. Today there are more than a dozen to choose from, each with various types of accounts and investment products. All of Canada’s Big Five banks have their own self-directing trading platforms, and there are several well-established independent brokerages. Unlike full-service brokerages and robo-advisors, which use either humans or algorithms to make investment decisions and execute trades, online brokerages are do-it-yourself.

You might hear online brokerages also referred to as “discount brokerages” because they’re a low-cost alternative compared to full-service brokerages, which often charge commissions and management fees. Many discount brokers charge a flat commission per trade, while others offer commission-free trading on stocks or ETFs. Some require a minimum balance to open an account, but others don’t.

Online trading platforms offer additional features to help self-directed investors (and especially beginners) navigate the markets, such as real-time quotes, stock screening and comparison tools, educational articles and tutorials, and market data and research. Online brokerages also offer different levels of customer service via phone, email and/or chat to answer basic questions.

Online trading pros and cons

If you’re thinking about investing through a self-directed trading account, there are a few pros and cons to consider.

Pros: If you’re confident in your personal judgement and understand exactly what you’re paying in commissions and fees, online brokerages can be less expensive than traditional brokerages. Self-directed trading gives you full control over investment decisions, and you can execute trades anytime from your computer, tablet or mobile phone. Many online brokerages also let you start small with a low (or no) minimum account balance.

Cons: Online brokerages don’t provide professional advice or oversight, so it’s important to do your research and know your risk tolerance. You might save money by not paying someone else, but you’re also responsible for commissions, fees and taxes—as well as gains and losses. If you don’t have the time or knowhow to manage your own investment portfolio, or if you just aren’t interested, check out the services of a robo-advisor or a full-service brokerage.

Best trading platforms in Canada

There are more than a dozen online trading platforms in Canada to choose from. Note that the trading fees listed below are just for stocks and ETFs. Other investments such as mutual funds, bonds, GICs, international equities, options and precious metals have their own fees and commissions.

In alphabetical order, here’s a quick overview of Canada’s best online brokerages.

BMO InvestorLine

Key features: The Bank of Montreal’s self-directed trading platform has tools and research available for new investors, including bi-weekly educational emails, online demos and tutorials and webcasts from industry experts. You can also create watch lists and receive regular personalized notifications about your account. Accounts containing $50,000 are eligible for portfolio management services (at a cost) through BMO InvestorLine adviceDirect.

Types of accounts: TFSA, RESP, RRSP, RRIF, LIRA, LRSP, LRIF, LIF, cash and margin accounts.
Minimum account balance: $5,000 (no minimum balance for TFSAs or RESPs).
Pricing: $9.95 per trade for stocks and ETFs.
Customer service: Email, phone.

CIBC Investor’s Edge

Key features: CIBC’s online brokerage offers charting tools to help investors identify trends and analyze performance. It also has watch lists and alerts that monitor stocks and price movements, and pre-built or customizable screeners to filter investment products by criteria such as sector, industry, market cap and price change percentage. Receive expert insights in your inbox, including market reports from Recognia and Thomson Reuters’ daily Morning News Call newsletter.

Types of accounts: TFSA, RRSP, RESP, RRIF, LIRA, LRSP, LRIF, PRIF, cash account (individual, joint or corporate), margin account.
Minimum account balance: None.
Pricing: $6.95 per trade for stocks and ETFs. Student and active trader pricing available.
Customer service: Email, phone, online chat.

Qtrade Investor

Key features: Qtrade is a division of Aviso Wealth, and offers a full range of tools and resources including watchlists and alerts, investment screening, technical and fundamental research, analysts’ recommendations and Reuters’ daily newsletter. Qtrade also offers planning tools and calculators to set and track financial goals, including a health check that grades your portfolio’s risk exposure across five financial dimensions.

Types of accounts: TFSA, RRSP, RESP, LIRA, LRSP, RRIF, LIF, cash or margin account.
Minimum account balance: None.
Pricing: $8.75 per trade for stocks and ETFs. Qtrade also offers a selection of 100 commission-free ETFs. Active trader and young investor (age 18 to 30) pricing available.
Customer service: Email, phone.

RBC Direct Investing

Key features: The Royal Bank of Canada’s online brokerage offers in-depth research reports, analysis, charting and screening tools to help you choose the right investments. It also offers tools to set goals, track performance and analyze and rebalance your portfolio as needed. For newbie investors, its educational materials will help grow your confidence.

Types of accounts: TFSA, RRSP, RESP, RRIF, cash and margin accounts, non-personal corporate, investment club and partnership accounts.
Minimum account balance: None.
Pricing: $9.95 per online trade for stocks and ETFs, or $6.95 per trade if you make 150+ trades per quarter.
Customer service: Email, phone, online chat.

Scotia iTrade

Key features: Scotiabank’s Scotia iTrade has thorough market research and analytical tools for the do-it-yourself investor. There’s also the option to open a practice account, which gives you a pretend money to simulate trading on the iTrade platform. (Unlike in real life, if you make a mistake, you can always start over).

Types of accounts: TFSA, RRSP, RESP, margin account, cash account, non-personal corporate, partnership, trust or estate, or investment club accounts.
Account minimum: None.
Pricing: $9.99 per trade for those who make less than 150 trades per quarter. $4.99 per trade for those who make more than 150 trades per quarter. There’s also around 50 commission-free ETFs.
Customer service: Email, phone.

TD Direct Investing

Key features: Owned by TD Bank, TD Direct Investing has the distinction of being Canada’s first self-directed online platform. It offers new and experienced traders the choice between basic and more detailed platforms. TD also owns and operates the prominent U.S. discount broker TD Ameritrade, so it’s big on market research and data and has strong U.S. and global investing options. For new investors, it offers video tutorials, live online workshops and monthly live webinars.

Types of accounts: TFSA, RRSP, RESP, RRIF, LIRA, LIF, RDSP and cash and margin accounts.
Account minimum: None.
Pricing: $9.99 per trade for stocks. Active trader pricing available.
Customer service: Phone, online chat.

Key features: Launched in 2019, Wealthsimple Trade offers an unlimited number of stock and ETF trades completely commission-free. The only fee you’ll pay is for currency exchanges when trading U.S.-listed securities, which is the daily corporate rate + 1.5%. The platform has a minimalistic interface that lets you search Canada and U.S. stocks and ETFs by name or symbol, or filter by “most active,” “top gainers” and “top losers.” Currently, Wealthsimple Trade is only available as a mobile app on your smartphone or tablet. But free trading comes with a tradeoff: the app is currently without educational or analytical tools.

Types of accounts: TFSA, RRSP, individual cash account.
Account minimum: None.
Pricing: Stocks and ETFs trade commission-free. When trading on American markets, a currency exchange fee of the daily corporate rate + 1.5% is charged.
Customer service: Email, phone.

If you’re interested in DIY investing, online trading platforms are a low-cost foundation for building a self-directed portfolio. Before getting started, do your research on stock picking and pay attention to trading commissions and account fees. You won’t get financial planning or investment advice as you would with a financial advisor or full-service brokerage, but the best online trading platforms offer increasingly sophisticated resources and tools to help you make informed decisions and fine-tune your investing acumen.

How to choose the best trading platform

When evaluating and comparing different online trading platforms, you’ll need to take a few factors into account: how much money to have to invest, what type of account you want to open, what type of assets you want to buy, how actively you want to trade, and how often you think you’ll interact with customer service.

Types of accounts offered

Before you start trading, you will need to decide which type of account to hold your investments in. Online brokerages offer a number of registered accounts, which have different kinds of special tax-sheltered advantages:

You can also open non-registered cash accounts (personal, joint or corporate) or a margin account, which lets you buy securities with funds borrowed from the broker in exchange for cash or assets as collateral. Margin accounts carry more risk, and are only suitable for more experienced investors.

Investment options

Look at the types of asset classes offered, such as stocks, bonds, ETFs, GICs, mutual funds and precious metals. Online brokerages also offer options, which is a more complex type of financial instrument where the holder has the option to buy or sell the asset at a stated price within a specific timeframe. Like margin accounts, options are recommended for more experienced investors.

Pricing

First, check if there’s a minimum account deposit. Fees can vary significantly from brokerage to brokerage, so it’s important to compare options based on how often you trade, the type of investment you want to buy and sell, and how much money you have in your account. On top of trading commissions, brokerages may charge monthly, quarterly or annual fees for things like account maintenance, account inactivity, currency conversion, and closing or transferring an account.

Customer service

Think about how important it is for you to have access to human help via phone, email or online chat. If you’re a new investor, it’s more than likely you’ll have a question. You’ll want to have knowledgeable customer service representatives available to answer your questions.

Features

Read reviews and watch preview videos to get a sense of how the platform looks and works. The user interface should be intuitive and easy to use, whether you trade on desktop, mobile and/or app.

How to open a trading account

Once you compare online brokerages and decide which one is right for you, you can open an account about as easily as you can open a bank account.

1. Gather your personal information

To open an online trading account, you’ll need a valid government ID, social insurance number (SIN), address, employment and bank information (chequing or savings account) to transfer money to your brokerage account.

2. Choose your account

Pick the registered or non-registered account of your choice, and make sure you meet the minimum balance requirement, if there is one. Don’t forget to double-check the cost of trading commissions and quarterly account fees.

3. Fund your account

When your online brokerage account is open, you’ll need to fund it. Transferring money can take anywhere from three to five business days. Once the deposit clears, you’re ready to start trading.

4. Educate yourself

Before you make your first trade, take some time to read or watch any tutorials that walk you through how to use the platform, such as how to execute buy and sell orders. Familiarize yourself with your broker’s educational resources, screening and monitoring tools, research and technical analysis and sign up for its daily newsletters.

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Writer

Jane Switzer is a Toronto-based personal finance writer and editor. Driven by her interest in financial journalism, she completed the Canadian Securities Course and has covered topics including saving, debt, credit scores and investing for websites like Ratehub. Her work has appeared in several publications such as the National Post, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and Maclean's.

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