The Best Online Brokerages in Canada for 2019

Last updated on October 10, 2019

Whether you are a first-time investor using a financial advisor to save for your future, or a savvy saver minimizing your fees with a robo-advisor, odds are you’re paying more in fees and add-on costs than you should be.

Canadians pay some of the highest fees in the world to invest their money, which can result in losses totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime of investing.

Fortunately, there are many options to lower the fees that you pay to invest your money, but the lowest fee option by far is to ditch your financial advisor and invest your money yourself through an online brokerage.

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Canada's Best Online Brokerages Comparison Chart

Online Brokerage Minimum Investment Annual Fee Cost Per Trade Learn More
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Questrade logo icon only no text square
Questrade
$1,000 $25 per quarter for balances under $5,000. Free for balances over. $4.95 per trade,1¢ per share Open Account
Learn more
Wealthsimple Trade None None None Learn more
Qtrade Investor None None $7.75 Learn more
TD Direct Investing None $25 per Quarter $9.99 Learn more
BMO Investorline None (TFSAs or RRSPs); $5,000 for other accounts. $100 per year for non-registered accounts. $9.95 Learn more
Scotia iTrade None Low activity fee for balances under $10,000. $9.99 Learn more
CIBC Investors Edge None None for registered accounts $100 for non-registered accounts under $10,000 $6.95 Learn more
Interactive Brokers None $10 every month for $10,000 or less $0.01 Learn more
RBC Direct Investing None $25 per quarter for accounts less than $15,000 $9.95 Learn more
Laurentian Bank Discount Brokerage None $25 per quarter for accounts less than $15,000 $9.95 Learn more
HSBC Direct Investing None $25 per quarter for accounts less than $10,000 $6.88 Learn more
National Bank Direct Brokerage None $25 per quarter for accounts less than $20,000 $9.95 Learn more
Virtual Brokers $1,000 $25 per quarter for accounts less than $5,000 $7.99 Learn more

Questrade - Best Discount Brokerage in Canada

Questrade was an online brokerage before it was cool, and has made a name for itself in DIY investing circles as one of the lowest cost online brokerages in Canada. When it comes to fees, Questrade has cut theirs to the bare minimum. There are no account fees and purchasing ETFs are free, which allows you to build a passive index investing portfolio for almost $0. Questrade offers free ETF trades, low trading fees, a low minimum account balance, and an easy sign-up process. With Questrade, it’s easy to set up a passive index investing portfolio for almost $0. For a detailed overview of Questrade's products, read our Questrade review.

Feature Overview:

Best Online Brokerage for Stocks and ETFs

A stock, also known as a ‘share’ is a financial product you can purchase that signifies partial ownership of a corporation. Purchasing a corporation’s stock entitles you to a portion of the corporation’s earnings and assets. You can buy a series of stocks from different corporations to make up the equities section of your portfolio.

ETFs are a collection of securities like stocks and bonds that track an underlying index like the S&P 500. ETFs have a price and are available to purchase like stocks.

It’s possible to build a completely balanced portfolio out of just a few low-cost ETFs, and if that is your strategy, you should choose an online brokerage like Questrade, as Questrade charges $0 for ETF trades.

If you plan to build your portfolio using stocks, consider using Questrade, because their low fees (ranging from $4.95 to $9.95 per trade) make this online brokerage a good option for buying and selling stocks.


Wealthsimple Trade

Wealthsimple Trade is a new entrant to the online brokerage market, having just launched their mobile-only platform in March of 2019. An extension of the popular robo-advisor, Wealthsimple (from Superbowl ad fame) Wealthsimple Trade lets you buy and sell stocks, bonds and ETFs for $0. For a closer look at all of Wealthsimple's features, check out Ratehub.ca's Wealthsimple review.

Feature Overview:

Best Online Brokerage for Beginners

If you’re a beginner investor, Wealthsimple Trade is an excellent place to start. Wealthsimple Trade is the DIY investment arm of Wealthsimple the robo advisor, and their easy sign-up process and mobile app make it a snap to build your portfolio in minutes.5P Wealthsimple charges next to no fees, which is ideal for beginner investors with small portfolios.


QTrade Investor

QTrade Investor has been operating in Canada since 2001 and has built its reputation on excellent third-party research availability and stellar customer service.

QTrade Investor’s base product is a little more expensive than some other online brokerages on this list, but they also allow you to buy and sell mutual funds, which is rare for an online brokerage.

Feature Overview:

Best Online Brokerage for Mutual Funds

QTrade Investor is one of the few online brokerages that allow you to purchase mutual funds with no commissions. A mutual fund is a type of financial tool that is made up of stocks and bonds and is funded by a pool of investors. Mutual funds are typically sold by financial advisors, but with QTrade Investor, you can purchase mutual funds yourself with no commissions.


TD Direct Investing

TD Direct Investing is TD Bank’s (one of Canada’s five largest banks) DIY investing platform. TD Direct Investing has been available for a long time and is one of the personal-finance community’s go-to options to build a low-cost passive investing portfolio.

Their customer support is excellent, and you can visit their branch to open your account.

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BMO Investorline

BMO InvestorLine Self Directed is not the cheapest option for online brokerages, but it has some of the best customer service in the business and an award-winning online platform.

If you’re new to investing, BMO InvestorLine also has a beginner-friendly option called adviceDirect, that combines DIY investing with personalized recommendations from a registered advisor.

Feature Overview:


Scotia iTrade

Scotia iTrade used to only be a good option for existing investors with large portfolios because their fee per trade was $24.99 – extremely high compared to the rest of the market.

These high trading fees have recently been axed for a more beginner-friendly $9.99 per trade, making Scotia iTrade a good option for investors looking to DIY their investments without leaving the comfort of a big bank.

Feature Overview:


CIBC Investors Edge

CIBC is one of Canada’s big five banks, so it’s no surprise that they have a DIY investing option for their hands-on customers.

The fees associated with CIBC Investors Edge are a little lower than other big banks, just $6.95 per trade instead of $9.99, but they don’t offer free ETF trades, so if building a low-cost passive investment portfolio is your goal, there are better options out there.

Feature Overview:


Interactive Brokers

Interactive Brokers is a US-based independent broker that advertises themselves as the lowest cost online brokerage in Canada. This online brokerage is ideal for sophisticated investors who need a wealth of tools and are interested in up to the minute news.

If you’re a beginner to an intermediate investor who makes regular contributions to your retirement accounts, the tools offered by Interactive Brokers might be a bit excessive.

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RBC Direct Investing

RBC Direct Investing is the DIY investment branch of the Royal Bank of Canada. With RBC Direct Investing, you can dive into DIY investing right away, or you can use their robo advisor, RBC InvestEase, or try a practice account to get the hang of investing yourself without risking your nest egg.

The fees associated with RBC Direct Investing are standard for the industry, and there is no investment minimum.

Feature Overview:


Laurentian Bank Discount Brokerage

Laurentian Bank Discount Brokerage is not a strong contender in the online brokerage field, as evidenced by their dated website, the cumbersome application process that involves mailing a physical copy of your application, and the lack of useful information on their website.

The Laurentian Bank Discount Brokerage has reasonable fees and account minimums, but the same service can be achieved elsewhere with a much more pleasing platform

Feature Overview:


HSBC Direct Investing

HSBC InvestDirect has competitive trading prices starting at $6.88 and an industry-standard $25 quarterly fee for accounts valued at less than $10,000. These are good attributes, but HSBC InvestDirect falls behind in other key areas, for example, you can’t sign up online, and there is no mobile app with which to trade.

Feature Overview:


National Bank Direct Brokerage

While National Bank isn’t the first name that comes to mind when one thinks about online brokerages, they have a solid product offering, requiring no minimum investment and free ETF trades.

The sign-up process for National Bank Direct Brokerage is cumbersome, requiring you to mail an original signed copy of your application, but their stellar customer service and mobile and desktop apps could make up for this shortfall.

Feature Overview:


Virtual Brokers

Virtual Brokers is one of the most popular independent online brokerages in Canada and was ranked #1 online broker by The Globe and Mail. Virtual Brokers has a competitive product offering, with free ETF trades and $9.95 trades for regular stocks.

Virtual Brokers has several trading platforms to choose from and has an excellent reputation for excellent customer service – something that isn’t always a given when it comes to online brokerages.

Feature Overview:

best online brokerages in canada

What is an Online Brokerage?

An online brokerage is a platform that enables you to buy and sell stocks, bonds, exchange-traded funds, mutual funds, and more, all within a trading account. The platform is usually available through an online portal, a desktop app, and a mobile app.

The fees associated with this kind of software are much, much lower than those you’ll pay with a financial advisor which is why they are also sometimes called discount brokerages in Canada.

Here’s how an online brokerage works compared to a regular broker. With a regular broker, you’ll transfer money into your trading account (probably at one of Canada’s big five banks, or maybe at an investment firm) and your financial advisor will handle investing your money according to your goals and your risk profile.

You’ll receive a regular statement about the performance of your investments, and the fees you pay are built into your investment performance. All you have to do with a financial advisor is have a quick 30-minute meeting, set up an automatic contribution, and check your statements periodically.

With an online brokerage, you’ll invest your money yourself, choosing a combination of stocks, bonds, and ETFs to create a balanced portfolio that will reach your long-term goals.

There is no oversight with an online brokerage, and aside from a helpful education center, you are responsible for your investments, including quarterly rebalancing. Instead of paying fees as a percentage of your overall investments, you’ll pay per trade.

There are several pros and cons to using an online broker over a brick-and-mortar broker, and depending on your unique needs, an online broker may not be the best choice for you. Here are some pros and cons to consider.


What are Online Brokerages Used For?

Online brokerages are typically used by Canadians to invest their money in financial tools that have a higher risk, but also higher returns. These higher-risk investments are ideal for goals that have a time horizon of five years or more. If you need your money sooner than five years, you’ll be better off using low-risk financial tools like savings accounts or GICs or TFSA or RRSP.


Pros of Using an Online Brokerage

Here are some of the most commonly praised pros of using an online brokerage in Canada.

Less expensive You’ll save thousands on fees instead of using a financial advisor.

More Flexible Instead of choosing from a few prebuilt portfolios, you can build a custom portfolio that meets your unique needs.

More Control Interested in investing only in green technology? What about Halal investing? When you design your portfolio, you control what you buy, and what you don’t.


Cons of Using an Online Brokerage

Naturally, there can be some downsides too, depending on your investing style. A few cons to using an online brokerage in Canada are listed below.

No expertise Market corrections can be terrifying to endure, so if you are planning to use an online brokerage, make sure you have the mental fortitude necessary to avoid tinkering with your investment portfolio during a market correction. A financial advisor can keep you on the straight and narrow during a correction, but with an online broker, you’re on your own.

More work Instead of setting up an automatic contribution to your retirement accounts and perusing your statements, you’ll need to log on and physically make trades and rebalance your portfolio.

Market corrections Market corrections can be terrifying to endure, so if you are planning to use an online brokerage, make sure you have the mental fortitude necessary to avoid tinkering with your investment portfolio during a market correction. A financial advisor can keep you on the straight and narrow during a correction, but with an online broker, you’re on your own.


Things to Consider When Choosing an Online Brokerage

The main benefit to using an online brokerage is the money you’ll save on fees, but low fees are not the only factor you should consider when choosing the right online broker for your needs.

Trading Fees

Not all online brokerages charge the same fees, and the fees can change depending on the type of investment you plan to purchase, and how frequently you make trades. If you are planning to build a passive portfolio out of ETFs, then you should look for an online brokerage with free ETF purchases. If you are planning to purchase stocks and bonds individually, and trade at a higher volume, you should prioritize an online brokerage that has high-quality trading platforms and access to third-party research.

Account Fees

Most online brokerages also charge administrative account fees determined by the assets you hold in a single account or the size of your portfolio across all accounts. If you have a smaller portfolio, these fees will heavily erode your returns, so it’s best to choose a brokerage that doesn’t charge those smaller portfolio fees.

Account Minimums

Some online brokerages also have account minimums, usually around $5,000. If your portfolio is small or you are investing in Canada for the first time, your choices in online brokerages may be limited.

Customer Service

If you’re new to investing online, there will be a learning curve when you begin building your portfolio and making your first trades. An online brokerage with a good customer service track record will ensure your questions are answered quickly. If you’ve been investing in Canada on your own for a while, stellar customer service is less important.

Transfer Fees

When you move your money from your financial advisor or robo advisor to an online brokerage, the original financial institution will often charge you transfer fees in the range of $150. Some online brokerages will pay these fees for you. Canadians are not limited to online brokerage options. Below are Canada's top thirteen online brokerages. Each selection is chosen considering the aforementioned section, primarily focusing on fees, minimums, and customer service.


Alternative Investing Options

Looking for alternative methods of wealth management? Look no further. Below are several popular alternatives to online brokerages.

Robo-advisors

are suitable for beginners or people with little investing knowledge. Similar to (human) financial advisors, a robo-advisor uses an algorithm to invest and manage money on behalf of the client. Fees tend to be higher than self-directed investing, but are still cheaper than financial advisors.

Financial advisors

are licenced professionals who manage money and investments for a number of clients. They also provide advice to their clients. In return, the financial advisor’s clients pay a fee. Though the client’s investments receive more attention with a financial advisor, they tend to be more expensive.

Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GICs)

are low-risk investments that provide interest over the course of the investment's term. They are incredibly safe and secure but do not promise very high returns. They are also inaccessible until the term is complete.

Use Our GIC Calculator

Use our GIC comparison tool to compare GICs by province, term, and investment amount to see which GIC gets your the highest return.