Navigating the labyrinthine world of options trading can be a daunting task in Canada. From the uninitiated beginner to the seasoned investor, everyone needs a reliable platform that aligns with their trading goals, offers robust tools, and doesn’t break the bank with fees. This comprehensive guide aims to demystify the realm of options trading and give you an insider’s look at the best options trading platforms in Canada.
The ABCs of Options Trading in Canada
An option is essentially a contract that gives its holder the right to buy or sell the underlying security in the contract at a specified price within a fixed time period in the future. It is important to note that the option contract is one where the buyer has the right to execute the action specified (known as ‘exercising the option’), but is not in any way obligated to exercise.
To receive this privilege, buyers pay a ‘premium’ to the sellers of the option. That means that if the markets move in a favourable direction to the buyer’s option, the buyer can buy the security at the price defined in the contract regardless of where it is trading in the market. On the other hand, if the price becomes unfavourable, the buyer would simply choose to not exercise the contract and let the option expire worthless.
Options are traded by both individuals and institutions for a wide range of purposes including speculative profits, hedging investments, and managing the risk profiles of their overall portfolio. While the use of options can amplify returns on a portfolio, it is also critical to remember that they have increased risk as well compared to conventional stock and bond investments.
There are some key terms that all prospective options traders should keep in mind before beginning their journey:
A call option is a contract that gives the buyer the right to buy the underlying asset at the pre-defined price sometime in the future (known as the ‘strike price’, as defined below). In a call option, the buyer makes money if the market price of the underlying security goes above the strike price within the time period stipulated in the contract. Therefore, a trader that buys a call option has confidence that the underlying security will rise in price.
A put option is a contract that gives the buyer the right to sell the underlying asset at the pre-defined price sometime in the future. In a put option, the buyer makes a profit if the market price of the underlying security goes below the strike price. Therefore, a trader that buys a put option has conviction that the underlying security will fall in price.
The strike price is the price at which an option contract becomes exercisable. A call option holder will choose to exercise an option if and when the market price (or the ‘spot price’) goes above the strike price. A put option holder will choose to exercise their option if and when the spot price is below the strike price.
Every option comes with an expiry date. This expiry date is the last date by which the holder of the option contract can choose to exercise their contract.
Illustrative Examples of Puts and Calls
An option contract is usually priced based on 100 units of an underlying security. Therefore, if the price of an option for a stock is $3, you will pay a total of $300 ($3 x 100 shares) to acquire the option.
Imagine a fictional Company ABC that is currently trading at $50 per share on the open market. You believe that this stock is undervalued and that it will rise up to $75 in the near future. So you decide to buy a call option at a strike price of $5 per share. Your premium paid is therefore $5 x 100 shares = $500.
In the next month, you are proved right and the stock does rise to $75 as you had predicted. Since you have the right to buy the shares at $50 per share, you exercise your option and pay $5000 ($50 x 100 shares) to acquire the shares. Next, you sell them for $75 per share to net $7500.
Your profit from the call option is therefore $7500 (your sale price) – $5000 (your strike price) – $500 (your premium) = $2000.
In summary, you only profit in a call option once the market price of the security goes above your strike price + your premium per share paid. If that does not happen, you can let the option expire worthless and would lose the $500 you paid as a premium.
The reverse is true for a put option. Now imagine you had a negative view of Company ABC and believe that the stock is overvalued and should only be $30 per share instead of $50. This time, you decide to buy a put option with the same premium ($5 x 100 shares = $500).
When you are proved right, your profit is your strike price minus the market price and premium paid. In other words, your profit would be $50 – $30 – $5 = $15 per share ($1500 in total).
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Now that we’ve covered the basics of options, let’s take a look at the brokerages that allow Canadians to trade them. In Canada, there is a multitude of online brokerages offered by both major chartered banks and independent providers. Below is a list of seven of the best brokerages for trading options:
Questrade is one of Canada’s leading brokerages suitable for options traders across backgrounds – from beginners to experts. The brokerage offers four distinct platforms through which traders can execute options trades: (i) Questrade Trading (the web-based platform), (ii) QuestMobile, (iii) Questrade Edge Mobile (mobile platform with advanced trading capabilities including multi-leg options), and (iv) Questrade Edge (web and desktop platform with advanced trading capabilities).
As a beginner or an intermediate investor, the former two platforms should suffice for the majority of your trading needs. The brokerage also offers a range of learning and training materials to help beginners get started in the world of options trading, making it the most beginner-friendly platform on this list. More advanced traders may find the Questrade Edge Mobile and Questrade Edge platforms to be more suitable for their level of sophistication.
Standard pricing available to all traders is $9.95 + $1 per contract. Active traders have optionality between fixed pricing of $4.95 + $0.75 per contract or variable pricing of $6.95 + $0.75 per contract.
Questrade has a minimum balance of $1,000 for customers aged 18 to 25 who are operating a self-directed portfolio. The only exception is customers opening a FHSA where the minimum amount drops to $250.
Based on regulatory guidance, Questrade also has 4 different account levels for options traders to choose from: (i) Level 1 allows for long calls and puts with no minimum equity required, (ii) Level 2 allows for covered calls and puts with no minimum equity required, (iii) Level 3 allows for spreads with a minimum of C$5,000 in equity, and (iv) Level 4 allows for naked calls and puts with a minimum of C$25,000 in equity.
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Qtrade is a Canadian brokerage that offers investors the choice to trade across both its web-based and mobile platform. While it doesn’t offer the same depth of training resources as Questrade, it is reputed to have one of the best platform designs, making it a highly user-friendly option even for people just starting out in their options trading journey.
Standard pricing available to all traders is $8.75 + $1.25 per contract. Active traders under the ‘Investor Plus’ designation receive a pricing of $6.95 + $1.25 per contract. To be classified as an active trader, you either need to make 150+ trades per quarter of have $500,000 in assets.
There is no minimum account balance you need to have. However, there is a $25 per quarter administration fee which is waived if you hold at least $25,000 in assets. There are also charges for account closures within a year ($100) and transfers out of accounts ($150).
3. Friedberg Direct
Start investing with $100 only
Friedberg Direct is the Canada-based online discount brokerage of the Friedberg Mercantile Group Ltd. Through the AvaOptions platform, Friedberg Direct enables 13 option strategies. The platform also offers educational tools on technical and fundamental analysis, an economic calendar, and other market updates to help traders make more informed decisions.
The brokerage’s Standard account is suitable for most traders. Friedberg Direct charges the spread (i.e., the difference between the buy and sell price) multiplied by the size of the position in either the FX or CFD trade you make.
Friedberg Direct requires a minimum account balance of $5,000. There is also an Active trader account that offers up to 60% lower spread costs; however, this account requires monthly notional volumes of US$50M to US$150M.
4. BMO InvestorLine
BMO Investorline Self-Directed
- Unlock access to some of Canada's most popular ETF's without commission fees, and take advantage of industry-leading research and real-time quotes;
- Take advantage of our easy-to-use analysis tools to benchmark, customize, and track your performance.
BMO InvestorLine is the brokerage platform owned by the Bank of Montreal that enables the trading of stocks, ETFs, and options traded on American and Canadian exchanges, as well as mutual funds, bonds, GICs, gold and silver. As an added benefit, users of BMO InvestorLine receive access to research and analysis tools, proprietary research from providers such as Morningstar and S&P, and analyst ratings from BMO’s equity research team.
For all options orders placed online through the BMO InvestorLine platform, a flat fee of $9.95 + $1.25 per contract is charged.
While there is no minimum required balance to open an account, a $25 fee is charged each quarter on non-registered accounts holding less than $15,000. For registered accounts with under $25,000 in assets, an annual administration fee of $100 is charged.
BMO InvestorLine also has additional resources and capabilities as part of its Active Trader offering that include market research, advanced charting, and screens. To qualify for Active Trader status, the accountholder needs to either execute 15 or more trades per quarter or hold $250,000 in assets.
InteractiveBrokers Canada is widely reputed as the preferred choice for advanced-level traders. With a user base spanning over 200+ countries, the brokerage’s powerful trading capabilities span award-winning mobile, web and desktop platforms. The brokerage also provides free trading tools to screen market opportunities, manage investment portfolios, and support stronger decision-making through advanced charting functionality.
Commissions on options trades are contingent on the monthly volume being traded. A breakdown is as follows:
- <10,000 contracts = $1.25 per contract
- 10,001 – 50,000 = $1.15 per contract
- 50,001 to 100,000 = $1.05 per contract
- > 100,000 = $1.00 per contract
Many of Interactive Brokers’ top users are institutional investors, and the trading platform is built to cater to the rigorous needs of these users. As a beginner, Interactive Brokers may seem overwhelming even with the added capabilities it offers.
There is no minimum amount required to start trading options on Interactive Brokers. The brokerage also removed its inactivity fee wherein previously, users had to pay US$20 if their account balance was less than US$100,000.
6. TD Direct Investing
TD Direct Investing is the online brokerage arm of TD Canada Trust, one of the nation’s largest banks and a member of the ‘Big Six’. Similar to other bank-owned brokerages, TD Direct Investing offers its users access to the research and insights published by its analysts. While it facilitates access to multiple asset classes and investment products including stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs and GICs, TD Direct Investing is reputed to be one of the best options brokerages owned by a major bank.
Users can select between three platforms: (i) the web-based WebBroker, (ii) the TD Direct Investing mobile app, and (iii) the Advanced Dashboard. While all of the platforms enable multi-leg options strategies to be used, the Advanced Dashboard is for expert traders as it offers market data streaming, deeper analytics and charting capabilities.
TD Direct Investing charges commissions at a rate of $9.99 + $1.25 per contract for options. For active traders (defined as those who place 150 or more trades per quarter), the price drops to $7.00 + $1.25 per contract.
While there is no account minimum required by TD Direct Investing, there is an inactivity fee charged of $25 per quarter if the balance on your account is below $15,000.
7. RBC Direct Investing
RBC Direct Investing is a brokerage owned by the Royal Bank of Canada. The brokerage caters to investors of all backgrounds, from beginners up to advanced levels. With both a web-based and a mobile app platform, users get access to comprehensive tools and market research published by RBC, and can also use their credit card points earned to pay trading commissions.
As an added benefit for beginner traders, RBC Direct Investing has a ‘Practice Account’ feature where users can ‘shadow-trade’ to gain confidence before investing their own money. RBC Direct Investing offers access to a wide variety of investment products including stocks, bonds, ETFs, mutual funds, and GICs.
RBC Direct Investing has pricing that is generally in-line with those of other bank-owned brokerages. All traders are charged $9.95 + $1.25 per contract while active traders (150+ trades made per quarter) receive a discounted rate of $6.95 + $1.25 per contract.
RBC Direct Investing does not have an investment minimum and covers up to $200 of transfer fees when $15,000 or more in eligible funds is transferred from an external brokerage.
FAQs About Options Trading Platforms in Canada
There is a wide range of online resources available where you can learn the fundamentals of options trading. Many of the brokerages mentioned in this article have specific training resources on their platforms for users to browse through while some brokerages even offer ‘practice accounts’ where users can trade virtual options. Additionally, there are courses offered on learning platforms such as Udemy and Option Alpha.
While options trading can be halal if done under Shari’a laws, it is most often classified as haram as it involves speculation.
The open interest describes the number of outstanding derivative contracts for an asset on the market that have currently not yet been settled. In other words, it is the sum total of contracts where traders have opted not to exercise the option.
While each trader may have a unique preference for the length of their expiry date, most options contracts issued range between 30 and 90 days. The individual decision lies on the trader’s research and chosen strategy.
Yes, options can be traded after hours if the brokerage you work with allows access to after-hours trading. Typically though, after-hours markets do not offer as much liquidity.
A call option is a contract that gives the buyer the right (not the obligation) to buy a particular asset at a pre-defined strike price within a fixed expiry date. A put option is a contract that gives the buyer the right to sell a particular asset at a pre-defined strike price within a fixed expiry date.
Expert options traders who prudently use leverage to boost their returns have the potential to become very wealthy. However, there is also an added risk inherent in options trading wherein more novice traders can potentially lose large sums of money if they do not manage risks appropriately.
Options can expire worthless if the underlying asset does not move favourably with the option bought by the investor. When options expire worthless, the premium that was paid for the option is not returned to the trader. As such, a succession of bad calls going worthless can cause the trader to lose significant amounts of money. The impact is heightened if the trader uses leverage.
In Canada, there are many brokerages that offer options trading capabilities. This article lists seven of the most common ones. However, you can do your research to determine which brokerage is most aligned with the type of options trader you are.
Delta is measured on a scale of -1 to +1, and measures how much the price of the option moves with each dollar change in the underlying security. A delta of 0 indicates that the premium is not likely to change relative to changes in the price of the underlying security.
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