While in line for the ATM, it dawned upon me that online brokerage Qtrade does not go unnoticed in Quebec. I overheard two strangers discussing their most recent trades on the TSX, and one of them finally said, “I don’t want to keep my brokerage account with XYZ Bank. I’m transferring my assets to Qtrade”. So let’s take a look at a small, officially independent beast (although Desjardins took a 40% stake in the company in 2013) that is disrupting the traditional “Big Six”.

Qtrade Investor — part of the Qtrade Financial Group — definitely seems to have the wind in its sails. The Globe and Mail, Surviscor and MoneySense placed it first in their respective rankings for 2016. It was the eighth time in the past 11 years that this discount broker finished atop the rankings published by The Globe and Mail. Financial columnist Rob Carrick pointed out that “Qtrade has an innovative, clear and user-friendly offer”.

The pricing structure is also attractive. It’s easily better than the competition, with a base unit fee of $8.75 per transaction and the ability to buy or sell 100 exchange-traded funds (ETFs) free of charge. Does it sound to good to be true? It’s worth making a visit yourself.

 

Qtrade: In test mode!

At first glance, the web platform is uncluttered. The dashboard found on the homepage is beautiful and modern. It was probably recently redesigned. Its simplified design makes navigation more fluid.

For several years, Qtrade has earned a reputation for providing fast, efficient customer service, while providing a low-cost experience for the independent investor. I contacted customer service from the platform’s messaging centre to see how well it worked. And presto! Less than three hours after sending my message, a detailed reply was in my inbox. Thank you! The only drawback is that this correspondence is only kept for a maximum period of 90 days. It disappears automatically after that time has passed.

Regarding the customer experience, when buying or selling shares, transactions are done effortlessly on your computer screen or through the mobile app. The order status is easy to read and documents – such as a trade confirmation – are readily available.

 

Qtrade: Things that catch our attention

Model Portfolios: This functionality is available in the “Investment Tools” menu. Qtrade has model portfolios made up of 10 to 15 stocks, which the investor can copy or draw from to create their own portfolio. Every portfolio is monitored by a team of investment strategy advisors, who then provide information to independent investors about the portfolio’s makeup. Investors can get email alerts and be notified whenever changes are made to the selected model portfolios.

Dividend Reinvestment: The Dividend Reinvestment Plan is an option that will likely help the shareholder over time. When a dividend is paid, the issuing company will automatically buy new shares at the current price, which may also qualify for a rebate ranging from 2% to 5%, without any commission fees. Some online brokers, like Qtrade, make registering for this very easy. To do so, just click on the “My Accounts” menu and go to the “Service Centre” section. Click “Additional Services”, and then click on “Dividend Reinvestment”. From the drop-down menu, select the account you want to use. The system automatically provides you with a list of stocks available, and you simply check off the ones for which you want to reinvest dividends in order to complete the process. Not all companies offer this kind of plan to their shareholders.

 

Qtrade: And since nothing is perfect…

  •   If you want to make a withdrawal from a registered account, such as from a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA), be advised: You cannot do this directly online with Qtrade. Instead, you must complete the proper form and send it to customer service, which will complete the transaction. However, no tax is withheld when withdrawing from a TFSA. It would be better if this kind of transaction could be done directly online, so that the investor could benefit from having access to their funds on the spot. The large Canadian banks are leading the way on this, like Scotiabank and its iTrade platform. Regardless of the kind of registered withdrawal, their clients can perform those transactions themselves.
  •  Analyst reports are more scarce than on the platforms provided by the large Canadian banks. Nevertheless, free Morningstar analyst recommendations are provided.

Qtrade: Mobile Application

The mobile app has been available for a long time on iOS, and it is very comprehensive. You can even login through the Touch ID functionality. There is also a Qtrade application for the Apple Watch, enabling you to keep an eye on your portfolio at all times. Android users are no longer excluded, as the application is now available on Google Play. However, it had not yet been tested at the time of writing this article.

 

Qtrade: The Last Word

A brokerage platform is often chosen by default because you hold assets with a certain institution. However, small independent companies, such as Qtrade, often provide a more extensive service offering… at a better price. Other than the small hindrances previously presented, Qtrade is definitely at the top of its game and has no major weaknesses. In my humble opinion, here you have a first class business!

 

This article was compiled by Hardbacon, which has designed an online broker comparator listing dozens of Canadian online brokers. Hardbacon also helps you save on savings accounts, chequing accounts, credit cards, robo-advisors, life insurance, mortgages and personal loans. If you want to go one step further and take control of your finances, you should download Hardbacon’s mobile app, which links to your bank and investing accounts, helps you plan for your financial goals, create a budget and invest better.

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