The Best Trading Platforms in Canada
Planning for your financial future demands you invest your money in some way. Money that’s invested properly can grow considerably, especially over long periods of time.
There are many ways to go about investing your money. You can work with a financial advisor, a robo advisor, and look into offers at your bank branch, among others. These options are great for those who depend on the advice of others to make investing decisions. But for those who like to be in the driver’s seat, making all the plans – and executing them – the best trading platforms in Canada are there to put you in control.
What is a trading platform?
The chaos of the trading floor at major exchanges like the Dow Jones and New York Stock Exchange is a memorable trope from old movies. Dressed in suits and strung out on who-knows-what, traders run and yell and scream, gathered around large podiums with all sorts of screens, somehow buying and selling stocks in the process.
You and I want no part in any of that, because we intend to live past the age of 40 and maybe keep some of our hair. So, when we want to buy and sell investments, we do things the civilized way. This used to mean calling up your financial advisor, stockbroker or portfolio manager, giving them instructions to make a trade, and letting them worry about figuring out the logistics of the transaction.
Today we have the internet, and it’s even cleaner and tidier and more efficient than using a stockbroker. Online trading platforms give you access to the entire market instantly and give you tools to buy and sell investments with the click of a button.
How do trading platforms work?
Trading platforms connect you with the markets entirely online. After you open an account, you can deposit money and use it to purchase investments like stocks, bonds, ETFs, mutual funds and GICs. Your trading platform keeps track of all the investments you own, keeps you up to date on their value, and lets you sell them at any time.
Behind the scenes, the trading platform works with companies called investment dealers that hold the actual investments on your behalf. All the companies in the chain are registered with their respective regulators, overseen by the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC), and your investments are protected by Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF) insurance.
What are the best trading platforms in Canada?
You can buy an apple at any supermarket, but your experience will differ greatly from one store to the next. The same holds true for investments and trading platforms. There are vast differences in the quality of their platform, fees for making trades (commonly called commissions), and other features.
Each have their relative strengths and weaknesses, and the trading platform that’s best for someone else may not be the best for you.
If you’re just getting started, or you’re wondering if there is a better option out there for you, here is a roundup of the best online trading platforms in Canada.
Best for personal advice: BMO Investorline
BMO Investorline offers tools for investors at all levels. Most Canadian investors will want to open a self-directed account, that lets you buy all kinds of investments and use tax shelters like Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) and Tax-free Savings Accounts (TFSAs). Trades cost a flat fee of $9.95 and there’s no account minimum.
What sets BMO Investorline apart, however, is its adviceDirect program. For a minimum investment of $50,000 and an annual fee starting at $750, customers get access to personalized advice that combines the best of the financial advisor experience with digital tools. adviceDirect customers get help setting up their portfolio, ongoing monitoring of their account with computer-generated alerts and recommendations, and have unlimited access to advice from a licensed financial advisor by phone. And rather than paying per trade, adviceDirect customers get a minimum monthly allotment of 30 trades included with their annual fee.
More active traders who make at least 15 trades per quarter will also be enrolled in BMO Investorline’s 5 Star program, which gives free access to advanced data, dedicated support, and savings on some account fees and features.
Best for beginners: Scotia iTrade
One of the best trading platforms in Canada, Scotia iTrade is a great choice for beginner investors, offering lots of tools to get started. Young investors age 26 and under can save up to $200 per year on administration fees, and new Canadians can participate in the Scotiabank StartRight program that includes 10 free trades. All members get access to educational tools and resources, and before you even get started, Scotia iTrade lets you open a practice account to try online trading risk-free.
Once you open a real Scotia iTrade account, trades cost $9.99 each. New members funding an account with more than $5,000 can access up to $25 cash back or 10 free trades per $5,000 invested.
For experienced investors, Scotia iTrade offers iClub Gold and Platinum memberships to those investing over $250,000 and $1-million, respectively. Accountholders get priority service, waived administration fees, and preferred pricing on trades.
Best free platform: Wealthsimple Trade
Wealthsimple started as one of Canada’s first and most successful robo-advisors, and has now expanded to offer commission-free stock trading online.
What sets Wealthsimple Trade apart in this arena really is its pricing. While most trading platforms charge fees of up to $10 per trade, Wealthsimple allows you to buy and sell investments for free. The company claims they can offer the service because executing trades costs them virtually nothing, and they don’t have to pay huge overhead costs like the big banks do.
Wealthsimple Trade also has no minimum investment and doesn’t require you to use any of their other products. The only fees are those charged by the ETFs themselves, and a 1.5% premium on any US exchange.
If you’re wondering what’s the catch, it’s that WealthSimple Trade is nearly as lean on features as it is on price. The platform only lets you trade ETFs and stocks that meet certain criteria – such as being listed on one of a handful of exchanges and being eligible for something called the Canadian Depository for Securities. For example, Disney is a stock not available through WealthSimple Trade due to this limitation.
Wealthsimple Trade also doesn’t yet support other common investment types, like securities, mutual funds, bonds, GICs and preferred shares. And table-stakes features like notifications, news about the stocks you follow, and 2-factor security are all listed as “coming soon.”
Best value option: CIBC Investor’s Edge
While CIBC Investor’s Edge doesn’t appear to be quite as robust as it’s Big Five Bank competitors, its features are perfectly capable for most investors. There’s a mobile app, tools to track your portfolio and do research, alerts, notifications, access to registered accounts and a wide variety of investment choices.
Where CIBC Investor’s Edge really makes its mark is pricing. Trades are priced starting at $6.95 per trade (the lowest among the Big Five banks). Students with a CIBC Smart™ Account for students get trades for $5.95. And high-volume traders can enrol for Active Trader Pricing of $4.95 per trade. Note that buried in the fine print, fees for US transactions are charged in US dollars.
For those who need it, CIBC Investor’s Edge offers lots of support options, including customer service through online chat, phone, and email. And support is also offered in Mandarin and Cantonese through a special 1-800 number.
Best technology: TD Direct Investing
TD Direct Investing is Canada’s largest online brokerage and offers some of the most robust trading software in the market. Most traders and investors will be happy with TD Direct Investing’s web and phone apps that provide a customizable dashboard, advanced order types and access to basic market research. Trades at this tier are priced at $9.99 each.
For active traders, TD Direct Investing offers an advanced dashboard that is fully customizable, includes streaming market data, and advanced market research. Advanced dashboard features are mostly free for customers making 30+ trades per quarter, and customers making 150 or more traders per quarter get preferred pricing of $7.00 per trade.
And, active US options traders with investments of $25,000 or more can access TD Direct Investing’s thinkorswim dashboard with power tools for investing in US markets.
A good alternative: RBC Direct Investing
As trading platforms go, RBC Direct Investing is an online brokerage that boasts no particular strengths and suffers no particular weakness. Nothing seems to set it apart, good or bad.
All the usual features are there. RBC Direct Investing lets you invest in a wide variety of investment types, offers all the registered accounts, gives you access to tools and research and has both browser and mobile apps for easy trading. The technology is solid, and there are educational tools and a practice account for beginners.
RBC Direct Investing’s pricing is similarly unremarkable. Like most of its Big Five Bank competitors, trades are priced at $9.95 each. Active traders making 150 or more trades per quarter get preferred pricing of $6.95 per trade, charged in the currency of the investment being traded.
The only features RBC Direct Investing has that stand out in any way are its community, a sort of social medium that allows investors to connect with each other online, and the ability to pay trading fees with RBC Rewards points.
Best for ETFs: Qtrade Investor
Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) are kind of similar to mutual funds. They both contain a wide variety of investments in a single package letting you, the investor, diversify your portfolio by choosing funds instead of picking individual stocks. The key difference however is that while mutual funds are actively managed by investment companies, ETFs are structured to follow entire markets and categories with little ongoing human intervention. ETFs cost much less to participate in than mutual funds, and as such have become a staple of robo advisors.
Most trading platforms let you buy and sell ETFs, but what sets Qtrade Investor apart is that they offer a list of 100 ETFs you can trade for free. There are some conditions, including a $1,000 minimum transaction and you need to hold the shares for at least one business day.
In addition to ETFs, Qtrade Investor offers a wide variety of investment types at a cost of $8.75 per trade – slightly undercutting most of the Big Banks. Special pricing of $7.75 per trade is available for young investors aged 18-30, and active investors making 150 trades per quarter or more pay $6.95.
Best value option for high volume traders: Desjardins Online Brokerage
For most investors, Desjardins Online Brokerage offers a platform called Disnat Classic that’s intuitive and easy to use. Trades are reasonably priced at $6.95 and real-time market data is included. Young investors aged 18-30 can take advantage of the Broker@ge 18-30 special offer, which includes 5 free transactions, no inactivity fees and no minimum investment for registered accounts like RRSPs.
For active traders, Desjardins Online Brokerage recommends their Disnat Direct platform, which really shines when it comes to price. Clients using Disnat Direct pay between $4.95-$6.95 for their first 29 trades of the month, depending on share value and quantity, and just $0.75 (yes, seventy-five cents) for each additional trade in the month. Quotes and market data are charged at a monthly rate for clients who don’t meet a monthly minimum number of trades.
Desjardins Online Brokerage also has a notable distinction of being the best French-language option. True to Desjardins form, the English version of the product has been translated from French, rather than the other way around. English speakers will notice small quirks in the translation, but none big enough to impair the experience.
Which trading platform should I choose?
There are lots of trading platforms in Canada, and each have their own strengths and weaknesses.
If you’re just getting started, Scotia iTrade offers the best educational tools including a free practice account and discounts for new Canadians.
If you’re interested in investing but want access to advice from someone who knows what they’re doing, BMO Investorline offers great programs that blend human advice with digital tools.
For those who want to trade for free, Wealthsimple Trade is a novel option with limited features. And those who are primarily interested in ETFs will appreciate qTrade Investor’s selection of commission-free funds.
For the best all around value, both CIBC Investors Edge and Desjardins Online Brokerage, with a slight advantage to Desjardins Online Brokerage if you think you’ll make 30 trades or more per month.
Frequently Asked Questions
When you buy and sell stocks as a consumer, you do so by giving your instructions to a stock broker. Stock brokers can include financial advisors as well as the services discussed on this page. Traders, on the other hand, primarily work for financial institutions buying and selling stocks and other investments on their behalf.
Yes, day trading is legal in Canada. That said, there are rules that need to be followed. Most importantly, investment income earned (or lost) by day trading is treated as business income (or loss) for tax purposes – not capital gains. This means your profits (you can deduct commissions and other expenses) will be taxed at your marginal income tax rate.
CIBC Investor’s Edge is the only platform on this list with a specific student rate, but it’s only available to students who hold a linked, paid bank account. Students who qualify should instead look to Desjardins Online Brokerage for its Broker@ge offer that includes free trades and low fees for investors 30 and under.