If you are looking to make a choice about which brokerage to use for your self-directed trading, the many options available in Canada can make it difficult to pick one.
Several years ago, Virtual Brokers (now CI Direct Trading) managed to surpass major bank brokers as well as independent brokerages to be crowned the leader in terms of cost for 2016.
The company’s focus on reducing commissions and fees is widely seen as triggering a brokerage-wide push toward cost reduction here in Canada.
Since fees, among others, are always important to consider before choosing a discount brokerage, we will share our thoughts below through our CI Direct Trading review.
Trade Stocks, Options, Funds, Bonds, and More
CI Direct Trading is a Low-Cost Platform for Trading
- Low-Cost Trading Platform
- Good Support for Various Asset Classes
- Available to Non-Canadian Residents
- No Longer a Cost Leader
- Additional Fees for Basic Services
- Poor Customer Service
What is CI Direct Trading (Formerly Virtual Broker)?
CI Direct Trading is a self-directed discount brokerage that allows you to trade investments by yourself across a wide variety of accounts. Although most discount brokerages offer a minimal level of research and news, you will be entirely responsible for monitoring your portfolio over the long term (i.e. rebalancing).
CI Direct Trading should not be confused with CI Direct Investing, which is CI’s Robo-advisory platform.
CI Direct Trading Fees
If you are intent on managing your own investments and doing your own trading, the top concerns for investors are usually costs and fees.
Standard commissions at CI Direct Trading are:
- Stocks: 1 cent per share, with a minimum cost of $1.99 per trade and a maximum cost of $7.99 per trade
- ETFs: Buy for free, sell for 1 cent per unit, with a minimum cost of $1.99 per trade and a maximum cost of $7.99 per trade
- Options: Buy or Sell for $7.99 per trade plus $1.25 per options contract
- Mutual Funds: Free
- Fixed-Income Securities: Free (only traded on an agency basis)
- Exchange-traded Debentures: $24.99 + $1 per each $1,000 par value per side
Clients that have placed more than 150 trades in a previous quarter are able to access Active Trader pricing. These lower costs are:
- Stocks: $3.99 per trade flat fee
- Options: $3.99 per trade plus $1.25 per contract
In terms of fees, CI Direct Trading is competitive against most big bank brokerages (which are not cheap). CI Direct Trading’s fee structures fall short in specific areas when compared to current cost leaders, such as:
- Wealthsimple Trade
- Interactive Brokers
- National Bank Direct Brokerage
CI Direct Trading Account Support
CI Direct Trading has a good offer when it comes to the account types that it supports. All of the platform’s accounts have dual currency (CAD and USD) available as an option.
The brokerage currently offers the following types of accounts to clients:
- Non-Registered (Margin)
- Corporate Account
- Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA)
- Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP)
- Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP)
- Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF)
- Locked-In Retirement Account (LIRA)
- Life Income Fund (LIF)
The account variety at CI Direct Trading is fairly good, covering most of the account types that average Canadians are likely to use.
CI Direct Trading Platform Features
CI Direct Trading is available as a web-based platform as well as a mobile application, which is fairly common with discount brokerages today.
CI Direct Trading Dashboard
The Dashboard is the brokerage’s web-based platform. It covers the following securities:
- Mutual Funds
- New Issues
Clients can access 10 resources through the Dashboard:
- Market Mover and Market Indices
- Earnings Calendar
- Financial Planning
- Technical Insights
CI Direct Trading Mobile
Mobile is the application version of the brokerage. It has a more condensed feature offering than the web-based platform.
Currently CI Direct Trading Mobile covers the following securities
- Mutual Funds
- New Issues
Clients can access 4 resources through the mobile application:
The platform’s features are nothing special and lag behind peers in terms of securities covered and resources offered (especially through CI Direct Trading Mobile).
CI Direct Trading Vs Other Discount Brokerages
CI Direct Trading Vs Wealthsimple Trade
Wealthsimple Trade is currently the cost leader of discount brokerages from most different perspectives.
Wealthsimple Trade allows investors to trade a long list of stocks and ETFs without any fees or trade commissions (especially Canadian stocks and ETFs). This can save you a substantial amount of money relative to CI Direct Trading.
CI Direct Trading offers investors more flexibility in terms of asset classes that can be traded (i.e. options and mutual funds) as well as additional supported account types.
You can open a Wealthsimple Trade account by clicking here.
CI Direct Trading Vs Questrade
Questrade is another robust platform to consider here in Canada. Regarding fees and trade commissions, the two platforms are fairly similar, with only minor differences. Questrade does offer an active trader plan (available to monthly subscribers) that can make fees slightly more competitive.
You can open a Questrade account by clicking here.
CI Direct Trading Vs Interactive Brokers
Interactive Brokers is another discount brokerage that is available to Canadians at lower overall trade costs and fees than CI Direct Trading. Interactive Brokers is a more sophisticated platform that is designed for seasoned investors and traders, which may not be appealing to all investors.
CI Direct Trading Customer Service
CI Direct Trading has very low customer reviews online. The rare five-star reviews that the company has earned have come from individuals that mainly claim they have never had to interact with customer service for any reason.
Across the current 39 Google reviews, the majority of them are negative. The brokerage is rated two stars out of five. The main reason behind the low ratings is in most cases a very poor customer service experience.
The company’s poor customer service and other significant problems that are contained within customer reviews make CI Direct Trading a difficult platform to recommend. This is especially true when so many competitive platforms exist today, likely with lower costs as well as better customer service.
Who Owns CI Direct Trading?
CI Direct Trading and CI Direct Investing are both subsidiaries of CI Financial Corp. CI Financial Corp is one of Canada’s largest asset management companies, working with Canadians since 1965.
Our Final Verdict
While previously a cost leader in the discount brokerage space, CI Direct Trading has lost a lot of its former glamour.
Although the platform charges decent fees and good account flexibility, CI Direct Trading’s poor customer service and lagging competitiveness make it difficult to recommend over other competitors such as Wealthsimple Trade, Questrade, or Interactive Brokers.
For these reasons, we do not recommend opening an account with CI Direct Trading if you are looking to invest or trade your own money.
Make sure to read our comprehensive guide on the best online trading platforms in Canada. If you are looking to open an account with our top pick, Wealthsimple Trade, make sure to take advantage of a $25 sign-up bonus.