Are you a Canadian investor who wants to build your investment portfolio in the cheapest way possible? A discount broker could be your answer.
I’ve tested out several discount brokers over the years. Virtual Brokers is one of those Canadian discount brokers. In this Virtual Brokers review, I hope to give you all the information you need to make a well-informed decision about whether you should choose this discount broker.
According to Statista, the global value of Exchange-Traded Funds under management between 2003 and 2018 was worth approximately US $6.18 trillion.
Online Broker / Trading Platform
- Free ETF purchases
- Competitive trading fees
- Free mutual fund trading
- Excellent research tools
- Wide range of trading platforms available
- $15 per quarter fee for US dollar accounts
Table of Contents
How To Choose a Discount Broker
Discount brokers, also known as trading platforms, are usually the cheapest way to invest in Canada. They are ideal for do-it-yourself (DIY) investors. Here are some important things to consider when choosing a discount broker:
- Fees: The name of the product is discount, so having low fees is the most important factor in choosing a discount brokerage.
- Platform: No matter how cheap a discount broker is, you must make sure that the platform is easy to use and the reporting features are easy to understand.
- Features: You must see if the discount brokers features satisfy your investment needs. If you are planning to make lots of trades, you might need different analytics than a buy-and-hold investor.
- Customer service: Try to gauge how much support you can receive if you need it.
Let’s go over these points in detail and more below.
What is Virtual Brokers?
Virtual Brokers is a discount broker in Canada that was established in 2009. Virtual Brokers is a division of BBS Securities Inc., which is itself a subsidiary of CI Financial, a leading global asset manager based in Canada.
Over the years, Virtual Brokers has presented several unique features that exist among its peers today. The parent company is one of the largest in Canada and manages approximately $182.8 billion in assets under management as of January 2020.
Virtual Brokers itself is also a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF), covering customer accounts for up to $1 million. The firm has additional protection through Lloyd’s of London, which covers up to $11 million for customer funds, bringing the total insurance value up to $11 million for its customers in case the organization becomes bankrupt.
Features and Benefits of Virtual Brokers
In this section of my Virtual Brokers review, I will cover the discount broker platform’s essential features. I will highlight the necessary information you should know about it, how much it will cost to use the platform, and qualities that set the platform apart from its peers.
Virtual Brokers Fees
If you plan on using Virtual Brokers and its various platforms, you should know that there is more than merely trading fees and commissions to worry about.
Trading and Commissions
For a long time since it was established, Virtual Brokers offered its famed “Penny-a-Trade” fee structure. According to this, you could make as many trades as you like using the platform, and each would cost no more than a penny. However, the company abolished that offering early in 2016.
You can open an account with the online broker for as little as $1,000. If you are an active trader that makes more than 150 trades per month or has an account balance of $5,000 with Virtual Brokers, you get access to its commission-free account.
Even after it started charging a fair price for its commissions, Virtual Brokers does have a decent fee structure for its customers with sub $5,000 accounts.
- Equities: $0.01 per share, $1.99 minimum, and $7.99 maximum per trade. $3.99 flat fee for active traders
- Options: $7.99 per trade and $1.25 per contract. $3.99 plus $1.25 per contract for active traders
- ETFs: Free (purchase only)
- Exchange-traded debentures: $24.99 plus $1 per $1,000 par value per side
- Mutual funds: Free
- Fixed-income securities: Virtual Brokers acts as principal so the quoted price will include commissions when you trade
Platform Rental Fees
I highlighted several trading platforms that you can use when you open a Virtual Brokers account for various investment goals. However, they come with a price that you must pay, including:
- Virtual Brokers Dashboard: Free
- Virtual Brokers Mobile: Free
- Virtual Brokers Wave: $75 per month
- PowerTrader Pro: US $250 per month
- RealTick: US $400 per month
- ITS Trader Lite: US $580 per month
- IRESS: US $1,120 per month
If you think the prices for using these trading platforms is high, you should know that there are also multiple fees that you have to pay for data feeds on these platforms separately. Level 1 consolidated feeds for the TSX and TSXV cost $20 per month, and the consolidated TSX/TSXV feed costs $25 per month.
Traders who want to use data feeds for stocks, commodities, futures exchanges, and options are pro, and non-pro versions of these data feeds available. The non-pro Dow Jones Index feed can cost as much as $2.30 per month, while the professional quality Chicago Board of Trade Level 1 Options feed can cost as much as $200 per month.
The trading fees and commissions with Virtual Brokers are indeed competitive. The monthly charges for various platforms and varying data feed charges can take the cost of using Virtual Brokers quite high.
Virtual Brokers Accounts Offered
You can open several types of accounts with QTrade that can cater to a variety of financial goals you may have:
- Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP)
- Locked-In Retirement Account (LIRA)
- Life Income Fund (LIF)
- Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA)
- Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF)
- Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP)
- Non-registered Equity account
- Non-registered Margins account
- Non-registered Options account
- Non-registered Short options account
You can open a particular type of account with the online broker depending on your situation and goals.
Virtual Brokers Research Tools
Whether you are using the platform as a casual retail investor, a day trader, or as an institutional investor, Virtual Brokers provides you with a wealth of research tools. It can arm you with the best knowledge to help you make the most well-informed decisions to buy, sell, or hold assets. The Virtual Brokers Research Center offers you a list of extensive research tools, including:
- Technical Analysis
- Market Watch
- Bond Research Center
- Preferred Share Analysis
- Warranty Analysis
- Financial Planning Tools
- Convertible Debenture Analysis
- Screeners and Alerts
- ETF/EFN Research Center
- Equity Research Center
- Mutual Fund Research Center
Traders and investors who require more complex research tools can also use the Advanced Portfolio Planner / Comparison a useful resource. It uses research provided by Morningstar to give you a variety of planning and portfolio tracking features.
Virtual Brokers Platform and Tools
Opening an account with Virtual Brokers will give you access to several premium trading platforms that you can use to facilitate self-directed trading, including:
1.WebTrader and WebTrader Light
The platform allows you to make trades in stocks, bonds, options, and mutual funds from a single web page. It includes real-time streaming quotes, watch lists, alerts, newsfeed, and charts.
2.Virtual Brokers Wave
VB Wave is the latest among its premium trading platforms that cater to intermediate to expert traders’ needs. The platform features account information, Level 2 quotes for equities and options, customized audio alerts, watch lists, and the status of orders.
As the name suggests, the PowerTrader Pro is a platform designed to cater to advanced traders and investors. It gives you access to a wide assortment of advanced trading tools, including in-depth charting, baskets of tradable assets, Top Ten reports, and hotkeys. You can completely customize the platform based on your preferences to help you make quick decisions, and it has an intuitive user interface.
The RealTick EMS is another premium trading platform offered by Virtual Brokers. It gives you rapid access to liquid markets with more sophisticated real-time analytics. Professional fund managers and high net-worth individuals will particularly enjoy this platform to manage positions and even entire portfolios dynamically across global futures, options, and equity markets.
ITS Trader Lite
The ITS Trader Lite is a high-performance trading platform that gives you access to all Canadian marketplaces. The platform allows you to entirely customize and configure multiple displays based on personal preferences and specifications. The platform does not require a lot of computational power, features US market data, registered trader functionality, and US order entry capability.
IRESS is another premium trading platform that provides you access to sophisticated equity order routing that you can use to execute at ideal prices on several Canadian and US exchanges. It gives you a powerful real-time charting tool, market summary information, company reports, newsfeed, and full market depth information.
Virtual Brokers Ease of Use and Customer Support
Virtual Brokers’ website has been applauded for how intuitive it is. The discount broker is easy to navigate and use. The platform also offers you access to its customer support team that does an excellent job of assisting investors and traders who use the platform.
You can contact the discount broker via phone, email, and live chat on its website to get in touch with its trading desk or support team.
Is Virtual Brokers Safe and Legit?
With the parent firm being BBS Securities, a subsidiary of CI Financial itself, Virtual Brokers definitely has the pedigree to prove it is a legitimate discount broker. Being a member of the CIPF and having additional coverage through Lloyd’s of London for a total of $1 million insurance for clients makes it a secure firm to use for trading.
Virtual Brokers also guarantees that in case there are any losses you incur due to unauthorized activity with your account or personal information, it will give you a 100% reimbursement for losses.
Virtual Brokers Alternatives
When I think of alternatives for Virtual Brokers, the most relevant name that comes to mind is Questrade.
Virtual Brokers vs. Questrade
Investors looking to minimize their trading fees as much as possible can look to both Virtual Brokers and Questrade. Both discount brokers attract cost-conscious traders and offer excellent value for investors.
However, Questrade offers you greater value in being a more cost-effective discount broker, and it also provides you access to its robo-advisor product. Virtual Brokers’ quarterly fees for US dollar accounts also add up, giving Questrade an edge. Check out my full questrade review here.
Virtual Brokers uses high-quality and substantial information to help you make well-informed trading decisions. It offers a wide range of platforms that traders can use, from free platforms to the most premium-quality products which offer better capabilities.
Virtual brokers made my list of the best trading platforms in Canada.
Despite its low commissions and trading fees, it can become costly for the more advanced traders than its peers. I will cautiously recommend Virtual Brokers, but I do think there are better discount brokers out there.