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The best online brokers in Canada give everyday investors easy and direct access to the financial markets where they can buy and sell stocks, ETFs, options and other financial instruments as they wish for their portfolios.

These online discount brokerage firms remove the need for additional middlemen who are traditionally required when you want someone else to trade on your behalf.

Self-directed trading can help you save a lot of money in commissions and fees. Read on to learn about the best online trading platforms you can choose from in Canada.

What is an Online Broker?

An online broker offers self-directed investors a trading platform to buy and sell financial assets including stocks, Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs), options, FOREX, bonds and mutual funds.

Also referred to as discount brokerages, do-it-yourself investors can save on the fees and commissions they would otherwise pay to a full-service broker.

That being said, online trading platforms are not suitable for everyone.

The cost-savings mean you are now responsible for determining your trades, portfolio allocation, and rebalancing when required.

Also, you will need to understand how the stock market works and be well aware of how your behavioural biases can negatively impact your long-term returns.

The aforementioned challenges are in no way to dissuade first-time investors from trading stocks and ETFs on their own. If anything, it is to tell you to be mindful and to trade with the understanding that your money is on the line and you are in the driver’s seat.

Self-directed portfolio management is actually easier than ever, with all the recently available all-in-one ETFs that require little to no management on your part.

If you are not comfortable with making the decision about what goes into your portfolio or basket of assets, investing with a robo-advisor is a fee-saving, hands-off approach you can consider.

Best Online Brokers in Canada

Here are the top-six trading platforms in Canada.

1. Questrade

  • Account minimum: $1,000
  • Commission: $4.95 to $9.95 per trade
  • Accounts offered: TFSA, RRSP, RESP, LIRA, RIF, LIF, Margin, Corporate
  • Inactivity fee: $24.95 quarterly; waived with >$1K balance
  • App: Yes – 2/5 rating on the App Store

Questrade is a Canadian discount brokerage service established in 1999.

The company has over $9 billion in assets under management and is one of the fastest-growing stock trading platforms in the country with more than 50,000 new accounts opened every year.

Trading commissions are $4.95 to $9.95 per trade and ETFs are free to buy.

Questrade, Inc. is a member of the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC) and the Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF).

questrade online stock tradingPros

  • Questrade offers a variety of investment products including stocks, ETFs, options, GICs, bonds, international equities, and IPOs
  • ETF purchases are free, although trading fees apply when you sell
  • Offer robo-advisor services via Questwealth
  • Active traders can get a rebate on trading fees

Cons: A $24.95 quarterly inactivity fee applies if you have not placed a trade or have less than $1,000 invested. Investors who are  25 years of age or younger are exempted from paying this fee.

Invest with Questrade

2. Wealthsimple Trade

  • Account minimum: $0
  • Commission: $0
  • Accounts offered: TFSA, RRSP, and non-registered personal accounts
  • Inactivity fee: $0
  • App: Yes – 4.6/5 rating on the App Store
  • Promotion: Invest $10,000 free via Wealthsimple Invest

Wealthsimple Trade is Canada’s only $0-commission stock trading app.

It is owned by Canada’s most popular online portfolio manager, Wealthsimple, and is separate from their robo-advisor service.

DIY investors can use Wealthsimple Trade to buy and sell thousands of stocks and ETFs listed on major Canadian and U.S. exchanges while paying no commissions.

Your funds are held with Canadian ShareOwner Investments Inc. which is a member of IIROC and CIPF.

Wealthsimple has more than $5 billion in assets under management. Read my complete Wealthsimple Trade review.

Wealthsimple Trade AppPros

  • No trading commissions on buy or sell transactions
  • No account minimums
  • Have a robo-advisor service – Wealthsimple Invest – where you can invest up to $10,000 free using this link.
  • User-friendly mobile app
  • Access to a high-interest savings account via Wealthsimple Cash (2.40%)

Cons: Margin accounts, bonds, and options are not available to trade. Also, the type of investment accounts you can open are limited.

Invest with Wealthsimple

3. Qtrade

  • Account minimum: $1,000
  • Commission: $8.75/trade
  • Accounts offered: TFSA, RRSP, RESP, margin, RRIF
  • Inactivity fee: $25 per quarter; waived with $25K in assets
  • App: Yes – 1.75/5 rating on the App Store

Qtrade is one of the top online brokerages in Canada and has excelled over the years as one of the top picks for excellent customer service.

You pay $8.75 per trade (or slightly lower if you trade a lot) and do not pay commissions when buying or selling 100 select ETFs.

Their platform offers access to technical research, news and real-time quotes.

qtrade review invest onlinePros

  • $0 commission on some ETFs
  • Can purchase stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, bonds, GICs, options and new issues.
  • Trial account available
  • Young investors (age 18 to 30) can qualify for $7.75 commissions and no quarterly fee

Cons: $25 per quarter inactivity fee and $100 for account closures within the first year.

Invest with Qtrade

4. TD Direct Investing

  • Account minimum: None
  • Commission: $9.99/trade
  • Accounts offered: TFSA, RRSP, RESP, RRIF, RDSP, LIRA, LIF
  • Inactivity fee: $25 per quarter; waived with $15K in assets
  • App: Yes – 4.4/5 rating on the App Store

TD Direct Investing is the online brokerage service for Toronto Dominion Bank. It is often considered one of the most versatile trading platforms among the Big Five banks. In the U.S., it operates as TD Ameritrade.

TD Direct Investing has been around since 1984.

Trades cost a flat $9.99 or $7 if you have 150 trades or more in a quarter.

Those who want to make complex U.S. options trade will enjoy the features “thinkorswim” has to offer.

TD Direct Investing is regulated by IIROC and is a member of CIPF.

td direct investingPros

  • DRIPS is available
  • Can combine household assets to waive the quarterly $25 account maintenance fee

Cons: $25 quarterly inactivity fee if your account has less than $15,000. No $0 commission offer for stocks or ETF trading.

Invest with TD Direct Investing

5. Virtual Brokers

  • Account minimum: $1,000
  • Commission: $1.99 to $7.99 per trade
  • Accounts offered: TFSA, RRSP, RESP, RRIF, LIRA, LIF, margin
  • Inactivity fee: $24.95 per quarter; waived with $5K in assets
  • App: Yes – 4/5 rating on the App Store

Virtual Brokers is a division of BBS Securities Inc. and a popular discount brokerage in Canada.

You pay 1 cent per share or a minimum of $1.99/trade and a maximum of $7.99/trade. ETF purchases are free, however, trading commissions apply when you sell.

Pros

  • 14-day demo account available
  • Dividend purchase plan available at a $1 monthly cost
  • Active traders with more than 150 trades per quarter enjoy a $3.00/trade flat fee

Cons: A $24.95 inactivity fee applies per quarter unless your account has a minimum of $5,000. Also, a $1,000 minimum deposit is required for opening an account.

Invest with Virtual Brokers

6. Scotia iTrade

  • Account minimum: None
  • Commission: $9.99 per trade
  • Accounts offered: TFSA, RRSP, RESP, RRIF, LIRA, LIF, margin
  • Inactivity fee: $25 per quarter; waived with $10K in assets
  • App: Yes – 1.4/5 rating on the App Store

Scotia iTrade is the brokerage division of the Bank of Nova Scotia and is the second featured online trading platform from a Big Five bank.

You pay a standard $9.99 per trade. Active traders with at least 150 trades per quarter pay a flat $4.99 per trade.

Scotia iTrade offers various investment products including stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, bonds, precious metals, GICs and new issues.

Pros

  • Commission-free ETFs available
  • A practice account is available

Cons: $25 quarterly maintenance fee for inactive accounts and a high commission rate of $9.99 per trade for everyday investors.

Invest with Scotia iTrade

What To Look For in an Online Broker

When you go about selecting the platform for your online trading, here are some factors to consider:

Fees and Commissions: Trading fees can add up and even exceed the expense ratios for mutual funds if you don’t trade smartly. Look at the fees and commissions being charged. Do they offer commission-free ETF trading? Do they charge a quarterly fee if you are inactive? Are these fees waived with a specific account balance? How about ECN/ATS fees?

Minimizing the fees you pay is key to improving your longterm returns.

Account minimums: Find out how much money you need to deposit before you can start trading.

Investment needs: Do they offer the types of investment assets you want to trade (e.g. stocks, ETFs…)? How about the investment account types? Order types (e.g. market, limit and stop orders)? Trading tools available (e.g. real-time market data)?

Customer service: Take a look at the options they have provided for support. Can you reach someone easily by email, phone or chat?

User-friendliness: What does the trading interface look like? Is it intuitive or confusing? Can you demo it? What are other users saying in the ratings and reviews available online?

Security: All the online trading platforms on this list are regulated by IIROC and CIPF which means that if they should go bankrupt, you are protected up to $1 million. In addition, some of them offer additional security features for your account such as 2-factor authentication.

Other features: Some financial institutions offer investors a one-stop solution for all their banking needs including investing, high-interest savings, chequing, portfolio management, and more. It may be convenient to have all your accounts in one place.

ECN and ATS Fees

Electronic Communication Networks (ECNs) and Alternative Trading Systems (ATSs) fees are small add-on costs you may incur when you place your trades.

Trades that remove liquidity from the market (i.e. a market order) attract ECN fees, while trades that add liquidity, such as a limit order that is lower than the ask or higher than the bid (i.e. non-marketable limit orders), do not attract ECN fees.

Market orders or marketable limit orders can be immediately filled and remove liquidity.

Non-marketable orders are unlikely to be filled right away and thus, add liquidity.

The added cost of ECN or ATS fees are minimal and should not be your main focus when choosing an online broker. This is especially so if they already offer low or no-commission trading.

For example, on Questrade, the ECN fee on Canadian securities of $1 and above is $0.0035 per share.

For an order of 100 shares, this cost translates to 35 cents. Or, you can simply avoid it by only placing limit orders when it makes sense.

Final Thoughts

Investors can benefit from a DIY-investment approach to lower their management fee costs and improve returns over time.

Self-directed investing puts you in control. You pick the stocks or ETFs in your portfolio and must be comfortable with doing your own research.

Investors who are not comfortable with asset allocation or rebalancing can still save on fees by going with a robo-advisor. Read my complete Canadian robo-advisor review here.

If you are looking to try online stock trading, Wealthsimple Trade offers a free ($0 fee platform) that you can try out. Questrade is a great option for trading several types of investment products and seasoned traders would love the market data options they offer.

Best Online Brokers and Trading Platforms in Canada