Virtual Brokers Review: Top Trading Platform for Canadians

Virtual Brokers is one of a few self-directed trading platforms in Canada that offers free ETF purchases.

What this means is that you can buy unlimited amounts of ETFs and pay $0 in trading commissions. While fees apply when you sell ETFs, or trade stocks (both buy and sell trades), the fee savings for ETF investors can be significant.

Like Virtual Brokers, Questrade, another independent brokerage platform, also offers free ETF purchases.

DIY-investing has its pros and cons. On one hand, you oversee your portfolio and can save on the management fees you would otherwise pay to a fund manager.

On the flip side, you need to be comfortable with rebalancing your portfolio on a regular basis or as needed.

This Virtual Brokers review covers its fees, main features, pros, cons, and how it compares to Questrade and Wealthsimpe Trade.

What is Virtual Brokers?

Virtual Brokers is an online brokerage platform based in Toronto, Canada. It is a division of CI Investment services Inc. (formerly known as BBS Securities).

Virtual Brokers was established in 2009 and is available on all devices, including having dedicated mobile apps for Android and iPhone devices.

Its parent company, CI Financial Corp. is a global asset management company and trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the ticker “CIX”. This company also owns CI Direct Investing, a robo-advisor formerly known as WealthBar.

Related: Qtrade review.

How To Invest With Virtual Brokers

You can use Virtual Brokers to buy and sell stocks (equities), Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs), options, mutual funds, Exchange-Traded Debentures, and fixed income securities.

It is also versatile in that you can hold these assets in a variety of accounts including:

  • Tax-Free Savings Account
  • Registered Retirement Savings Plan
  • Registered Education Savings Plan
  • Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF)
  • Locked-in RRSP (LIRA)
  • Registered Life Income Fund (LIF)

Investors can also open an “All-in-One” account that supports cash and margin trades, and short selling.

You can hold both CAD and USD in your account which removes the need for currency conversions and the associated fees.

There is no minimum account balance for investors who reside in Canada. If you are a non-resident, your account must have a minimum of $25,000 CAD.

Virtual Brokers Fees

Compared to many of the big bank brokerages, Virtual Brokers fees are significantly lower.

That said, its trading commissions are not as competitive as the $0 you pay to trade Canadian stocks and ETFs on Wealthsimple Trade.

The standard trading fees on this platform are:

 Standard FeeActive Traders
Stocks$1.99 minimum; $7.99 maximum per trade$3.99/trade flat
ETFs$1.99 minimum; $7.99 maximum per trade$3.99/trade flat
Options$7.99 + $1.25/contact$3.99 + $1.25/contract
Fixed Income (agency basis)FreeFree
Mutual FundsFreeFree

To qualify as an “Active Trader”, you must place over 150 trades in the previous quarter.

Exchange-Traded Debentures have a $24.99 + $1 fee for each $1,000 per value per transaction.

ETF purchases are free.

For broker assisted or telephone trades:

  • Stocks: You pay $50 per trade and 3% of the principal value up to a maximum of 3 cents per share.
  • Options: A $50 fee applies per trade plus $2 per contract.
  • Exchange-Traded Debentures: 1.50% of the principal value

In addition to trading commissions, you may be subject to administrative fees, including the infamous “inactivity fee” when you have a small account balance.

Some of the admin fee to watch out for include:

  • Account transfer out: $150
  • Registered accounts in USD: $15 USD/quarter
  • RESP: $25/year
  • Account inactivity fee: $24.95/quarter
  • Paper trade confirmation: $3
  • Paper account statement: $5
  • Copy of tax statement: $35 per account per year
  • Copy of monthly statement: $20/account/month
  • NSF Cheques: $50

The $24.95 inactivity fee applies when your combined account balance is lower than $5,000 or if you have not made at least one commissionable trade worth $1.99 per calendar quarter.

This can be prohibitive if you are a newbie investor who is investing using ETFs and simply “buying” and “holding”. In this case, Wealthsimple Trade or Questrade may better meet your needs.

Note that the inactivity fee is waived if you are under 26 years old, and it is refundable if you make a commissioned trade the following quarter.

The current interest fees on margin accounts with negative balances are:

  • CAD Margin Account: CAD Prime + 1.5%
  • USD Margin Account: USD Prime + 1.5%

Short-selling positions incur a borrow fee that ranges from 2.50% to 100%.

The fees for market data on Canadian exchanges ranges from $2.75 to $40 per month. For U.S. markets, the fee is between $2.30 and $140.

Virtual Brokers Trading Platforms

Virtual Brokers is available on all devices, including smartphones.

The standard web interface supports the trading of stocks, mutual funds, bonds, GICs, ETFs, and new issues.

Experienced or active traders can use the desktop application (PowerTrader Pro) for access to advanced charting tools and options trading strategies.

This platform has a $250 USD fee.

Active traders can also opt for the following trading platforms and data options:

  • Realtick EMS: $400 USD
  • ITS TraderLite: $580 USD

Clients also get access to various features including market research, watchlists, alerts, market futures, earnings, calendar, technical insights and a portfolio analysis tool – Wealthscope.

Virtual Brokers Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Competitive trading fees compared to TD Direct Investing or RBC Direct Investing
  • Free ETF purchases
  • Offers a variety of investment accounts and products
  • Can hold Canadian and U.S. dollars
  • Access to free trading tools
  • Offers a Dividend Purchase Plan (DPP)

Cons

  • $24.95 quarterly fee if you have a small account
  • No sign-up bonus for new clients
  • Quarterly fees if you hold your registered account in USD ($15/quarter)
  • Fees for market data
  • Poorly rated mobile app

Is Virtual Brokers Safe?

Virtual Brokers is owned by CI Financial, a company with $280 billion in assets under management.

CI is a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF) which means your account may be eligible for protection against insolvency – up to $1 million CAD.

Virtual Brokers states on its website that you will receive 100% reimbursement for any losses that may occur from an “unauthorized online activity in your Virtual Brokers account”.

Visit their website to read the restrictions and limitations to this guarantee.

Virtual Brokers vs. Questrade vs. Wealthsimple Trade

We compare these three brokerage platforms in the table below:

PlatformsVirtual BrokersQuestradeWealthsimple Trade
Stocks and ETF trading fee$1.99-$7.99/trade$4.95-$9.95/trade$0/trade
Options/contract$7.99 + $1.25$9.95 + $1NA
Commission-free ETFsFree ETF purchasesFree ETF purchasesETF trades are free
Active-trader pricing stocks$3.99/trade$4.95/tradeNo trading fee
Active-trader pricing options$3.99 + $1.25/contract$9.95 + $1/contractN/A
Types of accountsRRSP, TFSA, RESP, RRIF, LRSP, RLIFRRSP, TFSA, RESP, LIRA, LIF, margin, corporate, LRSP, partnership, RRIFRRSP, TFSA, personal non-registered
Minimum investmentNone, $25K for non-residents$1,000None
Maintenance fee$24.95/quarter if balance less than $5KNoneNone
PlatformsMobile, web, desktopWeb, desktop, mobileWeb and mobile
Transfer fees waivedUp to $150 on transfers more than $25,000Up to $150/accountUp to $150/account on transfers of $5,000 or more
PromotionN/AGet $50 in free trades when you fund with at least $1,000Get a $25 cash bonus when you trade at least $100
ReviewRead ReviewRead Review
Virtual Brokers review
4.2

Summary

Virtual Brokers is a top trading platform in Canada. This Virtual Brokers review covers its fees, accounts, free ETF trades, and comparison to Questrade.

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Author

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Enoch Omololu

Enoch Omololu is a personal finance expert and a veterinarian. He has a master’s degree in Finance and Investment Management from the University of Aberdeen Business School (Scotland) and has completed several courses and certificates in finance, including the Canadian Securities Course. He also has an MSc. in Agricultural Economics from the University of Manitoba and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Ibadan. Enoch has a passion for helping others win with their personal finances and has been writing about money matters for over a decade. His writing has been featured or quoted in the Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, MSN Money, Financial Post, Winnipeg Free Press, CPA Canada, Credit Canada, Wealthsimple, and many other personal finance publications.

His top investment tools include Wealthsimple and Questrade. He earns cash back on purchases using KOHO, monitors his credit score for free using Borrowell, and earns interest on savings through EQ Bank.

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