Virtual Brokers (now rebranded as CI Direct Trading) 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 CI Direct Trading, 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 CI Direct Trading review covers its fees, platform features, pros, cons, and how it compares to Questrade and Wealthsimpe Trade.
What is CI Direct Trading (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.
Virtual Brokers was recently rebranded to CI Direct Trading.
Related: Qtrade review.
How To Invest With CI Direct Trading
You can use CI Direct Trading 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.
CI Direct Trading 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 Fee||Active 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)||Free||Free|
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 fees 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.
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 range from $2.75 to $40 per month. For U.S. markets, the fee is between $2.30 and $140.
CI Direct Trading Trading Platforms
CI Direct Trading 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.
CI Direct Investing Pros and Cons
- 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)
- $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 (CI Direct Trading) Safe?
CI Direct Trading 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 (CI Direct Trading) 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 of this guarantee.
CI Direct Trading vs. Questrade vs. Wealthsimple Trade
We compare these three brokerage platforms in the table below:
|Platforms||CI Direct Trading||Questrade||Wealthsimple 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 + $1||NA|
|Commission-free ETFs||Free ETF purchases||Free ETF purchases||ETF trades are free|
|Active-trader pricing stocks||$3.99/trade||$4.95/trade||No trading fee|
|Active-trader pricing options||$3.99 + $1.25/contract||$9.95 + $1/contract||N/A|
|Types of accounts||RRSP, TFSA, RESP, RRIF, LRSP, RLIF||RRSP, TFSA, RESP, LIRA, LIF, margin, corporate, LRSP, partnership, RRIF||RRSP, TFSA, personal non-registered|
|Minimum investment||None, $25K for non-residents||$1,000||None|
|Maintenance fee||$24.95/quarter if balance less than $5K||None||None|
|Platforms||Mobile, web, desktop||Web, desktop, mobile||Web and mobile|
|Transfer fees waived||Up to $150 on transfers more than $25,000||Up to $150/account||Up to $150/account on transfers of $5,000 or more|
|Promotion||N/A||Get $50 in free trades when you fund with at least $1,000||Get a $25 cash bonus when you deposit at least $150|
|Review||–||Read Review||Read Review|
CI Direct Trading review
CI Direct Trading is a top trading platform in Canada. This CI Direct Trading review covers its fees, accounts, free ETF trades, and comparison to Questrade.