For much of the past decade, the biggest Canadian names in self-directed investing have included online brokerages and startups like Wealthsimple and Questrade. But as TD Bank Group illustrates, some traditional Canadian banks aren’t consigned to give up on the space just yet.
TD’s Direct Investing division recently completed a next-generation redesign of its online self-directed investing platform, WebBroker, in response to user demand. New features include homepage information based on a user’s individual portfolio, quick access to frequently-used trading tools, and an extensive library of educational materials.
The new platform is being rolled out in phases, with the first clients receiving access in November 2015 and the rest being invited to join through early 2016.
“We know that current users are looking for more advanced tools, a more easy-to-use website, and more education,” says Alfred Chung, a manager at TD Direct Investing, noting that many of WebBroker’s new features are the direct result of requests made by investors during a series of surveys conducted in 2015, a year after TD’s direct investing division celebrated its 30th anniversary.
For example, one online survey conducted in September 2015 by research firm Leger discovered that 26 per cent of self-directed investors considered the overabundance of general information and lack of information tailored to their investments the biggest “pain point” of self-directed investing, while another 26 per cent of self-directed investors said the lack of support, whether over the phone or in person, was the most aggravating element. The result: the aforementioned personalized homepages and 24-hour phone support from licensed investment representatives in four languages (English, French, Cantonese, and Mandarin).
“Based on user feedback, we took a look at how we could enhance our existing platform, knowing those were the enhancements that we needed,” Chung says.
Other support features include planning tools and access to investment information, including market commentary from TD experts. Educational features include what TD calls an “extensive” library of independent research reports and analytics, a series of video and platform lessons, webinars, and a weekly webcast.
And of course the platform allows investors to look up stock prices or receive alerts regarding their investments on the go.
“We don’t give [users] advice, but we give them a lot of information and resources,” Chung says.
For more experienced investors, the new WebBroker platform also allows users to choose from a range of advanced orders, including a sell short stop order (which automatically opens a new short position if a stock’s price dips below a specified price), a sell trailing stop order (which sells a stock if it dips below a “trailing amount” which rises along with the stock price if the stock is successful), and GTC/GTEM orders (Good ’Til Cancelled – which keeps the order open until it is filled, expired or cancelled – and Good ’Til Extended Markets, which provides access to the pre-market and after-hours trading sessions for Canadian and U.S. exchanges).
With a multitude of new companies joining the self-directed investing game since it went online, the competition has certainly given TD more than enough incentive to adapt to its new environment, Chung acknowledges.
However, self-directed investing is not a new game, and it’s one TD has adapted to very well since starting its self-directed investing division in 1984.
“My understanding is that we saw a trend in the marketplace of people wanting to take their investments into their own hands and pay a lower fee,” Chung says. “I think we may be one of the first banks in Canada to put forward that kind of service.”
Nor is self-directed investing likely to go away soon: in the above-mentioned Leger survey, TD discovered that nine out of 10 Canadians who use self-directed investing were happy with their experience and that 34 per cent of those who don’t do any self-directed investing would consider doing so in the future.
Moreover, TD found that younger Canadians – those between 18 and 34 – are significantly more likely than other age groups to use their smartphones for self-directed investing.
With its improvements to WebBroker, the company is simply demonstrating that it’s as eager to turn those budding investors into new customers now as it was 30 years ago.