I asked reader Jon if he would be willing to share his thoughts on Scotia Direct, a brokerage with which he is familiar and I am not. Jon wrote back with the following review (Thanks Jon!). You can also check out the reviews of other discount brokers: BMO InvestorLine, Credential Direct, Qtrade, Questrade, RBC Direct and TD Waterhouse.

ScotiaMcLeod Direct Investing (SMDI), the discount brokerage arm of Scotiabank, provides market access to customers through the ScotiaOnline website. SMDI is listed as a account type under the “Investing” tab, similar to an RRSP account or other registered/non-registered accounts.

The main sections on the SMDI website are:

Accounts & Transfers provides history, statements and detailed balances for accounts along with CAD or USD fund transfers.

Quotes & Research is quite extensive if you go beyond the basic window. Initially “baskets” of 10 or less equities can be created to provide real time quotes one basket at a time. Selecting research, charting or alerts brings up the “ScotiaMcleod Research” page, which provides many avenues of research. Charting, screeners, technical alerts, user selected alerts (e-mailed to you on specific items), market reviews, individual stock reports (ScotiaCaptial EDGE reports), FinancialPost research, Morningstar powered mutual fund analysis, fixed-income quotes (orders must be called in) among other options. Lots of options are packed into a small site that can be a bit difficult to navigate. One negative is that since it operates outside the main ScotiaOnline window, it is very easy to be timed out from your session.

To complete any actions, you must return to the Trading section of the main site, which features a simple transaction window for market and limit orders along with order status and fee calculation options. You can also purchase mutual funds in this section. The bloodsucking fee schedule is on par with the big five banks but there are no commissions for mutual fund purchases of their listed funds. It should be noted that market order price of $25.95 does seem a shade lower than most. There is a $100 annual fee for all RRSP accounts under $25k and a $25 annual fee for RESP accounts under $15k. SMDI offered a 2-for-1 rebate during the month of May in the past couple of years to encourage investors to rebalance their portfolio.

The Scotia Investments section is for Scotiabank specific investments such as GICs. The More Features section includes a useful Portfolio modelling tool along with a “Sounding board”, which will send your account information and some responses to a few questions about investment goals to a Scotiabank representative who will provide some guidance for future moves. I’ve never used either tool and cannot comment on them.

SMDI has been my only discount brokerage service, so I cannot compare it with the competition but I can say that as a frugal investor, I’ve avoided using the service due to the fees and focused on my no-fee DRIP holdings. I do plan to use SMDI for my child’s RESP when I get around to opening one (for mutual fund purchases). Of news of late, Scotiabank purchased the privately-held TradeFreedom brokerage and plans to keep it separate including the lower fee schedule. I’m not sure if it’s applicable in the case, but I should disclose I am a BNS shareholder and have family who work for the company.

This article has 22 comments

  1. Great review Jon.

    Have you considered switching to a cheaper broker since I’m guessing that you think Scotia’s fees are too steep?


  2. My previous employer used Scotia McLeod for the Group RSP plan, but we only had access to their mutual funds and it generally wasn’t very flexible (no GICs, no T-bills, no bonds for short term cash – only bond funds). I also found their statements to NOT be very intuitive to read for a first timer. But once you got to understand it the first time, THEN it became easier to understand. When I left my previous employer, I moved all of my funds out of Scotia McLeod and into my own self-directed RSP.

  3. Yes, I’ve been looking at Questrade and TradeFreedom for a self-directed RSP account. CC’s review of Quest was insightful, now if we could just get a comparison with TF. But really, as Canadians we should be demanding no-cost options similar to what americans have with Zecco.com and others.

  4. Fees are high at most of the Canadian brokerages but I think it can sometimes be beneficial. Although that may sound counterintuitive at first if the large fees prevent you from making rash decisions/making lots of trades they may be beneficial in the long run. Of course the same could be said about adopting the same behavior on less costly accounts but at I thought I’d throw it out there in any event.

  5. Jon – Questrade only charges $5 / trade. Why do you think we should get trades for zero dollars? They have to make some money somewhere?


  6. My comment is about TradeFreedom. Over the past 2 weeks there has been a breach in TF’s on-line security. My personal info including my SIN has bee hacked.

    TF position is that they have no legal obligation to do anything but they are offering 1 year’s service from a credit bureau to monitor activity of your credit.

    I have been a TF client for 18 months and now I regret ever having dealt with them.

  7. Canadian Capitalist

    FL: I am sorry to hear that the security breach has affected you (TradeFreedom’s breach was reported in the Globe and Mail today). Short of actually knowing what security precautions are being taken, I don’t know what consumers can do to be sure that their privacy is a top priority.

  8. I have an account at tradefreedom and my account details were stoten including password and login ID. My other information was also stolen. (SIN, email and so on).

    Furthermore there was unauthorized trading also on my account.

    I am thinking of taking legal action against tradefreedom.

    Anyone else have the same problem or would like to talk and join forces.


  9. TF is stating that only a few accts got hacked. I am just wondering if this is true. Can a cuurent TF client confirm to me that they have not received the security breach warning letter? If not this is a misrepresentation from their part.

  10. memonika – Tradefreedom is the worst nightmare i have ever seen in a discount brokerage for a multitude of reasons
    dr.X Tradefreedom is most likely lying to protect themselves
    from further legal action and violation of Privacy Act legislation
    i complained to ScotiaBank but they don’t seem to care!
    i would like to take legal action against Tradefreedom
    perhaps a class action suit is in order i have some legal contacts
    this is ScotiaBanks worst investment of all time!
    i’m in!

  11. I know that most people in this forum are most probably more knowledgeable than I am and I apologize but what discount broker is best for getting my first share to begin DRIPping? I am confused and could use some guidance in choosing the proper one to go with – my other needs in the future might be a self-directed RRSP with mutual funds but that will be the extent for now!

  12. Amina: I kind of like ShareOwner Investments if you want free DRIPs with the ability to buy and sell when you like. If you are making yearly, or half/quarter, purchases it will keep your costs very low as well. They only allow you to select from a list of pre-screened securities, so if you want the freedom to trade anywhere it may not be fore you, but it’s worth looking at.


  13. Tradefreedom failed to protect my identity and now I am a victim of identity theft!

    Crooks are using my SIN and my current address to apply for credit cards. They put my current address as the ‘previous’ address and they insert their address as the new addy.

    This is serious. I want to take legal action against Tradefereedom for having incompetent security. They are negligent for failing to secure my information properly.

    Please email me if you know of or are interested in taking them to court!! ballbag@shaw.ca


  14. Scotia McLeod Online Brokerage – Apparently if you are not physically sitting behind a computer in Canada – they will block access to your online trading. That’s something they never told us about……………….

  15. Keith, is that true! Do all brokers do that? I need a broker that works when I’m out of the country (many times per year).

  16. Ji,,y – suggest you give them a wee call and pose them the ‘hypothetical’ question. I suspect that if you do not tell them where you are – they will not necessarily check – but i think there are better online brokers anyway – so I will be switching.

  17. Canadian Capitalist

    Keith: I don’t know about Scotia but I’ve accessed E*Trade from abroad without any problem. Jimmy, like Keith suggests, you might want to call them and confirm before opening an account.

  18. I know this is a bit late, but I was just led to this site today Nov 18,08.
    The fees at Scotia Direct are now 28.95 not the 25.95 they used to be for on line trades in the order of 100 shares. this changed over the summer.

  19. so far I’ve had a miserable experience at Scotia SMDI. VERY slow to set up and account. I had to go back in person several times to get my paperwork confirmed. I’m tired of their excuses. “Oh it’s been so busy with the financial crisis and everything, should be 2-3 days, yeah” That was 5 business days now and counting. pathetic. Opportunity lost. Thanks Scotia, two more days and I’m giving up.

  20. I’m on TD Waterhouse, my boss is on Scotia. Scotia’s fees are, IMO, brutal. To give an example, buying 4000 shares of a $1.25 stock would cost $80 on Scotia, $29 or less on TD. I make more than 30 trades per quarter so it is $9.99 for me.

  21. I have been a customer of SMDI for years and I will switch to another bank. Scotia’s fees are high, but that’s not the only way they make money on. Scotia RRSP account only trades in CAD dollars. So when you trade US equities in RRSP account, it involves currency exchange. I recently sell US equities on my RRSP account. The exchange rate applied is brutal. Usually the exchange rate spread is within reasonable range. But in this recent transaction, the exchange rate was way out of range compared to the range of the day. I called them suspecting it was a mistake. All I got was rude replies from their rep. The rate was quoted by Scotia Capital. And basically the rep was saying they will not follow up or check with Scotia Capital, the rate was quoted by the market, we are the insider, you are not, we are right, you are wrong & go away. This costs me CAD 500-800; that’s 1% -1.5% of the transaction. That’s about the annual management fee for some mutual funds. But that’s the kind of service I got.

  22. I work in white-collar law-enforcement in Ottawa Centre (very busy!), and frequently meet work-inspired electronic counter measures.
    Great memories of Scotia McLeod: honest open service at about $25.00 per trade. Lured to Scotia iTRADE by “Free 100 trades”. and “Your Buying Power is ……..”.Both..” pack of lies. “.
    “Free” was $19.99, reducing to “$9.99 for 30 trades per quarter” Even then, False. My thirty was their “26”, then only after applying for correction became thirty, but “Now you must apply for……”
    Currently stock bought for $9.99 fee will only sell for $90.00 fee. Captive theft while bound and gagged!
    “Your Buying Power is” should read “Settle small balance wihin three days (despite your overwhelming securities) or we will force-sell your stock.without notice”
    .Repeated Scotia iTrade (May 16 etc) invitations to sort this out “Meet us in Gatineau” and they never appear. Scotia iTrade phone and promise E-mail settlement, then silence.
    Arnold Guetta, mathematician in Ottawa Centre.