According to data gathered by the Canadian Bankers Association, more than 76 percent of Canadians now use digital banking platforms, both web-based internet banking and mobile apps, as their main method of banking.
Despite the ever-increasing obsolescence of in-branch banking, residents of Halifax and provincial Nova Scotia are still in the early stages of adopting digitized financial products. Fortunately, Nova Scotia residents can now choose from a pre-tested and pre-reviewed range of top-quality online banking platforms and digital brokerage services. To help kick-start your research process, we’ve broken down some of the most popular digital brokerage and online banking options available to Halifax and Nova Scotia residents.
Top 3 Digital Brokerage Platforms
When you’re putting together a list of top online brokers, discount brokerage Questrade ranks #1 in almost every reasonable listing. In addition to having $0 in annual account keeping fees and $0 in brokerage fees for exchange-traded fund (ETF) purchases, Questrade also boasts a fantastic customer service track record.
One of the main benefits of Questrade for Nova Scotia residents is that it can be used to open a self-managed registered retirement savings plan (RRSP). If you’ve only just moved to Nova Scotia, RRSPs are analogous to 401(k) plans in the United States or superannuation plans in Australia. After setting up a Questrade RRSP account, you can choose from a wide range of bonds, stocks, and ETFs to begin creating a balanced retirement portfolio. If you want a basic, easily balanced portfolio, most experts recommend that your RRSP be mainly composed of index ETFs with exposure to the bond market, domestic equity market, and international equity market.
Outside of RRSP accounts, Questrade’s affordable fee structure makes it an excellent platform for single-stock or sector-specific ETF investing. This method of investing is more popular amongst individuals looking to maximize capital growth or build an income-generating portfolio of dividend-heavy stocks. For every share purchase, Questrade only charges $4.95 plus insignificant ECN fees ($0.0035 per share for Canadian stocks).
- Scotia iTrade
Scotia iTrade is a brokerage platform attached to Scotiabank, an evolving and highly competitive “Big 5” legacy financial institution that was founded in Halifax. As a Scotia iTrade member, you can open tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs) and invest in your retirement via RRSP accounts.
While still not as affordable as Questrade, Scotia iTrade has become more cost-effective since restructuring its fee system. Now, investors only need to pay $9.99 per trade (ETF trades included) or $4.99 per trade if they exceed 150 trades per quarter. Unfortunately, Scotia iTrade still charges a hefty $100 account keeping fee for accounts with a balance less than $25,000. However, once your balance grows above $50,000, Scotia iTrade’s fees are some of the cheapest on the market.
Qtrade is a popular discount brokerage that allows investors to personally select and purchase mutual funds. Since being established in 2001, Qtrade has built an impressive reputation for customer service and financial responsibility. As of the time of writing, Qtrade retains membership with the Canadian Investor Protection Fund and the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada.
Although Qtrade’s $8.75 per trade fee is below the industry standard, the company still can’t match Questrade for affordability. Unfortunately, like Scotia iTrade, Qtrade charges $100 fees for RRSP and TFSA accounts with a balance below $25,000.
Top 3 Digital Banking Platforms
At this point in time, Questrade is still in the process of developing its own digital banking platform; this means that Halifax residents will also need a place to digitally stash their RRSP or TFSA cash. Based on convenience and affordability, it’s hard to beat Tangerine’s branchless online banking system.
Tangerine offers a wide range of accounts, including no-fee chequing accounts, TFSAs, RRSPs, and registered retirement income funds (RRIFs). For new customers, tangerine also offers an introductory 2.75% interest rate on all savings account products for a 5-month promotional period.
- EQ Bank
For most readers, EQ Bank will probably be one of the lesser-known entries on this list. Like Tangerine, EQ Bank is an online-only, branchless bank. Unlike Tangerine, EQ Bank is one of the few banks in Canada to completely shift away from the use of debit cards. If you need to purchase something, you can use EQ Bank’s extremely reliable mobile pay app. While not for everyone, we think that EQ Bank is trailblazing a bright path for the future development of digital banking products.
- Scotia OnLine
Scotia OnLine is an online banking product offered by Scotiabank. Surprisingly, Scotia OnLine boasts one of the best online banking interfaces in Canada. In addition to running smoothly and reliably, Scotia OnLine’s digital banking accounts also include a range of wealth management tools, including loan repayment monitoring, budget data importing, and rewards-based chequing.
Unfortunately, Scotia OnLine’s feature-rich banking app interface comes at a cost. Specifically, a monthly account keeping fee between $3.95 and $30.95. On the bright side, Scotia OnLine offers free or heavily discounted bank accounts for students and seniors.