Online trading is the future. This is true whether you are a stockbroker at a hedge fund or an average Joe looking to get into trading cryptocurrency. But in order for you to take part in online trading, you need a trading platform. Not just any trading platform will do, however. You need the best.
But what trading platform is the best? Well, the short answer to that is that it depends on what you are trading. Many people first get into trading because they are interested in trading shares of companies on the stock market. But they soon realize that there are a lot more ways to trade than just that.
And even putting aside the different things you can trade, there are tons of factors that go into figuring out what trading platforms work for you and which ones don’t. Let’s go over that before we begin.
The most obvious thing a platform can offer you is trade. But all trading platforms offer trade, so that is not a very high bar. Think about it: When you use a trading platform, you are spending your money hoping to make money. How you spend your money is important, as it determines how much you make.
Therefore, we can pretty readily identify the first thing a trading platform should provide:
Technically all of these are distinct from each other. But they can be lumped together because they all accomplish a similar goal: Getting you the information you need to make the best trade you can make.
Learning tools are things like commentaries and lessons from experienced traders. These are going to be easiest to find on platforms that trade stocks, options, and ETFs. There are still plenty of insights on platforms that trade in CFDs and cryptocurrency, however, so don’t count those out for being new.
Research tools are any tools that make it easier for you to learn about what you are trading. Good research tools will show you price histories, trends of what you are trading, data on the finances in and around what you are trading, and so on. The deeper these tools go, the better they are.
And finally, analysis tools are almost the inverse of research tools. All securities, from stocks to crypto, are impacted by the real world. But you do not have to observe the real world to understand the forces that affect security. You can also understand the security itself. Analysis tools help you do that.
The classic trading tools are known as “stops”, and they are considered fundamental to trading. All the same, not every platform uses them. If you want to trade at a fast pace, then they are critical.
There are two stops that you will need above all others: The stop loss, and the limit order.
A stop loss is an order where you direct your assets to be sold at a specific, lower price. If you buy a stock or crypto coin at $15, you set a stop loss that says that it should sell if it ever goes down to a certain price (set by you) that is lower than $15.
A limit trade is the opposite of a stop loss. Rather than setting your security to sell when its value gets too low, you set it to sell if its value gets too high. “Too high” is an odd way of putting that, but the idea is that you have an idea of how expensive the security will get before it starts to get less valuable.
Good search functions will be obvious to some people and meaningless to others. You don’t need to be able to sift through different securities if you are just going to buy and sell Amazon stocks or Bitcoin tokens all day and night. But it is a different story if you are looking to trade options or penny stocks.
Being able to search for different securities that are in different industries and undergoing different conditions is critical to maximizing the value of your money while staying insulated from trends.
Those are the three fundamental things you should look for in a trading platform. With those out of the way, let’s broach the topic: What are the best trading platforms in Canada? We collected the top nine.
Legacy means something in the marketplace. If the whole economy has suffered a downturn, then you can trust an older company to recover a lot more reliably than a newer company. This is one of the biggest things, though not the only thing, that makes Questrade the best trading platform in Canada.
Questrade is over 20 years old now, but while that age imparts reliability, the platform is surprisingly modern. They offer tons of different securities, learning tools, and trading tools for you to use.
The main selling point of Questrade is its access to stocks, options, ETFs, and mutual funds. In short, it is a stock trading platform first and foremost. They also have foreign currency and CFDs, but not in equal diversity as they have their other securities. And most notably, they lack cryptocurrency entirely.
This gives them a good spread of securities at different levels of risk. Stocks and mutual funds are your classic securities. The first is good for both day trading as well as long term investment, while the second is entirely focused on long term investment while minimizing risk. This appeals to your average Joe a lot.
But options and foreign currency are there if you like securities with both higher risk and reward. This, combined with the wealth of research info that Questrade provides you, makes it good for advanced users as well.
While Questrade’s age affords it reliability and a surprising amount of intuitive design, it does show in some places. The lack of cryptocurrency is the biggest one. Crypto is the main draw to online trading for a lot of people, so if that is what you are here for then you will find Questrade distinctly lacking.
The other issue it has is its search and analysis tools. Neither is terribly deep, meaning that it is a lot easier to trade the securities everyone else is trading than find diamonds in the rough.
This is an uncommon desire, but it will mean a lot to the day traders that pride themselves on this. In short, while there is plenty of draw for advanced users, Questrade prioritizes the experience of beginners in such a way that makes it hard to maximize the value you can get out of the platform.
Commission fees are hard to explain to a newcomer. It is not a matter of them being complex. They are quite simple: They exist because they existed back when the stock market was primarily done in-person and over the phone. In those days commission fees covered the labor of the person executing the trade.
These days, however, those same trades are executed by machines. Commission fees are, for the most part, obsolete (while some argue for their existence by pointing out that they help mitigate risk for the trading platforms, there are other ways of mitigating risk that are not so anti-consumer).
That is why Wealthsimple Trade exists: It is a trading platform that offers trades without a commission fee. It also lacks the account fees that many other trading platforms have. These account fees are usually either or both activity fees or inactivity fees that punish you no matter what you do.
This makes Wealthsimple Trade approachable to everyone.
A lack of commission fees appeals mostly to traders who do their trades in high volumes. Traders of basically any kind of security have the potential to trade in high volumes, but the most common high volume traders are penny stock traders, day traders, foreign currency traders, and options traders.
While cryptocurrency traders trade in low volumes about as much as they trade in high volumes, it is worth noting that Wealthsimple has no commission fees for them either. This is worth pointing out in particular, as even platforms with no commission fees will issue a fee on cryptocurrency trades.
No Wealthsimple, however. They are all about opening up the market for people. This is why they also have tools for automated trading and standard banking. Not everyone in finance loves banks, but you do not have to use these tools if you dislike them. They do not get in the way of anything else.
The platform does, however, lack other tools that you would expect from such an expansive marketplace. You can trade basically all kinds of securities with Wealthsimple. But there are not many research and analysis tools that will help you make those trades as intelligently as possible.
For newer traders, this will be made up for by the ability to use automated trading that is built right into the platform. But advanced traders dislike automated trading, at least when it is not within their control.
The search tools for the platform are also lacking. This means that for all the expansiveness that it has, you will have trouble navigating it efficiently. They are not the worst search tools though. Their big limitation is that while you can search industries, you cannot search by ETFs or price movement.
Not everyone trusts trading platforms. And they have good reason to be skeptical. There are plenty of trading platforms, particularly for risky securities like binary options, that are pretty transparent scams.
The issue that trading platform skeptics are identifying is regulation. When the stock market was done in-person, you could easily regulate it. Simply make people show their brokerage licenses at the door of the building where trading is done. But when it is done online, licensing becomes impossible.
BMO Investorline addresses the complex problem of regulation with a simple solution: Regulating a trading platform is hard. But regulating a bank is much easier. BMO Investorline is both a trading platform that works as a bank, and a bank that serves its customers as a trading platform too.
This dual use makes the platform incredibly approachable to new investors. But the thing is, it makes it particularly approachable to a certain kind of new investor: Investors interested in growth investments.
You see, an “investor” is different from a “trader” in many ways. If you are trading, you are trying to make money in the short term. This is called “income trading”, and it is when you trade securities for their whole value in short times in order to grow your total capital—or your total amount of money.
BMO Investorline’s structure is highly beneficial to “growth trading”. This is somewhat different from income trading because rather than trading to get money you can spend now; you are trading to get money you can spend later. This means money for savings and expenses after retirement age.
Tying a trading platform together with a bank optimizes this process. It means that transactions can be fast and secure, as well as free of commission and account fees. It also means your bank can give you lots of advice on how to invest (banks make their own investments with the same systems).
The biggest assets that you get from BMO Investorline are its bank connectivity and research and analysis tools. But if you already have a bank and are not looking to open a different account in a different bank, then you are not going to get much from BMO Investorline that you can’t get elsewhere.
This limitation expresses itself most when you look at how the platform handles its research tools. The research tools are not the traditional bunch of articles and commentaries by experienced stock traders that most other platforms have. In this case, the research is a support staff of researchers.
They work for the bank, and their job is to help you pick out investments to make. This is a great and unique method of helping people make good investments, but it is more hands-on than a lot of people are going to be comfortable with. Generally, it is only going to appeal to people who want the help.
So far, we have covered a lot of trading platforms that focus on beginners. Appealing to new traders is an enticing market, as beginners are willing to put a lot of money in the economy without really expecting much in return besides to have a good time. But what about more experienced traders?
If you are a Canadian trader with lots of market experience, then you are going to want to explore TD Direct Investing. This is the online platform for Toronto Dominion Bank. That is a sinister name, but they are a stock brokerage with a wide reach and tools that are designed to make you money.
We stated that it is for advanced traders. But what does that mean? Many people assume that a platform catering to advanced traders just means that it is poorly designed. After all, it would indeed be harder to trade if your interface was old, unclear, and unresponsive. But that is not what we mean.
TD Direct Investing is great for advanced traders because it offers lots of securities, trading tools, and most importantly analysis tools. The analysis tools of all the other trading platforms we have covered thus far have been good but lacking in the depth to really make them stand out.
That is what allows TD Direct Investing to shine. Their analysis tools allow you to look at metrics that other trading platforms keep out of sight. Things like volume, VWAP, and MACD.
They also provide you with the tools to learn about these things if you do not already understand them. Their research explicitly mentions advanced techniques and elements of trading that you usually don’t hear outside of an advanced economics degree. In short, it is everything you need for deep analysis.
The issues with this are probably readily apparent: Not everyone wants to be an advanced trader. Not every has the interest, enthusiasm, or years required to humor an entire lexicon of new lingo.
This is what is meant by “advanced”: Tools that are hard to use, not because they are poorly designed or unresponsive, but because they require a deeper understanding of the market in order to use them.
Of course, even if TD Direct Investing provides that understanding, there is still a barrier to getting there.
As a side note, TD Direct Investing also does not trade in cryptocurrency. Given its tendency towards deep and wide markets, it is somewhat surprising. But this is another case of “If that is your niche, then look elsewhere.”
And then way on the opposite side of the spectrum, we have Scotia iTrade. This is a trading platform designed for mobile devices, which is a rather new and novel idea. It gets less new every day (as does everything else), as more and more trading platforms add mobile app functionality to their services.
But the thing is, adapting a trading platform down to a mobile app is very different from building one up as a mobile app from the start. This is the advantage that Scotia iTrade offers. The essential difference between a desktop or browser trading platform and a mobile app is how they handle time and space.
With a desktop or browser-based trading platform, you are usually getting a ton of information at the same time, spread out over a large space. But with something on your phone, you are getting everything in the same space that you must then spend time looking through.
This is what makes the platform so good for beginners: Beginners have more time than advanced traders. Simply put, it is because beginners make fewer trades than advanced traders, meaning that they do not need to blast through information or sort through different securities too quickly.
What beginners need is limitations on their information so that they do not get overwhelmed. This does not mean that the total information they receive is reduced. It just means that the total information they receive at once is smaller, while the total information they receive over time is the same.
This design is highly complex, but ends up creating a simple and intuitive experience that means Scotia iTrade can incorporate surprisingly deep and complex analysis and learning tools (as well as a huge number of securities) without a new user being overwhelmed by it all.
While the actual experience of trading is top-of-the-line, the experience of navigating the app will feel sluggish to someone who is used to platforms with more complicated front-end design.
But that is to be expected. The real issue with Scotia iTrade is its fees. It does not have anything too bad, but it does have commission fees per trade. No account fees, but these commission fees will slow down the day trading of anyone who wants to trade in high volumes.
It is easy enough to say that you should apply stop losses and limit orders to all of your trades, but in practice it is much more difficult. If you set a limit order on a stock you just bought, then what do you do if the stock always gets close to that amount, but never quite reaches it?
Your choices are to sell earlier for a cheaper price or keep holding and hoping. If you hold, then you can’t make new trades. But if you don’t hold, then you make less money. Making the right choice in this circumstance is what separates the rich traders from the less-rich traders.
Luckily, technology is here to help. CIBC Investor’s Edge is a trading platform that has some of the best tools for helping you keep track of your investments. This is because in addition to stop losses and limit orders, they also allow you to track stocks relative to each other and give yourself specialized alerts.
Stock tracking and specialized alerts are both nothing new, yet surprisingly hard to find. CIBC Investor’s Edge makes itself into a strong option for intermediate-level traders because of this.
Both beginners and advanced traders benefit from being updated more frequently on the state of both their securities and the state of the market at large. While a stop loss and limit order are great, it can be really easy to get into the habit of setting them and forgetting them. This is a bad habit to make.
Alerts not only help you buy and sell at the right time, but also help you learn (in a very internal way) the pace of the market and the securities within it. By that, we mean that you will always know not just what the market is doing, but when. Knowing when the market is doing something helps you understand why.
CIBC Investor’s Edge has a lot going for it in terms of usability and market size, but it has a drawback that will outright tarnish it for some people: Commission fees. And not just commission fees. Big ones.
Each trade will set you back $7, though you can sign up for a program that allows you to do high volume trades for $5. This is quite the fee considering that some stocks go for much lower than $5 each.
This will not make any given transaction too expensive, but it will add up over time. This firmly gears the platform more towards few, long-term investments rather than smaller, more rapidly executed investments. But the alert and tracking functionalities are there whether you use the trades or not.
Basically, you can use it for those and ignore the trades if you want.
So, here is a brain teaser: What is the fundamental element that leads to the development of trust? It is easy enough to say that trust is important and go on to list the benefits of trust. But what do you need in order to create an environment where trust is not only possible, but advantageous?
The answer is community. More exactly, it is repeated interactions, but that is precisely what community allows for. That is the big advantage that RBC direct investing provides for you.
Like many other platforms, RBC Direct Investing is set up to cater to newer traders, beginner traders, and other people who are expected to trade in low volumes with low amounts of starting capital.
It does not offer anything too shiny, unique, or complex. It has your usual access to securities (stocks, options, ETFs, not crypto, naturally) and research tools. But what really sets it apart is its chat rooms, forums, and ability to make “peer to peer” trades. That is, trades that connect you with another user.
The value in this is hard to see at first glance. It will start with you making normal trades with other people. This is to be expected. But it can evolve in a number of ways from there. For instance, if a person has traded with you many times before, then you generally know that they are dependable.
This means that you can offer them a trade that benefits them and reasonably expect them to do the same for you later. It also means that you can become known for your honesty on the platform. And more importantly, dishonest users can become known for their dishonesty.
All of this goes to help the platform define itself when otherwise its tools do not do that very well.
The platform’s community stands out a lot, but the rest of it does not. Its interface, its history, its research, learning, and analysis tools, all of it falls behind the competition.
This does not mean that it is dysfunctional. This is an important note, as many people take “not the best” as equivalent to “not worth your time”. There are a lot of reasons you might avoid the trading platforms that are, on paper, “the best”. Community is definitely one of those reasons.
So, if you are more interested in a platform’s community than its tools, this is the one for you.
We would be remiss in our duties if we did not include a crypto trading platform. The reason why many trading platforms omit crypto is because it is new and unregulated. Essentially, you do not need a license to trade crypto, meaning that there are many forms of fraud you can do with crypto.
The thing is, most crypto has its own protections against fraud. And while securities fraud with crypto is “not illegal” in the strictest sense, “not illegal” is a long way away from “legal”. Just the fact that cryptocurrency is recognized as a security means that it tacitly has regulations on it.
This means that you can confidently trade it without fear of fraud as long as you use the right platform.
Bitbuy is not just a platform, but probably the platform for the Canadian crypto trade. They offer tons of different currencies and connect to wallets all over the world. This points to a few of the features that a cryptocurrency trading platform needs that a stock trading platform will not always have.
The first is a diversity of currencies, like we mentioned. But the second is transparency. Many platforms that do not usually take commission fees will take fees associated with crypto. Bitbuy is good because it lacks these fees, and is pretty clear-cut on the risks and limitations of the platform.
Of course, Bitbuy is limited entirely to crypto. It is highly intuitive, but understanding crypto is a barrier to entry for even using the platform, meaning not everyone is going to feel welcome using it.
It is tempting to paint all securities with the same brush. In a lot of cases, it even makes sense. How different is a stock from an ETF? Functionally, not that different at all. But there are some securities that clearly operate by different rules. Chief among them is foreign currency.
Foreign currency is incredibly popular to trade for the huge rewards you can get from trading it, and CMC Markets is one of the biggest trading platforms for foreign currency trade in the world.
Foreign currency trading is known for appealing to advanced traders, as it is high risk and high reward. Your money has just as much of a chance to plummet in value as it does to soar, most times.
This entices beginners as well, as beginners are much more likely to pursue a “winning lottery ticket” trade, but the complexity of actually executing a foreign currency trade makes it more of a thing for people who have taken a class in how the system works.
CMC Markets actually does provide securities other than foreign currency. Specifically, you can also trade in CFDs and Options, both of which are also extremely high risk. They are also simpler, meaning that they are more appealing to new traders. But that is not always a good thing in this case.
The issue with CMC Markets is that it is good in every way, except that it only offers you the trades that are most likely to hurt you. So, watch out for what it shows you, as it might not be what is best for you.
There are tons of different things to trade and an equally vast number of ways to trade them. Some trading platforms will be more focused on representing one of these ways of trading above all else.
That means you should not always judge every trading platform by the same metric. Some will be more limited, but as a result offer you things you can’t get anywhere else. This is all to say that you should pay equal consideration to all of these trading platforms, as being lower on the list doesn’t make them worse. It just means that they are more niche. And sometimes, niche is what you’re looking for.
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