A new free stock trading app is coming to Canada, but not from the company you might think.
Wealthsimple Inc., a Toronto-based startup currently offering investing and savings products, is launching a new stock trading platform with zero commissions for its Canadian users. Popular trading app Robinhood, however, is still only available in the U.S.
“We’re trying to build this ecosystem of products around our clients,” said Wealthsimple Chief Executive Officer Mike Katchen. “We started with investing and then launched savings earlier this year." After that, he said, trading seemed like a natural extension, even though Wealthsimple has focused its business around index funds rather than portfolios of individual stocks.
Starting Thursday, a group of customers will be invited to start using a beta version of the platform and encouraged to share feedback with the company before it undertakes a broader rollout. The trading platform will only be available in Canada for now, although Wealthsimple does offer some of its products in the U.S. and the U.K. It will start by offering the ability to buy and sell shares of more than 8,000 Canadian and U.S. stocks and exchange-traded funds, and says it plans to keep adding to that number in the future.
Wealthsimple has raised about US$125 million in funding and manages more than $2 billion for about 100,000 customers. While the company is one of the most well-known Canadian fintech startups, it will face stiff competition if it wants to launch this product in the U.S.
Robinhood Markets Inc., a Menlo Park, California-based startup that offers a free trading app, was founded in 2013 and now counts 4 million accounts. This rapid growth has attracted more than US$500 million in funding and a valuation of US$5.6 billion, as investors like Sequoia Capital, DST Global and Index Ventures bet that free trading will pay off. Since it doesn’t charge a flat fee for each trade, Robinhood makes money in other ways such as offering a premium service, collecting interest on the funds in each account and payment for order flow, or giving other electronic firms the right to execute trades. Robinhood has not mentioned plans to expand into Canada in the near future.
Wealthsimple won’t be offering a premium service to begin with, but says its offerings could change between the current beta period and its official launch, based on user feedback. The company will collect money on the cash sitting in customer accounts, and will also charge a fee to convert currencies if, for instance, someone buys U.S.-listed shares of Apple Inc. and it needs to be converted into Canadian dollars.
In terms of how seamlessly each trade is executed, Katchen says that he’s confident the company offers a strong value proposition. “This is something that we will get better at with time since the larger the scale, the better execution you can get,” he said.