National Bank Direct Brokerage Review

January 18th, 2022 by Potato

When they announced a move to commission-free trading (and fully free, not just a few cents for the ECN), I knew I was going to have to open an account there and add it to the book and course as an alternative to Questrade.

I’m not going to get too far into the details of the platform: it’s a brokerage, it has a proper desktop web interface {shade. thrown.}, you can buy your all-in-one ETF and pay no commission.

Neat features: the order entry screen updates how much cash you’ll have left after the order in real time as you change your ask price and quantity. This may help prevent that rare mistake where someone rounds up on their division step instead of rounding down, and tries to buy one share too many.

The account opening procedure was very modern and slick: I filled out all the forms and then it sent a link to my phone so I could take a selfie and a photo of my ID to confirm my identity. I had all that submitted in very little time, and in 4 days my account was open and ready for funds to be added.

However, that slickness wasn’t without it’s issues.

Minor issues: First off, my driver’s license wasn’t accepted as valid ID during the sign-up process. I suspect it’s because the application automagically filled in “North York” as my city when I entered my address, but my license says I live in “Toronto”. I was able to complete the sign-up by using my passport to verify my identity, though (which doesn’t have an address listed).

Second, I entered all my chequing account information, which they were supposed to be able to use to further verify my identity (sending me off to Tangerine’s sign-in page, kind of like how the CRA’s partner sign-in works). That failed, too, but didn’t stop the application process. I manually entered my chequing account information (transit number, etc.) to link my bank account, but that ended up not sticking and I had to spend the requisite 52 minutes on hold after the brokerage account was activated to call in and get an agent to tell me how to do it.

In case this helps anyone else skip the part where you sit on hold for an hour, I had to send an email to with the subject “For Banking Indexation”, with my name, phone number, account #, and a void cheque image attached. For Tangerine if you don’t have physical cheques, they have a button on your chequing account to press where you’ll get a PDF of a void cheque for just this sort of purpose. This is one spot where Questrade has a bit of an edge, with their ability to self-serve some of these tasks. They did manage to link my chequing account just 4 days after that email, though, which was nice.

And just like other brokerages, you have to go through the tedious process of agreeing to all the individual exchanges’ agreements, re-type your name and occupation and all that for the Americans, etc.

One other thing to watch for is your login number: this is different from your account number, and they will only flash it at you once when you go to activate your account. Miss it and you won’t be able to log in!

Inconsistencies: As relatively smooth and quick as things went (I suppose being under the hour mark for a brokerage is fast for hold times these days), the whole process had more inconsistencies than I’d like to see in a financial institution acting as the custodian of my investments — NBDB could really use a little bit of a clean-up and alignment of their processes for that final bit of polish.

My biggest peeve is that we are training people to use the top-level domain (TLD) as a quick verification of identify for security purposes. If you’re expecting to deal with, but the address bar says something different, you may be getting phished. National Bank has an identity crisis, using multiple names for themselves and multiple TLDs. So far in just one trade and the account set-up process, I’ve been directed to and have received emails from:
And also visited once and linked them in my bank account as Banque Nationale.

Please, pick one TLD and name for yourselves. Or at least the English or French versions for respective audiences: when I’m trying to go to NBDB, makes sense. NBC (National Bank of Canada) I can parse out too, though it’s not as intuitive (the American television network comes to mind first for what this domain could be), but doesn’t ring any bells in English.

There were also several inconsistencies in the email instructions they would send. For example, to log in for the first time, they tell you to go to a certain page and “click on Client centre” but the button is actually “Sign in”. It’s not hard to figure out what to do, but the instructions don’t quite match what you actually have to do.

Then to link my chequing account, the email helpfully told me to call in and which two menu options to press after calling in. I really like that little touch — those phone trees can be havoc to navigate, so it’s really handy to know that I press 4 – 1 to get to where I need to go. Except they were the wrong instructions and I had to get transferred anyway!

Summary: It’s a brokerage account. The sign-up process was refreshingly automated and fast for a Canadian financial institution, and best of all at no point did I have to mail anything or visit a branch. Trades are commission-free, and the interface is perfectly serviceable. I do wish they’d settle on one domain name though.

The Value of Simple is a Success!

April 10th, 2018 by Potato

Way back when I was getting ready to launch The Value of Simple, I set some definitions for success. I hit “not-failure” pretty quickly, but have only just reached “success”: I’ve made minimum wage (at least, a rounded-down amount that approximates what minimum wage was back in 2014 and ignoring all post-publication effort) on the time taken to write it!

Now, it’s felt like a success for far longer than that. Seeing that it’s actually helped people invest, is getting good reviews, and seeing people wholeheartedly recommend it to their friends made the whole endeavour feel worthwhile. But I still had that first monetary definition in the back of my mind… so hitting it still feels like an added accomplishment.

I had also said that that was about the point at which I might consider doing the whole grind again. As it happens, I do actually have an idea for another book that I might do next…

…But I don’t think I will go anywhere with it, at least not in the near term.

Getting VoS done was a personal triumph in working hard/side hustling/project management/etc., and a personal best for productivity. But burnout is a thing. These days my inbox and to-do lists are filled with small side projects that I can’t get around to completing on time (that tax video doesn’t look like it’s going to happen before taxes are due, for example) — I’m not in a hurry to dive into a major one.

Anyway, a big thanks to everyone that helped make this a success: people who bought copies, recommended it to their friends, took the time to write reviews, read beta versions, and more that I’m sure I’m forgetting!

July Course Update

August 1st, 2016 by Potato

July has just ended and the Practical Index Investing for Canadians course is progressing well. Roughly 70% of the content is done and online, everything that had been projected for June and July, with a few bonus items as well (though two of the videos are still rendering here, they have been shot and will be up soon). I’ve updated the syllabus here.

The towel-day pre-order price is on its way out. You have until Friday to get the course at the incredible rate of $49 (no coupon code needed — that’s the price that’s set on the course platform site). After that it will go up to the next pre-order level before release, and to the final price in the fall.

The updates will be coming slower now, though. You’ll notice in the syllabus that though most of the course is there, there are only a few things scheduled to be completed in August, and nothing for September. That’s because I know I’ll be too busy at the day job to get any material up through then, so it won’t be until October that the final bits of the course are up and done.

If you have any suggestions (or prefer that I prioritize one section for August) send me an email and let me know!


First time hearing about this? The Practical Index Investing for Canadians course is an online course to help you learn how to become a do-it-yourself investor. It builds on the material in the Value of Simple as well as the Money 201 and other lectures I’ve done since to help you get started as DIY investor.

June Course Update

June 26th, 2016 by Potato

June is nearly over and the course development is progressing well. There are a few parts near the beginning that I had flagged for completion in June. With just a week left, a few may slip into July. However, section 8 (Taxes and Tax Shelters) is complete, including parts that were not expected for several months yet — overall the progress is going well.

I think prioritizing that section was a good move, as it was of interest to some of the students who had signed up for the early access, and it creates one complete section to better show what the course is and what it adds above and beyond the walk-through in the book.

I’ve updated the syllabus here. [Edit: here is the latest syllabus for July] The Towel Day/pre-order price of $49 will continue until mid-July, when it will ratchet up as the full release gets closer. If you’re interested in learning more about how to become a do-it-yourself investor, be sure to sign up soon!

Things have been quite busy at work lately, but I’ll be taking some time off over the summer (and I’ll have fewer all-nighters) which will also help keep the course development on track (and I may even be able to catch up on the timeline).

In other news, Brexit Brexit CPP.

Towel Day and Course Pre-Order

May 25th, 2016 by Potato

Happy Towel Day!

As you know, I’m a fan of Douglas Adams, borrowing the “Don’t Panic” message and putting it in large, friendly letters at the beginning of my book. So it’s only fitting that I do something special for Towel Day.

First off the predictable move: you can get a big Towel Day discount on The Value of Simple by buying through my e-commerce site and using the code TowelDay. Now until Friday only!

But let’s get to something better and more thrilling than that, something more keeping with the spirit of Towel Day. First, a blockquote to remind you of what that spirit is:

“A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you — daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have ‘lost’. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”
–Douglas Adams, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

It has not been a secret that over the past several months I have been working on an online course to complement The Value of Simple and help people get set up as successful do-it-yourself investors. It was almost a year ago that I posted the first draft of the course outline. Since then I’ve given more library talks, a guest lecture for Ellen Roseman’s UofT course, and had more conversations with experts and potential students on how to better refine the course. Most importantly, I’ve done a lot of reading on delivering an online course effectively, and changed my approach to it.

However what I have not done is finished the bloody thing.

So here is my towel: I have the structure, I have a few modules done and uploaded, I have a history of building and delivering courses and workshops in science and personal finance. If you believe that I have just mislaid the rest of the course you can buy it right now at a huge discount, and help test it and shape its evolution as it comes together.

How big a discount? You can get it for just $49 right now as a Towel Day/pre-order special, roughly1 80% off! Why just $49? In part as a tribute: that’s the age Douglas Adams was at his untimely death. And in part because this is early, early access — so early it’s better called a pre-order. However, it will be finished, it will be polished, and if you plan on signing up eventually then doing so now is a great deal. (Note: no coupon code needed, I’ve simply set the price at that level and will raise it for new subscribers as material is added and the course is fleshed out)

Click here to go to the course page and enroll!

1. Roughly because though the final price will likely be $279, I’m very tempted to make the final price $246 because you can even!