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.

One Response to “National Bank Direct Brokerage Review”

  1. Potato Says:

    Closing comments early as the spam has been next level.