TD Direct to raise international commissions

TD Direct Investing (formerly and still almost universally referred to as TD Waterhouse) has announced new fees with effect from February 2013 [PDF]. I’ll update the details on this site closer to the time, but the key changes are summarised here [PDF] and appear to be mostly negative. In brief, they are:


Unbundled pricing for UK fund supermarkets

The FSA’s Retail Distribution Review (RDR) is set to shake up investment costs in the UK enormously over the next year or so. With effect from January 2013, financial advisers will no longer be able to receive trail commission – ongoing payments from fund groups – on new investments.

More importantly for DIY investors, the FSA is then likely to ban fund platforms for receiving trail commission with effect from January 2014. This means that the fees currently charged by many execution-only firms will have to change drastically.

Once that happens, many of the details in this site’s UK fund supermarket comparison table will change significantly. Unfortunately, exactly what fund supermarket pricing will look like once RDR is complete isn’t clear, making it hard to choose a new provider at the moment.

However, many of the major fund platforms have now announced their “unbundled” charging schemes – unbundled meaning that they must transparently and explicitly charge the investor for their services, rather than getting paid a platform fee in the background out of trail commission. And this is beginning to give us some idea of what fees may look like in a year or so.


Best ISAs for foreign stocks – October 2012 update

Update October 2013: There is now a new version of this comparison incorporating changes to brokers’ fees over the past year. See Best ISAs for International Stocks October 2013.

Update March 2013: Saxo Bank is closing the Modern Wealth Management service and introducing an ISA wrapper on its Saxo Trader platform. This seems likely to work out slightly more expensive than the Modern Wealth Management example below, but will apparently allow access to a much wider range of exchanges. The comparison table will be updated once I have full details of the revised service.

[Updated again on 06/11/2012 to include estimated costs for Interactive Investor and again on 19/12/2012 to reflect Saxo Bank’s new pricing for Modern Wealth Management]

I’ve updated the tables from the Best ISAs for international stocks post from April to reflect a few fee changes and include a new broker. Some changes and key points are:

  • iWeb has cut its dealing fee to £5 per trade. On the downside, its foreign exchange margin is scheduled to increase to 1.5% in April 2013, which will make it significantly more expensive. The figures in the table are based on the current margin, but estimates based on the increased margin are included in the footnotes.
  • Sippdeal has recently been added to the broker database and added to the tables for the first time. I wasn’t aware of this firm’s international offering until recently – all told, the cost structure looks very competitive if you want to trade in CREST-settled foreign stocks.
  • The figures for iDealing have been changed to be based on a 0.5% foreign exchange margin. Like Sippdeal, iDealing passes on the market maker’s FX commission without adding its own – the firm has previously told me that 0.25% was a typical mark-up, but based on figures from Sippdeal and elsewhere, I think this is probably too low for the relatively small deals I’m factoring into the table, so have adjusted it for this example.
  • Admin fees/inactivity fees for Alliance Trust, Halifax and Selftrade have changed slightly since the last update, although this has had relatively little impact on their overall competitiveness.
  • The estimate for Saxo Modern Wealth Management is based on its scheduled 0.5% regular FX charge rather than the introductory offer of no FX mark-up.  Saxo has now made the 0% FX charge its permanent rate, so the figures have been updated – this makes it look extremely competitive, albeit for a limited range of markets.

Updates on Saxo Modern Wealth Management

Since the Saxo Modern Wealth Management platform for UK long-term investors is rather different to the Saxo Bank platform, it now has its own entry in the broker directory. There are also a few updates to the details of the service from the summary when it first launched in April 2012.


Fidelity to add eight new markets

In what looked like a carefully timed attempt to make Charles Schwab’s new international service less newsworthy,  Fidelity has announced that it will be adding eight new countries to its international platform by the end of 2012. The proposed new countries are Austria, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Poland, South Africa and Spain.

There are no details on fees yet, but assuming they are sensible, Fidelity’s international service may start to look a relatively decent option for US residents to invest in a wide range of international markets at reasonable cost. Countries such as Poland and South Africa are still hard to trade in a cost-effective way, especially since US investors don’t have easy access to international firms such as Saxo Bank.


Charles Schwab launches new international trading account

Charles Schwab has extended its international investing services, following Fidelity’s decision to do the same earlier this year. The new Schwab Global Account offers online access to 12 non-US markets: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway and the UK.

Schwab is initially is offering zero commission online trades until the end of 2013 – thereafter, international commissions will be in the range of US$15-35 online and US$50-75 by telephone (at current exchange rates). Currency conversion fees will be up to 1% and there is also a 0.1-0.25% fee from the local brokers that Schwab uses to execute trades abroad (something that isn’t clearly displayed on the Schwab website, but can be found in the latest fees guide [PDF]).

The Global Account seems to be distinct from the existing international trading service available through the Schwab One Account, which offered 20-30 countries for telephone trading, albeit at very high costs. While the Global Account mentions access to 30 countries in addition to the 12 online markets, this appears to mean the ability to trade ADRs and OTC stocks from other countries in US dollars, which is not at all the same thing as having direct access to a foreign market (selection will be more limited, liquidity will usually be poorer, spreads may be wider and prices may be stale).


New UK discount broker and Prague trading from Saxo Bank

There have been a couple of updates to broker details on the site. In the UK discount stock brokers table, I have added a new service from Clubfinance, previously known as a fund supermarket and the cheapest way for self-directed investors to access the Skandia platform.

This is quite an unconventional service in terms of fees. It charges an account fee of 0.35% per year, with a minimum of £25 per quarter, but online trades in UK shares are priced at just £0.5/trade. Quite a few UK brokers are likely to adjust their fee structure in the run-up to RDR and the platform review, so we can expect to see some others experimenting with unusual arrangements like this.

In the international dealing area, Saxo Bank has added the Prague Stock Exchange for cash equity trading. It’s always encouraging to see a major broker adding another awkward-to-access market, but in practice the significance of this one is limited – there are just  15 stocks listed on the Prague exchange and many of them are cross-listed in Vienna.

The Czech Republic also has an over-the-counter market, RM-SYSTEM Czech Stock Exchange, but that isn’t part of Saxo’s new service. Foreign investors interested in that could look to Fio Banka, which owns RM-SYSTEM and offers an online trading service.


Updates to UK stock brokers

There haven’t been many recent updates to the site due to a combination of other commitments and few major changes that I’m aware of among international stock brokers. However, we have seen a couple of UK stock brokers change their fees and this is likely to become more common in the run-up to the Retail Distribution Review and the ongoing Platform Review.

In particular, we are likely to see more providers introduce explicit account maintenance charges for both fund and share accounts, since they will no longer receive trail commission rebates from funds. The advantages and disadvantages of this change can be argued – certainly the improved transparency on exactly what clients are paying seems good – but it will probably mean a net increase in costs for smaller and less active accounts, which have traditionally been subsidised by the fees received on larger and more active ones.


Saxo Modern Wealth Management

[Update 06/10/12: Modern Wealth Management FX charge is confirmed to be 0.5%, in line with the regular Saxo account, not 1.5% (and is being waived until mid 2013) – not clear if this was an error in the original charges sheet or has subsequently been changed. See this update for other additional details of the service. There is also now a separate entry for Modern Wealth Management in the broker directory.]

Saxo Bank has expanded its services for UK investors with a new offering branded as Modern Wealth Management. As the name of the basic account – Saxo Invest – implies, this is aimed more at medium-to-long-term investors than Saxo’s traditional client base of traders.

On first glance, it’s a useful product, with a simpler front-end compared to the Saxo Trader platform and better options for tax-efficient investing. Unfortunately, there seems to be rather a large catch within the small print of the charges.


The best ISAs for international stocks 2012

The tables in this post have been updated with new fees and brokers in the Best ISAs for foreign stocks – October 2012 update.

[Updated 23/04/2012 to include the ISA available from Saxo Bank on its Modern Wealth Management platform]

As we saw previously, the mark-up that many stock brokers put on currency conversions can be a very significant extra cost when trading international shares. And while you can’t ignore these hidden fees at any time, they become an especially  awkward problem for UK investors who want to buy foreign stocks within an individual savings account (ISA) tax wrapper.

While the ISA rules allow a reasonably large number of overseas stocks, they do not allow you to hold any foreign currency – so you need to go through the conversion between sterling and foreign currency every time you trade. As a result, excessively high FX commissions can become costly even more quickly than usual.

So what are the most cost-effective ISAs for dealing in foreign stocks? The table below shows the charges for the main UK execution-only brokers that offer ISAs and allow foreign stocks in them. (Some major firms – eg Interactive Brokers – don’t offer an ISA at all, while others – eg Barclays Stockbrokers – currently only allow UK shares to be held in one.)