Are you ready for self-directed investing?

23 July 2023 by National Bank
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Want to get started as a self-directed investor? Whether you’re looking to buy a few stocks occasionally or take complete control of your investments, several self-directed investment solutions are available. Read on for an overview of what you’ll need to know to get started as a self-directed investor.


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About self-directed investing

Self-directed investing options

Self-directed investing (also known as a direct or discount brokerage) offers you a wide variety of choices. You can build your investment portfolio exactly the way you want it. You can include:

Self-directed investing generally offers more choice than investing with the help of an advisor from your financial institution. This is the main difference between the two options.

You’ll have to carry out the trades yourself, like buying or selling securities.

Read our article on investing terminology: “Your guide to investments: Read before investing.

What level of involvement is required?

Being a self-directed investor requires more time and effort than doing it with the help of an advisor. Exactly how much work is involved will vary from one person to the next. It all depends on your goals, your strategy and your areas of interest.

In summary:

  • You’ll probably need to devote a significant amount of time if you plan to manage all your assets yourself and try to take advantage of short-term market fluctuations.
  • You probably won’t need to invest as much time or effort if you’re planning to invest in one or a handful of stocks to create long-term growth.

How to get started with self-directed investing

Choosing an online brokerage platform

There are several online trading platforms to help you start self-directed investing. Many large financial institutions offer this service.

While some people will opt for the services offered by their bank, there are other factors that you may want to consider. Here are four:

1. Trading commissions or annual fees

Costs vary depending on the platform. Some transactions may be free, while others are not. Keep an eye on transaction commission fees and administration charges. Some platforms will also offer services free of charge, but on condition that you keep a minimum balance in your account.

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2. Features

Many platforms offer similar options and features, but some offer more complex transactions. In most cases, you’ll be able to carry out the same transactions and access the same products.

The differences lie mainly in the user experience, which includes:

  • The platform’s user-interface: is it easy to navigate and find the information you’re looking for?
  • Alerts: is it possible to customize watchlists?

Another difference you might notice is the way results and reports are presented. While you should still have access to the same data, some platforms are more user-friendly than others when it comes to how data is presented.

3. Knowledge and training

The amount of information, tools or training offered varies from one platform to another.

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4. Customer service

Access to specialists - to whom you can ask questions or get support - won't be the same everywhere. You may have questions about analysis tools or stock markets, especially at the outset. Remember that getting quality answers quickly is an important advantage.

Self-directed investing, step by step

Once you’ve chosen your platform, you’ll have access to the tools you need to start self-directed investing.

You’ll be able to carry out the following steps, in this order:

  • Open a brokerage account
  • Link your brokerage account to your bank account
  • Transfer funds from your bank account to your brokerage account
  • Choose your investments (stocks, bonds, etc.) and your investment vehicles (TFSAs, RRSPs, non-registered accounts, such as a cash account or a margin account, etc.)
  • Buy and sell securities

Making the right choices as a self-directed investor

Making good decisions as a self-directed investor means:

A wealth of information about stock values and market trends is available online. To sift the good advice from the bad, you’ll need to use common sense.

Your direct brokerage platform is a reliable source of information. Brokers are subject to regulatory control, and the information they offer must be approved by experts.

Seek out information from a variety of sources but exercise caution when it comes to information from businesses, forums, or sites you don’t recognize or are unsure about. The allure of a profit can lead to bad investment decisions. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

The golden rule: If someone promises you a big profit in a short time, take it with a grain of salt.

Discover our tips for investing independently, in complete security

While many investors prefer to rely on expert advisors, others swear by self-directed investing. Both approaches have their merits and can help you achieve your financial goals.  It’s up to you to decide which option is right for you. To get started as a self-directed investor easily and at a low cost:

Are you wondering how to start investing?

I’ll explain faster than it takes to make sushi.

Can I make bread?

We’ve been doing that for almost 3 years now.

Before you start investing, you need to make a budget to determine how much money you can set aside.

And to find out how to save money, click right here.

Next you need to determine your investor profile.

Your goals and your risk tolerance will help you set it.

Would you like a stable income?

To have your money available to you any time?

If you answered yes, you have a secure profile.

Secure like the people who buy ready-made sushi.


If you want to generate long-term growth and short-term fluctuations don’t stress you out, you can choose a profile geared toward equity.

Next, all you have to do is invest in products that correspond with your profile.

Stocks are shares in companies that are publicly traded.

They are riskier investments because if the company doesn’t perform well, the value of the shares may fall.

Mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, known as ETFs, are like maki rolls.

They contain different products and you can choose to buy a piece...or two.

No matter whether you’re cautious or like taking risks, there’s something to suit everyone’s taste!

Even for the people who like dessert sushi?

Even for the people who like dessert sushi!

If you’re really cautious, guaranteed investment certificates, or GICs, could be a good option.

A GICs is money that you lend to a financial institution.

The institution guarantees to give the money back after a set period of time.

You choose the term, from 30 days to 10 years.

The same time it takes to become a sushi expert, surely.

Surely, once you decide whether you’re more of a nigiri, a maki, a fish or a tofu investor, the next step is to decide how to invest:

on your own or with the help of an advisor.

Then, you just have to wait for it to grow with compound interest.

What’re you doing?

Ordering sushi.

Good idea!

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Enhance the return on your portfolio with the Fully-Paid Securities Lending Program.