Wealthsimple Cash – Not A Chequing Account

Remember the first time you got into an UBER or streamed a show on Netflix?

Every so often, a new product or service comes along that takes aim at the norms that we all grow accustomed to. January of 2020 may turn out to be one of those times. Financial products typically don’t face disruption quickly, as there are many barriers to change.  Cumbersome barriers such as fees, administration around account opening, transfers, etc.  There are a number of reasons why we don’t see new mainstream financial product disruptors all that often, but we may very well be in the midst of one with respect to traditional day-to-day banking.

This week, although it is still early days for the product, Wealthsimple introduced a new product called Wealthsimple Cash.  The new product is similar to a savings account.

What’s so special about a savings account, you ask?

Well, this account is more of a hybrid account that allows you to spend out of it, while also saving.

This account pays a “non-promotional” interest rate of 2.4%.  I use quotes around “non-promotional” because rates offered by any account are subject to change. 

However, unlike a savings account, this account will let you spend like a traditional bank account.  The account will offer a “Cash card” and will operate like a Visa debit card with no transaction limits or transaction fees.

Day-to-day spending accounts rarely offer high interest on the daily balance.  This is truly where the primary differentiation exists.

Currently, spending functionality is not active.  This will, however, be turned on in the coming months.

You may find other write-ups on this new account calling it a chequing account.  Wealthsimple Cash isn’t a chequing account.  It cannot replace all of the functionality of your current chequing account.  According to their customer service line, chequing is not planned to be offered for these accounts.  Similarly, you could not obtain a bank draft or certified cheque via this account.  Anyone who has entered into (or tried to enter into) a house or condo purchase recently will understand the importance of being able to get access to a bank draft. 

Changing bank accounts is so hard, you say?

I can’t emphasize enough how great the account setup experience was.  Start to finish it took less than 10 minutes and was done completely online.

No forms to sign.

No wait time for the account opening to be processed.

It was a very impressive onboarding experience.

Now that you spent 10 minutes opening your account, funding is the next step.

You are able to link your existing account from major institutions (i.e. TD, Tangerine, etc.) via a software tool called Plaid.  Plaid’s approach is one that allows your banking credentials to remain protected, according to their website, by using an API to connect to your current bank.

How are they able to offer this type of account?

The account is based on a partnership with banks.  For example, their previous product Wealthsimple Save was in partnership with Equitable Bank.  Wealthsimple will then take the cash held in your account and deposit it in savings accounts at their partner banks.  If we looked at Equitable Bank, for example, their current savings rate was just raised to 2.45% (likely as a result of the Wealthsimple offering) and has held fairly steady in the >2% range since the accounts launched back in late 2017 under the operating name EQ Bank.

Wealthsimple may change partners or account structures in the future, and as such, the rates that they may be able to offer can change in the future.

So, it’s a bank account?

Not exactly.

Welathsimple is not a bank.

Wealthsimple operates as a brokerage (through an entity called Canadian ShareOwner Investments Inc.).

Brokerages are covered under the Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF).  The CIPF is a trust fund set up to protect investors’ assets in the event that a CIPF member firm becomes insolvent.  The CIPF covers up to $1 million per account type

The CIPF, however, does not cover when the issuer of the underlying security goes under.  In this case, the underlying asset is a savings account at a bank.

 

Banks are covered by the Canadian Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC)  .  The CDIC is a federally operated corporation whose purpose is to protect the money that you save at a federally regulated bank or credit union.  The CDIC is funded by its member institutions (i.e. the Banks)

The CDIC will insure up to $100,000 per account category in cash and marketable securities (GIC’s with up to 5-year maturities) in the event that a bank goes under.  Learn more at their website.

The accounts that Wealthsimple has at its partner banks are NOT covered by the CDIC.

Given the above, there are some questions as to whether or not these accounts are as safe as a standard savings account at a CDIC member bank or credit union.

So, what does this all mean?

Given this addition to WealthSimple’s already impressive product offering, which includes Wealthsimple Trade (self-directed brokerage), Wealthsimple Invest (robo-advisor) and SimpleTax (personal tax filing) this gives them a leg up on competitors …..but for how long?

Questrade has filed an application for a banking license to make a similar move into the cash account space.
 
If you are a current Questrade customer, then you may be better served to wait and see what their future holds with respect to a similar offering.
Wealthsimple does not offer account transfer fee rebates.  These costs can add up if you have to move multiple accounts (RRSP, TFSA, LIRA, RESP, etc) for both you and your spouse/family members.  Given the lack of a rebate, moving everything to Wealthsimple may be a bit premature.
 
In addition, as of this writing, Questrade’s robo-advisor is still the lowest cost option in the marketplace.
 
Another looming question is, what will be the response from the banks?

2.4% is not the leading rate for a savings account in the marketplace, but it is on the higher end of the range.  At this time, Laurentian Bank offers a 3.3% savings account (rate subject to change).

Most traditional bank accounts typically have transaction limits or fees associated with transactions.  Some of the mid-tier banks and credit unions offer no-fee/unlimited accounts as well.  However, these institutions tend not to be tied to discount brokerages and low-cost robo-advisors.  Perhaps the big banks will be forced to adjust their approach with the millennial-friendly institutions like Wealthsimple encroaching on their territory.

As you can see, Wealthsimple Cash is not the only solution in the market, but it is an intriguing one with lots of potential

The Brass Tacks

If you are a current Wealthsimple customer, opening one of these accounts feels like a no-brainer.

Given that there are no low balance fees, opening an account seems about as low risk as you can get.

As the spending functionality begins to come online, this account’s usefulness will only increase, as well as put pressure on the banks to respond to potential shifts in customer expectations.

If you are not currently a Wealthsimple customer, you may be better served by waiting to see what their competitors to as a response.  On the flip side, if you are an early adopter by nature, I couldn’t blame you for jumping in with two feet.

Here is a summary of the characteristics of the account.

Pros

  • 2.4% “non-promotional” interest rate
  • No fees
  • No minimum balance
  • Connect directly to existing accounts
  • Setup automatic deposits/contributions from your existing bank accounts
  • Simple 10-minute onboarding and account setup process
  • Uses Plaid APIs to connect other institutions
  • CIPF protected in the event that Wealthsimple becomes insolvent

Cons

  • No TFSA/RRSP options
  • No chequing is planned to be offered
  • No drafts or certified cheques available
  • Underlying bank accounts are not CDIC protected – and there appears to be some potential risk of loss if the banks were to become insolvent.
  • No current spending functionality (but coming soon)

Future Enhancements

  • Cash card – which operates like a Visa Debit card – and associated spending functionality
  • No-fee foreign exchange transactions
  • ATM fee reimbursement
  • Email transfers
  • Pre-authorized debits for rent, mortgage, condo fee payments, etc.
  • Automatic deposit of payroll
 
 
NOTE: Information regarding the Wealthsimple Cash account was obtained from their website, or via their telephone support line, if not otherwise referenced in this article and is subject to change.