Norbert’s Gambit remains the least expensive way to convert Canadian and U.S. dollars at a discount brokerage. For investors looking to buy U.S.-listed ETFs, learning this technique can save hundreds of dollars by sidestepping the wide currency spreads charged by brokerages.
With the 2013 launch of excellent unhedged foreign equity ETFs from Vanguard and iShares, there’s less incentive to use U.S.-listed ETFs than there used to be. In fact, in a non-registered account or a TFSA it may not even be worth the added cost and inconvenience if the only difference is a few basis points of MER. But in an RRSP, there’s a significant benefit: using U.S.-listed ETFs can dramatically reduce the impact of foreign withholding taxes, which can add an additional cost of 0.30% to 0.70% to U.S. and international equity holdings.
The problem with learning to pulling off Norbert’s Gambit, however, is that there’s no simple set of instructions that works at every brokerage. RBC Direct Investing and BMO InvestorLine both allow you to hold U.S. dollars in registered accounts, but only RBC allows you to do Norbert’s Gambit online: at BMO you need to pick up the phone. At TD Direct Investing, you sign up for a service that automatically “washes” foreign exchange rates for trades made on the same day, while at CIBC Investor’s Edge you need to request this service every time to make a trade. Finally, Scotia iTRADE doesn’t even allow Norbert’s Gambit in an RRSP: instead, they offer a unique service that eliminates the retail spread on currency exchange for a flat fee.
As part of our DIY Investor Service, we helped clients do Norbert’s Gambit at all of the big-bank brokerages. And for the last few months, Justin Bender and I have pulled that experience together and created a series of five white papers—one for each brokerage—with step-by-step instructions you can follow on your own. Each of the papers includes screenshots and detailed descriptions of each part of the process, all specific to each brokerage’s unique quirks:
We’ve worked hard to make sure these papers are accurate and up to date, but we welcome your feedback. If you have had different experiences at any of the bank brokerages, please let us know and we’ll keep these resources up to date.