What is Norbert’s gambit?
If you convert between currencies with your online bank or brokerage, you’re almost certainly being ripped off by fees hidden in the exchange rate. For example, if the going rate for USD is $1.28 CAD, your brokerage will quote you something closer to $1.30 CAD and pocket the difference.
This isn’t a big deal if you’re buying something for $10 USD on Amazon, but these fees are painful if you’re converting thousands of dollars for vacation or to invest in American stocks. Thankfully, there’s a way to avoid these fees using a technique called Norbert’s gambit.
The general premise of Norbert’s Gambit is this: if a stock is listed on both a Canadian and an American stock exchange, you can buy that stock in CAD and sell it in USD. If the market is acting efficiently, the ratio of the price on the American exchange to the price on the Canadian exchange will be exactly equal to the current USD/CAD exchange rate.
The obvious problem here is that the price of the stock could change during the time it takes for you to buy and sell it in different currencies.
Thankfully, there’s a solution in the form of a wonderful ETF under the ticker DLR.TO. This ETF is denominated in CAD and tracks the USD/CAD exchange rate, so owning it is putting you at no more risk than if you had just purchased USD in the first place. You are effectively locking in an exchange rate the moment you buy it. Your new ETF can then be sold for USD by following these steps.
Norbert’s gambit on Questrade
Enter an order for DLR.TO in the trade window. I recommend being patient and following the bid price, if you cross the spread you’re going to lose the benefits of this technique. (Note that the spread is usually $0.01, I took this screenshot after the close.)
To calculate how many shares you need to buy, divide the amount of money you’re trying to convert by the share price of the ETF. For example, if you want to convert $10,000 CAD to USD and the share price is $12.50, you’ll need to buy 800 shares.
Next, head to chat support.
Select these options on the popup screen.
Once you have a customer service rep chatting with you, request that they journal DLR.TO to DLR.U.TO – they’ll understand what you mean.
After a few days, DLR.TO will be exchanged for DLR.U.TO, free of charge. Now you can sell those shares for USD. Again, I recommend being patient and following the ask price.
Once your order is filled you’re done! You now have American dollars in your account.
The only expenses you’ll incur are trading fees, and because DLR.TO is an ETF, Questrade won’t even charge you for buying it. Expect to pay less than $15, which is amazing compared to the standard 2% conversion fee.