Having the best stock broker to serve individual needs is very important for any investor. For example, cheap trades most often come at the expense of less research tools and a more simplified trade platform. Consider these 12 key factors to help compare all stock brokers and ultimately find the best broker to suite your needs.
1. Trade Commissions
What does it cost to buy shares of stock? Does the fee change based on the type of order or size of order? To keep it simple, look for brokers that offer flat-fee trades, ie charging a flat rate regardless of the type, price of the stock, or size of the order.
2. Customer Service
When picking up the phone or emailing a broker, is a well trained customer service representative ready to assist? How any investor is treated as a client is more important to some than others. But, even for those that don’t rely on customer support that often, to know that they have award winning service there when they need it is comforting.
3. Trading Tools
Trading successfully is a lot easier when investors have great tools at their disposal. A top stock broker should offer access to a wide variety of trade tools to help make the most of each and every trade. From real-time streaming quotes to last sale tickers, quality stock scanners, mobile trading apps, and level II quotes to name a few. Strong tools are essential for active investors.
4. Account Minimums
Some brokers allow you to open an account with no minimum deposit while others may require several thousand dollars. Also know that some brokers require higher minimums to gain access to premium platforms, functionality, and personalized support.
5. Market Research
A good online broker will provide a variety of market research tools. The rule of thumb here is simple: the more you pay per trade, the better the market research (both fundamental and technical) that is provided.
6. Investment Options
A online stock broker should offer access to not only trading stocks, but also a strong selection of no load mutual funds, commission free ETFs, and complex options. Other unique investment offerings to look for could include direct market routing, conditional orders, futures trading, and Forex trading.
5. Other Fees
Fees beyond trade commissions include inactivity fees (common with active trading brokers such as Interactive Brokers, Lightspeed, and TradeStation) and IRA fees for having a retirement account. While most brokers do not charge predatory fees, it’s still important to do your due diligence. Just like a bank account, stock brokers also make a portion of their profits off miscellaneous fees.
8. Retirement Accounts
Funding a IRA, Roth IRA, or other retirement account with no annual fees is an extra perk many online brokers offer. There is no reason why you should pay an annual fee to have an retirement account. If managing your own portfolio is not of interest, all full-service brokers offer optional advisory services as well. Furthermore, robo-advisors such as Betterment are growing in popularity. Once again, the experience at larger established brokers is going to be superior to smaller brokers.
Larger online brokers offer banking and other financial services. This goes beyond money market accounts and CDs. Checking accounts, mortgages, debit cards, and credit cards can also be offered. The leader in this space is, hands down, Bank of America Merrill Edge.
10. Account Security
Because of the web today, all online brokers invest heavily into account security. SSL websites (look for “https” at the beginning any URL) are used by most brokers and some are now even offering two-factor authentication (using your phone to confirm a code before logging in). Just like shopping online and choosing a trustworthy website to purchase from, the best bet is to choose a well-known, established broker for your portfolio.
11. Speed & Order Execution
For the active trader, execution speed and fill price are very important. I won’t get too in depth here but I have tested many of these brokers and there can be noticeable differences in trade execution times and quality. For the majority of investors, saving a penny per share on a 100 shares order isn’t the end of the world, but for active traders it is something to look into. To understand Order Execution, read this guide.
12. International Trading
For investors in the United States this is not a problem but for investors living outside the US, when comparing brokers it is important to make sure they offer service in your country.
Long/short equity. A long short strategy consists of selecting a universe of equities and ranking them according to a combined alpha factor. Given the rankings we long the top percentile and short the bottom percentile of securities once every rebalancing period. Typically, equity long/short investing is based on "bottom up" fundamental analysis of the individual companies, in which investments are made. There may also be "top down" analysis of the risks and opportunities offered by industries, sectors, countries, and the macroeconomic situation. Long/short covers a wide variety of strategies. There are generalists, and managers who focus on certain industries and sectors or certain regions. Managers may specialize in a category — for example, large cap or small cap, value or growth. There are many trading styles, with frequent or dynamic traders and some longer-term investors. A fund manager typically attempts to reduce volatility by either diversifying or hedging positions across individual regions, industries, sectors and market capitalization bands and hedging against un-diversifiable risk such as market risk. In addition to being required of the portfolio as a whole, neutrality may in addition be required for individual regions, industries, sectors, and market capitalization bands. There is wide variation in the degree to which managers prioritize seeking high returns, which may involve concentrated and leveraged portfolios, and seeking low volatility, which involves more diversification and hedging.
Pairs trade. A pairs trading strategy consists of identifying similar pairs of stocks and taking a linear combination of their price so that the result is a stationary time-series. We can then compute z-scores for the stationary signal and trade on the spread assuming mean reversion: short the top asset and long the bottom asset. The strategy monitors performance of two historically correlated securities. When the correlation between the two securities temporarily weakens, i.e. one stock moves up while the other moves down, the pairs trade would be to short the outperforming stock and to long the underperforming one, betting that the "spread" between the two would eventually converge. The divergence within a pair can be caused by temporary supply/demand changes, large buy/sell orders for one security, reaction for important news about one of the companies, and so on. Pairs trading strategy demands good position sizing, market timing, and decision making skill. Although the strategy does not have much downside risk, there is a scarcity of opportunities, and, for profiting, the trader must be one of the first to capitalize on the opportunity.
Swing trading strategy; Swing traders buy or sell as that price volatility sets in and trades are usually held for more than a day. It is a speculative activity in financial markets where a tradable asset is held for between one and several days in an effort to profit from price changes or 'swings'. A swing trading position is typically held longer than a day trading position, but shorter than buy and hold investment strategies that can be held for months or years. Profits can be sought by either buying an asset or short selling. Momentum signals (e.g., 52-week high/low) have been shown to be used by financial analysts in their buy and sell recommendations that can be applied in swing trading.
Scalping (trading); Scalping is a method to making dozens or hundreds of trades per day, to get a small profit from each trade by exploiting the bid/ask spread. Scalping is the shortest time frame in trading and it exploits small changes in currency prices. Scalpers attempt to act like traditional market makers or specialists. To make the spread means to buy at the Bid price and sell at the Ask price, in order to gain the bid/ask difference. This procedure allows for profit even when the bid and ask don't move at all, as long as there are traders who are willing to take market prices. It normally involves establishing and liquidating a position quickly, usually within minutes or even seconds. The role of a scalper is actually the role of market makers or specialists who are to maintain the liquidity and order flow of a product of a market. The profit for each transaction is based only on a few pips (basis points), so scalping is typically conducted when there are large amounts of capital and high leverage or there are currency pairs where the bid-offer spread is narrow.
Day Trading; The Day trading is done by professional traders; the day trading is the method of buying or selling within the same day. Positions are closed out within the same day they are taken, and no position is held overnight. Many traders may not be so strict or may have day trading as one component of an overall strategy. Traders who participate in day trading are called day traders. Traders who trade in this capacity with the motive of profit are therefore speculators. The methods of quick trading contrast with the long-term trades underlying buy and hold and value investing strategies. Some of the more commonly day-traded financial instruments are stocks, options, currencies, and a host of futures contracts such as equity index futures, interest rate futures, currency futures and commodity futures. Day trading was once an activity that was exclusive to financial firms and professional speculators. Many day traders are bank or investment firm employees working as specialists in equity investment and fund management. However, with the advent of electronic trading and margin trading, day trading is available to private individuals.
Trading on the news; The news is an essential skill for astute portfolio management and long term performance is the technique of making a profit by trading financial instruments (stock, currency...) just in time and in accordance to the occurrence of events. The basic strategy of news playing is to buy a stock which has just announced good news, or short sell on bad news. Such events provide enormous volatility in a stock and therefore the greatest chance for quick profits (or losses). Determining whether news is "good" or "bad" must be determined by the price action of the stock, because the market reaction may not match the tone of the news itself. This is because rumors or estimates of the event (like those issued by market and industry analysts) will already have been circulated before the official release, causing prices to move in anticipation. The price movement caused by the official news will therefore be determined by how good the news is relative to the market's expectations, not how good it is in absolute terms.