Online brokers are a key aspect of starting a trading journey. The age of the internet means complete beginners can learn the ropes of trading and be on their way to understanding how it works and what to avoid. With this in mind, what features of online brokers should novice traders look for in particular?
Regulations are designed to protect you when using the platform, and the presence of the regulatory body helps legitimise the online broker. Checking that your online broker is authorised by relevant regulatory bodies is imperative and can help you decide between similar brokers. For example, US brokers are regulated by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), while British brokers are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), and Canadian brokers are protected by the
Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC). If something goes awry, you know there is somewhere to go to for advice.
Online brokers offer a watertight level of security based on the sensitive financial information that you will be sharing. This includes SSL encryption across the platform, secure servers to store any information you do share, and authentication when setting up an account and withdrawing any funds. The regulatory bodies ensure that the security measures for every broker are extremely reliable, due to the sensitivity and value of the information being circulated within the industry.
Using an online broker isn't a single-transaction relationship, so discovering which methods of customer support they offer is important for novice traders. Some feature a personal client relationship manager to be on call if you have any queries and questions, while others have offer chatbots or dedicated email and phone lines. The broker's role is to facilitate your trades, so they should make it as easy as possible for you to get in touch to discuss daily operations.
You should be able to access all the features offered by the broker on any desktop device you are using – PC or Mac. Most brokers are fully optimised for mobiles, and some even offer apps that provide a clear dashboard of the state of your trades. Make sure to choose a broker with a simple, sleek user interface which also relays news and information relevant to the financial world. For the more advanced traders, some platforms prioritise charting tools and histories of particular assets.
All brokers will subject you to transaction costs, either for a spread or as a commission. Lower transaction fees don’t necessarily equate to the better deal, especially if the other aspects of the platform aren’t as impressive as competitors. The transaction cost shouldn't necessarily be the defining factor in choosing a broker. Stock trade fees range from $0 to around $5 per trade and around mere points of $0.01 per share ($0.003 to $0.01), while both broker-assisted trade fees and mutual fund trade fees range from $0 to around $50.
Deposits & Withdrawals
Brokers differ on how much they ask you to deposit initially as a minimum. Some offer the feature of a lower or even no-deposit account, which can help those who are new to trading. Beware that some platforms may require a minimum of $10,000. The former type of account means that the range of trades available may be limited, while the latter caters for those who want to begin trading full-time.
For making withdrawals, brokers will make it as easy as possible, to build a good relationship and facilitate future trades. However, there are some brokers that don't integrate with banks well, so a third-party e-wallet may be required.
One benefit of online brokers is that they facilitate leverage trading. This means that you can open up positions larger than your own capital and only have to invest a percentage of this position (similar to the deposit for a mortgage being only a percentage of the cost of the house). For example, this article about leverage trading suggests that the main benefit of such is that traders with less capital can still take advantage of more ‘prestigious' trades. These prestigious trades are often more profitable, as they usually have fewer people taking positions on the trade.
Available Asset Classes
An asset class is a collection of investments that behave similarly in the marketplace. The types of asset class are: equities, such as stocks and shares, fixed incomes that aren't affected by rises in rates of inflation, and money market instruments, such as debt securities, which offer a sum of money at a specified point in the future. Some brokers specialise in one asset class, while others offer a broader service. Other forms of investment include real estate and cryptocurrencies, with the latter coming more to the fore in trading.
Depending on your investment goals and how you will trade, different features will be considered more important to you. So, it’s crucial to outline your main objectives before making a decision on an online broker, as some will suit you more than others. If you have limited experience in trading, you will benefit from a more educational-focused broker, whereas those with more experience may want advanced charting options and the chance to trade commodities, mutual funds, and fixed-income securities.