"Best of" Research, Platforms, and Tools
Online Broker Review 2011
For this particular section, we decided it would be more useful to individually break down the most unique tools, platform, and research offerings from online brokers. After testing and observing all brokers throughout the past year, we found the following ones stood out:
Best Trade Simulator — tradeMONSTER
For investors looking to use simulated funds to test out strategies and invest with prior to funding an account with real money, they will be right at home on tradeMONSTER's stock and options simulator. We found the tradeMONSTER simulator to be the best because of its clean interface and ease-of-use for new investors just getting started. The tradeMONSTER platform runs on Flash, giving it a more unique experience versus placing trades off a traditional broker website. Clients have the ability to trade all types of options trades, including advanced spreads and several stock order types (limit, market, stop, and stop limit). Once clients get the hang of their simulated account and fund a live portfolio, they will utilize the exact same platform for placing real trades, which makes for a seamless transition.
Best Investor Community — TradeKing
TradeKing was the first broker to really focus on building a community for its clients. Known as the Trader Network, one of its original features — blogs — is still intact today. The CEO of TradeKing, a.k.a. "bigdog," has his own blog and writes several times a week. All members have the option to share their verified trades with the rest of the TradeKing network, write their own blog posts, trade notes, send private messages to one another, and also participate in investor groups. By going to the trading activity page, members can see the most frequently traded stocks and even a live order stream of both stocks and options being traded. TradeKing tops this off with its All-Star's blog, where experienced investors post insightful articles on not only education but also the market itself.
Best Platform for Conducting Research — Charles Schwab
Charles Schwab provides a vast amount of quality and thorough research for investors to utilize. When it comes to mutual funds, Schwab, like its closest competitors Fidelity and TD Ameritrade, boasts Morningstar ratings and full data for thousands of funds. Not only can key data such as fund fees, historical performance, and holdings be broken down, but also a full mutual fund report card can be viewed in PDF format. What put Schwab first, though on our list is its vast collection of market research articles written by Schwab staff experts. This roster of talent includes Chief Investment Strategist Liz Ann Sonders, who is often seen on Yahoo Tech Ticker, and more than 20 others with topics ranging from the economy and market to retirement and personal finance. Throw in a variety of third-party research reports from the likes of JP Morgan and Credit Suisse, among others, and investors have a complete research arsenal at their disposal.
Best Investor Education — E*TRADE
When we looked for a broker to name as the top provider of investment education, our want list was very thorough: articles, term definitions, videos, and webinars. E*TRADE came out on top after we found everything we desired and more. The broker offers more than 1,000 investment term definitions, provided by InvestorGuide. Numerous videos and articles cover topics ranging from the basics on how to trade to advanced trade types and concepts. Articles are provided by the likes of SmartMoney, Morningstar, Investopedia, Forefield, and the E*TRADE staff. Our favorite feature was the three-minute videos section, which highlights educational tips and advice for trading online. Currently only six videos are available covering basic topics, but more are on the way. Lastly, everything within the education area is organized by category and difficulty, making navigating the education center a smooth and effortless experience.
Most Unique New Tool of 2010 — Autotrading
As auto trading becomes more and more popular through services like Covestor and Wealthfront, additional providers are beginning to join the trend and develop technology to support auto trading. Auto trading is just what it sounds like: automatic trading of investments. Stock brokers started getting involved in mid-2010 by offering clients the ability to auto trade the stock and options picks of popular investment newsletters. OptionsXpress was the first to implement the technology through its Xecute service, and at the time of this review supports 46 different investment publishers for auto trading. Other brokers that have also adopted the technology include tradeMONSTER and most recently TradeKing. Besides being a subscriber of the investment newsletter service itself, the only other cost to use are the commissions charged by the broker.
Most Improved Website of 2010 — Firstrade
Firstrade made quite an overhaul when it finalized its transition to the new Firstrade site design and platform in late October 2010. Originally called FirstradeNEXT, the platform boasts a far superior design both visually and functionally. Site updates include social media integration via Facebook and Twitter, new stock screeners and alerts, and an order entry box that allows for quick quotes and trading on every page. The broker also upgraded its clearing operations from Ridge to Penson in June and closed the year by launching its iPhone app on December 29.