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Best Brokers for Research 2017

Blain Reinkensmeyer

Published by Blain Reinkensmeyer


Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

It is not surprising that the largest, most publicly known online brokers excel and all vie for the top spot for research. With larger client bases and higher commission costs, high-quality research is expected.

In fact, our top five picks this year yielded scores painstakingly close to one another. Out of the 51 total variables we assessed during our research, our No. 1 pick, Fidelity, scored 99%. Charles Schwab had 98%, TD Ameritrade and Merrill Edge scored 95%, and ETRADE 92%.

While any of these brokers will more than satisfy most investors’ appetites, deciding on a winner based on checklists alone, is not enough. Quality and design matter just as much as quantity, not to mention the fact that many brokers will go “above and beyond” to differentiate themselves.

Comparing apples with apples, all five brokers are fairly similar. They all use Morningstar as their primary provider for ETF and mutual fund research, all of them offer a slew of data and graphs for researching stocks, all offer fixed-income research, etc. Slight differences only begin to show when assessing specifics such as total third-party research reports available for equities, for example Apple (AAPL). In that category, the title goes to Fidelity with 12 total reports offered, followed by Charles Schwab with eight, and TD Ameritrade with seven.

While any of these brokers will more than satisfy most investors’ appetites, deciding on a winner based on checklists alone, is not enough. Quality and design matter just as much as quantity, not to mention the fact that many brokers will go “above and beyond” to differentiate themselves.

Fidelity, which earned our No. 1 spot this year, stands out for its 12 total equity research reports and fantastic stock comparisons, allowing clients to compare up to five stocks at once with 21 different metrics. Fidelity also distributes high-quality market analysis and personal finance education through its Fidelity Viewpoints weekly distribution. What excites us most about Fidelity is its fully responsive (mobile friendly), carefully laid out research area. Content flow and personalization are at the heart of the experience, which is unlike any other broker in the industry.

Fidelity stock screener

Charles Schwab, on the other hand, offers clients its own proprietary A – F ratings, called Schwab Equity Ratings, for some 3,000 US stocks. Even more impressive, Schwab boasts a full lineup of 26 in-house experts who provide numerous articles, known as Schwab Insights, on a variety of market topics throughout each week. Some experts, such as Chief Investment Strategist Liz Ann Sonders, can often be seen on TV discussing the market. Schwab also provides the best video experience out of all the brokers thanks to its market updates and Schwab LIVE events.

Charles Schwab Insights

Not to be outdone, TD Ameritrade leads the industry with its new earnings analysis tool through platform thinkorswim which launched in 2016. In 2015, TD Ameritrade revealed its new Social Signals analysis for individual equities. Using proprietary algorithms, the Sentiment Score shows what percent of tweets are positive and displays other relevant metrics. Also in the social realm, TD Ameritrade analyzes data from its six million retail clients to create what it calls the Investor Movement Index (IMX). Launched in 2012, the index displays and analyzes the sentiment of its retail investors’ portfolios.

TD Ameritrade earnings analysis

All in all, when it comes to researching stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, and fixed income, any top five broker is going to provide an excellent experience for investors. With such similar offerings, it’s the unique experience, features, and functionality that differentiates the brokers.

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