Published by Blain Reinkensmeyer
On Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 .
For those seeking a quality customer experience, professional planning for the future, and access to fantastic research, Charles Schwab will not disappoint.
Professional advisors offer guidance with a vast range of products; access to a large selection of third party research and Schwab in-house analysis; excellent banking services.
Despite optionsXpress acquisition, separate accounts must be maintained for both brokers; Transaction fee funds cost $76 per trade (per buy, $0 to sell); only max two-legged options supported via the website.
When I login to Schwab.com, immediately I am greeted with my latest account notices alongside an overview of my portfolios. While the client dashboard is no ETRADE 360, it serves its purpose well, and the rest of the site is a breeze to navigate.
Offering 24/7 support, Charles Schwab delivers a consistent and often memorable experience. I will never forget originally opening my Schwab account, as within an hour of completing the application, a Schwab representative called me to personally welcome me to the site and answer any initial questions I had. During our testing for the2012 Broker Review, Schwab blew me away when a courteous and knowledgeable representative quickly picked up my call at 8 p.m. on a Sunday. The rep had no trouble answering my questions, and these experiences time after time have left an impression I will not forget anytime soon.
When it comes to service, I expect that from Schwab. Being a full-service brokerage, I want to feel confident trusting them with my nest egg and knowing there is always someone ready to assist me or offer guidance.CompetitorsTD Ameritrade, Scottrade, and Fidelity give Schwab a run for its money, as they, too, are very consistent. If there is one con I found with Schwab's service, it's that they do not take advantage of their local branch offices.Scottradedoes this very well by being the only broker that routes all support calls during market hours straight to its local branch offices. Where Schwab makes me know that guidance is one call away, Scottrade reminds me that guidance is only a short drive away for face-to-face interaction.
Commissions & Fees
Whether trading stocks or options, Charles Schwab is right in line with its closest competitors. Its $8.95 flat-rate stock trades are less expensive than both ETRADE and TD Ameritrade ($9.99), while slightly more expensive that Fidelity ($7.95) and Scottrade ($7). The same goes for option trades, which run $8.95, plus $.75 per contract.
Investors trading ETFs also will enjoy Charles Schwab as the broker leader in its offering of commission-free ETFs with 121 in total. Mutual funds are a low point, as transaction fee funds come with a $76 per trade charge (per buy, $0 to sell), the highest in the industry.
Charles Schwab provides the highest quality of research compared to any of the brokers I've tested here at StockBrokers.com. Accessing a wealth of independent research alongside Schwab's own in-house research is simple. When I pull up a quote for Apple (AAPL), the summary page has a similar feel to competitors TD Ameritrade, ETRADE, and Fidelity; however, Schwab is the only broker to offer its own in-house Equity Rating. And while this does separate Schwab, one thing I did miss was one consistent point of view, something thatFidelitydoes very well with its Equity Summary Score via StarMine, alongsideTD Ameritrade'suse of ResearchTeam.
With so much research available for traders today, I appreciate the fact that Schwab puts their own viewpoint front and center whenever possible. This is where Schwab really separates itself, as none of its competitors offer such unique depth. What's even more impressive is the staff of experts Schwab has onboard providing market commentary and analysis (26 in total as I write this review). To be able to see experts like Liz Ann Sonders, Schwab's Chief Investment Strategist, interviewed on YahooFinance's"The Daily Ticker" and thereafter be able to read her latest editorial on the Schwab site is pretty awesome.
The standard charting functionality is basic yet well-built, as little details are not overlooked. Whichever settings you apply to one chart are automatically saved as the default, so every time a fresh chart is loaded, you do not have to spend time to re-configure it to your liking. Schwab offers 34 different indicators that can be added more than enough for the average investor. I also like having the ability to add notes to any chart, althoughadmittedly,they are hard to find once included.
Platforms & Tools
Charles Schwab currently offers clients access to three different platforms: StreetSmart.com (Web-based), StreetSmart Edge (desktop-based), and StreetSmart Pro (desktop-based). StreetSmart Pro is a product of Schwab's previous CyberTrader acquisition. The platform is very outdated and eventually will be replaced by StreetSmart Edge; as a result, I did not include it in my review. Also note that Schwab acquired OptionsXpress in 2011, but as of this review, has not added support for the Xtend platform; as a result, it too is not included in this review. For a breakdown of Xtend, please read myOptionsXpress Review.
StreetSmart.com is a browser-based platform recommended for clients looking for more out-of-the-box functionality and less advanced features. Real-time streaming watch lists, level II quotes, alerts, conditional orders, and slightly more advanced charting functionality makes up the bulk of this platform's offering. What I enjoyed most was simply its ease-of-use. Quick links are found throughout the pages to hop from a quote to a chart, and from there to quickly place a trade, for example.
Charles Schwab's desktop based platform, StreetSmart Edge, is a very robust platform that requires a slight learning curve, as all active trader platforms do, to become acquainted with it. Everything is fully customizable, from two different platform color schemes to custom layouts, which can be built on the fly for quick access to different screens.While all tools or products opened can be fit together in snap grid fashion, the functionality is not quite as intuitive as ETRADE's active trader platform,ETRADE Pro.
Some of the features that stood out during my testing of StreetSmart Edge included the customizable watch lists, allowing a large selection of different columns to be displayed. The "Launch Tools" button allows for quick access to the platform's products, and I liked the pop-up notifications that let me know whenever any of my orders triggered, were filled successfully, etc. For positions you currently hold, markers appear on the charts to visually show you when and what price you purchased the stock,a feature that most of Schwab's competitors do not have.
Options traders will love the easy order entry, thanks to a customizable version of optionXpresss infamous all-in-one trade ticket. Analyzing theoretical positions is also a breeze using the Trade & Probability Calculator, another ported tool from optionsXpress.
Lastly, advanced charting is much cleaner and more robust on the platform compared to StreetSmart.com and almost feels like Adobe Photoshop, as studies and drawings can be quickly added, hidden, or removed with a simple click. Traders who require 8, 12, 16, or 20-plus charts running at once, though, will find StreetSmart Edge less flexible than, say,thinkorswim by TD Ameritrade. Overall, the platform is easy to love.
Charles Schwab is a well-respected broker with a very balanced offering. Customer service is top-notch and clients have access to a plethora of quality research, not to mention the largest selection of commission-free ETFs in the industry.
The brokers platforms and tools, especially StreetSmart Edge, continue to improve, thanks to the ongoing integration of optionsXpress. Beyond independent investing, clients interested in life planning, personalized strategies for their portfolios, and making the most of retirement also will find Schwab to be a great fit.
Blain has been involved in the markets for over 12 years, heading StockBrokers.com equity broker research and reviews. His personal blog, StockTradingToGo.com, provides to-the-point daily market recaps to over 17,000 subscribers.
All pricing data was obtained from a published web site as of 11/01/2014 and is believed to be accurate, but is not guaranteed. The StockBrokers.com staff is constantly working with its online broker representatives to obtain the latest pricing data. If you believe any data listed above is inaccurate, please contact us using the link at the top of this page. For stock trade rates, advertised pricing is for a standard order size of 500 shares of stock priced at $30 per share. For options orders, an options regulatory fee per contract may apply.