Published by Blain Reinkensmeyer
On Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 .
For those seeking a quality customer experience, professional planning for the future, and access to excellent research, Charles Schwab will not disappoint.
Fantastic phone and live chat support; professional advisors offer guidance with a vast range of products; StreetSmart Edge is available to all clients and continues to impress us each year; industry-leading research, coupled with Schwab in-house analysis.
Despite the 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; email support is inconsistent.
The iconic brand of Charles Schwab is one with which nearly every investor is familiar. The full-service broker was founded in 1973, and as of the end of 2014, Schwab was home to a staggering $2.46 trillion in total client assets. From advisory services to research, active trading, customer service, ease of use, and more, Schwab understands what it means to provide a high-quality offering.
Trade Source, a brand-new client dashboard experience that began rolling out to all clients in early 2015, is a terrific foundation for offering clients a full view of their portfolios. With Trade Source, clients can see a clean summary of their portfolios, positions, overall market averages, order status updates, and even news alongside technical events impacting their holdings. The new experience came out of Charles Schwab’s client testing area, Test Drive, so it was molded with client feedback from start to finish. Our goal for 2015 is to see Charles Schwab add customization to the experience, alongside real-time streaming data.
Commissions & Fees
Whether trading stocks or options, Charles Schwab is right in line with its closest full-service competitors. Its $8.95 flat-rate stock trades are less expensive than both ETRADE and TD Ameritrade ($9.99), while slightly more expensive than Fidelity ($7.95) and Scottrade ($7). The same goes for option trades, which run at $8.95, plus $.75 per contract.
Investors trading ETFs will also enjoy Charles Schwab as the leading broker in its offering of commission-free ETFs, with 182 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 second highest in the industry.
Offering 24/7 support, Charles Schwab delivers a consistent and often memorable experience. I will never forget originally opening my Schwab account, when, within an hour of completing the application, a Schwab representative called me to personally welcome me as a new client and answer any initial questions I had. Most recently, during our testing for the 2015 Broker Review, Schwab blew us away with its courteous and knowledgeable representatives, taking the #1 ranking for both phone and live chat support.
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. Competitors TD 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 Charles Schwab's service, it’s with email support. Our testing found it to be extremely inconsistent and surprisingly very poor. In one of our tests, a broker representative flat out did not answer any of our questions and told us to call the customer service center. In another test, a representative did not answer our questions, noted that he tried to call us, and that we needed to call him back to receive help. The worst part was that the rep even spelled our name incorrectly. Ouch! As the hands-down worst experience out of the full-service brokerages, we highly recommend avoiding email service in favor of phone or live chat.
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.
With so much research available for traders today, I appreciate the fact that Schwab puts its own viewpoint front and center whenever possible. This is where Schwab really distinguishes itself, as none of its competitors offers such unique depth. What is even more impressive is the staff of experts Schwab has on board providing market commentary and analysis (25 as I write this review). To be able to see experts such as Liz Ann Sonders, Schwab's Chief Investment Strategist, interviewed on Yahoo Finance's "The Daily Ticker" and thereafter to be able to read her latest editorial on the Schwab site is pretty awesome.
The standard charting functionality is basic yet well built, as small 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 re-configuring it to your liking. Schwab offers 34 different indicators that can be added which are more than enough for the average investor. I also like having the ability to add notes to any chart, although I did find they are extremely difficult to edit and individually remove using the Chrome browser. Fortunately, Internet Explorer is a smooth experience.
Platforms & Tools
Charles Schwab currently offers clients access to two different platforms: StreetSmart.com (web-based) and StreetSmart Edge (desktop-based). Like TD Ameritrade, both StreetSmart platforms are available to all clients, regardless of account minimums or trade activity.
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 make up the bulk of this platform's offering. What I enjoyed most was simply the platform’s 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.
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 show you when and at what price you purchased the stock, a feature most of Schwab's competitors do not have.
Options traders will love the easy-order entry, thanks to a customizable version of optionsXpress’s infamous all-in-one trade ticket. Analyzing theoretical positions is also a breeze using the Trade & Probability Calculator, another ported tool from optionsXpress. In 2014, Schwab finally added proper complex options support by integrating three- and four-legged spread trades.
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 added quickly, 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 or TradeStation. Overall, the platform is easy to love.
Since Charles Schwab acquired optionsXpress in 2011, the integration has been an ongoing process. Schwab has meticulously ported over specific features and functionality from optionsXpress over the years. Eventually, optionsXpress will be shut down and its clients will be migrated over to Schwab; however, an exact date for this migration has not yet been announced.
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.
Charles Schwab’s platforms and tools, including the mobile apps, 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 will also find Schwab 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.