Known for its talking baby commercials, ETRADE is a stand out broker, not only because of its clever marketing department, but also because of its well-rounded, well-executed offerings. I have yet to have one of those frustrating client experiences that can plague smaller brokers, and overall, I am fan of this broker.
The ETRADE site is a breeze to use and has the key components for a quality experience during each visit: clean navigation, real-time streaming quotes, a sitewide quick access footer bar, simple account management, and a user-friendly order entry screen.Products like ETRADE 360, the broker's fully customizable drag-and-drop homepage, are executed well.
Alongside trading, ETRADE also offers basic banking services, including checking accounts with no ATM fees and debit cards. The broker also provides 30 local branch offices.
ETRADE's customer service competes with the strongest brokers in this category, including TD Ameritrade, TradeKing, Scottrade, and Charles Schwab. ETRADE's email support was rated #1 in this year's StockBrokers.com Broker Review. On the con side, we found ETRADE's 24/7 weekend support to be very weak.
If there is a minor gripe to be made with ETRADE's customer service, it's that the broker tries to funnel clients to the self-help FAQs area before providing the contact information. While I can't blame them for trying to minimize support volume, it does take two clicks to reach the contact form and service numbers (which is provided 24/7). In comparison, some other brokers put their contact numbers front and center site-wide.
Commissions & Fees
While competitive with its other full service broker competitors such as TD Ameritrade, Fidelity, and Charles Schwab, ETRADE is not an ideal choice for investors seeking discounted commissions. In the broker space, though, most often what you pay for is what you get, and ETRADE's well-rounded offering offsets its higher rates.
Regular stock trades are $9.99 with options trades costing $9.99, plus $.75 per contract. All trades are flat-rate commissions, meaning there are no gimmicks to watch out for, and hyper-active traders can get their rate as low as $6.99 if they make 1,500-plus trades per quarter.
ETRADE does stand out from its competitors with its mutual fund commissions, which run $19.99 per trade. Charles Schwab, Fidelity, and TD Ameritrade charge $76, $49.95, and $49.99, respectively. As far as total selection, the broker offers more than 8,000 to choose from.
Lastly, I found that ETRADE has a reputable offering of commission-free ETFs, an offering that has become increasingly popular industry-wide in the last few years. While the broker does not quite match Charles Schwab's and TD Ameritrade's 100-plus commission-free ETFs offerings, there are 92 in total.
Performing research on ETRADE is simple and user-friendly. After pulling up a quote for Apple clients see a quick overview of key statistics alongside a mini chart of the current day's action, alert setup, buy and sell buttons, headlines, price analysis from Trefis research, a company overview description, and a box highlighting some of the recent analyst research reports.
ETRADE's third party research report providers include Thomson Reuters, Standard & Poor's, MarketEdge, and SmartConsensus. Access to four providers is strong and something not found with discount brokers; however, when compared to its closest competitors, ETRADE falls short as Charles Schwab, Fidelity, and TD Ameritrade all provide access to at least seven.
The charting functionality was something I particularly enjoyed, as I could popout the chart box into its own window and then enlarge it to take full advantage of my 24-inch monitor. Adjusting settings and adding studies alongside company event data such as splits, dividends, earnings, and insider trades was helpful. The standout feature here was the ability to display post-hours trading activity, which is great to use during earnings season.
Platforms & Tools
For clients looking to simply track their favorite stocks and holdings, the ETRADE MarketCaster is the broker's real-time streaming quotes tool, which pops up as a new window when launched. MarketCaster was simple, easy-to-use, easily customizable, and I found it to be a great tool to leave open throughout the day to keep an eye on positions or a custom watch list.
For feature-hungry clients, there are two platforms available: ETRADE MarketTrader (web-based) and ETRADE Pro (desktop-based). Both platforms require Pro Elite status, which means making at least 30 stock or options trades per quarter or having a portfolio balance of $250,000. ETRADE Pro can be accessed for $99 per month otherwise. In comparison, TD Ameritrade and Charles Schwab both give full access to their flagship platforms with no strings attached, while Fidelity and Scottrade also have requirements.
While MarketTrader is impressive, the spotlight really falls on ETRADE Pro. This is the broker's flagship platform, and it has all the bells and whistles an active trader could want withsnap grid functionality for quick and easy customizing. Pro supports some 20-plus tools, including streaming live CNBC TV, a real-time strategy scanner, several options tools, advanced charting with more than 60 different available studies, real time sales, and level II quotes, among others.
One other note about Pro Elite status: Alongside free access to ETRADE Pro and MarketTrader, Pro Elite also gain access to the Elite customer service team for service and trading. Considering the quality of regular customer service is very strong, I found Elite status to be of little use, less on the rare trading day when the market is in disarray and call volumes are in extreme excess.
As the first broker to really push mobile, ETRADE continues its dominance, finishing first overall again in our rankings. ETRADE was the only one to include investor education in its app (a nice touch) and had a slew of advanced features offered by few brokers: CNBC TV, level II quotes, barcode scanning, and third-party research reports, among others.
The only area ETRADE really falls behind is in charting, where only two indicators are supported. While only having a handful of technical indicators/studies available to add to a chart is fairly standard, I expect more from ETRADE, considering its leadership in the industry. Another drawback is that the broker only supports basics stock alerts by price and does not allow clients to customize using other criteria.
Minor gripes aside, with 42 variables being assessed on for mobile trading, ETRADE earned 94% of total possible points. The broker is No. 1 in my book because its apps are easy-to-use, dependable, and feature-rich.
I've found through my ETRADE review that, while ETRADE's stock ETFC took a beating throughout 2007 and 2008 as the broker's mortgage portfolio became a nightmare, the trading part of its business stood strong. Today, ETRADE's commercials remain relevant, the broker continues to innovate, and all in all, it provides a wonderfully well rounded offering for its clients.
Whether an active trader, a new investor, or just someone looking to manage a retirement portfolio, ETRADE is a dependable, full-service broker that impresses all investor types and gives its competitors a run for their money.
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.