Ask most investors if they have heard of Fidelity Investments, and the answer is almost always yes. Fidelity is a huge brand, perhaps the largest based on total assets alongside Charles Schwab, and one of the largest brokers as far as total clients goes along with TD Ameritrade and ETRADE.
As a full-service broker with millions of clients and ample service offerings, it is no surprise that providing top-notch research is the No. 1 priority. Investment guidance and retirement services are two other monster parts of Fidelitys business, which this review will take a closer look at.
Commissions & Fees
Fidelity, like its closest competitors, uses a simple, flat-fee trading commission structure. Stock trades are $7.95, and option trades run $7.95, plus $.75 per contract, which are rates similar to those found at TD Ameritrade, ETRADE, Charles Schwab and Scottrade.
One standout feature for Fidelity: Among the big online brokers, Fidelity has the lowest margin rates, with ETRADE not much further behind (full margin rate schedules can be viewed and compared using the Compare Tool).
Fidelity offers 76 commission-free ETFs, up from 30 in early 2013. The broker still trails ETRADE, TD Ameritrade and Charles Schwab, however, with Charles Schwab leading the industry, offering 121 in total.
Lastly, Fidelity offers checking accounts, savings accounts, credit cards and debit cards, but no home mortgages. Its credit cards in particular stand out in the area of rewards. Next to Capital One ShareBuilder, the offers are the best in the brokerage space.
Research, Ease of Use
Fidelitys shining star is its research, and this should come as no surprise. We were extremely impressed with the overall depth and scope of what is available. Some could argue that, at times, the amount of research is over-done.
Take, for example, equities research. Pull up a quote of Apple (AAPL) and you will find an Equity Summary Score alongside 13 different third-party research reports to navigate through, the largest of any broker. ETFs are not left out either, as we found six total third-party research reports available for SPY.
The primary research provider for ETFs and mutual funds, as far as key data and ratings goes, is Morningstar. Morningstar is our favorite provider for fund research, and all the big brokers use them. We've found their screeners to be more thorough, the data to be more visually appealing and unique tools such as the fund StyleMaps to be great.
While the research area is fairly straight-forward and easy to navigate, the rest of the site used to be a mess. In our 2013 Review, Fidelity ranked lowest among its competitors for ease-of-use, mostly because of its outdated website and extremely small navigation menu.
Fidelity heard us loud and clear, though, taking a big step forward in 2013 with the launching of a brand new main site navigation menu that is 10 times better than its predecessor. See for yourself the difference between the two below (first displayed is the new navigation, second the old navigation).
With its main site navigation cleared up, Fidelity should focus on adding a site-wide quote bar that includes real-time streaming quotes and a fully functioning trade ticket, so trades can be placed from any page on the site. Alongside the quote bar, Fidelity should skip the pop-up mini quote windows that appear after entering a stocks symbol into the top right corner quote box, and instead simply take the user to the symbols research page. Less clicks and less windows equals happier users.
Customer Service, Education
When reviewing Fidelity customer service, we expected great results, and great results are what we got. Fidelity once again finished as one of the top brokers in customer service, giving us consistently high-quality service, regardless if we were on the phone, emailing in or utilizing live chat.
In the area of education, Fidelity does a good job of breaking up content, sorting by experience level, category, and content type. Articles, videos, webinars, infographics, as well as courses are available to clients. Courses organize articles and videos into a step-by-step roadmap and track your progress so you can easily leave and come back later without forgetting your place.
Including infographics was a very nice touch even just two crafted in-house and extremely informative. The weakest content of all the types was webinars. Only five were available, and they were all beginner or intermediate.
Platforms, Mobile Trading
Fidelity, like its competitors, does provide Active Trader Services and tools, including two desktop-based platforms and one web-based platform.
Desktop-based platforms include Fidelitys flagship platform Active Trader Pro, as well as Wealth-Lab Pro. Active Trader Pro comes in both desktop and web flavors, requiring at least 36 or more qualified trades in a rolling 12-month period for access. To unlock Recognia and Elliott Wave analysis, 120-plus trades must be made.
WWhile Active Trader Pro has made great strides over the years, especially in 2013 with its improvements in its options capabilities, the platform still trails the two undisputed leaders in this arena: TD Ameritrade's thinkorswim and TradeStation.With that said, though, there is a lot to like and the bulk of Fidelity clients will be very pleased with the product.
Alongside the platforms, Fidelity also offers Active Trader Services (dedicated trading specialists and personalized support), which has even steeper requirements. To qualify, clients must place 120 or more stock, bond, or options trades in a rolling 12-month period and maintain $25,000 in assets across their eligible Fidelity brokerage accounts.
Active trader platforms and services aside, when it comes to mobile, Fidelity provides apps for all major devices and makes them available to all clients no prerequisites needed here. We found the iPhone app easy-to-use and bug-free. The broker does an especially great job with integrating its banking services into the app, something that banking clients will appreciate.
Our favorite feature was the customizable "home screen cards," allowing for a quick overview of all client products upon log-in. The weak points in Fidelitys mobile services center around active traders. Charting depth and customizations lacked, and the broker does not support complex option orders.
Overall, Fidelity Investments is a very well respected broker, competing among the largest brands in the online broker space. The backbone of its success, specialty services and research, will certainly continue to be front and center for many years to come.
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.