With its $6.95 flat-trades and a website that provides a little bit of everything for everyone, Firstrade puts up a respectable fight with the leaders in the industry. The question is, however, does that make them a legitimate consideration to park an investment portfolio? Or is Firstrade a broker not worth the trouble?
This review will break down the facts and reveal the answer.
Commissions & Fees
When it comes to trades, Firstrade keeps things mostly simple, offering investors flat-fee stock trades for $6.95 each. Options trades run $6.95, plus $.75 per contract. An extra charge of $.005 cents per share comes into play, however, if trading more than 5,000 shares. Stocks less than $1, including OTCBB, also come with higher fees.
On the equities side, Firstrade competes most closely with Scottrade, whose trades run $7 per trade or $.05 more per. And for options trading, it is no coincidence that TD Ameritrade, ETRADE, Charles Schwab and Fidelity all charge $.75 per contract, plus their normal base fee.
Firstrade has the advantage with mutual funds, charging less than its big brother competitors. However, matched up against discount brokers such as TradeKing and OptionsHouse, Firstrade is right in line.
Lastly, Firstrade does offer 10 commission-free ETFs, which is a plus. Unfortunately though, this is not many when compared to Fidelity, ETRADE or TD Ameritrade, which all offer more than 100.
As far as research goes, Firstrade improved its experience for clients by leaps and bounds after it migrated to Morningstar as its primary provider in 2013. Morningstar is the most popular provider of research in the industry, and for good reason its quality data and unique variables are top notch.
Under Morningstar, Firstrade now offers its clients thorough research for stocks, ETFs, and mutual funds. With that said, however, Firstrade still has room for improvement.
Firstrade offers no third-party research report for stocks, and none for ETFs or mutual funds. Scottrade, which charges just $.05 more per trade, provides its clients with three third-party research reports for stocks, one for ETFs and one for mutual funds. Lastly, pay just $1 more per trade and investors can have access to the 13 third-party research reports offered by Fidelity for equities alone.
Ease of Use
One area where Firstrade shines is in the category of ease-of-use.
Firstrade's website is not only well designed, but also easy to navigate. It just works. The primary navigation menu is well labeled and takes advantage of primary links with sub-navigation below, a proven format that yields happy clients. The broker also boasts a site-wide quote bar with real-time streaming quotes and a quick trade ticket built in. Top that off with a well laid out research area, and it is a recipe for success.
Even the client dashboard is well constructed, clean and customizable. Customizable dashboards are becoming increasingly popular with clients, offering them a clear view of everything important to them upon login. While Firstrade's client dashboard is no ETRADE 360 (our personal favorite on the web), the broker has done a good job.
If there is one gripe with Firstrades website, it is its log-in process, which took a turn for the worrisome in 2013 when the broker released its new state-of-the-art PIN log-in. With security at the forefront of many investors minds, Firstrade has patented a new secure way to enter in your PIN. The problem is that it is extremely tedious, it is not intuitive, and it takes time to really get it. The PIN should be disabled by default and made an option for security-focused clients.
Firstrade does not offer a desktop-based platform. Instead, its website and Java-based X-Stream Watchlist tool make up its platform. This leaves Firstrade at a disadvantage when trying to attract even remotely active traders, as there is a distinct lack of depth on the whole.
Charting, for example, is okay for a website, but without a platform, the lack of customizations becomes very noticeable. Less than 20 technical indicators are available, and even basic customizations cannot be made to any of them. Also not available: virtual trading, chart notes, trading off the chart or advanced drawing tools such as Fibonacci retracements.
For clients who can't live without level II quotes or more advanced charting, Firstrade does offer an X-Stream Level II service for $19.95 per month. However, we advise saving the money.
On the mobile trading front, Firstrade offers a basic iPhone app but not an iPad or Android app as of yet.
While Firstrade offers a well-organized website and much improved research, the broker lacks the depth to compete with the big full-service brokers. The price paid per trade simply does not match the value delivered by its key competitors.
With that said, for clients who are seeking account security, or are looking for an all-around easy-to-use broker, Firstrade could be a good 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.