Interactive Brokers Review
Interactive Brokers (IBKR) is known primarily for two key aspects: international investing and highly competitive commission rates. While there are some catches to its competitive commissions offering, which will be broken down in the review below, the broker is worth a close consideration.
On the whole, having the ability to trade on more than 100 market centers in 30 different countries, and trade stocks, options, ETFs, futures and forex alongside bonds, Interactive Brokers has something to offer any seasoned investor who has at least $10,000.
Commissions & Fees
Every investor wants competitive commissions, and active traders are no exception. At Interactive Brokers, appealing to both hyperactive traders and institutions is critical, so keeping commissions low is their No. 1 priority.
Starting with margin rates, Interactive Brokers offers the lowest rates in the industry. Rates vary from 1.59% down to a staggering .59% for clients who hold more than $1 million with the brokerage.
New clients should be aware of the miscellaneous fees and minimums with Interactive Brokers. In a nutshell, spend at least $30 in commissions and you are in the clear otherwise, charges for inactivity can reach up to $20 or more. A full breakdown can be found on the Commissions & Fees tab in the navigation menu above this review.
Stock trades run $.005 per share with the flat-rate structure ($1 minimum). Alternatively, the Cost Plus structure can be used, which starts at $.0035 per share, but does not cover exchange, regulatory, clearing and transaction costs.
Options are $.70 per contract with no minimums, and active options traders will enjoy that exercise and assignments are practically free.
The only x-factor when trading through Interactive Brokers is that they do receive payment for order flow, and they do self-clear. While routing and rebates can be controlled under Cost-Plus pricing, the site claims their smart-order routing consistently achieves aggressive price improvement however, we do not have enough data to say one way or another.
If there is one noticeable weak spot in the Interactive Brokers offering, it is customer service. During our testing, we found support to be an inconsistent experience, sometimes being near perfect and other times being less-than-desirable.
During phone testing our 2013 Review, we once sat on hold for 20 minutes, while another time we were connected in a matter of seconds. Overall, we found we waited, on average, two to three minutes to get connected to a rep. Once connected, the experiences were often enjoyable, as reps were courteous and usually nice.
When it came to email support, the experience was, once again, inconsistent. In testing for this years 2014 Review, one our email tests was responded to in less than eight hours while another took 18 days for a response.
Additionally, 24-hour support should not be confused with 24/7. Phone support is not available on Saturdays. Furthermore, phone support hours are not 24 hours a day. In fact, upon inspection of the website, we could not figure out what 24-hour actually meant at all. If you are an IB client and wish to enlighten us, please do.
Platforms & Tools
The flagship platform offered by Interactive Brokers is its Trader Workstation (TWS). The platform is set up to trade everything under the sun, including global assets, and to be used by those with ample experience in the markets. New traders beware: This platform is not built for you. Instead we recommend using the HTML browser-based IB WebTrader or Mosaic within TWS.
Because Interactive Brokers supports so many investment types and international currencies, the broker had to rethink order and watch list management. What they came up with, which by no means is easy to adjust to, is truly a work of art. The best way to describe it is to think of an Excel workbook. Columns are optional data fields (171 to be exact), and rows can be any security imaginable. Everything streams seamlessly and trades can be made straight from it.
There is one usability disadvantage that comes from supporting so many investment types, and that is pulling up quotes or trading securities. Even typing in AAPL for Apple yields dozens of possible matches, which can easily be overwhelming for the unseasoned investor.
Since TWS is difficult to master, Interactive Brokers began building out Mosaic, a more user-friendly version of legacy TWS. Both versions run at the same time, which can be confusing if you are not used to the platform; however, once you get the hang of it, it isnt too bad.
Originally, clients could only place simple trades, view charts, have a watch list and perform other basic actions. Over the years, Interactive Brokers has ported many of the legacy features and functionality over to Mosaic, and today it is nearly 100% standalone. Looking ahead, separating the two into their own individual downloads would make the client experience far more efficient, especially for new clients.
There are a variety of other TWS tools that are not covered within this review. Algo trading, OptionTrader, scanners, trader chat rooms and charting, to name a few, are all available within TWS. While TWS is no thinkorswim by TD Ameritrade or TradeStation, the platform is impressive in its own right.
Interactive Brokers offers little-to-no research. The broker does offer a decent variety of education, but, overall, we found it to be just okay.
Mobile trading with Interactive Brokers is a mostly enjoyable experience. On the iPhone app, we did not like the limited technical study options available for charting. We did, however, greatly appreciate the streaming real-time data throughout the app alongside the extensive order entry capabilities.
With highly competitive commission rates, more than 50 different order types, staggering low margin rates, support for every investment imaginable, trading in more than 100 international markets and an adaptive trade platform suitable for any pro, Interactive Brokers has quite the offering for investors who fit into its target mold.
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.