TradeKing's goal when it launched in December 2005 was simple: to provide low-cost commissions, quality customer service, and build out a place where investors want to go each day to share ideas, discuss the market and, ultimately, place trades.
Today, TradeKings vision has evolved, thanks in part to its merger with Zecco in late 2012. Instead of its community, costs and service being in focus, the overall client experience is in focus. Zecco brought premium research alongside quality mobile trading to the table (among other things), which, combined with TradeKings core offerings, puts TradeKing in a position to try and become the ultimate value broker.
Whether or not TradeKing will succeed in its mission is for time to tell. This TradeKing review will explore some of the highlights and lowlights of the overall offering.
Commissions & Fees
TradeKing's commissions structure is pretty much in line with its discount competitors. Offering flat-fee trades, regular stock trades are $4.95 with options trades costing $4.95, plus $.65 per contract. Penny stock traders will not find TradeKing's commissions structure ideal, however, as stocks less than $2 per share cost $4.95, plus $.01 per share (up to 5% of trade value).
When it comes to trading on the TradeKing website, the one thing that I did not like was the process of placing a trade. Instead of an all-in-one trade ticket, TradeKing has more than a dozen separate trade ticket pages, which makes it inconvenient. Fortunately for clients though, the trade ticket provided in the TradeKing LIVE platform is far superior, and I highly recommend it over using the website whenever possible.
Traditionally speaking, TradeKing defines what quality customer service is supposed to be like for clients. During testing for the StockBrokers.com 2012 Broker Review, I found that no matter what route of support I tested, TradeKing had a high-quality experience waiting for me.
However, when testing TradeKings support for our 2013 Broker Review, we found that several competitors had caught up, and TradeKing, overall, had slipped from its once standout position. While our testing did not take place during the month of December 2012, when TradeKings merger with Zecco was in full force, it is worth noting that the merger may have had an impact.
During testing for our most recent 2014 Review, I was happy to see TradeKing was back to its old self. All our email tests were returned within one business day with well-crafted, clean templates. Phone and live chat were a similarly pleasant experience. TradeKing ended up finishing with 4.5 stars.
TradeKing's community, the Trader Network, allows clients to share their real trades, notes for why they made them, and interact with the rest of the community via blogs, forums and groups. While in past years the forums always seemed to be active, as of late, it seems clients have found other interests. Less than half a dozen topics were posted on each day with little to no trades being shared.
Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of the Trader Network is the fact that TradeKing's CEO Don Montanaro, known as "bigdog" within the community, runs his own blog, posting at least once per week. In fact, in early 2013, the CEO hit a milestone, passing 1,000 total posts. TradeKing also has their "All Stars" blog, which is a mix of market gurus and staff members.
Overall, the TradeKing Trader Network is a good place for clients to mingle. Newer investors especially will find the community to be helpful in getting questions answered and expanding their education.
While the Trader Network is easy to navigate, the majority of the site is not. TradeKings triple level navigation menu is very difficult to become accustomed to. Furthermore, there is no site-wide quote bar, so pulling quotes requires multiple clicks. The biggest headache, though, comes with the log-in process, which constantly asks users to answer security questions, even if you click the remember me option.
Although TradeKings site is due for a serious ease-of-use makeover, the good news is that the overhaul is already underway. TradeKing is currently building a brand new 100% responsive website, and to say we are eager is an understatement. With proper execution, the new site design has the potential to be a huge win for clients.
Even though TradeKings primary site navigation is a nightmare, the exact opposite is the case for the research area, which has its own navigation menu that appears once a stock quote is pulled up. Looking at a quote of Apple (AAPL), for example, investors can seamlessly navigate from the quote snapshot page to charting, news, options chains, earnings, fundamentals, financials or insider analysis.
Every research area needs quality charting, and while most discount brokers suffer in this area, TradeKing delivers. The charting area utilizes the full width of the screen with a clean layout that is flexible and easily adjusted on the fly. Each indicator or study that is added to the chart is displayed with a mini box and x for quick removal. Being able to display corporate events such as splits, dividends and earnings also is a nice addition.
While research is mostly a data-mining experience, TradeKing goes the extra mile to bring visual appeal to the data seeing graphs and having overlays to identify key points makes the experience far more insightful than staring at straight data. With that said, we could go without the random banner advertisements promoting TradeKing products.
Lastly, TradeKing only provides one third-party research report, which is from Standard & Poor's. With offering discounted trades, multiple third-party reports cannot be provided the cost is simply too high. Given that nearly all of TradeKings close discount competitors provide none at all, one is fine with me.
Platforms & Tools
TradeKing offers simple pop-up watch list functionality through the main site alongside its browser platform, TradeKing LIVE. With the watch list functionality built into TradeKing LIVE being far superior, I wouldn't even bother using the watch list included with the regular site.
As far as TradeKing LIVE goes, the platform is very sleek, clean, easy-to-use (especially for placing trades) and well laid out, but is also very limited. Besides the real-time watch list, clients can only see a detailed quote for a stock, their current holdings, current account balance, basic charting and view options chains.
Back to the site experience, TradeKing provides seven different options tools for its clients. The plus side is variety and clients are able to screen for potential trades then analyze them accordingly. On the con side, nearly all of the tools are provided by third-party service IVolatility. Because of this, conducting analysis on theoretical positions is tedious and hardly a seamless experience for the client to research then trade.
While TradeKing does have it drawbacks, the broker provides a positive client experience at a discounted price. The broker still needs work to compete with the big full-service brokers, however, compared to other discount broker competitors such as OptionsHouse, tradeMONSTER, Firstrade and Just2Trade, TradeKing stands out for its high quality, all-around offering.
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.