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How do I find a good stockbroker?
We compare online brokers with full service brokers and show you what to look out for.
Are you looking for a stockbroker to help you get started buying and selling shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) and other international stock exchanges? A good broker can mean the difference between being a successful share trader and suffering investment losses, so it’s important to compare a range of options before choosing one to go with.
Check out online stockbrokers
Choosing a broker is one of the most critical decisions that any investor will ever make. From the advice they offer to the fees they charge and the markets they allow you to access, the stockbroker you choose will have a huge impact on your success as a share trader.
However, before you can start comparing the services of stockbrokers, it’s first important to understand that there are, broadly speaking, two different types of brokers available: full-service brokers and online brokers.
A full-service broker is the traditional person most of us think of when you hear the word “stockbroker.” Full-service brokers offer a high-level investment service to their customers. After assessing your financial situation and investment goals, this type of broker will provide detailed investment research and advice on which shares you should buy and sell.
An online broker, on the other hand, is a term used to refer to online share trading services. These online platforms make it easy for everyday investors to buy and sell shares online. Rather than advising you on which shares to buy or sell, online trading platforms simply allow you the market access you need to make trades.
Which option is right for me?
Whether you should choose an online broker or a full-service broker really depends on your investment experience, financial goals and even on your personal preferences. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages that you should carefully consider before choosing an investment route.
The benefits of online broking services are that they are cheap, easy to use and convenient. Brokerage typically ranges from around $10 to $30 per trade and there are trading platforms available to suit everyone from casual investors to experienced traders.
Online brokers don’t offer the same level of personalized advice as full-service brokers. However, depending on the trading platform you choose and the membership level you select, you may be able to access detailed company research, analyses and buy and sell recommendations from the online broker’s expert staff. Of course, you may need to pay an extra fee to access these services.
Meanwhile, the main advantage of choosing a full-service broker is that you have an expert advising you on all your share trades. A full-service broker considers your financial standing and goals before providing you with trading recommendations and advice. Depending on the level of service you select, the broker can even trade on your behalf and make investment decisions without your input.
The downside to this is that full-service brokers come at an extra cost. Brokerage fees are usually charged as a percentage of the total buy or sell transaction amount, so you will need to factor this extra expense into your calculations when deciding whether a full-service broker is the right choice.
Choosing between online brokers and full-service brokers
You may be starting to realize that choosing between a full-service stockbroker and an online broking service isn’t always a clear-cut decision. To help make the choice easier, ask yourself a few simple questions:
How much money do I want to invest?
If you only have a small amount to invest, you may decide that it might not be worth your while to pay a full-service broker’s fees.
How much do I know about investing?
Consider whether you may benefit from the tailored expert advice that a full-service broker may offer.
How much does each option cost?
Consider how the brokerage fees charged by full-service and online brokers will affect your investment budget.
How much control do I want to have over my investments?
Would you prefer to have full control over where your money is invested, or do you want a broker who can take care of all your buy and sell trades for you?
Do I need more than one broker?
Some investors use multiple brokers to access expert advice on different investment sectors.
Once you know the answers to the above questions you should be a lot closer to working out whether you should choose a full-service broker or go for the DIY option and open an account with an online share trading broker.
If you’ve decided you want a full-service stockbroker to help you make the right share trading decisions, consider these factors when comparing brokers:
- What you can buy and sell
Compare the investments that different brokers can advise you on and help you trade, such as shares, warrants, ETFs, futures and more.
Compare the fees charged by stockbrokers for the services they offer. Is there a flat fee or a fee charged as a percentage of the transaction amount? How does the fee vary depending on the size of the transaction? Fees for full-service brokerages can range enormously, anywhere from $50 – $300 per transaction.
Make sure you’re fully aware of the services your broker provides. Will they offer advice and then execute the trades you instruct them to, or will your broker be authorized to trade on your behalf.
- Specialist expertise
Some broking firms may have specialist areas of knowledge, for example, the resources sector, which may be worth considering if you are looking to concentrate your investments in specific industries.
- Minimum investment amount
There may be a minimum amount that you must invest before you are eligible to access a broker’s services.
- The broker’s questions
Before a full-service broker can offer advice, they must first take the time to understand your financial situation and investment goals. Look for a broker that shows an in-depth interest in your investment needs and asks all the right questions to form a complete picture of your requirements.
- Regular contact
Finally, consider how you will be able to contact your broker if you ever have a question about your portfolio. Will you be contacted regularly with updates on the performance of your portfolio? How often will your broker monitor it and will you be informed of any adjustments that need to be made?
If you’ve decided to sign up for an online broking service, keep the following factors in mind when comparing the benefits and drawbacks of different share trading platforms:
- Brokerage fees
Compare the fees you will need to pay each time you buy or sell a parcel of shares. This could be a flat fee or a percentage of the transaction amount and it could also vary depending on the size of the trade.
- Ongoing fees
It’s free to maintain a basic account with many online share broking services, but some charge ongoing membership fees. Many providers will also allow you to access regular company news, research and analyses if you pay an ongoing monthly fee.
- What you can trade
Can you trade shares on the TSX and a selection of other global stock exchanges? Can you trade anything else other than shares through your online account?
- Trading limits
Check to see whether the trading platform imposes minimum and maximum limits on your trading transaction amounts.
- Ease of use
How easy is each provider’s trading platform to use? Is it simple and intuitive or is it too confusing to place a trade? Many brokers offer free demo accounts that can help you answer these questions.
- Research and analysis
Compare the market analysis and stock recommendations you can access through each online broker. Will you need to pay an additional fee to access these services?
- Flexible trading options
Can you take advantage of options such as stop loss orders to create a more advanced trading experience?
- Additional access
Does the provider offer a smartphone and/or tablet app to allow you to trade on the go? Is phone trading also available and, if so, does it attract any extra fees?
- Customer support
Finally, make sure you will be able to access the help you need if you ever have a problem with your account or a particular transaction.
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