Having been established in 1985 and with an online presence since 1997, Firstrade is one of the most established online brokers in the United States. The company has won multiple awards in the past for its online services and is regularly ranked in the top ten of US online brokers.
The range of products offered by Firstrade is fairly comprehensive. You can invest in a broad range of stocks, exchange traded funds and bonds. The company also offers more than 11,000 mutual funds for investors who want to be less actively involved in trading.
For people who wish to pursue option trading, Firstrade has a good range of tools for this but is lagging slightly behind some of its competitors in terms of offering a few of the more advanced option trading strategies. Margin trading is available for people who wish to use leverage as part of their investment strategy. The margin rates are reasonable, making Firstrade a good platform for this kind of activity.
Firstrade is a member of FINRA and SIPC. In addition, the clearing company that it uses has additional insurance underwritten by Lloyds of London. This provides additional protection for accounts up to a value of $150 million in the event of SIPC limits being exhausted. SIPC offers protection for accounts up to $500,000 in value, of which $250,000 may be in cash.
The customer service offered by Firstrade is widely recognised as being amongst the best in the industry. They have well trained, friendly customer service representatives who are available to take your calls and dedicated brokers are available for customers who invest more than $50,000 using the company.
In addition, customer service representatives who speak both Mandarin and Cantonese are employed by the company and both the online and mobile platforms are also available in these languages. This makes Firstrade an ideal platform for Chinese investors who wish to trade in the US. There are tax benefits for overseas investors who choose to trade in US stocks.
The commission charged by Firstrade is a very reasonable $6.95 per trade. They don’t charge an account maintenance fee and have no minimum deposit. This makes them competitive amongst low cost online brokers and an attractive choice for novices who wish to try out a more active trading strategy without risking too much money.
The research that Firstrade offer via their platform is of an excellent standard, with news and analysis being provided by Morningstar, Briefing.com and Zacks among others. The charts that the broker provides are good enough, although a greater variety of different means of representing market movements would be useful for some investors.
Tools included by Firstrade include an advanced screener, stock price alert and the X-stream real time quote system. The latter is Java-based, has fully customisable fields and colours and can track up to 20 stocks at one time. The screener allows you to quickly find the stocks, funds and bonds that you want to invest in by allowing you to search using a range of criteria. These tools are all free for customers of the brokerage.
Barron’s, Forbes and Smart Money have all ranked Firstrade as one of America’s top online brokers. In 2005 it was named the Best Deal amongst online discount brokers by Smart Money magazine. Kiplinger’s rated Firstrade as the best mutual funds broker and the top clean hands firm in 2006.
As well as online trading, Firstrade now offers a mobile trading platform for both Android and Apple devices. This offers a solid platform for trading on the go via your smartphone or tablet. Watchlists that have been set up on your computer can be viewed using the app on your phone. The apps are free to download and there are no additional fees for trading via the mobile platform.
Firstrade offers a comprehensive service for most investors and should suit people who wish to be fairly active in managing their portfolio as well as those who simply wish to occasionally glance at their mutual funds. For active investors who wish to engage in complex options trading strategies there are other platforms that give a wider selection of tools to help with this. Also, depending on your preferences for charting market movements, Firstrade may not have precisely the chart that you would like.
In general, however, the platform offers a good value, solid brokerage service that will be perfect for the majority of investors. For Chinese investors, the brokerage has a special appeal that lifts it above its competitors.