What is the best investing app for beginning traders? Robinhood vs Webull vs Etrade vs Fidelity – which one is right for you? Read my detailed breakdown that goes over side-by-side analysis of some of the key features and functionalities of these 4 investment platforms.
In this day age, entering the stock market is as easy ever.
With the proliferation of numerous online brokerages and investment apps, and with so much rhetoric and conjecture in the news lately, regarding large cap companies like, Apple, Tesla, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, etc. — it’s hard not to be sucked into the world of stock trading.
And if you’re new to this world, you might be eager to jump in, but perhaps not so sure about which brokerage firm is the best option for you to start your journey with.
So in this article, I’ll break down four popular investment platforms and help you reach a decision on which is the best for the beginning investor.
Our agenda here is to discuss:
A) What’s really important for new/beginning traders.
B) An introduction of the 4 trading platforms I’ll cover today.
C) A side by side analysis of some of the account offerings and costs.
D) The research/analysis/trading tools you need & what each platform offers.
E) Their mobile trading experiences.
F) And final thoughts/recommendations on which one you should go with.
A) What’s really important for new/beginning traders.
Now as a beginning trader, there are a 3 important questions you need to ask yourself before you dive into the stock market.
First, what is your end goal in beginning your stock investing journey?
Is this a quick short term play to see if you can earn some extra cash? Or is it a long term play to grow capital towards a larger life purchase, like a car or a new home perhaps? Or is retirement planning your goal — and you’re trying to raise enough money to sustain yourself after you’ve exited the working life? Or are you looking to grow a small avenue of passive income in the form of, say, dividends?
How you answer these types of questions will determine what tools and services you need and how you’ll approach your trading strategy.
For the sake of this article, let’s say that your goal is long term capital growth to save up for a new home or some other large life purchase. So, in this case, your trading behavior might be to contribute a small but steady amount into your brokerage account on a regular interval, taking moderate risk with the goal of steady compound growth in mind.
The next question you have to ask yourself as a beginning trader — is how actively do you want to manage your portfolio?
For some people like me — investing, financial proficiency and the stock market are pretty fascinating subjects, but that’s not the case for everyone. Some of you might find it more beneficial to have the firm or a fund manager overseeing your investments, rather than doing it yourself.
And that’s perfectly fine, but that’ll adjust how you engage in the market — whether you are primarily invested in stocks, mutual funds or ETFs and whether or not you’d utilize ROBO advisors to help make your portfolio selections.
And the last question you want to ask yourself — is how much do you want to invest and how tolerant are you of market risk?
This is a key question… because quite frankly, if you don’t know what you’re doing, the stock market can be an easy place to lose all of your money. You see, an uneducated or uninformed stock transaction is no different than betting all of your money at the roulette table in Vegas — it’s really just a glorified form of gambling.
But a well researched and carefully thought out trading plan can be a strong wealth building strategy — and your key to reaching your financial goals.
So before you decide to jump into the deep end of this pool, take a minute to carefully ponder these questions and make sure you are solidly resolved on what it is you want to accomplish here.
B) An introduction of the 4 trading platforms.
First up, we have Etrade — this is one of the heavy hitters in this field.
It was founded in 1982 by two American businessmen, Bernard Newcomb & William Porter, in Palo Alto. This was right around the time that Apple released their Apple LLE computers and Porter was pondering the idea of whether or not they could use a personal computer to buy and sell stocks.
After the two had met and had a quick conversation about this, at a party — they gathered up $15,000 of capital, shook hands and eventually founded the company that is now known as Etrade.
Since then, Etrade has grown to almost 5 million active clients with over $400 billion in client assets. And anecdotally, this platform is most popular with frequent traders and known for managing large company employee stock purchase programs as well as having tech forward digital trading tools.
Next we have Robinhood.
Now if you’re a millennial or a young working professional, you’ve likely heard of Robinhood. This fairly new platform has been making waves all over the internet — as perhaps one of the most digitally savvy and mobile UX friendly trading platforms.
The story of this company starts almost a decade ago, at Stanford University, with two young classmates, Vladimir Tenev and Baiju Bhatt. Actually, they were not only classmates, but roommates as well. And after they graduated and went off to New York, to develop some trading apps for a variety of hedge funds — they soon realized that big wall street firms pay next to nothing to trade stocks, while most retail traders were charged commissions for every trade.
They felt this was incredibly unfair, so they set off on a mission to create a new trading platform with $0 commission fees — and thus, Robinhood was born. And due to their charter, Robinhood was actually the first and the pioneer for the paradigm shift of all of the major trading platforms going from commissioned trades to completely free equity trades, for the average retail investor.
Now, as a private start up that’s still in developing phases of fund raising, they haven’t been super transparent about their operating figures, but reports have estimated that they have a client base of around 10 million accounts with under $8 billion in assets.
If you’d like to sign up for a new Robinhood account, use my referral link here, to get a free stock at the point of registration.
Webull is the newest player among the 4 that we’ll be discussing today and it’s a firm that was founded in Hunan China, but has established a US subsidiary for their customer-facing brokerage operations in New York.
Webull’s origins, much like Robinhood’s are founded on the belief that financial services and technology should exist in a symbiotic relationship. So like most fintechs out there — they have heavy emphasis on robust capabilities and services through the development of their digital product. They’ve developed a robust set of tools within their Webull desktop platform aimed at replicating larger firm’s trading capabilities, while maintaining the sleekness of a modern, mobile trading platform.
Also, like Robinhood, Webull is a private start up with approximately 9 million clients and just over $10 billion in client assets.
If you’d like to sign up for a new Webull account, use my referral link here, to get a free stock when you make your first deposit.
And lastly we have the oldest of the 4 — Fidelity Investments.
As, the elder stateman of the group, this investment firm was founded over 74 years ago — and has the largest client base and most assets under management in this comparison.
In fact, with over 32 million active clients and over $7 trillion dollars in assets, Fidelity is one of the largest asset managers in the entire world and manages the majority of large fortune 500 company 401k accounts. Interestingly enough, this large company is still private and is for the most part still managed by the Johnson family that first founded the company, back in 1964. Anecdotally, Fidelity is most know for their retirement accounts and strategic funds — including a wide array of Fidelity index and other mutual funds.
C) A side by side analysis of the account offerings and costs
In terms of account offerings and features — here is a quick comparison of some of the core characteristics across the four platforms.
Starting with account types — both Etrade and Fidelity are full service brokerage firms that offer nearly every retail trading account type — including cash and margin brokerage accounts as well as retirement accounts and banking solutions, like checking and savings accounts.
Robinhood only offers cash and margin brokerage accounts and a banking solution through their feature called Cash Management. Their margin account is called Robinhood Gold, and it’s actually a paid subscription model that costs $5 per month and allows you to trade with margin leverage, get access to more research and provides you level II quotes. And out of the 4 players we are evaluating today, it is the only one so far that allows cryptocurrency trading on its platform. (That is, as of late 2020.)
Webull doesn’t have a banking solution, but does offering IRA accounts in addition to their cash and margin brokerage accounts.
In terms of account fees, all four offer $0 dollar commissions for any stocks or equities bought and sold through their platforms — as well as no minimum balance requirements to open an account.
That means, if you’re only looking to trade stocks or ETFs, you can essentially use all 4 trading platforms for free — at least from a brokerage service standpoint.
In terms of the tools available, as you might have imagined, both Etrade and Fidelity have the full gamut of web, mobile app, desktop app and Robo-advisor avenues available, where as Webull has web, mobile and desktop versions and Robinhood’s offerings are only web and mobile app. But we’ll talk more about these tools in the next section of our comparison.
And lastly in this section, in case you are wondering, Robinhood and Fidelity allow you to purchase fractional shares, which means if you’re interesting in buying a stock with a high share price, like Amazon, but you don’t have enough money to buy one full share — you can just buy a fraction of that share with however much of money you want to invest.
D) The research, analysis and trading tools you need and what each platform offers
Ok — so now that we’ve gone over the profiles of each of these 4 players, let’s dive deep in to the practical research and analysis tools you’ll want to utilize and how each platform fares in terms of their services in this aspect.
This topic, can include many activities, but from a beginner’s standpoint, you’d be most commonly looking at analyst research, company news and examining company fundamentals.
Robinhood has a very clean and simplistic format — and their web platform consists of 5 main sections: Free Stocks, Portfolio, Cash, Messages and Account.
The home page that you land on when you first log in is typically the portfolio tab. The first thing you’ll notice is a chart of your portfolio balance and its performance across these different time periods below. If you scroll down past that, you’ll see the research section of the site, starting with this popular lists module.
You see, Robinhood’s UX is very similar to the way Instagram or Twitter operate — they have these tags that’ll take you to specific category pages that showcase a watchlist in that particular subject.
This one, for example, will take you to a list of Trending Technology stocks — it shows you the ticker, stock price, price action and market cap and you can even add it to your own personal watch lists.
Now back on the main portfolio page, if you scroll past the popular lists, you start to see some new modules that highlight breaking news, market movers, and other headlines from your watchlist. Now this is all good if you’re browsing for new opportunities to invest in, but what if you wanted to dive deep into a particular stock in terms of the analyst research, company news and fundamentals? Well, let’s click into a particular stock and see what we can glean.
This is the individual stock page for Amazon.
If you scroll past the chart, you’ll see a company profile, what lists this stock is included in, and a top news section that shows the latest headlines.
Below that is the analyst research section, which is very minimalist and easy to follow — especially for new or beginning traders. It shows you what the analyst ratings are and verbatims from both a bull and bear perspective.
Below that, this chart shows the past earnings performance for this stock. I really like this chart as well, because its a very easy to read visual that shows what the earnings estimate was for each quarter , what the analyst targets were and how much higher or lower the actual earnings were — very easy to digest.
So if I were to summarize Robinhood’s research tools and offerings here, I’d say that it’s fully sufficient for the beginning trader, because it features a streamlined and easy to digest layout that gives you just enough information to get a good sense of the background of this stock.
If you picked a stock you’ve never heard of, this page would still be comprehensive enough to help you understand what that that company does, where it sits within the industry, and what the outlooks appear to be in the near term future.
Webull also has a fairly simplistic design, and their research page is the Market tab on their site.
At the top, there are trackers for the market indices so you can get a quick pulse check on the markets and then modules, similar to Robinhood’s that show market movers for the day.
Below that they also have sections that show upcoming IPOs, Earning and Dividend stocks, as well as trending industries, funds and a quick look at the forex market.
Now, let’s take a look at a stock details page — let’s go to Amazon again just to stay consistent. What I like about this page is that it starts by giving you the stock stats right way at the top right. This is a really good at-a-glance view if you just wanted a quick pulse check on how this stock was performing.
Next, we have the chart underneath with the same ability to filter by time period — just like Robinhood.
But below that, Webull has a bit more of a comprehensive offering in terms of research information regarding the stock — with these six tabs.
After that, the News section showcases the recent headlines for the company.
Financials show a much more in-depth view of the fundamental operating figures for the company, including EPS, the income statement, balance sheet and cash flow views.
The Releases tab shows actual SEC filings for the company in terms of their internal stock distributions — such as when officers are given stock awards as part of their compensation.
The Corp actions tab shows any recent dividend payouts, splits or other insider activities.
Next, the Analysis section shows analyst research ratings and projections, similar to what was on Robinhood. Except in this case, I like how they added in a few more nuggets of information like institutional holdings & outstanding shares, in this section.
And lastly, the profile tab shows what industry this company falls under, and who their key officers are.
All in all, I would say the research tools and information provided by Webull is a bit more robust than Robinhood and would give Webull a slight edge if I were comparing them side by side. It’s the same, sleek, easy-to-read visuals with just a bit more information than Robinhood.
Right off the bat — you can already tell that as a full service brokerage firm, Etrade has a lot more to offer in both capability and information.
They have many different tabs of information (which can seem overwhelming), but as a beginning trader, for research purposes, you’ll likely spend most of your time in either this Market Research page or within your own Portfolio View.
In this Market tab, at a quick glance, there are trackers for the market indices, latest news, recent analyst recommendations, a table on market movers and a quick calendar that shows market events for the day.
And you can click into each of these sections, for an even deeper dive, but for now, let’s see what a stock details page looks like on this platform.
Here again is the Amazon stock details page. Notice here that this page is a lot more robust already, in terms of the slices of information available. It starts off at the snapshot view where the company fundamentals are showcased — with a chart that you can expand into for more detail. But we’ll talk about charts in more depth in the next section of this video.
Additional sections on the this stock details page include: Latest Headlines, Press Releases, and Commentary & Blog info regarding this stock. On the right side, it has a comprehensive section of analyst research — from many different institutional firms like Credit Suisse, and Thompson Reuters. And below that — it has this really cool module called the Trefis Analysis that shows you a break down of the company’s business model and how the different business units of the company may contribute to its stock performance.
(Finding it hard to follow along in this article? Watch the video walk through here: YouTube Link.)
Beyond that, the next really important section of this stock details page is the analyst research tab. This page starts off with a table that details the analyst projections for this stock. But what’s really cool about this visual, is that not only does it show what the average price target is of the stock is, within the next 12 months, it also shows a breakdown of what the high and low targets are as well as.
As you can see here, out of all 37 Ranked Analysts that evaluated this stock — the lowest target that was set was $3,048, definitely a good sign for amazon. (Target information as of late 2020. Analyst projections are always changing — so go to Etrade for the latest info.)
But what’s more impressive, is the analysts’ breakdown below the chart that actually lists out the individual ranked analysts and what firm they represent as well as their price target, the average return projected for this stock and how accurate this analyst has been on projections for this particular stock, in the past. I think that’s fantastic and it’s one of the most insightful pieces of information you can get regarding an individual stock.
In addition, for every analyst recommendation — there is a link to their actual article that explains why they took this position. And that way, you’re not just blindly following their recommendation, but rather, you can evaluate their analysis for yourself.
As a beginning investor, until you start to learn and develop your own method of stock evaluation, studying and reading up on what industry professionals have to say about a particular stock is one of the best ways to glean strong/actionable insights into the performance of a particular company — as well as learn what things to look for when assessing a particular investment opportunity.
And if all of this wasn’t enough — Etrade also aggregates different ratings and measurement systems from reputable 3rd party research firms, that also provide their own buy ratings, performance indications and peer evaluations.
Needless to say, from a research perspective — Etrade can easily be your one stop shop for anything you want to study regarding a particular stock.
And finally, let’s take a look at Fidelity Investments.
Fidelity is another full service brokerage firm whose capabilities are very similar to Etrade’s.
Their market research page looks like this — with top headlines from across numerous geos and sectors. They also have this really cool news filter that allows you to narrow your news feed to different topic and sources — if you were interested in focalizing your research efforts.
When you get to their stock details page, Fidelity is equally as impressive as Etrade with a wide array of analysis across the stock. They start with the company fundamentals, charts and news like the other platforms, but they have a unique feature called this equity summary score, which is a 3rd party evaluation tool provided by research firm, StarMine — that is a quantitative factors model which provides a consolidated & normalized view of the ratings from a number of independent research providers on Fidelity.com.
Some other unique things that Fidelity provides, is this environmental and social responsibility scale that shows how Amazon fares against its peers as well as a comparison chart of its closest competitors and their stock performance.
And if you scroll further down they even have summaries of technical analysis, social sentiment and even a list of top ETFs that contain Amazon in their holdings.
Needless to say, there is a plethora of information and tools on this site — and if you’re a data junkie like me, you can easily spend hours and hours getting lost in all of these insights.
E) Trading and execution tools, and what each platform offers
Now, what about when you’re ready to make a trade — what trading and execution tools are most helpful and what do each of the platforms offer?
Well, to start on this topic, you have to identify the top 3 features of trade execution that are the most important to a novice trader.
1) The first is Real Time Quotes.
During market hours, transactions on the stock exchanges move at blazing speeds — depending on which stock you are looking at, you could potentially see hundreds to thousands of transactions going through every minute.
To make sure you know exactly where the price action is — one critical feature you’ll want to have from your brokerage service is Real Time Quotes. This is the live streaming service that updates your stock ticker at every fraction of a second to show you exactly what the latest price of a stock trade is.
Luckily for us, all 4 of these platforms provide this service automatically and free of charge. Although visually, I like the animations on the Robinhood and Etrade platforms better — as they flash colors to show the price changes.
2) Then next thing you’ll want to see, is how robust their charting tools are.
In my opinion, the best features you’ll need in a stock chart is to be able to display in candle sticks and also have different technical indicators available to overlay. Etrade has a really nice chart here.
At the top, they have the stock information like price, extended hours action, volume range etc. Then they have selectors for different time periods, so that you can change your scope of view. On the left hand side, starting at the top, you have different indexes that you can overlay — to compare how this stock is doing with the overall market. And below that, you can even choose specific companies that you want to compare with.
Past that, you have a wide range of different indicators and events that you can look up and add to your chart, like moving averages and bollinger bands, etc. It also allows you to add lower indicators as well, so you can add RSI, MACD, etc.
Fidelity and Webull’s offerings are similar to Etrade in this regard, with the same type of charting capabilities and indicator overlays. But in terms of Robinhood — they lacked a little bit in the charting department as their tool only has a handful of indicators available and also a shallower comparison functionality, but makes up for that with a clean and streamlined view that is easier for most novice traders to use.
3) Lastly, you’ll need a good offering of order processing tools to execute your trades.
On this topic, I’m happy to say that all 4 brokerages have the standard order types that most beginners will leverage, and they’re laid out in easy to understand formats that align to each platforms UX style.
Here is what Robinhood’s order tool looks like.
As you can see — they have the basic order types listed here, and easy form fields to indicate the quantity of share or value of dollars you want to purchase, and an easy order review button to confirm your action. And as I mentioned once before, Robinhood also allows for fractional share purchases — which is great for new investors that want to start off in smaller positions in their investment portfolios.
And now, this is Webull’s order screen.
This view starts off with a useful tick by tick list that shows what previous orders have been filled during the trading day, as well as a quick view on the current bid and ask for the stock. This is effectively a quick and streamlined Level II view of the current trading action. Below that it has the same common fields to enter in the order type, order quantity and the conditions you want to require for your inputting order.
Next we have Etrade.
Etrade also has a standard form field for entering in your order details, but it also includes this handy quantity calculator where you simply enter in the value you want to invest, and it calculates the number of shares you can purchase. Beyond that, Etrade does offer a couple more order types than Webull and Robinhood, but it’s generally the same when it comes to form field and execution process.
Fidelity’s order execution process is nearly the same as Etrade’s — with the same quantity calculator and order inputting method.
One thing to note, however, is that for Etrade and Fidelity, they do have more advanced and robust desktop trading platforms that allow for advanced and conditional order types. But for the sake of this article, we’re only thinking of the basic order processing methods that a novice trader might utilize — which all 4 platforms offer.
F) Mobile App trading experience
While there are many nuances I can get into regarding each individual mobile user experience — from a functional standpoint, at a broad/high level, all four of the platform have a sleek mobile interface that is smooth and easy to navigate. I’ve not had many issues with lag or interruptions within these 4 mobile experiences, and each one has a pleasant styling and color palette that makes them a pleasure to use.
And the capabilities are mirrored from their desktop platform to their app platform — so most everything we’ve reviewed, earlier on in this article, is available on the app as well.
G) Extras — from the full service brokerages
Lastly, I just wanted to highlight a couple of extra perks you get when you go with a full service brokerage firm, like Etrade or Fidelity.
As larger, more established firms, both Etrade and Fidelity have a lot of supplemental resources they can provide the retail trader.
For example, Etrade has multiple tools that you can use to engage in the market, including their Power Etrade web view that’s a pretty robust online trading dashboard. They also have paper trading accounts, which is essentially a practice account, where you interact with the stock market and make real trades, but you don’t use real money — you use the “practice funds” or essentially fake money to practice and hone your trading skills before you go out and use real cash.
For the veteran traders, there is also a really strong desktop trading application called Etrade Pro — that gives you the insights and agility to perform like a professional broker.
And as an added bonus, you can even have Bloomberg television running in the background so that you can stay informed of the latest news that’s going on in the market.
Fidelity’s offerings are slightly lacking in that they don’t offer paper trading but they also have a strong desktop platform called Active Trader Pro — that gives you the same capabilities that Etrade Pro give you. And Fidelity also provides the same streaming Bloomberg Television feature as Etrade.
With Webull and Robinhood, I’m afraid you won’t get most of these extra perks. Robinhood is limited to their standard web and mobile platform. And for Webull, they do offer a desktop client in addition to web and mobile, but the desktop experience is very similar to its web version — not too much differentiation there. Webull does, however, have a paper trading account and a lively community where you can chat with other fellow traders and even join paper trading competitions. This is a really cool and unique feature to Webull.
Whew — so this turned out to be quite a long article… but I hope this gives you guys a good introductory basis of understanding of how each of these 4 trading platforms operate.
Now, as long as this article is, I clearly didn’t have time to dive into each and every feature of all four of these players — but again, this was just meant to give you guys a beginner’s overview of the four and my hope is that once you’ve decide which one(s) to go with — you’ll do your own research and deep diving on all that your selected platform has to offer you.
Quick tip: if you are unsure of which one to go with, the easiest course of action is to simply sign up for all four! Remember, they are all 100% free to sign up and free to use — if all you are doing is trading stocks and ETFs.
(That’s what I do — I maintain an account at all four brokerages.)
Having these 4 separate accounts allow me to compartmentalize my assets — that way I can designate certain funds for certain purposes.
For example, for short term growth objectives, I use Robinhood and Webull. For longer term investments, I rely on my Etrade account and for all of my retirement funds, I’ve parked them into Fidelity.
It gives you a clean way to separate funds and the the purpose for those funds, when you have multiple/different accounts. It also gives you an opportunity to take advantage of the strengths of each platform within your overall trading ecosystem.
And since they are totally free to sign up and use — it’s no big deal to open an account on all four.
So, I hope you found this beginner’s review guide for these 4 popular trading platforms helpful and informative!
In closing, whatever stage you are at, in your trading journey — having the right tools can mean the difference between engaging in a successful trade position to maximize your profit vs getting in late and chasing a run up or even missing out on an opportunity. This is a vital part of your overall trading experience.
So make sure you take in this info and also do your own research and pick the best trading platform(s) for you.
**** Disclaimer *****
The content here is strictly the opinion of Daniel’s Brew and is for entertainment purposes only. It should not be considered professional financial, investment or career advice. Investing and career decisions are personal choices that each individual must make for themselves in accordance with their situation and long term plans. Daniel’s Brew will not be held liable for any outcome as a result of anyone following the opinions provided in this content.