Online brokers are enjoying explosive growth as investors beat a path to their virtual doors. In fact, 2020 was a record year: More than 10 million new brokerage accounts were opened, many by first-time investors, according to market research firm J.D. Power, driven by the seemingly unstoppable bull market, commission-free trades and the pandemic lockdown all helped to break down investing barriers, both financial and emotional. And then there was the meme-stock frenzy (Game Stop, AMC Entertainment Holdings) that enticed hordes of eager investors to get in on the game.
- Overall score: 38.7
- Commissions and fees: 3rd
- Investment choices: 8th
- Mobile app: 9th
- Advisory services: 9th
- Tools: 9th
- Research: 9th
- Customer service: 2nd **Pick Firstrade for: ** Customer service
The influx of new investors has put a spotlight on finding a good brokerage firm. In this year’s annual online broker survey, we review nine. Five are large brokers that offer something for almost every kind of investor: Charles Schwab, E*Trade, Fidelity, Merrill Edge and TD Ameritrade. (Schwab’s 2020 acquisition of TD Ameritrade has not resulted in changes to most of the services the firms offer, and it may not for at least another year.) The remaining four—Ally Invest, Firstrade, Interactive Brokers and J.P. Morgan Self-Directed Investing—are contenders in this area, but to some extent they target particular customers.
Firstrade was a surprise second-place finisher in customer service. The firm’s representatives aren’t the fastest responders on the phone or with chat or e-mail, but they aren’t the slowest, either. And they earned a solid score on our customer service phone line test. Representatives were, for the most part, clear, informative and accurate when they answered questions on the phone.
Also: The firm waives commissions and contract fees on options trades. Other firms typically charge 65 cents per contract. doesn’t offer an advisory service at all, which hurt its ranking in this category and overall in the survey.