Firstrade Review

By Adam Hayes, CFA  | September 18, 2017

Firstrade is an online discount broker with a unique stock lending program, 0.1-second trade execution guarantee, and Chinese-language support

Overall Rating

3.5/
5.0
Products & Fees
3.2
Trust
4.2
Special Features
2.5
Desktop Experience
4.5
Mobile Experience
3.8
Customer Support
2.5
Research & Insights
4.2
Education
4.1
Banking
3.0

Firstrade Fast Facts

Firstrade Securities was founded in 1985 in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, New York, to serve the needs of the local community, especially ethnic Chinese immigrants. In 30-plus years, Firstrade has become an online discount broker with a range of tools and resources, including some unique features. True to its roots, the website is available for trading in traditional and simplified Chinese as well as in English. Firstrade offers low fees: $2.95 per stock trade, $0.50 per options contract, and up to 500 commission-free trades for new accounts with a $2,000 initial deposit. There are no minimum balance fees, and you can get $100 in free trades when you open even a small new account. Among other standout features are after-hours trading, both simple and complex options orders, thousands of available mutual funds, and access to a range of fixed-income products, including U.S. Treasuries and corporate and municipal bonds.

pros

  • Competitive Pricing
    Low-cost trades with straightforward pricing
  • No Pressure
    No minimum deposit required to open an account
  • Portfolio Diversification
    Investors have direct access to bond markets
  • Speedy Fills
    0.1-second trade execution guarantee
  • Securities Lending Income Program
    Earn income from lending out stocks in your portfolio to short sellers
  • Chinese Language Support
    Customer support in traditional and simplified Chinese, with Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking representatives

cons

  • No-Frills Platform
    Basic and unsystematic web platform
  • Mobile App
    Nonintuitive mobile platform that lacks security measures such as a security token or auto timeout
  • Research and Education
    Lacks robust research, idea generation, and educational tools
  • Customer Support
    Customer service available only during market hours, not 24/7

Products & Fees

3.2

Firstrade customers have direct access not only to the universe of U.S.-listed stocks, ETFs (including a dozen commission-free ETFs), and mutual funds, but also to fixed-income markets, including Treasuries, corporates, municipal bonds, and certificates of deposit (CDs). In addition, you can access equity options, including both simple and complex strategies. To help you devise an options strategy, Firstrade has teamed up with OptionsPlay. You can experiment with different combinations and see how they score based on the OptionsPlay tools’ internal metrics. In addition to simple market, limit, and stop-loss stock orders, you can also enter conditional orders – one cancels the other (OCO) or one triggers the other (OTO). After-hours trades are still $2.95 per trade, but only limit orders are allowed.

  • Stocks
    $2.95
  • ETFs
    $2.95
  • Options
    50¢ per contract + $2.95/trade
  • Mutual Funds
    Free
  • Bonds and Fixed-Income Products
    Net Yield Basis
  • CDs (Primary Market)
    $30
  • CDs (Secondary Market)
    Net Yield Basis
  • Dividend Reinvestment (DRIP)
    Free
  • Securities Lending Income Program
    Free

Trust

4.2

Firstrade customers and their assets are safeguarded to industry standards. In addition to operating under FINRA regulations, the brokerage uses a clearing firm (Apex Clearing Corp.) that provides an extra layer of insurance protection beyond the regulators’ minimums. Firstrade is a member of SIPC, so its securities accounts are protected for up to $500,000, including $250,000 for cash claims.

What you need to know

As a member of both FINRA and SIPC, Firstrade is regulated for both equity and fixed-income markets. The broker guarantees best execution efforts, promising that if your qualifying S&P 500 equity market order takes longer than 0.1 second to execute, your trade is commission-free. Firstrade also offers account balance protection through a third-party insurer and secures your account and its privacy, guaranteeing losses up to $37.5 million per customer in the event of improprieties.

Special Features

2.5
Special Features

Firstrade’s Navigator platform was built in-house for more active traders. It features an integrated all-in-one-screen experience with advanced technical charting to help you make timely investment decisions. The platform also provides advanced orders that give you complete control of your positions; complete control extends to conditional orders, detailed trailing stops, and complex options strategies.

What you need to know

Day traders or fans of technical analysis will appreciate the studies and customizable widgets found in the Navigator platform. Geared toward active traders, Navigator also gives new investors a chance to get their hands on powerful trading tools. In addition to the usual stocks, ETFs, and mutual funds, Firstrade gives customers direct access to bond and CD markets. Another useful feature is that you can place conditional orders, such as one cancels the other (OCO) or one triggers the other (OTO). True to its roots, Firstrade still provides extensive support for its Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking clients. The brokerage provides a trilingual web experience not only within the platform but also in its banking services and business planning. A unique feature is that all clients have access to Firstrade’s one-of-a-kind Security Lending Program, which lets you earn extra income from loans of fully paid shares of stock in your account. Just sign up for the program and let your portfolio do some extra work for you.

Desktop Experience

4.5
Desktop Platform Experience

Compared with many other online brokers, Firstrade is basic, taking a largely utilitarian approach to investing. At the same time, you’re not paying for all the bells and whistles that many of its large competitors provide. The site’s research and tools section is thorough, with some useful features not offered by most of its competitors. However, you may have to do a bit of searching on the site to find these resources. In addition to the main site, Firstrade recently built its own all-in-one trading platform for more active traders, based on a single-page layout with modules. That platform, called Navigator, is fully customizable, allowing you to add or remove modules or drag them to other locations on the screen.

Pros

Customizable Firstrade Navigator platform is simple, making it easy to move from thinking of a trade to executing it from the Account Dashboard. Both beginners and active traders can benefit from the education section, which offers guides, a podcast, and a position simulator. Chinese Language Platform: For Chinese-speaking investors who want to trade U.S. markets.

Cons

Bare-bones site which could use some updating and modernization. Disappointing Research and Analysis: Research reports from companies such as Morningstar and Zacks may lack the distinctiveness or customized news experience available from some other providers.

Mobile Experience

3.8
Mobile Platform Experience

Available on iOS or Android, the Firstrade mobile app provides the beginner or active trader with access to the markets both day and night. This includes advanced charting features, a portfolio dashboard, and equity ratings for the fundamental investor. The iOS version also features touch ID support for added security.

Pros

Firstrade’s mobile app has everything an investor needs to trade: Equity Ratings and Fundamental Data, Advanced Charts, Reports & Ratings, and Portfolio Dashboard. Up to Date: Frequently updated with bug fixes and upgrades.

Cons

Can be a little difficult to navigate until you’ve become accustomed to it. Lacks Some Features: Can’t access account services or make transfers. Currently lacks a horizontal landscape view mode, available with some competitors’ apps.

Customer Support

2.5

Customers have several ways to get in touch, including live chat, email, and phone. There is also a call-back service. The customer support team is accessible 10 hours a day, Monday through Friday. Firstrade also caters to the do-it-yourself investor with one of the most comprehensive FAQ sections available.

What you need to know

Customer service is available by phone, live chat, or email Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST. Chinese-language support is also available by phone or chat. There is no dedicated social media channel for support and no TTY phone line available for customers with hearing impairments.

Research & Insights

4.2

Firstrade offers a fairly good selection of research tools, including screeners, fundamental analysis, and downloadable analyst reports. These resources are mainly located in the Research & Tools tab, which is broken down by several categories, including asset class, market news, and screeners. Absent from the platform are technical analysis signals (although there are many indicators and studies with the charts), as well as social indicators of market sentiment.

Analyst Ratings and Reports
Ratings and research papers from Morningstar and third parties, covering stocks, ETFs, and mutual funds
Screeners
Zero in on investment choices using predetermined or customized criteria
Watchlists
Keep track of your favorite companies and securities with a real-time streaming watchlist that syncs with mobile
Economic Calendars
Stay abreast of company earnings and IPOs
Real Time News
Stay abreast of news events via the up-to-the-minute ticker
Alerts
Know what’s happening and when, with customized active and triggered alerts

Pros

The Research & Tools section of the site offers some helpful resources, including the Morningstar Risk Measures & Style Map and commentary from Zacks. For clients who want the latest market updates, the platform features articles from well-known outlets such as Benzinga, Briefing.com, Marketwired, and PR Newswire.

Cons

Compared with many of its competitors, Firstrade’s research offerings are minimal. Other brokerages offer a wider array of research reports, and you may have to look elsewhere if you want higher-quality research. In addition, the user experience and design could use some updating. The technical analysis tools are also basic.

Education

4.1

The educational content provided by Firstrade includes instructional videos covering investment products, use of the platform, and basic investing strategies. Detailed information on margin loans, retirement accounts, and tax planning are also provided. The education center offers beginners a detailed investment glossary, including a breakdown of key concepts and phraseology.

What you need to know

The education section offers basic information about investing and trading that is well suited to beginners. However, in-depth instruction is lacking, so more advanced investors aren’t likely to get much out of this part of the site. The section on retirement planning is richer but lacks some basic tools, such as a retirement savings calculator.

Banking

3.0

A Firstrade Cash Management Account lets you consolidate your banking and brokerage services in one place via an integrated system for trading, investing, and spending your money – all within one account. Firstrade does not charge fees for incoming transfers and, as of September 2017, if you wire $25,000 or more, it will rebate the wire fees.

What you need to know

Firstrade customers get free check writing and debit card privileges as long as they maintain a minimum account balance of $25,000. However, several other online brokerages offer similar services with a lower minimum balance requirement. Plus, Firstrade doesn’t offer some other common banking services, such as savings accounts, mortgages, and home equity lines of credit.

Bottom Line

Firstrade is an online brokerage with a basic, easy-to-use platform that’s suitable for most investors. For a regional brokerage, Firstrade offers a competitive suite of investment products and low commissions. A couple of noteworthy features are its commission-free ETFs and its Securities Lending Income Program, which lets customers earn extra money from the fully paid shares of stock in their accounts. Also, the company is well suited to Chinese-speaking customers since its platform and customer service are available in Chinese languages. Overall, Firstrade is a good option for new, self-directed investors but may be less attractive to anyone looking for hands-off investment management or the more extensive tools and resources that can be found elsewhere.

Adam Hayes, CFA
Reviewed by Adam Hayes, CFA

Adam graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Science degree in 2001, and earned his MA in Economics from the New School for Social Research in New York City. He is also a CFA charterholder. Adam has a keen interest in the financial markets, economics, the value of prudent money management and a real desire to educate and help others to succeed financially. He began his professional career as a floor trader in listed options at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where he gained the extensive knowledge and experience that he carries with him today.  With over a dozen years of financial market experience Adam takes an analytical approach to financial markets. An outdoor enthusiast, Adam enjoys skiing, golf, camping and loves to travel. He also enjoys cooking and fine wines. Adam resides in Rockland County, NY where he lives with his wife and son.

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