WellsTrade isn't exactly the cutting edge online brokerage of the future. In fact, it seems to be stuck with one foot in the past. However, for occasional traders and for buy-and-hold mutual fund investors who don't have to worry about ultra-fast execution and don't make a ton of transactions, and who already have a close relationship with Wells Fargo Bank, it could be a reasonable and convenient option.
At $5.95 for standard customers, pricing per equity trade is a little higher than some more advanced platforms. But for those enrolled in Portfolio by Wells Fargo, the commission comes down to $2.95 per trade, which is among the least expensive out there. The $35 transaction fee on mutual funds is rather high, but there are hundreds of funds available without a transaction fee.
All told, WellsTrade functions like a basic brokerage tacked on to a pretty good bank, rather than a top-of-the-line full-service online brokerage firm. It's plenty good enough for most current Wells Fargo banking customers, but serious traders will probably outgrow the platform very quickly.Furthermore, the WellsTrade platform frequently ranks at or near the bottom of J.D. Powers' Best Discount Brokers for Self-Directed Investors survey every year. In 2016, they ranked 12 out of 13, scoring 752 when the industry average score was 775. Only Chase scored worse at 740.
The centerpiece of the WellsTrade fee structure is the basic $5.95 fee for all online equity trades. This is slightly higher than the price available at some other quality brokerage firms. This is on top of a basic annual service fee of $30. However, customers who link their accounts to the Portfolio by Wells Fargo program get a special discounted rate of $2.95 for equity and ETF trades, which is extremely competitive. Those customers also get their $30 monthly account fees waived, provided they have qualifying bank account balances of $25,000, or qualified combined brokerage, bank and credit balances of $50,000 or more. You will need to open qualifying checking account with Wells Fargo to participate in this program. Customers with balances in excess of $100,000 may qualify for WellstTrade's Private Advisory Group.
WellsTrade charges $35 for mutual funds with transaction fees, which is on the high side. There are hundreds of funds available that don't charge a transaction fee, but WellsTrade doesn't have the vast selection of no-load, no-transaction-fee funds that places like Fidelity, Schwab or Vanguard offer.
WellsTrade is not a great place for frequent penny stock investors. The brokerage charges $34.95 for all trades involving stocks selling for less than $1 per share, or 3.5 percent of principal, whichever is greater, which is extremely high for online brokerages.
Options trading is available for $5.95 per trade, plus $0.75 percent per contract. The pricing is reasonable compared to other brokerages, though analysis functionality is limited in the research section.
If you link your account to Portfolio by Wells Fargo, there's a monthly $30 fee, though that's waived if you have $25,000 or more in qualifying linked accounts that are linked by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), OR $50,000 or more in qualifying linked bank, brokerage (available through Wells Fargo Clearing Services, LLC) and credit balances (including 10% of mortgage balances, certain mortgages not eligible).
Wells Fargo and WellsTrade customers benefit from several layers of protection against firm insolvency or other custodial problems. Wells Fargo Bank is a member of FDIC, and Wells Fargo Advisors is a member of the Security Investors Investor Protection Corporation, which provides protection against the loss of securities, broker insolvency or other custodial failure. In addition, Wells Fargo holds all client assets separately from their own operating funds, in accordance with the SEC Consumer Protection Rule. This provides additional protection for the customer: If the brokerage should become insolvent, it should not affect the customer's funds. There is an exception for funds in current margin loan accounts.
Wells Fargo has been in business for over a century and a half. The WellsTrade platform, as well as Wells Fargo Advisors, are regulated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and customer accounts enjoy multiple layers of protection via the FDIC, SIPC, and by safeguards under the SEC Consumer Protection Rule, which requires broker-dealers to separate customer accounts from their own operations. Additionally, Wells Fargo has arranged for substantial additional protection against custodial problems (e.g., insolvency or lost securities) via Lloyd's of London, the venerable insurance firm.
Wells Fargo has also committed to covering 100 percent of any losses customers incur via unauthorized activity - though in practice this will be limited to the capacity of Wells Fargo, plus its $1 billion in aggregate coverage with Lloyd's of London, to make good on the promise. However, Wells Fargo has substantial resources available to keep its promises to customers.
Wells Fargo has had some regulatory problems in the recent past. In September of 2016 the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the City and County of Los Angeles and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency fined them a combined $185 million after employees at the company had created 1.5 million checking and savings accounts and half a million credit card accounts without customer knowledge. Over 5,000 employees involved in the fraudulent activity were fired, and the chairman and CEO of the company at the time of this activity has also stepped down. The Better Business Bureau also withdrew its accreditation of the bank.
The best thing about the WellsTrade platform is its relative ease of use and navigation. It's a relatively basic platform compared to other online brokerages, with comparatively limited functionality. However, WellsTrade customers also enjoy the support of over 14,000 financial advisors and nearly 19,000 registered representatives (stockbrokers) in hometowns all across the United States, which is a tough feature to beat, and one not many firms can match.
WellsTrade features a relatively seamless integration between the WellsTrade brokerage platform and a full-service consumer-friendly bank. You can access all your accounts under one single phone app. You don't need separate apps for broker services and banking. Put this together with more than 6,000 bank branches nationwide and Wells Fargo has established a nice niche for itself as a hometown broker and banker with a convenient basic online brokerage operation.
WellsTrade also makes a great deal of investment research available to customers, considering its relatively modest costs. It also produces a substantial amount of proprietary research in house. Research and analysis is available on more than 2,400 companies and sectors from more than in-house analysts and economists. Technical and sentiment analysis tools are limited, but there is plenty of material to go by for do-it-yourself investors who focus on fundamentals.
WellsTrade appears to have been designed for the buy-and-hold investor rather than the active trader. The interactive charting is good, however, and easy to use, with a solid menu of built-in technical indicators and chart types.
There's no dedicated desktop platform, though; Everything you do on the WellsTrade platform you have to do via the Web. Pages can take a noticeable time to download. Since there's no trading bar on every screen, the user has to navigate to the trading page each time to place an order. This is fine for lots of investors, but those of you who are keen on fast execution, and who plan to make a lot of active trades may want to look elsewhere.
The best thing about WellsTrade is its ease of use. A new investor can be using just about any tool on the platform in no time flat. Most of the tools are accessible through the "screeners" and "interactive charting" tabs under "research." While there's plenty of research available on securities, users are unlikely to suffer "paralysis by analysis" and it's not going to take days or weeks to master the tools and devices on the WellsTrade trading platform.
WellsTrade isn't a great place for day traders and very active traders. While other brokerages have advanced trading platforms that reside on the computers' hard drive and can load pages quickly from ROM and RAM, everything on WellsTrade is Web-based. Which means pages not cached are slow and clunky. Also, without a way to trade directly from the Interactive Charting pages, WellsTrade is noticeably behind other commonly available and similarly-priced options.
Like the desktop computer version, the mobile version of the WellsTrade platform is basic and no-frills compared to competitors. The mobile app is free and you can download it on Apple and Android device. You can view both your brokerage and Wells Fargo bank accounts with one convenient login, and once you're in the mobile app, you can view charts, place trades, view account activity, and check price quotes, market news and data in real time. Trading functionality on the mobile version is stripped down compared to the online version but you can still do basic interactive charting, do some technical analysis and access fundamental research.
The Wells Fargo / WellsTrade app shines, though, when it comes to integration between the banking and brokerage sides of the house. WellsTrade's Brokerage Cash Services lets you instantly transfer cash between bank and brokerage accounts right from your smartphone. The app also lets you do mobile check deposits from your smartphone directly into your WellsTrade account.
On the plus side, we note that Wells Fargo Bank and WellsTrade share the same mobile app. It's very easy and convenient to move money back and forth between the brokerage and various bank accounts, and you can access all your accounts with a single login.
The app functions like a banking app with some added on trading features. In this case there's relatively few features and limited charting functions.
It's easy to reach live telephone support for the WellsTrade platform. There's email functionality, too, though you have to dig a bit for it. There is no online chat support functionality at this time. Customers frequently complain about poor customer service from call centers in the Philippines. However, Wells Fargo does have an active community bulletin board that you can post to for troubleshooting, comments and complaints, and Wells Fargo representatives regularly participate. It's also searchable. We've found this online community bulletin board to be a very good resource for specific questions and other information we were unable to find elsewhere on the Web. In fact, it's often easier to find information in the bulletin board than on the Wells Fargo and WellsTrade websites.
WellsTrade makes a great deal of investment research available to customers, considering its relatively modest costs. It also produces a substantial amount of proprietary research in house. Research and analysis is available on more than 2,400 companies and sectors from over in-house analysts and economists. Technical and sentiment analysis tools are limited, but there is plenty of material to go by for do-it-yourself investors who focus on fundamentals.
The best thing about WellsTrade is its ease of use. A new investor can be using just about any tool on the platform in no time flat. Most of the tools are accessible through the "screeners" and "interactive charting" tabs under "research." While there's plenty of research available on securities, users are unlikely to suffer "paralysis by analysis" and it's not going to take days or weeks to master the tools and devices on the WellsTrade trading platform. We did like the way the fund screener lets you simply choose "risk" categories from high to low. This is a much more beginner-friendly approach than defining risk in terms of beta, variance or some other more precise but more abstract number.
Frequent traders may be frustrated by the site's clunkiness and slow response. Without any kind of hot click functionality on the charts, users have to navigate back to the "trade" page to place a buy or sell order. This is just too slow for those who trade in a fast-paced day trading environment, though this seems by design: Wells Fargo Advisors apparently does not want a lot of extremely hot money in its accounts.
WellsTrade has very little investment education content on its website. There are just a handful of very basic articles in each screener section. There's a great deal of market commentary available for free within the research section, though. But there's just not much on the actual nuts and bolts of investing, risk management and how the individual types of securities work. Fortunately, there's lots more financial education content on the WellsFargo.com page, easily accessible under the Financial Education tab. And it's not limited to investing knowledge; Since Wells Fargo has been a bank much longer than it's been an online brokerage, there's a great deal of content on home buying and home ownership, small business investing, insurance and protection, small business management and credit. You just need to know where to look.
The education content available on the combined Wells Fargo / WellsTrade website is quite basic and limited. So traders who are looking for more detailed information about more advanced investment topics will have to find it elsewhere. The Wells Fargo / WellsTrade financial education section has not been built out enough for investors to rely on - at least when it comes to investment-related topics. The information that is there is quite good, though, and encourages things like diversification, overseas investing. It's just not specific enough to be immediately useful to the trader actually investing over their platform.
Wells Fargo has been in the banking business since 1852, and banking is still the core part of their business. Indeed, at times the WellsTrade brokerage seems to be a bolt-on to the bank account - the bare minimum required to appease longtime bank account holders so they don't move their money to other financial services companies. The platform integrates well with the Wells Fargo Banking Services and it's easy and efficient to transfer money from Wellstrade to Wells Fargo Bank and vice versa via the platform's cash services feature. The brokerage is also wired into banking services with a direct "pay bills" feature. So if you're looking for a decent "one-stop shop" for both banking and brokerage services, and you aren't an extremely active trader, and don't mind lacking a lot of bells and whistles on your trading platform, WellsTrade is a reasonable option.
As we mentioned, the Wells Fargo banking side has a black eye because of a recent scandal in which employees, seeking to boost their own compensation, opened up hundreds of thousands of fake bank accounts and fake credit accounts in customers' names, eventually forcing the CEO's resignation and the firing of more than 5,000 employees who were implicated in the misbehavior. The scandal did not, to our knowledge, involve the WellsTrade side of the business. But WellsTrade is very much integrated with Wells Fargo Bank, and is designed to work best with a Wells Fargo bank account, so this regulatory scandal is relevant.