Fidelity continues to evolve as a major force in the online brokerage space. Fidelity's brokerage service took our top spot overall in both our 2019 and 2020 Best Online Brokers Awards, as the firm has continued to enhance key pieces of its platform while also committing to lowering the cost of investing for investors. Fidelity joined in the rush to cut equity and base options commissions to zero in October 2019 but remains devoted to offering top-quality research and education offerings to its clients. The firm also makes it easy for clients to earn interest by sweeping uninvested cash into a money market fund. We'll look at how Fidelity ranks in a more competitive 2020 online brokerage space in terms of its features, costs, and resource quality in order to help you decide whether it is the right fit for your investing style. Aside from this Fidelity Investments broker review, we've also reviewed the Fidelity Go robo-advisor service.
- Rated our best overall online broker and best low cost day trading platform.
- Increased focus on execution quality and cash management help clients improve investing returns.
- Deep pool of research and education for investors to draw on and asset screeners to help narrow down investing choices.
- Offerings are positioned to serve the vast majority of individual investors, but derivatives traders may want to look elsewhere.
Who Fidelity Is For
As one of the larger brokers in the U.S., Fidelity is designed to serve the vast majority of individual investors. For the average, buy-and-hold investor, Fidelity’s well-rounded platform offers a wide selection of tools, research, and resources coupled with easy order entry. For more active investors and full-on traders, Fidelity offers Active Trader Pro, a downloadable program with streaming real-time data and a customizable trading interface. Despite covering these two broad bases quite thoroughly, it is important to note that Fidelity does not currently offer commodities or futures options.
Excellent trade executions
Terrific research and asset screeners (ETF research is outstanding)
Uninvested cash is swept into a money market fund
Flexible and customizable news feed
Customers may have to use multiple platforms to utilize preferred tools
Non U.S. citizens or residents cannot open an account
Customers must manually refresh the data on the website
No commodities or options on futures
- Excellent trade executions: For the last five years, Fidelity has finely tuned its trade execution algorithms to emphasize price improvement and to avoid payment for order flow. On average, over 96% of orders for Fidelity customers are executed at a price better than the national best bid or offer. The cost savings are listed on every order confirmation report.
- Extensive research and asset screeners help customers narrow down investing choices. There are numerous pre-set screens available for stocks, ETFs, options and fixed income that clients can edit to their own specifications. The stock screener has almost 140 criteria, plus 21 themes such as Robotics, Natural Foods, and Cloud Computing. Research focused on ETFs is extensive and includes analyst ratings, themes, and the ability to search through funds by a specific stock.
- Uninvested cash is automatically swept into a money market fund, and then pulled out and made available for trading when necessary. Most other brokers require the customer to manually move cash into a money market fund.
- Flexible and customizable news feed can be sorted by watchlist or holdings and updates in real-time. The news feeds include global sources as well as premium U.S.-based feeds.
- Customers may have to use multiple platforms to utilize preferred tools. Options-specific tools abound on Active Trader Pro, but fundamental research for equities is mostly available only on the website.
- Non-U.S. citizens or residents cannot open an account, which we realize can be a problem for our global readers.
- Customers must manually refresh the data on the website to get up-to-the-tick information. Quotes stream on Active Trader Pro, however.
- Some clients may grow out of the Fidelity offerings once they move into trading futures and options on futures.
Fidelity is quite friendly to use overall. The firm has addressed the challenge of having the tools for traders while still having an easy experience for basic investors by essentially splitting its offering into two platforms. Initial account opening with Fidelity is simple, especially if you're adding an account to an existing household. However, adding on account features such as options trading or margin involves filling out an additional application, and none of that data (such as your occupation) is copied from your profile, so you have to enter it again.
Less active investors mainly looking to buy and hold will find Fidelity's web-based platform more than sufficient for their needs, with quotes, charts, watchlists, and more packed into an interface that manages to avoid being overwhelming. The Positions page integrates research data into your portfolio, allowing you to drill down through your holdings to view analysis and news without leaving the platform. You can also see an analysis of your specific portfolio in terms of asset allocations and potential concentration issues. You can get to an order entry screen by hovering your mouse over "Accounts and Trade" on the main menu and choosing "Trade." When you are within your account view, there is a sub-menu with one-click access to the trade ticket. New users have an in-ticket help menu to click that will walk you through all the fields and related support tools.
Active Trader Pro is Fidelity's downloadable trading interface, giving traders and more active investors a deeper feature set than is available through the website. Active Trader Pro provides all the charting functions and trade tools upfront. It is customizable, so you can set up your workspace to suit your needs. The software can monitor relevant news streams; alert you to highs, lows, and other technical signals in stocks you are following; and provide alerts on open positions.
Traders tend to have a bias towards a particular platform for identifying and executing trades, but Fidelity's Active Trader Pro covers all the bases on what a trader needs and allows you to shape it how you want.
The workflow for analyzing or trading existing positions on the website is relatively easy—you'll find links to news and research for tickers in your portfolio or on a watchlist. It's when you're searching for a new trading idea that it gets clumsy to sort through the various tabs and drop-down choices. Most investors will find what they are looking for in the News & Research tab where you can find stocks by market cap, dividend yield, top rating in sector, and so on. You can set a few defaults for trading on the web, such as whether you want a market or limit order, but most choices must be made at the time of the trade.
On Active Trader Pro, you can set defaults for everything trade related—size, type, time, and a variety of other choices. You can also place a trade from a chart. Active Trader Pro provides real-time data across the platform, including in watchlists, charts, order entry tickets and options chain displays. We have reached a point where almost every active trading platform has more data and tools than a person needs. In addition to the filters, charting tools, defined alerts, and entry and exit tools that will meet the needs of most active traders, Active Trader Pro also provides a probability calculator, options analytics, measures of cross-account concentrations and much more.
Fidelity's Mobile Experience
In terms of mobile trading, you can trade stocks, ETFs, options and mutual funds on the mobile app but not fixed income. Fidelity has enabled fractional share trading on its mobile apps; customers specify dollars rather than shares when entering an order,
The mobile offering is comprehensive, with nearly as extensive a feature list as desktop, and full functionality to do most of what investors and traders need to do in terms of workflow. You can choose your own login page and buttons at the bottom of the device for your most frequently-used features, and define how you want your news presented. Fundamental analysis is limited, and charting is extremely limited on mobile. The charting, with a handful of indicators and no drawing tools, is still above average when compared with other brokers' mobile apps Mobile watchlists are shared with the desktop and web applications, and the watchlist is prominent in the app's navigation. Most order types one can use on the web or desktop are also on the mobile app, with the exception of conditional orders.
Range of Offerings
Fidelity clients can trade a wide swath of assets on the website and on Active Trader Pro. Equities (including fractional shares), options and mutual funds can be traded on the mobile apps. One notable limitation is that Fidelity does not offer futures, futures options, or cryptocurrency trading. Aside from that, investors can invest in and trade the following:
- Stocks long and short (3,000 on the easy-to-borrow list)
- OTCBB (penny stocks)
- Mutual funds (over 3,500 no-load, no transaction fee)
- Bonds: corporate, municipal, treasury, CDs
- Single leg and multi-leg options
- Robo-advisory integrated into website and mobile app
- International (25 online, additional countries through International Trading Gate)
- Forex (16 currencies online, 4 via live broker. 190 trading pairs)
- Fractional shares on mobile apps
Fidelity clients can also trade IPOs, foreign ORDs and ADRs, Preferreds, Rights, Warrants, Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS), Municipal Resets, High Yield Corporate Bonds, and Principal Protected Notes. Though clients cannot trade cryptocurrencies online, they can view Coinbase cryptocurrency holdings through FullView.
Fidelity allows you to enter a wide variety of orders on the website and Active Trader Pro, including conditional orders such as one-cancels-another and one-triggers-another. Conditional orders are not currently available on the mobile apps.
Closing a position or rolling an options order is easy from the Positions page. With Fidelity's basket trading services, you can select a group of up to 50 stocks, called a basket, that can be monitored, traded and managed as one entity. You can automatically allocate investments across multiple securities with an equal dollar amount or number of shares. This capability is not found at many online brokers.
If you’ve been buying into a particular stock over time, you can select the tax lot when closing part of the position, or set an account-wide default for the tax lot choice (such as average cost, last-in-first-out, etc.). You can also set an account-wide default for dividend reinvestment.
The way a broker routes your order determines whether you are likely to receive the best possible price at the time your trade is placed. This is called price improvement. Price improvement is basically a sale above the bid price or a buy below the offer. Fidelity's trade execution engine, Fidelity Dynamic Liquidity Management (FDLM), seeks the best available price and gives clients a high rate of price improvement. Fidelity says that its clients who execute a 1,000 share marketable order can expect to save on average, $16.66 on that transaction compared to the quote at order entry. That is $13.86 better than the industry average of $2.80, according to Fidelity's internal statistics. (Data from January through Sept. 2019.) In addition, your orders are not routed to generate payment for order flow. Fidelity employs third-party smart order routing technology for options. Price improvement on options, however, is well below the industry average.
Backtesting of trading strategies can be done in Wealth-Lab Pro, a premium feature available to investors in households that place 36+ stock, bond, or options trades in a rolling 12-month period, and have at least $25,000 in assets across their eligible Fidelity brokerage account. Customers can execute their strategy trading in Wealth-Lab Pro by qualifying for automated trading, which requires $100,000 in equity and 500 trades per year.
Fidelity's fees are in line with most industry participants, having joined in the race to zero fees in Oct. 2019.
- Fidelity charges no commissions for online equity, ETF or OTCBB trades.
- There is no per-leg commission on options trades. Per-contract commissions are $0.65.
- An order for 50 options contracts is $32.50.
- Covered call trade of 500 shares plus 5 contracts would cost $3.25.
- Mutual fund commission for funds outside the No Transaction Fee program is $49.95.
- Margin interest ranges from 9.325% for $10,000 balance to 7.825% for over $100,000 as of Jan. 2020.
- There are no fees for inactivity, account closure or transfer, exercise/assignment, sending and receiving wires, sending checks, or paper statements and trade confirmations.
- Most orders incur exchange fees, which are typically fractions of a penny per share or contract, which Fidelity passes through to their customers.
- Certain mutual fund families will be charged $75 on the initial purchase only, including industry giant Vanguard Funds. Other fund families incurring this charge include CGM Funds, Dodge & Cox Funds, and Sequoia Funds.
- Live broker fee is $32.95 per trade.
- International trades incur a wide range of fees, depending on the market, so take a careful look at those commissions before entering an order.
How This Broker Makes Money From You and for You
The pressure of zero fees has changed the business model for most online brokers. In lieu of fees, the way brokers make money from you is less obvious—as are some of the subtle ways they make money for you.
- Interest on cash: Fidelity clients are automatically enrolled in cash sweep programs that pay a much higher interest rate than most other brokers make available. Fidelity does make money from the difference between what you are paid on your idle cash and what they can earn on customer cash balances, but it is hard to begrudge them the money when they are already paying you an above average rate.
- Stock loan programs: Fidelity can also earn revenue loaning stocks in your account for short sales—with your permission, of course—and it shares that revenue with you. Fidelity tells us that for 2 months of lending certain hard to borrow securities, 38% of accounts earn $100 or less, another 37% earn between $100 and $1,000 and the remaining 25% earn over $1,000.
- Payment for order flow: Fidelity doesn’t engage in payment for order flow (PFOF). This is the practice where a broker accepts payment from a market maker for letting that market maker execute the order. Rather than focus on these payments, Fidelity looks for quality trade executions and ensures that your orders are achieving price improvement on almost every trade. This is a very important point of differentiation for Fidelity as many of its competitors have seen PFOF revenue grow - likely at the price of better execution for their customers.
- Price improvement: Fidelity clients enjoy a healthy rate of price improvement on their equity orders, but below average for options. On average, equity orders receive $0.0091 per share in price improvement and options orders receive $0.0342 per contract.
- Portfolio margining: Fidelity clients who qualify can apply for portfolio margining, which can lower the amount of margin needed based on the overall risk calculated. Typically, portfolio margining works best for customers who trade derivatives that offset the risk inherent in their equity positions.
- Fidelity clients who qualify can apply for portfolio margining, which can lower the amount of margin needed based on the overall risk calculated. Typically, portfolio margining works best for customers who trade derivatives that offset the risk inherent in their equity positions.
- Fidelity also shares the revenue it generates from its stock loan program, and allows clients to choose which stocks in their portfolios can be loaned out.
- Uninvested cash is swept into your choice of money market funds.
- Fidelity clients are automatically enrolled in cash sweep programs.
- Dividend reinvestment is set at the account level for all dividend-paying stocks.
Fidelity's research offerings on the website include flexible screeners for stocks, ETFs, mutual funds and fixed income, plus a variety of tools and calculators.
Stock and ETF screeners
The stock screener is relatively easy to use, with the ability to screen on ESG scores from MSCI. As criteria are added, you’ll see the updated number of stocks that pass the screen. Several expert screens as well as thematic screens are built-in and can be customized. The ETF screener has a similar look and feel as the stock screener, but includes analyst ratings. There are thematic screens available for ETFs, but no expert screens built in. When researching ETFs, you can type in a ticker (or group of tickers) to find ETFs that contain that stock.
Mutual Fund Evaluator
The Mutual Fund Evaluator digs deeply into each fund's characteristics. Though it tends to drive the user to Fidelity funds, that's not unexpected given the platform. For options, there are scanners powered by LiveVol with some built-in scans, plus the ability to create a custom scan. In Active Trader Pro you'll find 26 predefined filters to search for options trading opportunities based on volume, open interest, option contract volume, volatility differentials, earnings, and other criteria. You can create custom screens from approximately 200 individual criteria.
Fixed Income Screeners
Fixed-income investors can use the bond screener to winnow down the nearly 120,000 secondary market offerings available by a variety of criteria, and can build a bond ladder. The yield table updates every 15 minutes based on live data. This scanner is flexible, but the layout is not at all inviting.
Tools and Calculators
Fidelity offers lots of tools and calculators, from creating a budget to reviewing your investment strategy. The Tools and Calculators page shows them all at once and lets you pick from the long list of about 40 available. The tools include a very useful hypothetical trade tool, which shows the impact on your portfolio from a future buy or sell.
Trading Idea Generators
Those looking for an options trading idea on the website can dive into the Strategy Pairing Tool, which lets clients who know what underlying and option strategy interests them to scan for trading ideas. The Strategy Evaluator evaluates and compares different strategies; results can automatically populate a trade ticket. You can search for covered call and calendar spread strategies from Argus' Buy and Hold stock list.
News and Research
The website features numerous news sources, which can be sorted by holdings and watchlists and updates in real-time. The news sources include global markets as well as the U.S. On Active Trader Pro, you can set up streaming news feeds and video from Bloomberg TV.
Fidelity clients have access to integrated third-party research from sources such as Standard & Poors, Hightower Report, Ned Davis Research and Zacks. In Sectors and Industries, you can check out a suggested allocation strategy based on CFRA research. Quantitative and qualitative measures on each stock research page include MSCI data and standing against peers. Technical analysis events as measured by Recognia are displayed on charts. You’ll find additional proprietary and third-party research on each stock or ETF page.
Technical Analysis and Charting
Fidelity's web-based charting has integrated technical patterns and events provided by Recognia, and social sentiment score provided by Social Market Analytics. The advanced chart offers the ability to see up to 40 years of historical price data, 30 days intraday data, extended hours data, and more than 60 fully customizable technical indicators. Charting is more flexible and customizable on Active Trader Pro. Though charting on the mobile app is relatively limited, it’s still better than that offered by most other brokers.
You can pull your non-Fidelity accounts into FullView for analysis of all of your assets, which also lets you give limited access to your investments to an advisor. FullView can be slow to load and a little difficult to customize once you’ve added several non-Fidelity accounts. The reports give you a good picture of your asset allocation and where the changes in asset value come from. The portfolio performance reports built into the website can be customized and compared to a variety of benchmarks.
Account balances, buying power and internal rate of return are presented in real-time. Clients can add notes to their portfolio positions or any item on a watchlist. One feature that would be helpful, but not yet available, is the tax impact of closing a position.
Fidelity plans to enhance the portfolio experience by adding ways to keep track of upcoming events impacting your portfolio, including open orders, expected dividends, and earnings announcements. This enhancement will also allow you to track the estimated income your portfolio is generating on a position-by-position basis to better manage and predict cash flows.
Fidelity's Online Learning Center contains more than 600 pieces of content in areas including options, fixed income, fundamental and technical analysis, and retirement. The educational content is made up of articles, videos, webinars, infographics, and recorded webinars. The content is a mixture of Fidelity and third-party created content, which includes courses intended to guide the learner forward. Fidelity also offers weekly online coaching sessions, where clients can attend a small group (eight–10 attendees) online educational session to have in-depth discussions around the topics of options and technical analysis. The mobile apps feature what Fidelity calls Learning Programs that help beginning investors better understand market and investing concepts.
The Moments page is intended to guide clients through major life changes. Topics include home purchases, getting married or divorced, losing a parent or spouse, having or adopting a child, sending a child to college, transitioning into retirement, and others. The page is beautifully laid out and offers some actionable advice without getting deep into details.
- 24/7 phone line
- Online chat with human agent
- FAQs primarily focused on trading-related information
- You can talk to a live broker (there is a surcharge for any trades placed via the broker)
Fidelity doesn't report the time spent on hold for those dialing in, but they appear to respond very quickly on Twitter to complaints sent to their account (@fidelity). The response to those in deep distress on Twitter typically reads, "I'm sorry for the frustration. This isn't how we want you to feel, and we want to make sure your comments are forwarded to the right team. Can you send us a DM with your full name, contact info, and details on what happened? Thank you."
Fidelity's security is up to industry standards:
- Mobile app users can log in with biometric (face or fingerprint) recognition.
- Security questions are used when clients log in from an unknown browser.
- Higher risk transactions, such as wire transfers, require two-factor authentication.
- Fidelity carries excess Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) insurance which includes a $1.9 million limit on uninvested cash. According to Fidelity, this is the maximum excess SIPC protection currently available in the brokerage industry.
- Through Nov. 2019, there were no significant data breaches at any Fidelity location reported by the Identity Theft Research Center.
Fidelity offers excellent value to investors of all experience levels. Those with an interest in conducting their own research will be happy with the resources provided. Buy-and-hold investors and frequent equity traders are especially well served, which speaks to how large and well-rounded Fidelity is as an online broker. One consequence of this is that you can spend some time digging for the tool or feature you need to make a particular investment decision - it exists, but you may have to search for it. That is the trade-off for having such a deep feature set, however, and the separation of Active Trader Pro and the main platform helps to remove some potential clutter. Once you are set up and trading, Fidelity's execution quality is terrific at most trade sizes and their focus on generating interest on your idle cash is admirable.
That said, derivatives traders, especially those who trade futures and futures options, are one of the few groups of investors who won’t find a home at Fidelity. There are tools for options traders, but competing platforms do a better job of helping find trading opportunities. In a couple of spots, there are still awkward transitions between certain features, such as screeners, and the trading experience. For the average investor, however, Fidelity makes a strong case for being the online brokerage of choice with its deep feature set and commitment to making and saving you money.
Fidelity's development outlook is focused on improving the user experience, saying that its goal for 2020 is continuing to meet customer expectations around client experience and ease of use.
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