Investing online, also known as online trading or trading online, is the process by which individual investors and traders buy and sell securities over an electronic network, typically with a brokerage firm. This type of trading and investing has become the norm for individual investors and traders since late 1990s with many brokers offering services via a wide variety of online trading platforms.
Prior to the advent of the Internet, investors had to call up their stockbroker and place an order on the telephone. The brokerage firm would then enter the order in their system which was linked to trading floors and exchanges.
In August 1994, K. Aufhauser & Company, Inc. (later acquired by TD Ameritrade) became the first brokerage firm to offer online trading via its "WealthWEB". Online investing has experienced significant growth since that time. Investors can now enter orders directly online, or even trade with other investors via electronic communication networks (ECN). Some orders entered online are still routed through the broker, allowing agents to approve or monitor the trades. This step assists in the protection of both the client and brokerage firm from unlawful or incorrect trades which could affect the client’s portfolio or the stockbroker’s license.
Online brokers in the US are often referred to as discount brokers but in Europe and Asia many so-called online brokers work with High-net-worth individuals. Their popularity is attributable to the speed and ease of their online order entry, and to fees and commissions significantly lower than those of full service brokerage firms within the US.
Two types of online brokerages have emerged in the US in the mid 2000s. One type of brokerage offering Direct-access trading to exchanges, such as Interactive Brokers. While the other type of brokerage, such as TD Ameritrade route orders to Market maker firms to have their orders filled. An example of a Market Maker firm was Knight Capital Group, now known as KCG Holdings.
Tools and trading platform
Investors who trade through an online brokerage firm are provided with a online trading platform. This online trading platform acts as the hub, allowing investors to purchase and sell such securities as fixed income, equities/stock, options, and mutual funds. Included with the platform are tools to track and monitor securities, portfolios and indices, as well as research tools, real-time streaming quotes and up-to-date news releases; all of which are necessary to trade profitably. Often, more robust research tools are available such as full, in-depth analyst reports and analysis, and customized backtesting and screeners to see how particular investment strategies would have been realized during different historical periods.
In all investments, there is a risk of investment fraud. This risk can increase for online brokers where the investor does not have a personal relationship and the broker may be located in a different jurisdiction. For this reason some financial regulators warn potential investors to research the online brokers they plan to employ, assuring that those firms are licensed within their state, provincial or national jurisdiction. Informed investors are less likely to fall victim to unlawful securities schemes, such as the so-called "boiler room" scam. The US Federal Government provides practical tips to avoid investment scams via their OnGuard Online website. This website cautions investors to be wary of internet newsletters, investing blogs, or bulletin boards. Stock manipulators often float false information and "hot tips" on these sites, as part of an effort to affect the price of shares in a particular security. Investors are also advised to turn to unbiased sources when researching investments. In the US, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (via their EDGAR database) is one example.
Investors will typically invest without the help of a trained stockbroker or investment adviser and may not fully understand the potential risks of investing in a particular security. Inexperienced investors are easy prey for stock manipulators and pump and dump schemes often associated with penny stocks. For this reason, many online brokers offer a number of investment tools to educate and inform new investors.
Many online brokers provide tools to help investors research and select potential investments. There are also numerous third party providers of information, such as Yahoo! Finance. Other reputable sites provide information on business sectors, news and financial statements of individual companies, and basic tutorials on subjects such as diversification, basic portfolio theory, and the mitigation of risk associated with volatility in the stock market.
- Comparison of online brokerages in the United States
- Equity crowdfunding
- Financial adviser
- Stock selection criterion
- Online trading community
- Online trading platform
- Online trading portal