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Investing online, also known as online trading or trading online, is a 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 Internet, investors had to place an order through a stockbroker, in person or via telephone. The brokerage firm then entered the order in their system, which was linked to trading floors and exchanges.
In 1985, Trade*Plus (later to become E-Trade) offered a retail trading platform on America Online and Compuserve, and in 1991 one of its founders, William Porter, created a new subsidiary company called E*Trade Securities, Inc.
In August 1994, K. Aufhauser & Company, Inc. (later acquired by TD Ameritrade) became the first brokerage firm to offer online trading via its "WealthWEB", and other platforms such as Mastertrader emerged in the late 1990s. Online investing has experienced significant growth since that time. Investors could 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 helps protect both the client and brokerage firm from unlawful or incorrect trades that 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: those offering direct-access trading on exchanges, and those that route orders to market maker firms to have their orders filled.
Tools and trading platform
Investors who trade through an online brokerage firm are provided with an online trading platform. The 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.
Online investors typically invest without help from 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 and ADVFN. 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
- Online trading platform
- Online trading portal
- Stock selection criterion
- "The Meteoric History of Online Stock Trading".
- Loosvelt, Derek; (Firm), Vault (2006). Vault Guide to the Top Financial Services Employers. Vault Inc. ISBN 9781581314168.
- "About TD Ameritrade". TDAmeritrade.com. TD Ameritrade IP Company. Retrieved 2013-05-27.
- Arnaut, G (1998). "No Frills,Just Service With a Screen", "New York Times
- OnGuard Online - Online Investing