Ally Invest

Detailed Ally Invest Review

After operating as an independent online broker for over 10 years, TradeKing was acquired by Ally Financial in April 2016 for $275 million. Today, in 2017, TradeKing continues to operate as a standalone brand underneath the Ally umbrella. The broker remains focused on providing clients discounted trades without sacrificing a smooth client experience.

While numerous synergies are planned for TradeKing in the future – for example, I can’t wait to have my Ally high-yield savings account linked with my personal TradeKing account – the TradeKing experience remains untouched as of February, 2017.

UPDATE 05/12/17 - TradeKing has officially changed its name to Ally Invest and all brokerage accounts have been migrated to Ally's website.

Commissions & Fees

At TradeKing, regular stock trades are $4.95, with options trades costing $4.95 plus $.65 per contract. In years past, TradeKing had competition from other discount brokers. However, with OptionsHouse’s $4.95 per trade pricing currently in jeopardy due to the company’s acquisition by ETRADE, which charges $9.99 per trade, in 2016 TradeKing’s value-based pricing shines.

Ally Invest OptionsHouse Scottrade Fidelity Charles Schwab
Stock Trade Fee (flat) $4.95 $4.95 $6.95 $4.95 $4.95
Options Base Fee $4.95 $4.95 $6.95 $4.95 $4.95
Options Per Contract Fee $0.65 $0.50 $0.70 $0.65 $0.65
Mutual Fund Trade Fee $9.95 $20.00 $17.00 $49.95 $76.00
Commission Free ETFs 0 5 0 91 244
Commissions & Fees 4.5 Stars 4.5 Stars 3.5 Stars 3 Stars 3.5 Stars

Regular stock trades aside, penny stock traders will not find TradeKing's commissions structure ideal because stocks valued at less than $2 cost $4.95, plus $.01 per share (up to 5% of trade value). TradeKing also does not currently offer any commission-free ETFs.

One thing I did not like on the TradeKing website was the process of placing a trade. Instead of an all-in-one trade ticket, TradeKing has more than a dozen separate trade ticket pages, which makes it inconvenient. Fortunately for clients though, the trade ticket provided on the new TradeKing LIVE platform is far superior, and I highly recommend using it rather than the website.

Customer Service

As in previous years, of the three methods we tested for our 2017 Review – phone, email, and live chat – phone support was, once again, TradeKing’s weakest means of communication. Although response times were good, with 70% of our calls being connected in less than a minute, the reps did not make a strong impression, in spite of the fact that they were generally knowledgeable and friendly. More specifically, on only two of our ten tests did our private testers leave a “great” overall net promoter score for a call. TradeKing finished 10th out of 16 brokers for phone support.

Phone support aside, email and live chat were much more impressive. Live chat finished fourth overall in the industry, and email support finished fifth.

Phone support aside, email and live chat were much more impressive. Live chat finished fourth overall in the industry, and email support finished fifth. In the end, TradeKing once again ended up with a four-star rating for customer service; good but not “great.”

Ease-of-Use

Ease of Use is a category encompassing quite a large area. From logging in to navigating the website, placing a trade, managing account preferences, and conducting research, it’s about the full experience. TradeKing has had several challenges in the past. From the login process, during which we are still asked to answer security questions, even though we have checked to have it remember our information, to navigating the site’s triple navigation maze, it’s a rough journey.

Still currently housed in a separate area, TradeKing LIVE couldn’t come soon enough.

Fortunately, TradeKing is correcting most of these pain points with its new TradeKing LIVE 100% responsive website, which launched in 2014. Still currently housed in a separate area, TradeKing LIVE couldn’t come soon enough. Everything about the client experience has improved. Streaming quotes are everywhere, and trades can be placed from any page using the right sidebar trade ticket. A fully customizable dashboard takes advantage of tiles similar to Microsoft products. Even monitoring orders, pulling quotes, and assessing portfolio performance have been creatively refreshed.

Platforms & Tools

TradeKing LIVE was initially a little weak in the charting and options areas; however, thanks to updates made in 2015, both have been enhanced. The charts are smooth, easy to modify, and now include 10 drawing tools as well as 84 different technical indicators. Both counts are a monster improvement over the two and three, respectively, we counted the previous year.

With options in TradeKing LIVE, profit & loss (P&L) charts were completely reworked in 2015 and no longer suffer from the Java security errors that once haunted us during testing. Instead, P&L charts are now clean, customizable, and flow extremely well with the rest of the research process. Deep analysis now also includes the flexibility to be able to assess theoretical positions with live positions.

While I was really excited about TradeKing LIVE’s launch in 2014, now, early in 2017, the platform still has multiple areas that require improvement.

While I was really excited about TradeKing LIVE’s launch in 2014, now, early in 2017, the platform still has multiple areas that require improvement. First, ironing out the viewing experience should be a priority for TradeKing – the desktop is clean, but the smartphone view still needs some UI tweaks. Second, the main website’s research functionality has not yet made its debut. Third, adding some more functionality to round out core client activities, then pushing LIVE into the limelight as the default experience for every client should undoubtedly be TradeKing’s #1 goal for 2017.

One final note on TradeKing’s platforms and tools; thanks to the acquisition of MB Trading in 2015, customers will eventually gain access to MB Trading’s active trader desktop platform. For a deeper look at the platform, read our  and scroll down to the Platforms & Tools section.

Research

Compared to other brokers with similar discounted pricing, TradeKing is offering is the best. TradeKing does a very good job of bringing visuals and interactive analysis into the research experience. Whether analyzing earnings or insider transactions, the graphs have overlays that identify key points, which makes the experience far more insightful than staring at straight data. That said, we could do without the random banner advertisements promoting TradeKing’s products.

We also appreciate the subtle details, such as including a trends column when reading a company’s income statement, balance sheet, or cash flows. TradeKing also includes a peer comparison chart for equities research, another nice touch not found with other discount brokers. Customers can even download historical pricing spreadsheets for any security.

Lastly, TradeKing provides only one third-party research report from Standard & Poor's. With the offering of discounted trades, multiple third-party reports cannot be provided because the cost is simply too high. Given that nearly all of TradeKing’s close discount competitors provide no reports at all, this is fine with me.

Other Notes

For mobile trading, TradeKing offers customers iOS and Android smartphone apps, but nothing more. The apps are decent and include the core functionality needed to effectively monitor one’s portfolio and trade on the go, but they don’t stand out otherwise. With TradeKing LIVE being designed for mobile devices as well as desktop computers, we imagine TradeKing is going to eventually either sunset its mobile apps in favor of TradeKing LIVE or decide to support the app and invest more resources in updates. See: .

TradeKing's community, the Trader Network, allows clients to share their real trades, write notes on why they made them, and interact with the rest of the community via blogs, forums, and groups. While the area was active in the late 2000s, over the years, clients have found other interests. Twitter, StockTwits, and other financial social networks now dominate the social landscape. While always hard to let go, TradeKing is probably best off to sunset the Trader Network in favor of a more modern-day approach to social trading. That, or it needs to make a serious investment to re-spark client interest.

Final Thoughts

Over the past three years, TradeKing has hurt itself by spreading its development and leadership resources too thinly. Acquisitions of competitors and expanding into new business lines such as professional advice (see our ) detracted from developing TradeKing LIVE and fixing website usability issues such as navigation and client login. Not only that, TradeKing itself was acquired by Ally Financial in 2016, which, as one could expect, took up resources.

These growing pains caused delays but were necessary steps in the long-term effort to evolve and provide a fantastic experience. With a clear direction alongside Ally Financial’s brand and resources behind it, I am optimistic 2017 will be the best year yet for TradeKing clients.