Interactive Brokers Review
Great margin rates and the lowest commissions in the industry. Interactive Brokers is one of the top brokerage firms, with a huge selection of tradable securities.
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Interactive Brokers - Reviews & Ratings
• Account Minimum: $0
• Fees: $0.005 per share on the standard platform, $0 on IBKR Lite
• Best for: Active traders
• Highlight: Huge discounts for high-volume trading
Investor Warning: The risk of loss in trading with Interactive Brokers, whether it is with stocks, options, futures, forex, foreign equities, and fixed income, can be substantial.
Options involve risk and are not suitable for all investors. For more information read the “Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options”. For a copy call Interactive Brokers’ Client Services on 312-542-6901. Before trading, clients must read the relevant risk disclosure statements on our Warnings and Disclosures page – http://www.interactivebrokers.com/disclosures. Trading on margin is only for sophisticated investors with high risk tolerance. You may lose more than your initial investment. For additional information regarding margin loan rates, see http://www.interactivebrokers.com/interest. Security futures involve a high degree of risk and are not suitable for all investors. The amount you may lose may be greater than your initial investment. Before trading security futures, read the Security Futures Risk Disclosure Statement. For a copy visit http://www.interactivebrokers.com/disclosures. Structured products and fixed income products such as bonds are complex products that are more risky and are not suitable for all investors. Before trading, please read the Risk warning and Disclosure Statement at http://www.interactivebrokers.com/disclosures.
Last year saw big changes in the world of online so-called discount brokers. First one, then another and then another dropped trading fees altogether, sending the industry itself into a tailspin.
The earliest adopters reaped the rewards in increased share value and trader interest. Latecomers to the no-fee party, Interactive Brokers (IBKR) amongst them, saw significant temporary dips in share prices even as overall earnings and new account activity stayed strong.
The good news here is that Interactive Brokers itself has always been more of a trend-setter than even an early adopter. Its IBKR Lite program for lower-volume traders was already operating on a fee-free model.
But Interactive Brokers is in it for the long haul. By early 2020, IBKR stock was already being touted as one that intends to “just keep winning” by some news sources.
Does that mean Interactive Brokers is the right trading platform for your interests and needs? Not necessarily. IBKR is a big fish in a big pond populated by lots of other big fish. And all the fish are hungry for your business.
The key, as we will take a much closer look at here shortly, may be your intended trade volume. Interactive Brokers has a particular business model that makes it a better fit for a certain class of traders.
Overview and Summary
- 41 years ago, Thomas Peterffy founded the company that is known today as Interactive Brokers, or IKBR. To date, the company has amassed a hefty $7.9 billion in equity capital, and is one of the top choices for active traders.
- In 2019, IBKR Lite launches and immediately appeals to the casual trader. The company also rolls out special incentives to younger traders (aged 25 and younger).
- Interactive Brokers is intended for advanced traders. If you are a beginner you might find this platform overwhelming, as many do.
- Interactive Brokers offers forex trading options in four global marketplaces as outlined here below. All forex trading is conducted through the company’s IDEAL PRO platform.
- Account minimums to use Interactive Brokers is $0 for a regular brokerage account and $2,000 for a margin trading account, which is standard throughout the online trading industry.
- Interactive Brokers has an alluring pricing system with low commissions overall and great bonuses for very active traders.
- Where Interactive Brokers really starts to rack up the user experience points is when experienced brokers are using the feature-rich, customizable Trader Workstation.
- Despite having a rather robust set of contact options and 24/7 hours six days a week, IBKR’s customer support is a let-down.
Interactive Brokers Pros & Cons
Here is a summary of Interactive Brokers’ major pros and cons.
- Do-it-yourself structure and trading platform options work well for advanced, high volume traders.
- Extremely low cost trades for high volume trading, margin trading.
- Access to 125 markets in 31 countries, along with access to stocks, forex, options, ETFs, futures, warrants, mutual funds, metals, fractional shares.
- Access to bitcoin futures trading on two platforms (CBOE Futures Exchange, Chicago Mercantile Exchange).
- Customer service is unimpressive overall
- Expensive overall for traders with low monthly trade volume.
- IBKR Lite offers fewer order options.
- Watch out for hidden fees on the IKBR Pro plan
Who is Interactive Brokers? A Brief Company History
41 years ago, Thomas Peterffy founded the company that is known today as Interactive Brokers, or IKBR. To date, the company has amassed a hefty $7.9 billion in equity capital, and is one of the top choices for active traders.
In the late 70s and early 80s, the company was a securities dealer with a more traditional approach. However, Thomas Peterffy, the founder, and CEO at the time, came up with the first fully automatic algorithmic system for submitting and creating market orders in 1987. Less than a decade later, in 1994, Interactive Brokers had turned into a fully-fledged E-trading platform.
As the company’s own website outlines, Interactive Brokers’ founding mission is the same today as it was in 1977;
“To create technology that successfully competes on price, size, speed, global product diversity, trading tools and better terms on liquidity.”
The company averages 797,000 trades per day. It offers three basic tiers:
- Interactive Advisors: A digital algorithm-based robo advisor platform with reasonable management fees ranging from 0.08 to 0.15 percent.
- IBKR Lit: An online trading platform for casual traders that assesses zero commissions.
- IBKR Pro: An online trading platform providing fee advantages for high-volume experienced traders.
While Interactive Brokers has its international headquarters in Greenwich, CT, it operates in 125 markets, with offices in 12: Australia, Canada, China, Estonia, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Japan, Russia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Interactive Brokers receives regulatory oversight through FINRA, the SEC, NYSE, FCA, and various international agencies.
Historically speaking, Interactive Brokers has always been an industry leader. In 1983, an earlier iteration of IKBR, Timber Hill, was the first to develop and launch handheld trading computers.
In 1984, Timber Hill began developing a digital tool to trade stocks and options. In 1985, that tool launched online and became the first true digital algorithm – an automated trading system that works live across multiple platforms.
In 2001, after a number of additional notable advances in the global trading marketplace, Timber Hill Group LLC is rebranded and renamed Interactive Brokers Group LLC.
Over the next several years, IBG receives numerous awards, including multi-year awards from Barron’s as Best Online Broker, and Standard & Poor’s issues the company an investment grade ranking.
In 2019, IBKR Lite launches and immediately appeals to the casual trader. The company also rolls out special incentives to younger traders (aged 25 and younger).
Who Can Use Interactive Brokers?
Interactive Brokers is intended for advanced traders. If you are a beginner you might find this platform overwhelming, as many do. The ones who benefit on this platform are experienced brokers who don’t need any hand-holding.
Trading forex and options has historically been regulation-intensive. This is more the case in some regions than in others.
As of the time of publication, Interactive Brokers states that these geographic regions are eligible to trade forex/options through their global IDEAL PRO platform. The website states that IBKR has clients in 200 countries across the globe.
Countries that can Trade Forex with Interactive Brokers
Interactive Brokers offers forex trading options in four global marketplaces, as outlined below. All forex trading is conducted through the company’s IDEAL PRO platform.
- America: United States, Canada, Mexico.
- Europe: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Israel, Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom.
- Asia-Pacific: Australia, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea.
- Africa (the company website currently does not list any details on eligible areas).
Countries with Trade Access to IBKR
Interactive Brokers is internationally headquartered in the United States in Greenwich, CT.
The company is chartered as a global e-trading platform accessible to users around the world. Currently Interactive Brokers is available for use in 218 countries.
It is important to note that currently in the United States, only traders with the special designation of ECP (Eligible Contract Participant).
Any individual or entity applying to become an ECP must meet one of two conditions:
- Assets of at least $10M.
- Assets of at least $5M (if trades are hedging).
Outside of the United States, retail forex spot trading is available to foreign traders.
Available Trading Currencies
Currently, Interactive Brokers offers 115 forex pairs and trades in 22 currencies.
Real-time Forex Prices from 17 International Banks
Interactive Brokers provides real-time pricing from 17 global banks dealing in forex.
The company states that the forex vendors it uses collectively represent 60 percent of the global forex marketplace.
Forex Products Available via IDEAL PRO Exchange
This chart from the Interactive Brokers website (note it is a two-page chart) outlines the Forex products available to trade via IDEAL PRO online.
Forex Trades Comparative Analysis Tool
One neat feature on the Interactive Brokers website is the forex execution statistics tool, called the FX Browser Tool.
It works by taking up to 15 forex transactions with matching currency: currency pairs that occurred immediately prior to and following your own forex transaction within a 15 minute or shorter period.
The FX Browser Tool then compares your trades to these neighboring similar trades to help you analyze the quality of your trades and learn from that.
Forex Trader Online Interface
The Forex Trader is a proprietary online interface designed by initiating brokers specifically for forex trading.
You can see a snapshot of the tool on the Interactive Brokers website here.
This tool supports 20 different order types and displays multiple currency pairs on a single screen, complete with real-time bid ask and market data. Within each cell, you can then drill down for more information on that currency pair before deciding to place your trade order.
The Forex Trader can also be used for other types of trades beyond forex, such as forex futures, stocks, bonds, fx options, futures.
The Forex Trader also integrates with the Forex Auto Swap Program tool for eligible traders.
How Does Interactive Brokers Stack Up Overall?
In the sections that follow, we will dig down deep to explore what Interactive Brokers has to offer in terms of its platform, digital interface, fees, mobile experience, learning resources and more.
IBKR Mobile vs Desktop User Experience
While the Interactive Brokers website gives its iOS/Android app glowing reviews, it is easy to see users do not precisely agree.
When working correctly, both the iOS/Apple and Android versions of the app are supposed to be able to support on-the-go trading, secure spending, mobile check deposit, two-factor security authentication and more.
In the real world, user reviews report problems ranging from limited functionality to non-loading option quotes to slow operation. With comments such as “buggy,” “user UNfriendly” and “worst experience EVER,” it is clear the iOS/Apple version is a disappointment.
Android app user comments read like variations on the same theme: “full of bugs,” “list of issues,” “super difficult” and, just in case there was any grey area, “terrible.”
iOS/Apple app: 3.6 (out of 5 stars); available for iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch
Android app: 3.7 (out of 5 stars)
IKBR Account Minimum Deposit Requirements
Minimum deposits to begin trading through Interactive Brokers used to be amongst the steepest in the online broker industry. In fact, the vast majority of reviews focusing on IKBR have spent a good chunk of time discussing just how high the initial account funding requirement was.
But all that changed in April 2019 when Interactive Brokers did away with the $10,000 initial deposit minimum for using the platform.
Today, the account minimums to use Interactive Brokers is $0 for a regular brokerage account and $2,000 for a margin trading account, which is standard throughout the online trading industry.
Interestingly, Interactive Brokers’s executive vice president also admitted that for the preceding five years, the company had not been enforcing its own written account minimums!
However, the same press release warns new prospective users that the bulk of the user experience remains the same. High fees for occasional trades make Interactive Brokers the wrong platform for anyone seeking to avoid monthly fees or inactivity fees.
The guidance the executive vice president offers also remains the same: for anyone who plans to trade at volume (meaning at least $100,000 every month), Interactive Brokers offers a feature-rich, fully digital online trading platform with access to multiple security types around the globe.
For users who do not meet this minimum criteria, there is IBKR Lite or Interactive Advisor, the robo advisor “smart beta” service that do maintain certain account minimums as follows:
– $5,000 minimum to fund a smart beta portfolio (made up of diversified groups of stocks) that comes with an account management fee ranging from 0.08 to 0.09 percent.
– $10,000 minimum to fund stock portfolio actively managed by professional money managers (minimums here can range up to $120,000 per account) that comes with a higher account management fee ranging from 0.5 to 1.5 percent.
For brokers who want to use IBKR, there are still account minimums as follows:
– For the first eight months of use: a minimum account funding of $10,000USD (or equivalent) is required.
– For use starting in month nine: a minimum account balance of $2,000USD (or equivalent) is required.
IBKR Account Fees and Other Fees
Speaking of account fees, let’s take a much closer look at how Interactive Brokers assess fees.
This is a hot button topic for anyone considering an online so-called “discount broker” because these platforms are ideally supposed to be cheaper to use in exchange for less hand-holding and professional guidance.
Of course, as you just learned above here, Interactive Brokers was formerly in the business of making news headlines for their pricey account minimums and high penalty and inactivity fees for lower volume trade users.
Has anything changed?
Today, Interactive Brokers has an alluring pricing system with low commissions overall and great bonuses for very active traders.
Account management fees range from zero to 1.5 percent and up, depending on how you are using the platform. For example:
- The type of portfolio desired, and the account minimum for that portfolio.
- IKBR Lite users do not incur any inactivity fees, penalty fees for fewer monthly trades, or account maintenance fees.
- IKBR Pro users will incur a monthly maintenance fee of up to $10USD if the user does not generate at least $10USD in trading commissions in a calendar month.
While there is currently no account minimum for using IKBR’s programs, if your account falls to less than $2,000, you will incur up to a $20USD service fee each month or the difference between your trade commissions, plus a fee of $20.
One type of account fee that is not much mentioned in independent reviews to date is the substantial fee to use your own enhanced network connection. This fee is currently set at anywhere from $500 to $1,500 per month depending on the type of connection required and the level of customization desired (TWS versus API versus FIX CTCI).
Supported platforms include: VPN (virtual private network), IB Gateway Internet, Extranet (ex: TNS, Savvis, Radianz), Cross-Connect and Dedicated Leased Line (provider: AT&T, Verizon, et al).
Curious how Interactive Brokers stacks up to the competitions? See our TD Ameritrade vs Interactive Brokers comparison.
IBKR Trading Platform Interface Options: Trader Workstations
Where Interactive Brokers really starts to rack up the user experience points is when experienced brokers are using the feature-rich, customizable Trader Workstation.
The Trader Workstation is replete with the types of tools seasoned, high volume, busy, serious investors and traders love and seek out. But it is just one out of a set of platform interface options you have when you use Interactive Brokers.
It is not a platform for beginners or anyone who is using IBKR Pro and needs to make a lot of trades relatively quickly without time for a steep learning curve. For these folks, there are other options, including WebTrader, which comes with a less time-intensive onboarding process.
Here is a quick overview of all the platform options available, but keep in mind that none of these are intuitive. Also, only the desktop version offers 100 percent of the trading features that IBKR offers users.
Because Interactive Brokers targets the serious trader and provides access to the most complex types of trading activity, each of these platforms will provide additional features and tools that a less experienced trader might not even know to look for.
There is also an API (applications programming tool) tool that allows programmers to further customize IKBR platforms to your personal needs and interests.
The client portal is the same for every Interactive Brokers user. You can view your account overview, use text and voice commands to ask questions and request information and find all of the essential basics in one place.
Desktop Trader Workstation
If you plan to trade in multiple types of portfolios and individual securities, including forex and options, the desktop version of TWS, or Trader Workstation, is what you will need to use. You have two view options: TWS Mosaic and TWS Classic.
This is an in depth platform with comprehensive risk analysis and global technical research news to help serious traders do some serious business. It requires a software download – this is not an online-only platform.
As we mentioned earlier, the mobile experience that Interactive Brokers currently provides has not yet met the expectations of its user group. Reviews are middling at best, and sometimes outright bad.
IBKR WebTrader (for Pro users only)
WebTrader, as we mentioned earlier, is only available if you plan to sign up for the IKBR Pro plan. This portal is designed to offer a simpler, more intuitive interface. It is HTML-based with traditional web tabs and a customization feature, so you can arrange your desktop view just the way you like it, down to font types, sizes, colors, and more.
Although, it might be worth mentioning that IKBR users say “intuitive” is a relative term when it comes to IBKR’s platform.
If you are trading behind a firewall, IBKR WebTrader is probably the platform you are going to want to choose.
IBKR APIs (for Pro users only)
While Interactive Brokers essentially wrote the first comprehensive code to automate trading online, some IBKR Pro users are using their own proprietary system, or want to construct a personalized application or online platform to conduct trading.
If this describes you, and you’re planning on using IBKR Pro, you can access the company’s API to customize the TWS platform to your needs.
IBKR’s Customer Service
It doesn’t take much research to learn that Interactive Brokers’s customer service isn’t the most popular with users worldwide. Although the firm has improved its service over the years with the introduction of IBot on mobile, a new offering that permits you to use voice-activated commands, and queries, to request information and place trades. IBot helps traders navigate the platform, and its tools better
The firm also offers a robust set of contact options, available 24/7 hours six days, though their phone support can leave you on hold for a while.
Interactive Brokers offers the lowest commission rates in the industry, an abundance of order types, incredibly low margin rates, trading in over 120 markets worldwide, and a powerful trade platform adequate for any experienced trader, making it one of the top destinations for advanced investors.
The broker’s customer service is far from the best out there though. So, if you’re after more support, or are a beginner, IBKR’s complex platforms, high minimums, and inactivity fees just won’t suit.