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Both Robinhood and Firstrade were pioneers when they first launched their trading platforms.
Firstrade was originally developed for a community in Queens, and eventually led the way in low-cost commissions. After reducing its commission fees to $0 in 2018, Firstrade became more appealing to investors looking to avoid brokerage fees.
However, Firstrade’s web app can be confusing, and many people won’t understand how to find some of the tools available like OptionPlay. While there are more tools and resources, you have to sign up for Firstrade Navigator and request via email unless you have an iPad. Even with these roadblocks, the trade experience and quality is a bit better than Robinhood overall.
That said, there are some important distinctions that separate these two brokers. Let’s take a look to see how they stack up.
Investor Warning: All securities trading, whether in stocks, exchange-traded funds (“ETFs”), options, or other investment vehicles, is speculative in nature and involves substantial risk of loss. Robinhood Financial encourages its Customers to invest carefully and to use the information available at the websites of the SEC at http://www.sec.gov and FINRA at http://FINRA.org.
Overview of Firstrade and Robinhood
Advanced ordering platform with Firstrade Navigator offers faster trades and streaming quotes
Access Navigator through iPad for more advanced charting and order types
$0 commissions on stocks, ETFs, and options
More investment options available with over 14,000 mutual funds
Extensive research and screener tools, as well as advanced charting from MultiCharts
Easy-to-use mobile app with basic order types and commission-free trades
Pay $0 for stocks, ETFs, options, and cryptocurrency trades
Basic watchlists, alerts, charts, and newsfeeds available
No streaming quotes or real-time data
Fees and Commissions
Robinhood was – and to an extent, still is – known as the pioneer for “free trading,” but Firstrade also cut their commission fees to $0 for ETFs, stocks, options, and mutual funds. So, the two are equally matched in costs.
There are no minimum investments with either brokerage, and you won’t be charged any inactivity fees. However, you do have the option of broker-assisted trades with Firstrade for $19.95. There are more than 600 commission-free ETFs to invest in with Firstrade.
Firstrade also started the Dividend Reinvestment Plan or DRIP. This allows an investor to sign up and get automatically enrolled in a DRIP of any stock that they want.
However, eligible stocks must be priced at $5 minimum per share. The stock should also be comprised of domestic securities for the most part.
Basically both offer ultra-low cost trading, but Firstrade offers more securities in comparison to Robinhood. However, if you want to trade on margin, you’ll have to pay for Robinhood Gold, which is $5/month.
$0 commission fees on stocks, ETFs, options, and cryptocurrencies
Options also have a $0 per contract cost
No other tradable securities
No inactivity fees or minimum balances
$0 commission fees on stocks, ETFs, options, and mutual funds
Also offers $0 per contract for options
More tradable securities including mutual funds and IPOs
$500 minimum account balance
Winner: It takes less to get started with Robinhood, which doesn’t require a minimum account balance like Firstrade.
Robinhood was built to offer the most popular investment selections at a $0 commission rate. While you can only trade in these investments, Robinhood promises to be more low-cost and easy-to-use for investors.
With Robinhood, you can trade in commission-free stocks, ETFs, options, and cryptocurrencies. You can trade in options for $0 base and $0 per contract with both Robinhood and Firstrade.
However, you can only open taxable accounts with Robinhood. You can open IRAs and trusts with Firstrade as well.
Firstrade allows its investors to trade in more assets than Robinhood. Firstrade’s investment types include stocks, ETFs, options, mutual funds, and bonds.
There are over 14,000 mutual funds available. You can place any kind of market order except OTOCO with Firstrade as well.
While both apps are not the best for active traders, Firstrade has more options for investments and retirement planning, which is something that Robinhood has yet to include in their basic platform.
Investors looking for their favorite stocks, ETFs, and options can find them for $0 commissions on Robinhood
Place four-leg spread options with $0 per contract
No mutual funds, futures, forex, or bonds
Access cryptocurrency trading if you live in certain states under Robinhood Crypto
Most investments available including commission-free stocks, ETFs, and options
Also access OTCBB/pink sheets, over 14,000 mutual funds, and all bonds
Higher cost for margin orders starting at 9%
Broker-assisted trades cost $19.95
Winner: Firstrade wins this round due to multiple investment selections, including over 14,000 mutual funds.
Online Advisors and Educational Offerings
Firstrade has a very easy-to-use website that offers a decent educational experience with research tools, analysis, options trade ideas, streaming real-time quotes, and screener tools. While the stock and mutual fund screeners are easy to use, the functionality is not very fresh or innovative.
You can enter trades pretty quickly to screen them, however. You can also access news and portfolio analysis reports from Morningstar and Briefing.com.
With OptionPlay, investors are able to generate ideas and look at option trades in more detail. You can also compare spreads in real time.
While this feature is great, it’s difficult to quickly locate within the Firstrade platform, as it’s located under “options chains” sheets only. There are multiple platforms for charting, and not all of them offer the same level of performance.
In the browser, you can access rudimentary charting, but it’s difficult to set up and not customizable. With Firstrade Navigator and mobile app, you can set up customizable charts thanks to MultiCharts, which offer more details.
In comparison, Robinhood does not offer any screener tools. Basic charting is available, but you can’t customize any of the charts.
Within the app, you can create watchlists and alerts, and your watchlists sync up with the browser platform. Overall, the information is very basic, and most traders will have to do their own research before going to Robinhood to place a trade.
No screeners or portfolio analysis tools
Basic overview and watchlists with syncing between mobile app and browser platform
Use basic charting to get an overview of stock performance
No robo-advisor tools or education center
Most education revolves around how to use Robinhood, not instruction for beginner investors
Multiple screener tools and portfolio analysis reports from Morningstar
Several ways to use charts, including customizable charts in Firstrade Navigator and the mobile app
OptionPlay provides extensive research for options
Some tools difficult to use and find within the interface
Winner: Firstrade wins in this category due to the number of tools and research available throughout its platforms. OptionPlay is one of the best ways to research new ideas and test strategies.
Robinhood does not offer the same kind of trading power nor speed as Firstrade. While the platform is easy-to-use, there are simpler more tools and a better multi-cloud architecture with Firstrade.
With Firstrade, you can build complex option spread orders, but spread legs have to be manually entered, although there is an integrated chain sheet process that makes it easier. Streaming quotes are not always available in the order entry form, which can make it difficult if you are an active trader.
Firstrade Navigator offers more order types than the mobile or web-based platform. You can place complex orders like OCO or OCA in Navigator without issue. You can also create orders within the screening tools for mutual funds, stocks, and ETFs.
One of the things that set Firstrade apart is the Firstrade Navigator platform. The interface is great for more active investors who want to use a single-page layout that utilizes models.
However, you can only get into Navigator once you apply via email. You can download Navigator easily through the iPad Apple Store.
While advanced, active traders may not get enough out of Firstrade, the platform is more suitable for those investors who want quick, accurate trade execution and order-routing than Robinhood. Firstrade routes orders through Apex and Credit Suisse, and then it will accept payments in that order flow.
No screener tools with streaming quotes to order from
Trade execution and order routing is a bit faulty and doesn’t always lead to price improvement
The app’s simplistic nature can be deceiving since you may place a trade without being able to research it first
Multiple platforms available including web, desktop, and mobile
Most of the trades must be entered manually, so it won’t satisfy very active traders
Firstrade Navigator has the most order types available
Decent trade execution with a couple of issues, as it tries to get the best price for investors while also trying to increase income for order flow
Winner: Ultimately Firstrade wins this category, though they have a confusing platform. If you do your research, it’s probably easier to place trades with Robinhood. However, their lack of market order types and customization makes it easier for investors to make mistakes and spend more.
Mobile and New Trade Tech
Robinhood was designed to be the simple mobile trading app. Not much has changed, except it’s become much too simple in comparison to all of the other mobile trading apps that have launched since 2013.
As more brokers created mobile apps, Robinhood still held supreme due to its commission-free assets. However, most brokers have also switched over to the commission-free model now, too.
In essence, you can’t do very much in the Robinhood mobile app. It allows for watchlists, alerts, and simple market order types. You can monitor your portfolio and set up a news feed, but there’s not much else available.
In contrast, Firstrade has a very intuitive and simple mobile app with all available market order types. You can place stop, limit, and most complex order types, though you may have to upgrade to the Firstrade Navigator app for iPad to access OCO or OCA orders.
One of the best features is that you can access customizable charts from MultiCharts, formerly known as TradingView. These are detailed, fast-loading charts that give you insights into a stock’s performance. You can also access watchlist and order entry features that are integrated with the web-based and desktop platforms.
You can monitor all of your open positions in real-time, and Firstrade will show you margin requirements on a per-trade basis. You can view your account balance and account history all in real-time.
As far as security goes, both platforms provide similar security options. Robinhood uses two-factor authentication, and you can use Face ID with the app. You may face a security challenge if you try to login with another device.
Web-based and mobile app platforms
Syncs watchlists and portfolio between browser and mobile app
Easy to use for simple order types
Basic encryption and secure login features
Firstrade’s Navigator app for iPad offers the most features and tools for any investor
Access advanced charting tools on the iPad app
Web-based and mobile app sync up portfolio analysis and watchlists
Security is the same as Robinhood’s
Winner: Firstrade offers you more with their suite of mobile apps. You can access more order types and advanced charting within the Navigator app for iPad.
Which One is Right for You?
Depending on your investment style, both Robinhood and Firstrade have some advantages. Robinhood is easier to use and does not have complex interfaces that can be confusing to navigate between.
However, Firstrade is more robust for tools, research, and options strategies. You can also access complex charting tools on mobile using the iPad app. We really liked Firstrade Navigator for desktop and iPad, and that’s ultimately what pushed our decision for Firstrade over Robinhood.
With the Navigator app, you can place almost any kind of trade including advanced order types for options. Thanks to streaming quotes on the platform, it’s also much easier to place orders at the right price point.
Frequently Asked Questions: Robinhood and Firstrade
Which Broker is Better for Retirement: Robinhood or Firstrade?
There are way more retirement options with Firstrade, including more screener tools, retirement planning, and calculators. You also can open up different IRA accounts and set goals for different accounts using Firstrade Navigator. There are over 14,000 mutual funds available, including over 10,000 no-load funds.
Does Firstrade Offer 24/7 Customer Support?
No, unfortunately only basic support is available for Firstrade customers. However, they do offer full support for Chinese language investors. Customers have noted that their customer service team is responsive and fast during market hours.
You can also request a call back during heavier support times. Live chat help is available, but it’s not as satisfactory and relies too much on FAQ links.
All reviews, research, news and assessments of any kind on The Tokenist are compiled using a strict editorial review process by our editorial team. Neither our writers nor our editors receive direct compensation of any kind to publish information on TheTokenist.io. Our company, Tokenist Media LLC, is community supported and may receive a small commission when you purchase products or services through links on our website. Click here for a full list of our partners and an in-depth explanation on how we get paid.
Tim Fries is the cofounder of The Tokenist. He has a B. Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan, and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Tim served as a Senior Associate on the investment team at RW Baird's US Private Equity division, and is also the co-founder of Protective Technologies Capital, an investment firms specializing in sensing, protection and control solutions.
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