Online brokers maintain upgrade momentum

The lack of any forward momentum in the sharemarket this year has not deterred online brokers from continuing with the upgrades to their offerings that they started during last year’s recovery.

In the past month Macquarie Edge has launched a range of educational tools and Westpac Online Investing has started offering international shares, United States exchange traded options and a bigger managed fund offering.

The Infochoice website provides details of 16 brokers in the hotly contested market. Over the past year E*Trade, CommSec and Bell Direct have also upgraded their sites.

Macquarie Edge’s new tools include a series of video tutorials to show people how to use the site and a series of investment papers, designed for investors with different levels of experience.

Macquarie’s head of direct investing, James Leplaw, says recent Investment Trends research showed that investors using execution-only broking services wanted the websites to supply more educational services. One in four say more teaching materials would increase their satisfaction with their online broker and more than one-third say they want trading tips.

Macquarie relaunched its execution-only broking service as Macquarie Edge last year. At the time it promoted the inclusion of social networking features that would allow users to set up investment communities.

Earlier this month Westpac announced that Westpac Online Investing would offer trading in shares in 30 countries across Asia, Europe and North America. Investors would have access to the New York Stock Exchange, NASDAQ, the London Stock Exchange and the Shanghai Stock Exchange.
For investors looking for a hedging tool or extra leverage Westpac Online Broking is also offering US exchange-traded options.

E*Trade kicked off the current wave of change to online trading sites last year, when it introduced a tax reporting service. That service was further developed this year with the addition of a facility to allow investors to incorporate other financial assets, such as property, in their tax reports to give them a report on their total tax liability from a single source.

E*Trade also added an international share trading facility that gives investors access to 11 equity markets in North America, Europe and Asia. It has integrated the local and international platforms so that clients can see their total position in a single account summary.

Bell Direct launched a set of new online trading tools. Investors can call up reports on directors’ trading activity, unusual volumes, changes to substantial holdings, market depth charts, lists of stocks at their 52 week highs or lows, and changes to analysts’ buy and sell recommendations.
A big trend in online broking is customisation – giving clients the capacity to set up their trading screen the way they want, with the bits of the service they prefer displayed together, rather than having to accept a standard format.

The market overview page at Bell Direct has been designed to give investors a single-view dashboard of the state of the markets and their account plus the latest news.

Macquarie’s Leplaw says one aim of the development of Macquarie Edge was to bring data, news and research together in a relevant format. For example, if the client is a BHP shareholder they will find Macquarie research on the stock, BHP company announcements, Dow Jones news reports, consensus estimates and sector reports packaged together.

Westpac is also promising a greater level of customisation with Westpac Online Investing. The old system had a standard home page but the new service allows investors to pick the items they want to have on their home page – whether it is news, market updates, popular stocks or exchange rates. The stock holdings page now shows stocks in multiple accounts, including broker sponsored and issuer sponsored holdings.


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