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Interactive Brokers describes itself as "the professional's gateway to the world's markets” and, given the features on offer here, we would tend to agree. There is an enormous number of tools to get to grips with to analyze the markets and execute complex strategies on exchanges around the world. We won't say it's the easiest platform in the world to use, but it is extremely powerful and we would be surprised if even the most serious of investors found something it couldn't do!
With 80 exchanges in 18 different countries to trade on, getting started at Interactive Brokers can be an intimidating experience for new investors. There is a wide range of analysis tools to take advantage of and screeners to help filter out investments that wouldn't interest you, but these do take time to get used to and learn to use properly. Not because they are badly designed or difficult to use, but the amount of data at times can be overwhelming! However Interactive Brokers does a good job of letting you sift through the stuff that isn't relevant to you. There is also plenty of good quality independent research on offer to help you make the important decisions.
The trading platform on Interactive Brokers is very advanced and comes in two different capacities. The web based version is aimed at more casual investors and doesn't offer the full range of functionality and features that the downloadable desktop client does. It is much easier to use than the desktop version, but still not quite as easy as some other platforms and will take a bit of time to understand. The desktop application is where the real power of Interactive Brokers can be found though. This incorporates a huge number of different tools and lets you execute complex strategies in different markets around the world.
One downside (or potential benefit depending on how you look at it), is the complex pricing structure that Interactive Brokers feels it necessary to use. Instead of charging a set fee per trade Interactive Brokers charges a small commission per share traded. This fee varies a lot depending on the market, the type of investment and the volume of the trade, which makes it very difficult to compare prices against other trading platforms. We tried and gave ourselves a serious headache in the process and it seems Interactive Brokers comes out somewhere around the lower end of the middle when it comes to the cost of trading. Although an individual's trading pattern will make a big difference on the fees accumulated.
We would warn new investors away from Interactive Brokers as the tools are quite complex and the pricing structure quite confusing if this is your first time trading. However, if you know what you are doing, Interactive Brokers offers a versatile and powerful platform to play the financial markets. It does make sense to try and figure out the volumes you might be trading though in order to estimate what the fees might be like.
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