- Have you taken a look at CommSec and been frustrated by some of its features?
- Share investment newcomers can choose from many alternative platforms to get started and learn with.
- Experienced traders can access a wider range of products and markets, while saving money on fees, at some of CommSec's leading competitors.
Promoting itself as 'Australia's leading online broker', CommSec is certainly one of the first names that will spring to the mind of anyone contemplating online share trading. Its online trading platform has been in existence since 1997 – so they should have plenty of experience in giving users what they need – and it's backed by one of Australia's Big Four banks.
But is CommSec helpful enough to accommodate beginners, without restricting them to CommSec Pocket? Does it have enough advanced features, available investment products and global market access to suit experienced traders? And is it cheap enough (in terms of fees) to attract both camps?
Possibly not, but there are plenty of alternative platforms competing for your business, without resorting to another of the Big Four's offerings (nabtrade, ANZ Share Investing or Westpac Share Trading).
CommSec alternatives for beginners
Newcomers to the world of share investing are typically happy with a more restricted product offering and may like to have some guidance in choosing stocks or assistance with managing their portfolio. But they're still looking for good value when it comes to the fee structure.
Our favourite beginner platforms combine some or all of these features.
Passively invest in ETFs
Spaceship Voyager could be the easiest way to dip a toe into the stock market while leaving the investment strategy to the experts. And you can start with an investment as low as $1.
Choose from three portfolios – Origin (investing in Australian and global Top 100 companies), Universe (companies at the forefront of development, such as Spotify, Microsoft and Tesla) and Earth (investing in ethical, responsible, sustainable companies).
Fund your investment by pairing your bank account with your Spaceship Voyager account. Start by investing as little as you want (even $1) and add to it whenever you wish, including automated fortnightly or monthly top-ups.
Opening and operating an account, and depositing and withdrawing funds, is completely free for account balances below $5,000. Once you pass that mark, you'll pay an annual portfolio management fee of 0.05% for Origin, or 0.10% for the Universe or Earth portfolios. That's a mere $2.50 or $5 a year if your balance is $10,000.
- Very low fees, 0% for balances below $5,000, to a maximum of 0.1% p.a. for balances over $5,000, depending on the portfolio chosen.
- Choice of portfolios to suit your risk or ethical preference.
- Leave it to the experts. No personal expertise required.
- Start small with an investment as low as $1.
- Auto top-up option so that you can invest small amounts regularly.
- Limited to three portfolios rather than individual companies, and you can choose to invest in only one of them.
- No guarantee of continuing high returns, so don't rely on past performance as a future growth indicator.
- Foreign currency risk. Spaceship Voyager does not hedge against currency exposure (one of the reasons why its fees are so low), but since portfolios include investment in overseas shares, their value could be affected by negative (or positive) currency fluctuations.
For investors who HODL
Definitely designed for long-term investors who value time in the market rather than timing the market, Pearler is likely to be a suitable option for anyone whose aim is to grow a portfolio slowly and regularly rather than get involved in frequent trading.
Its optional Autoinvest feature allows you to choose a pool of assets you want to invest in (Pearler recommends popular ETFs and LICs, rather than individual company shares, for beginner investors) or use one of several template portfolios. Funds you deposit (which can also be automated using Autodeposit) are then automatically invested in your chosen pool. The idea is to 'set and forget', and let time and regular deposits increase the value of your portfolio.
Trades of amounts up to $17,500 cost a low $9.50 each, while transactions of $17,500+ attract a fee of 0.055%. If you invest in one of over 40 ETFs from Pearler's partners, and hold your investment for at least a year, your brokerage is free.
Pearler users can also follow other successful users – 'Finfluencers' – and use their portfolios as a model for their own investment strategies.
- Low cost brokerage fee of $9.50 for trades up to $17,500.
- Free brokerage on over 40 selected ETFs, if held for a year.
- Autoinvest so that you can choose to set and forget.
- Experience not required since you can choose a template portfolio or follow successful investors.
- Limited to ASX for investing in individual shares, although arms-length US investment is available via local ETFs, and US share and ETF trading is expected to be available soon.
- Market price orders only, no limit orders.
Invest your spare change
Raiz is a great micro-investing app for anyone with no investment knowledge and little in the way of available funds, but suffering from investment FOMO. You can play the sharemarket with your spare change.
Simply download the app, create your account, set up your funding bank account, your round-up spending sources and your investment mix. Raiz will look at your spending sources (credit or debit card or cards), round up each purchase cost to the nearest dollar, take the difference from your funding account and invest it in your chosen Raiz portfolio.
For example, if you spend $2.75 on a credit card purchase, 25 cents will be taken from your funding account and invested at Raiz. Buy a coffee for $4.50, and 50 cents goes into your Raiz investment account.
You can choose from six ETF-based investment portfolios– five with risk exposure ranging from Conservative to Aggressive, and a sixth 'Emerald' portfolio which concentrates on responsible and sustainable investing – plus a further 'Sapphire' portfolio which invests 5% of your funds in Bitcoin.
This means that you can spread your risk while getting someone with greater knowledge to make investment decisions on your behalf. It's 'set and forget'. But if you wish, you can create your own Custom portfolio.
You can also accelerate your investment if you choose, with recurring amounts deposited by direct debit from your bank account, or additional sums whenever you feel like it.
You'll pay a fee of $3.50 per month for a standard portfolio if your balance is under $15,000, or 0.275% per annum if your balance is over $15,000 (i.e. around $42 for a balance of $15,001). A Custom portfolio costs $4.50 per month, or 0.275% p.a. for balances over $20,000.
- Easy-to-use app and desktop version. Round-up notifications can be turned off if you wish.
- Simple funds withdrawal process with no forms, good for cash emergencies.
- Round-ups make investing painless. Set it up with your credit card or debit card, including Amex credit cards.
- No investment knowledge required, choose your own risk appetite, and the ETF portfolio approach spreads your risk.
- Raiz Rewards, shopping cashback automatically invested at Raiz. A good extra feature, but have you tried Finty's cashback service, Kickback?
- High monthly fee for low account balance. Raiz customers have an average balance of $2,100, making the $3.50 monthly fee not too bad, but it will dent your total if you only have a small balance.
- Risk may be higher than you can stomach. Raiz can potentially earn at a better rate than a savings account or term deposit, but still presents a greater risk than they do if the sharemarket drops suddenly.
- Little control or visibility around investment choices, unless you choose a Custom account.
Cheap ASX share and ETF trades
Designed to make share investing "accessible and understandable for everyone", Superhero offers a low flat brokerage fee of $5 when trading shares, $0 when trading ETFs. You can start with an order as low as $100, but no matter how high you go and how many trades you make, the $5 flat fee remains the same.
You're limited to trading in ASX-listed products only (shares, ETFs, LICs, REITs), so there's no access to global markets or arcane products like forex, commodities, options, cryptocurrency and CFDs. This makes Superhero easy to understand for beginners, but to encourage them stick around once they've found their feet, the platform's advanced features – live pricing and news, market orders, limit orders, comprehensive reporting – are free to all users rather than being available only to premium accounts paying a monthly fee (a feature of some more complex and advanced platforms).
- Low flat fee of $5 for share trades, $0 for ETF trades.
- Low minimum investment of $100 per trade.
Simple account opening process, so you can get started quickly.
- Free advanced features, often only available for a monthly fee at competing platforms.
- Only basic charting available, with probably insufficient information for more experienced traders.
- No research reports and analysis to help you decide when to buy or sell.
- Clients' shares are held in a joint custodian account rather than being registered at CHESS using a HIN.
Like Robinhood for Australia
Slightly more adventurous beginner traders looking at investing overseas can access the US sharemarket from Australia, without needing to open a US trading account or pay high transaction fees. In fact, you'll pay no transaction fees or commission at all for your US share trades via Stake.
However, Stake is a business and has to make money somehow. It does so by charging other fees:
- A currency conversion fee. You need to have US dollars in your account in order to be able to trade, and Stake charges a fee when you swap your AUD into USD for trading, or USD into AUD to withdraw funds (currently the greater of 0.7% or USD 2).
- An account withdrawal fee when removing funds from your trading account, currently USD 2 on top of any currency conversion fee.
Stake's basic account option is free, but if you want a Stake Black premium account (for expert stock analysis and instant access to sales proceeds) you'll need to pay a subscription of USD 90 annually, or USD 9 per month.
- Access to US sharemarkets for Australians without the need for a US trading account.
- Zero commission and custody fees, so there's no transaction fee, no matter how many trades you make.
- Streamlined US tax compliance. Your account includes submission of the US tax form required to avoid paying a higher rate of US tax on trading profits, for a fee of USD 5.
- Trade in fractional shares for expensive stocks like Amazon or Google.
- Free Nike, Dropbox or GoPro stock just for signing up. Claim your free stock here using our referral code.
- Access to US sharemarkets only. You will need to look for other apps to buy shares on other global markets, including ASX.
- Currency conversion fee of 0.7% fee when converting AUD into USD for depositing to or withdrawing from your Stake trading account.
- Slow settlement of funds if you don't have the Stake Black account.
- Customer Service may not be the best, according to Trustpilot and ProductReview.com.au.
Copy experienced traders
This is a platform that could easily belong in both camps – for traders taking their first steps, and for more adventurous veteran traders. Experienced investors who trade regularly may appreciate the access to high-risk products like cryptocurrencies and CFDs, but eToro has lots to offer the beginner looking at trading in the US sharemarket.
For starters, there are no fees charged for trading in US stocks, although you will need to pay a currency conversion fee when you deposit AUD into your USD trading account, a small withdrawal fee if you want to take funds out of your account, and a monthly inactivity fee if you haven't traded in the previous 12 months.
A second component that will appeal to beginners is the demo account, pre-loaded with virtual dollars that you can use in virtual trades, until you're sufficiently confident to risk trading with real money. And when you do start using real dollars, the minimum trade size is a relatively harmless USD 50.
Next, eToro gives users access to fractional share trading. Beginners may feel more comfortable trading in big names like Google, Amazon, Netflix and Tesla, but are only able to do so by purchasing less than a whole share of these high-priced stocks.
Finally, eToro's CopyTrader feature may also be attractive for newcomers to share trading. It's a social trading platform, allowing users to copy the activity of other successful traders.
- No-fee trades for US stocks and ETFs.
- Demo account pre-loaded with virtual dollars so that users can try trading first without committing real money.
- CopyTrader to allow users to mimic the activity of successful traders.
- Educational tools, including video tutorials, podcasts and Trading School.
- Fractional share trading available, providing access to more expensive shares.
- Australian securities trading not available, only US stocks and ETFs, CFDs and cryptocurrencies.
- USD trading account means you have to pay a currency exchange margin when depositing and withdrawing funds.
- Trading account funds withdrawal fee of USD 5 in addition to exchange margin.
CommSec alternatives for more experienced traders
Experienced share traders may be looking to try their hand at less obvious investment products, such as overseas-listed shares and ETFs, or local and global commodities, derivatives and cryptocurrencies.
These more involved investment products require platforms capable of providing advanced tracking and analysis, which regular traders may be prepared to pay for via a subscription fee. At the same time, they will be trying to save money by looking for a fee structure which rewards volume trading rather than infrequent long-term investment transactions.
Our experienced trader platform suggestions will meet many of these requirements.
Trade the ASX and US markets
Although better suited to more experienced traders, SelfWealth does have a special feature that may appeal to beginners – the ability, free of charge for the first three months, to follow successful SelfWealth members via the community pages, and copy their activity.
But its appeal to more seasoned and regular traders is based on its access to both Australian and US markets (shares, ETFs, listed investment companies, government debt securities), and on its flat fee of $9.50 per trade, payable in AUD or USD depending on which market the stock is traded in.
A basic account is free to open, but SelfWealth Premium costs $20 per month and adds detailed stock reports, portfolio analysis, unlimited news articles and the ability to follow other members' activity (for which a fee is normally payable after the first 90 days).
- Low, flat trading fee. $9.50 per trade, regardless of trade amount.
- Access both Australian and US markets for the same low fee.
- SelfWealth Premium account available for a monthly subscription.
- Free access to SelfWealth Premium for the first 90 days.
- Market price trades and set price trades are both available.
- SelfWealth Premium account is not free, but costs $20 per month after the first 90 days of free access.
- Limited to trading in Australia and the US, rather than a wider range of international markets.
One of Australia's most established brokers
Regular traders who are comfortable with being limited to the ASX may like the idea of using a platform that's been around for more than 12 years and is backed by Bell Potter stockbroking. It doesn't quite have the gravitas of CommSec, but Bell Direct runs fairly close.
As well as shares and ETFs, you'll be able to trade in warrants, fixed income securities, managed funds, options and IPOs.
Its trading fees start higher than CommSec's for low trade amounts and frequency, but its fee structure rewards regular traders (10+ trades per month) with fees that decline on a sliding scale, down to $10 or 0.8% per trade for 30+ trades per month.
It has four account levels – a free but feature-packed basic account, and three levels of premium account ranging from $10 to $106.50 per month, depending on how many of the more advanced features (e.g. live price streaming, WebIRESS) you need.
- Competitive fees, which decline further for frequent traders.
- Free basic account with plenty of features to suit both beginners and veterans.
- Guaranteed one-second trades, once your order is placed.
- Limited to ASX. Only Australian investment products are available.
- Phone orders are available but expensive, at $60 or 0.2%, whichever is greater.
- Managed Fund trades are expensive, costing $30 or 0.1% online, and $60 or 0.2% by phone.
Trade just about everything
You could use CMC Markets as a beginner – it has a huge range of educational features – but it's far more likely to appeal to a seasoned trader. That's because it offers trading in not just conventional ASX shares and ETFs, but also global markets (with no-fee trading for US, Canadian, Japanese and UK stocks), the lesser-known SSX and Chi-X Australian markets, and more out-of-the-way products like forex, government debt, commodities, cryptocurrencies, exchange traded options and CFDs.
It also offers four different trading platforms, which users need to choose from depending on the type of product and service they want to access. This could be confusing for new entrants, and even the basic stockbroking account has three levels – Classic, Active Investor and Premium Trader. Once again, the frequent trader is favoured, with an already low trading fee that declines the more often you trade.
- Low brokerage fees for Australian trades, very competitive when compared with other long-established brokers and the major banks.
- Zero brokerage fees for US, UK, Japanese and Canadian trades.
- Huge range of trading options, including shares, ETFs, derivatives, commodities, forex products, cryptocurrencies and government debt.
- Different order types available, including market price, stop-loss, take-profit, limit and stop-entry.
- Complex range of account types to choose from, a possible source of confusion.
- Phone trades are expensive. If you prefer phone trades, each transaction will set you back around $60.
- Some global trading is expensive. Trading stocks outside Australia, UK, US, Canada and Japan will cost you the greater of 0.59% or $59.95.