- Trade shares using Australia's largest online broker.
- Account options for both experienced traders and newcomers.
- Brokerage fees are higher than at some newer online brokers, but competitive when compared with other big bank platforms.
CommSec, a division of Big Four bank CommBank (Commonwealth Bank of Australia), claims to be Australia's leading online broker. Its share trading website launched way back in 1997, so they certainly have lots of experience.
Finding the right online stockbroking firm for you, that offers access to the global market as well as reasonable fees, can be pretty difficult.
So, how does CommSec stack up today?
Below you will find our in-depth CommSec review covering everything you will need to know, whether you are new to trading in stocks or you are looking to add more trading instruments and charting tools to your repertoire.
Quickly compare CommSec against the competition with our share broker comparison.
Inside this review
What is CommSec?
Commonwealth Securities, or CommSec, is the largest online stockbroking firm in Australia. It was founded in Sydney in 1995 and is managed and operated by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
Most CommSec users will trade via its online platform. However, CommSec offers a phone-in advice and brokerage service as well.
Who is CommSec designed for?
CommSec is predominately designed for investors and traders who are already familiar with how share trading platforms operate. However, new traders on the share market can also get involved, as CommSec is extremely accessible to all kinds of investors. There is a range of account types that you can choose to create when you open a CommSec trading account.
One account type it offers is an app called CommSec pocket, particularly aimed at those new to the stock market. It allows users to trade in seven different Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), ranging from the top 200 Australian companies to emerging markets in fast-growing global economies.
At the other end of the scale there is CommSec One, designed for active traders who spend more than $3,000 in annual brokerage. You get a dedicated customer service team and free additional research, access and trading tools.
When signing up you can choose to have a CommSec CDIA (Commonwealth Direct Investment Account), or link your investment activity to your own non-CommBank bank account. But there are advantages to having a CDIA account – mainly the lower brokerage fees. (See "How much does it cost?" below.)
Is CommSec safe?
CommSec is owned by one of Australia's highly-regulated Big Four banks, CommBank, one of the largest ASX-listed companies in Australia. It uses client password protection, two-factor SMS authentication and an extremely high level of fraud monitoring software.
CommSec users can trade in the following markets:
- Australian shares listed on the ASX
- International shares on over 25 leading global share markets, including NYSE, NASDAQ, LSE and TSE
- Fixed income securities
How much does it cost?
A share trading account and a CDIA account are both free to open, and there are no monthly or annual account-keeping fees.
Brokerage fees vary, depending on whether you are using a CDIA account or not and on the size of your trade. At the time of writing, fees were as follows:
Brokerage fees for Australian shares if you settle via a CDIA account
- $10.00 for transactions up to and including $1,000
- $19.95 for transactions over $1,000 and up to $10,000
- $29.95 for transactions over $10,000 up to $25,000
- 0.12% for transactions over $25,000
Brokerage fees for Australian shares if you settle via another bank account
- $29.95 for transactions up to and including $9,999.99
- 0.31% for transactions of $10,000 and above
Transactions requested by phone are more expensive, starting at an eye-watering $59.95.
Fees for international share trading start at USD 19.95 and vary depending on which global exchange you're trading in. You could also encounter an inactivity fee if you don't use your international trading account at least once a year.
CommSec vs. disruptors
Australia has had its "Robinhood moment", where several new startups — often primarily delivered as a mobile app — have entered the market with a commission-free model.
Apps like Raiz have put investing on autopilot for thousands of Australians who would have otherwise never been invested. These platforms, like Stake, Superhero, and eToro, are not typically owned by an incumbent like CommBank, which currently has over $1,000 billion in assets. Therefore, they must innovate or die.
However, there's a lot of comfort to be derived from knowing that your transaction is being processed by one of Australia's biggest banks, via an online trading platform that's been around for about 25 years, even if it's not going to be a leader in innovation. It all depends on the type of service you are prepared to pay for.
The newer online trading platforms are certainly less expensive in term of fees charged, and may have innovative features that particularly appeal to you and suit the way you want to trade. But there is a trade-off since they often specialise in a narrow part of the market, such as US stocks only, or Australian stocks only, or ETFs or curated portfolios only, or only operate USD accounts. CommSec, on the other hand, lets you access a wide range of products in both local and overseas markets, so you have a more holistic overview of your trading position rather than a fragmented ecosystem of services. How much this convenience is worth is up to you.
As always, it's best to narrow down your choice to two or three with features that will suit you, and then compare the costs and decide whether you are prepared to compromise on some features for the sake of cost savings.
How to open a CommSec share trading account
Open an account using the "Join Now" button at CommSec's website. You'll need to answer a few questions about which account type you'd like (e.g. share trading) and decide whether you'll use a CDIA account or your existing bank account.
If you choose a CDIA account (the less expensive option) you'll need to answer a few more questions about your required account type (e.g. individual, joint, company, trust, SMSF), add your personal and contact details and job category, and complete an online ID check.
CommSec says that your account could be up and running in as little as five minutes.
Managing your account
The best way to access your Commonwealth Securities account is by using their online desktop platform to complete trades. From checking your current investments to making a deposit or withdrawal, using the desktop platform is very straightforward.
If you prefer to trade via your mobile phone then you might be interested in the CommSec mobile app, available for iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch or Android smartphone.
Pros and cons
- Safe and secure because it's owned by one of the Big Four banks.
- Straightforward and speedy sign-up process.
- Easy-to-use website and mobile app.
- No account fees for opening or keeping an account.
- Plenty of trading options, including Australian and international shares and ETFs.
- Available for many account types, including individuals, companies, trusts, SMSFs.
- Suitable for both beginners and experienced traders, offering market reports and insights, company reports and analysis, and podcasts and webinars to learn about share trading.
- Brokerage fees are relatively expensive when compared with some smaller online trading platforms.
- Brokerage fees are more expensive if you don't want to open a CDIA account.
- Inactivity fee for international trading accounts, if you don't trade at least once a year.
- CommSec One and its additional benefits are only available to active traders who spend large amounts on brokerage or have a very large portfolio.
- No real time data streams via WebIRESS, unless you are a CommSec One client, or complete at least eight trades per month, or are prepared to pay a fee, currently $82.50 per month.
Can you trade crypto on CommSec?
No, you can't. You may need to use a platform such as CoinSpot or eToro.
Is CommSec suitable for beginners?
Yes, since the website has an extensive Help Centre with a wide range of FAQs and help topics such as "About the sharemarket' and "International trading". There's also an Education section with a Specific "New to CommSec?" area. However, the minimum initial share trade amount is $500, a fairly standard "minimum marketable requirement" which some platforms avoid by offering fractional shares. If $500 is too much for you as a beginner, try starting at CommSec Pocket instead, investing as little as $50 in an ETF.
Does CommSec have an app?
Yes, there's an app — CommSec Pocket — you can download to an iPad, iPhone or Android smartphone, to access the same features that are available on the desktop version of the website.
There are a few alternatives that are suitable for you if you are looking for other online share trading platforms:
- eToro. Innovative social-trading feature makes it easy to trade the markets like an experienced investor. Trade shares, ETFs, crypto, and more across international markets.
- Stake. Trade US shares and ETFs commission-free.
- Superhero. Low cost trading for ASX-listed shares ($5 / trade) and ETFs (free) in a user-friendly mobile app.
- CMC Markets. Trade overseas stocks without paying brokerage, and ASX-listed stocks starting at $9.90 brokerage for active investors.
- SelfWealth. Flat fee of $9.50 to trade in Australian and US shares.
- Bell Direct. Low brokerage fees for ASX-listed investment products. Accepts companies, trusts and SMSFs as clients.
If you're prepared to pay standard brokerage fees for the sake of using a platform backed by a bank and offering a wide range of securities trading products and markets, including international markets, as well as extensive market reports and tools, then CommSec could be a suitable choice for you. But if you expect to make a large number of trades each month — buying a stock to hold for the short-term and then selling after it moves — you'll certainly save money by using one of the newer no-fee or low-fee online trading platforms instead.