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Compare Online Share Trading Accounts

Helpful Information

What is online share trading?

Online share trading means using an online platform to buy and sell shares in companies and funds that are listed on a stock exchange. Online share trading platforms can give investors a relatively simple and inexpensive way to invest in the sharemarket.

In Australia, online share trading is an increasingly popular way for individuals to invest money, as you can generally start with a relatively small amount – generally $500 for an initial trade.

How does online share trading work?

Online share trading platforms offer accounts where investors can deposit cash and then use those funds to invest in shares. In return for a fee (known as brokerage), online share trading providers act as a go-between or ‘broker’, enabling the investor to buy and sell shares in companies and other investment options, such as exchange traded funds.

Your investments or ‘holdings’ are typically listed when you log into your account, and many platforms allow investors to monitor their portfolio’s performance over time and access market research to help you make investment decisions.
Most online share trading platforms in Australia offer access to the Australian share market, while some enable users to invest in certain international markets too.

Online share trading fees and costs

It’s a good idea to be aware of fees and charges that online share trading platforms might charge. Some of the more common fees include:

Brokerage fees

To start trading shares online, you can compare your options before selecting a share trading platform and opening an account. Through that account, you can use the cash you put in to start buying shares by placing orders on particular stocks or groups of stocks via a fund, such as an exchange traded fund (ETF). These shares will then appear in your online account so you can track their price and the performance of your overall portfolio. If you decide to sell your shares, you can place a sell order via your online share trading platform.

Ongoing fees

Some platforms charge users a regular fee for managing the trading account. For example, this could be a monthly or annual maintenance fee, or an optional subscription fee to provide you with regular market data. Not all platforms charge this.

Custody fee

Some trading platforms may charge a fee if a user does not make any trades in a set period of time (e.g. a year). This is also known as an inactivity fee.

Types of online share traders

The value for money an investor gets from an online share trading platform can depend on how often they buy and sell shares and how much they invest. Canstar’s Online Share Trading Star Ratings and Award Methodology classifies investors into three categories:

Casual Investors

A Casual Investor tends to buy and sell shares occasionally (on average, once a month) and often uses a long-term strategy to review their investment portfolio. When selecting an appropriate broker, comprehensiveness of investment tools is typically not of the greatest importance, with education, ease of use and cost generally being among the more important factors.

Active Investors

An Active Investor tends to buy and sell shares more frequently than the Casual Investor (on average, four times a month), and may wish to include managed funds in their portfolio. They typically use the latest market information and fundamental analysis data/reports to determine portfolio holdings. The comprehensiveness of research tools is often an important factor in selecting the best broker for them. Due to a higher trading frequency, cost tends to be an important factor.

Traders

A Trader tends to buy and sell shares very frequently (on average, 30 times a month) and they often use the latest market information to determine their portfolio holdings. When selecting an appropriate broker, the availability of derivatives can be an influencing factor. Due to a high trading frequency, the availability of a dynamic trading platform and cost are usually also key considerations for them.

What to look for in an online share trading platform

Canstar Research assesses and rates a wide range of platforms to determine which platforms offer 5-Star Value for casual investors, active investors, and traders. The two general areas Canstar bases its Ratings on are price and features.

Price

One of the most crucial factors in terms of value for money for online share trading is the price it costs to invest and trade. This includes the cost to place a trade (brokerage) and any ongoing costs for maintaining an account with that platform.

Features

The main features that Canstar assesses in determining its Star Ratings include:

  • The process for opening and closing the account
  • Facilities for depositing cash into the account to trade and settling trades (returning
  • Research options, such as charting and access to company and market information
  • Trading features, including market access and whether the platform offers margin loans to investors
  • CHESS sponsorship which is a facility that registers the shares you have bought in your name through the ASX so you have proof of ownership
  • Account management services, such as the different ways in which you can access the account, plus the security and reporting features
  • Customer service and education resources on offer

How do you trade shares online?

To start trading shares online, you can compare your options before selecting a share trading platform and opening an account. Through that account, you can use the cash you put in to start buying shares by placing orders on particular stocks or groups of stocks via a fund, such as an exchange traded fund (ETF). These shares will then appear in your online account so you can track their price and the performance of your overall portfolio. If you decide to sell your shares, you can place a sell order via your online share trading platform.

How can I make money from trading shares?

There are two ways investors typically aim to make money through shares: capital growth and dividends. Here’s an overview of each.

Increase in share price

The old adage of ‘buy low, sell high’ sums up one way investors aim to make money on the sharemarket. The idea is to buy shares in a company (or group of companies through a fund) that you believe will increase in value over time, then sell them for a profit once this occurs. In short, investors make money by buying at one price and selling in the future at a higher price. This increase in the value of an asset is also known as capital growth.

Of course, shares can fall in value too, resulting in a capital loss for investors who sell them for less than they paid initially. This is why it’s important to research your investments carefully and seek professional advice if you need it.

Dividends

If you own shares in a company, you may receive a regular payment from the company based on the profit the company has made. These payments are known as dividends. For some investors, this can provide a stream of income. Not all companies pay dividends, however. Some may instead reinvest any profits they make. Bear in mind, too, that companies don’t always make a profit, so when times are tough companies may pay smaller or fewer dividends.

Remember, you may need to pay tax on any income you receive through investing, either from dividends or capital gains. Speak to a financial advisor or tax accountant if you need assistance navigating these tax implications.

What are the risks of investing in shares?

Before investing in shares, it’s important to consider the risks and to seek professional advice if you need it. Some of the possible pitfalls to consider include:

Losing money

If you invest in shares, there is always a risk that you will lose some or all of the money you have invested. For example, if the company whose shares you have purchased goes out of business, you may not get any of your money back.

Volatility

Unlike keeping your money in a bank account, with shares, the value of your investment can go up and down regularly. If you need to sell your shares at a time when the market is down, this could mean losing money.

The ‘sleep at night factor’

With updates on current share prices often given on the evening news and through other channels such as social media, it can be hard to avoid exposure to the rollercoaster that is the sharemarket. This can be stressful for some people. The Australian Investors Association calls this ‘the sleep at night factor’.

Complexity

While the process of buying shares can be relatively straightforward, knowing how best to invest can require expertise and extensive research, particularly if you are investing in individual companies rather than through a fund.

Liquidity

If you have purchased shares, converting them back into cash can take several days, meaning you may not be able to access those funds at short notice in the case of an emergency. For this reason, investing in shares is generally viewed as a long-term way of building wealth, rather than a way of keeping your savings secure.

How to manage risk when investing in shares

Diversify your investments

Diversification can help investors to lower their portfolio’s risk and get more stable returns, according to Moneysmart. The idea is to spread your investments across multiple companies and even different asset types, such as cash, shares, bonds and property, to avoid the overall value of your investments dropping by a lot if a single company’s share price falls. You can also consider spreading your investments out over time so you reduce the risk of investing all your money the day before a market crash.

Research your options

Reading up on the companies and sectors you are interested in can help you ensure you are investing with your eyes open and not simply hoping for the best. It’s important to look to reputable sources of information, and to seek professional advice if you are unsure about how best to invest.

Do a dry run first

If you’re tempted to dip your toe in before investing for real, you might like to try an investing simulator. These allow you to try investing using virtual cash to see how the process works. The ASX’s Sharemarket Game is one example of an investing simulator you could try out.

Staying safe online when investing

As with all aspects of your finances, if you decide to use an online share trading platform it’s important to be vigilant for potential scams and to take steps to keep your personal information secure.

Through its Moneysmart website, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) says there are three main types of investment scam:

  • The investment offer is completely fake.
  • The investment exists, but the money you give the scammer doesn’t go towards that investment.
  • The scammer says they represent a well-known investment company – but they’re lying.

The regulator says scammers may promise high returns and no or limited risk to entice investors, and that to avoid falling victim to investment scams, you could consider taking precautionary steps such as:

  • Safeguarding yourself from identity theft
  • Getting independent financial advice before investing
  • Doing your own checks on investment opportunities, to verify they are genuine.
  • Ignoring messages and friend requests on social media from people or groups you don’t know.
  • Checking your privacy settings are up to date on your social media accounts.
  • Being suspicious of random or unexpected contact from individuals or companies, particularly if you have replied to something on a website or social media platform.
Last updated: 9/07/2021

Author: Nina Tovey

As Canstar’s Editor-in-Chief, Nina heads up a team of talented  journalists committed to helping empower consumers to take greater control of their finances. Previously Nina founded her own agency where she provided content and communications support to clients around Australia for eight years. She also spent four years as the PR Manager for American Express Australia, and has worked at a Brisbane communications agency where she supported dozens of clients, including Sunsuper and Suncorp.

Nina has ghostwritten dozens of opinion pieces for publications including The Australian and has been interviewed on finance topics by the Herald Sun and the Sydney Morning Herald. When she’s not dreaming up ways to put a fresh spin on finance, she’s taking her own advice by trying to pay her house off as quickly as possible and raising two money-savvy kids.

Nina has a Bachelor of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in English Literature from the University of Queensland. She’s also an experienced presenter, and has hosted numerous events and YouTube series.

You can follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or Canstar on Facebook.

You can also read more about Canstar’s editorial team and our robust fact-checking process.


 

Please note that these are a general explanation of the meaning of terms used in relation to online share trading. Your financial institution may use different terms, and you should read the terms and conditions of your shareholdings carefully to understand all features, dividends and brokerage fees and charges that may apply to your portfolio.

All Ordinaries (All Ords): The All Ords index contains the weighted share prices of 500 of the largest companies listed on the ASX. It is the oldest index of shares in Australia, established by the ASX at 500 points in January 1980, and it is the predominant measure of the overall performance of the Australian sharemarket. A company is weighted according to its size, as measured by the total market value of the company’s shares (its market capitalisation).

ASX: Stands for Australian Securities Exchange, Australia’s main sharemarket.

ASX code: The unique three-character code used by the Australian Securities Exchange to identify each listed company on the sharemarket.

Bear market: A time period when share prices are generally falling.

Bid: An offer made by an investor, a trader or a dealer to buy securities (shares in a company). The bid will specify the price the buyer is willing to pay for the shares and the number of shares to be purchased.

Blue chip: Blue chip shares are stocks in a large, well-established company known for its supposedly sound finances and ability to make a profit in both good times and bad. These shares are highly valued because of the perceived reduced risk to investors in buying them.

Book value: The value of an asset as listed on the company’s balance sheet, meaning the cost of the asset minus any depreciation.
Brokerage: Client fees paid to a stockbroking firm, including an online share trading platform, for it to buy or sell shares on your behalf.

Bull market: A time period when share prices generally are rising.

Clearing House Electronic Subregister System (CHESS): A computer system that performs the exchange of ownership of shares for money, known as settlement, for shares traded on the ASX. CHESS also provides an electronic register (‘subregister’) of who owns what shares across all ASX-listed companies.

Conditional order: Instructions given by an investor to a broker to monitor a particular stock and buy or sell it if the share price reaches your target or meets your criteria. A limit order is an example of a conditional order.

Contract note: A written document which serves as the legal record of a transaction between two dealers or a broker and a client which details the costs, type and quantity of shares traded.

Delayed price: A price that is not the current live price for the share, but is delayed by a certain amount of time, usually around 10 to 15 minutes.

Delisted: When a company is removed from the stock exchange and its shares are no longer listed for sale.

Derivative: A financial product that derives its value from an underlying asset or group of assets such as shares, share price indices, bonds, commodities, and currencies. Some types of derivatives are futures, exchange-traded options, contracts for difference (CFDs), and some warrants.

Dividend: The distribution of part of a company’s net profit to its shareholders. Usually expressed as a number of cents distributed per share owned.

Dynamic data: A data service offered by some online trading systems that allows you to view live market information without needing to click a refresh button.

Float: Also called an initial public offering (IPO), this generally refers to when a company seeks to raise money by listing on a public stock exchange and asking the public to buy its shares.

Fundamental analysis: An overall examination of the financial position of a company, taking into account factors like its industry or sector and the current economic environment.

Futures: Futures are contracts to buy or sell a particular asset (or its equivalent value in cash) on a specified date in the future.

HIN (Holder Identification Number): A number that identifies you as the owner of your securities in the CHESS system. This number should be stored securely to prevent theft of your shares and identity fraud.

Limit order: An instruction from you to a broker to buy or sell shares at a specified price or better.

Listed company: In Australia, this normally means a company that has agreed to abide by the ASX Listing Rules so that its shares can be bought and sold on the ASX.

Live price: The current price of a share.

Margin loan: A loan that lets you borrow money to invest, using the shares or managed funds as security for the loan. Margin loans can be extremely risky, as they can cause people to fall into large amounts of debt if the value of the shares purchased goes down. They are generally more suited to experienced investors.

Market capitalisation: The total market value of a company’s shares. This is used as a unit of measurement to decide how large or small a company is.

Market depth: A measurement of the demand and supply of a particular share, or the liquidity of that share.

Market order: An order from you to a broker to buy or sell shares at the current market price immediately.

Option: According to the ASX, this is a contract between two parties, giving the ‘taker’ (the buyer) the right to buy or sell an underlying asset at a particular price on or before a particular date. As the name implies, the taker has a right but not an obligation to buy or sell.

Securities or a security: A financial product bought and sold in a stock market. Securities include shares, bonds, options, notes, and warrants. A security is usually negotiable and fungible, meaning items of the same type are all the same and interchangeable. The company or entity that issues the security is known as the issuer.

Sharemarket: Also known as the stock market or the equity market. The market in which shares of publicly-held companies are issued and traded.

Shareholder: Any person, company or institution that owns at least one share of a company’s stock. Shareholders are the owners of a company. Shareholders may receive a portion of the profits if the company does well, in the form of dividends.

Shareholder register: A list of every current shareholder (the people who actively own shares in a company). Every listed company is required to keep its shareholder register up to date. The register includes each person’s name, address and the number of shares they hold.

Short selling: Where someone sells a financial product that they have borrowed, with the intent of buying the product back later at a lower price and making a profit based on the difference between the two prices.

Substantial shareholder: A person or company that holds more than 5% of a company’s voting rights through owning a large amount of the right type of shares.
Takeover: Acquiring a controlling interest in a company by purchasing the majority of its shares.

Technical analysis: Examining the actual history of the trading and price of a security or index.

Unlisted company: Any company not listed on a licensed stock exchange. Shares in unlisted companies cannot be bought and sold on the ASX.

Volatility: A measurement of the amount of fluctuation in the prices of shares.

Volume-weighted average price (VWAP): A trading benchmark calculated by adding up the total dollar amount of share trading transactions for the day and dividing by the total number of shares traded that day.

Write down: This is when a company reduces the ‘book value’ of an asset after taking into account the depreciation of the asset or a fall in its market price.

Canstar rates and researches dozens of online share trading platforms every year. Below is a list of the providers recognised in our latest Star Ratings and Award research as offering 5-Star value to investors in at least one category.

  • CMC Markets
  • IG Markets 
  • Interactive Brokers Australia 
  • nabtrade
  • Saxo Capital Markets (Australia)