Ally Invest (previously TradeKing) is the discount online brokerage arm of Ally Financial. After operating as an independent online broker for over 10 years, TradeKing was acquired by Ally Financial in April 2016 for $275 million.
Today, in 2018, customers of Ally Bank will find themselves right at home as all their banking accounts, and now investment accounts, are seamlessly managed through one universal login. Having been both a TradeKing customer alongside an Ally high-yield savings account customer before the integration, I can say, first-hand, that the universal account experience is a big winner.
While managing your accounts and transferring funds is a breeze, the Ally Invest experience does have its drawbacks, as this review will explore. So, is it worth opening an Ally Invest account if you are not already an Ally Bank customer? Let’s dive in and find out.
Commissions & Fees (4 / 5)
At Ally Invest, regular stock trades are $4.95, with options trades costing $4.95 plus $.65 per contract. Trade at least 30 times per quarter or maintain a $100,000 balance and the rate reduces to $3.95 for stocks and $3.95 + $.50 per contract for options.
Prior to 2017, these rates screamed value as Ally Invest outperformed its discount broker competitors with its broad offering of research, tools, and education. However, in Spring 2017, Charles Schwab initiated a price war, resulting in all four of the largest brokers in the United States (Charles Schwab, Fidelity, TD Ameritrade, E*TRADE) cutting commission rates across the board.
Once the dust settled, both Charles Schwab and Fidelity Investments ended up with regular stock and options rates that matched Ally Invest – $4.95 for stock trades and $4.95 + $.65 per contract for options trades.
|View All Fees||View All Fees||Ally Invest||Fidelity||Charles Schwab||Merrill Edge||TD Ameritrade|
|Stock Trade Fee (flat)||Stock Trade Fee (flat)||$4.95||$4.95||$4.95||$6.95||$6.95|
|Options Base Fee||Options Base Fee||$4.95||$4.95||$6.95||$6.95||$6.95|
|Options Per Contract Fee||Options Per Contract Fee||$0.65||$0.65||$0.65||$0.75||$0.75|
|Mutual Fund Trade Fee||Mutual Fund Trade Fee||$9.95||$49.95||$76.00||$19.95||$49.99|
|Commission Free ETFs||Commission Free ETFs||0||91||244||0||296|
As the two largest online brokers in the United States, Charles Schwab and Fidelity both provide plenty of value for their customers beyond low-cost trades. For example, Ally Invest provides no commission-free ETFs, while Fidelity offers 91 and Charles Schwab 229.
That said, if there is one area in which Ally Invest is still on top, it’s with its low cost of trading mutual funds. Unfortunately, mutual funds continue to lose in the popularity war against ETFs.
Bottom line, in terms of what you pay per trade, Ally Invest no longer holds the crown as the value leader.
Ease-of-Use (4.5 / 5)
Ease of Use is a category encompassing quite a large area. From logging in to navigating the website, placing a trade, managing account preferences, and conducting research, it’s about the full experience.
For account management, Ally Invest is great.
For account management, Ally Invest is great. Year-end tax reporting is easy, and transferring assets is seamless, especially for those customers who are also Ally Bank customers.
When it comes to trading, fortunately, all new Ally Invest customers are automatically defaulted into the clean Ally Invest LIVE responsive website. Compared to the legacy TradeKing website, everything about the customer experience has improved. Streaming quotes are everywhere, and trades can be placed on any page using the right sidebar QuickTrade tool. A fully customizable Home screen takes advantage of tiles similar to Microsoft Windows 10.
There is a reason why Ally Invest defaults all new customers to the LIVE trading portal. LIVE is far superior to the previous site experience and more user-friendly.
Similarly, if you want to trade futures or forex, you will need to open separate brokerage accounts. Considering that forex and futures trading are not common in the United States, this isn’t a huge deal. The bigger deal is that, thankfully, LIVE includes full options trading capabilities.
Platforms & Tools (3 / 5)
As mentioned previously in the Ease of Use category, Ally Invest LIVE provides a clean desktop and mobile experience. Upon logging in, you will be greeted by the Home screen, which includes a variety of Windows 10 style tiles. The Home screen provides a quick glance at everything necessary to manage your portfolio and serves as a launching pad to the different platform areas.
During my testing, the charting capabilities stole the show. Viewing stock charts, modifying settings, and performing technical analysis is a pleasant experience. Ten different drawing tools are available as well as 84 technical indicators.
With options trading in Ally Invest LIVE, the user flow process is all contained on one page, taking you from the option chains into the strategy workbench, then the probability calculator, and finally into the profit/loss graph. The profit & loss (P&L) charts are clean, customizable, and flow well with the rest of the options research process. Deep analysis also includes the flexibility to be able to assess theoretical positions with live positions.
Despite these benefits, compared to other broker platforms offering a similar price structure, Ally Invest LIVE falls far behind industry leaders.
Despite these benefits, compared to other broker platforms offering a similar price structure, Ally Invest LIVE falls far behind industry leaders. While the LIVE platform will satisfy most casual stock and options investors, active traders would be better advised to look at industry leaders TradeStation or TD Ameritrade. No doubt, though, active traders are not Ally Invest’s target clientele, despite its sweetened offer of discounted commissions for frequent traders.
Usability wise, the platform has several areas that need to be improved. First, ironing out the viewing experience should be a priority for Ally Invest LIVE – the desktop view is clean, but the smartphone view still needs user interface (UI) tweaks throughout. Second, the main website’s research functionality has not yet made its debut.
Research (3.5 / 5)
When you pull up a stock quote, unfortunately, beyond the excellent charting, there are no tools available or data present to conduct fundamental research. That’s because, as of February 2018, all the fundamental research tools remain on the old legacy website, which requires contacting customer service for access.
Want to screen for stocks, ETFs, or mutual funds? Can’t, they aren’t available. Want to view a balance sheet or cash flow statement? Nope. How about viewing a chart of historical earnings or a breakdown of insider transactions? Can’t do that either. Third-party reports, peer comparison charts, fund portfolio analysis, the list goes on. All of it is locked away in the legacy website experience waiting to be brought over to the LIVE platform.
For investors reading this review who wonder when everything will transition to the LIVE platform, I have confirmed from the Ally Invest team that the migration is a high priority for 2018. As soon as it goes live, I will post an update. Until then, you can at least access the legacy site by writing to customer service and requesting access. Despite the usability drawbacks, I highly recommend doing so.
(Since new customers still technically access all the research tools by request, the star rating for research takes into consideration all the tools and data available across both the old legacy site and the LIVE platform.)
Customer Service (4 / 5)
To score Customer Service, StockBrokers.com partners with customer experience research group Confero to conduct phone tests from locations throughout the United States. For our 2018 Broker Review, 260 customer service tests were conducted over ten weeks. The data collected is institutional grade and sets the current industry benchmarks.
- Average Connection Time: 1 – 2 minutes
- Average Net Promoter Score: 7.6 / 10
- Average Professionalism Score: 7.3 / 10
- Overall Score: 7.53 / 10
- Ranking: 9th (13 brokers)
- View Infographic
Mobile Trading (3.5 / 5)
To access Ally Invest, you use the Ally Mobile app, which was updated in 2017 to include all Ally Bank and brokerage capabilities. Universal access is a nice perk if you are a current Ally Bank customer, as jumping between bank and brokerage areas is smooth, quick, and easy. Even Touch ID is now supported for iOS, enabling one-touch login.
All in all, Ally Invest provides a clean, easy to use, yet basic experience for customers.
Focusing on the app’s Ally Invest functionality, the experience is bug-free and includes the core capabilities required to manage an investment portfolio efficiently. You can check your portfolio holdings, view your watch lists (which sync with the website), pull stock quotes, analyze stock charts (17 optional indicators are available), and explore options chains, all with real-time streaming quote data. Placing trades is a straightforward process, too.
To enhance the mobile experience, I would love to see Ally Invest add alerts, after-hours charting alongside trading, and lastly account transfer capabilities (currently you can only make account transfers to/from your Ally Bank accounts). Adding these features would satisfy most casual investors.
All in all, Ally Invest provides a clean, easy to use, yet basic experience for customers. If trading on the go is essential to you, read our guide to the Best Brokers for Mobile Trading.
Besides self-directed investing through Ally Invest, Ally offers managed portfolio services via its robo-advisor offering, Ally Invest Advisors. For more on Ally’s robo-advisor service, read our Ally Invest Advisors review.
To trade futures and/or forex with Ally Invest, you must open a separate brokerage account with MB Trading (for futures trading) and Ally Invest Forex (for forex trading). In the case of Ally Invest Forex, the company serves as an introducing broker for the GAIN Capital Group.
Final Thoughts (3.5 / 5)
For current Ally Bank customers, the benefits of being an Ally Invest customer are easy to see. Trading costs are competitive, universal account access makes managing all your accounts under one roof a breeze, and Ally Invest provides a broad, diverse set of investment tools and research, in spite of the fact that not all of them are available within the LIVE platform.
Ally Bank customer benefits aside, if you have no ties to Ally and are looking for a discount broker to open an account with, Ally Invest just doesn’t provide the value it once did several years ago. For the same cost, several superior offerings are available.