ShareBuilder was founded in 1996, operating under the name of NetStock Direct. The brokerage soon began to demand attention from pretty much anyone who traded online, making its acquisition by ING Direct in 2007 rather inevitable. The deal, worth a reported $220m, allowed ShareBuilder to tap into the ING Group’s extensive client list, opening up the service to mainstream investors for the first time. In early 2012 ING Bank (and subsequently ShareBuilder) were acquired by Capital One Financial Corporation.
Because neither Capital One or ING Group focus on the options trading market the brokerage has fallen behind its competitors in a few departments and unfortunately customer service is one of them. The brokerage offers no Live Chat, postal mail address or fax number, lines of communication that have become pretty standard for the industry.
While the methods in which you can contact them may be limited the quality of service you receive when you do need them is of a good level. Emails are generally answered within one business day and telephones are answered within seconds, once you get past the all too familiar automated menu selection system. All of the staff we encountered were helpful, friendly and polite.
One cause for concern that we did have was the distinct lack of educational facilities made available to traders. While you will find video tutorials and FAQs across the site they are poorly structured and teach you little beyond how to use their specific platform, which is a shame considering their potential to attract a more mainstream audience.
Again, this could have been executed better. The platform itself is visually pleasing, easy to navigate and not particularly complex at all. You can place basic options trades in a few clicks and be on your way. The problems begin when you want to place some technical trades, which the system does not even try to accommodate. There is very little in the way of research tools available, except what can only be described as a glorified RSS feed from the big financial news resources such as Reuters and MarketWatch.
Mobile versions of the platform are available but offer nothing that really breaks the mould. If you don’t happen to have an iPhone or Android mobile then there is a mobile web browser version available to you.
Fees and Commission
While hardly groundbreaking in this department, they do offer relatively competitive rates. Options trades will cost you $9.95 with an additional $1.25 per contract or, should you choose to buy into their “Advantage Program” at $12 a month, $7.95 plus $0.75 per contract. The option is a nice touch and a model that we rarely see in use within the industry, which is a shame as it works out well for all involved.
While we cannot really refer to them as “broker-assisted” trades, any deals done over the phone will set you back just shy of $20. Exercise and assignment is $30, unless using their automatic trades which run at a reduced $20. The big advantage of dealing with mainstream lender is that all withdrawals and fund transfers are free, something we do not see much of.
There is so much potential here but sadly it feels like the ING Group neglected the business during it’s 5 years of ownership. In that time it’s lost its way, somewhat. Support is based around email and telephone which are slower or more resource intensive than a live chat system, which has also been proven to be prefered by most users.
The platform is too simplistic for any serious trader to use on a daily basis but will be more than adequate for low volume investors who tend to focus on the long term, which is great because that is exactly who their pricing plans work out the best for.