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Why not all share platforms are created equal

US trading platform Robinhood has received a lot of attention over the past 12 months, attracting first time investors to share in the US by offering zero-dollar trades. The hype grew louder after its IPO earlier this month and its subsequent share price rally.

Robinhood emerged at the right time in the right space, but with a product that added further risk to an already high-risk investment sector. It was also apparent that most users did not know how Robinhood made money.

Many new players in the stockmarket

As we entered into lockdowns around the world, governments handed out cheques to help those who lost income or jobs and people were given the opportunity to remove money from their superannuation. Many people saw the accompanying market downturn as an opportunity to enter the share market and invest in technology companies that were benefiting from more time spent at home and online.

Enter Robinhood … and others, here in Australia. Share trading platforms that pitched themselves as democratising investing. Zero-dollar brokerage meant anyone with a PC (or a mobile) could enter get into the share market for ‘free’. We saw an explosion in the number of first-time investors enter the market and the rapid rise in share markets globally that followed made many people see share investing as easy money.

As the amount of people, and money, in the market grew so did the stories of untold riches. 'Reddit' became a popular share tip tool and in Australia we saw the likes of ASX_Bets take off as investors looked for the latest share tips, or more appropriately as the thread is named – bets.

Looking under the covers

In recent months we’ve seen the downside of Robinhood’s 'free' structure come into the spotlight: restricting trading during the meme stock squeeze earlier this year; mis-selling leveraged investments to inexperienced and ill-equipped investors; and issues with the regulator for selling retail order flow to market makers for revenue to the detriment of investors, to name a few.

In Australia, there has been a similar rise of individual investors and an accompanying race to lower, or zero-dollar, brokerage fees. Before the pandemic, there were around 700,000 active online retail (mum and dad) investors in the share market. Many had been introduced to the sharemarket many years ago through demutualistions of blue-chip brands such as CBA, Telstra or NRMA. Today, just 18 months later, the retail market has doubled to around 1.4 million individual active online share investors. The additional 700,000 investors have enjoyed the fastest market bounce ever. They have only seen the good times and many are not prepared for markets that will, inevitably at some point change.

Many of these new investors have been attracted by cheap and cheerful share trading platforms that appeal to the masses on the basis of making investing low cost.

My view is that investors should not be choosing how, or where, to invest based on the lowest cost option. These decisions can ultimately cost significantly more money in the long run. To use Facebook as an analogy, while it costs nothing to use, it has been shown not to be free as they monetise your data. Similarly, most platforms that are low or no cost need to cut corners to make their business model viable. Ask yourself how they make money.

Here’s three things investors should consider when selecting a share trading platform:

  1. Who owns the shares? Is it a pooled or individual HIN? Pooled Holder Identification Numbers (HINs) mean the underlying shares are held in a single trust. You do not have direct ownership and are not covered by the same protections as in individual HIN. Would you prefer to own the underlying shares directly, or just have a ‘beneficial’ interest? Much can be learnt from the past, with several high-profile pooled trusts exposing their investors to unprotected fraud and mismanagement.
  2. Where is your cash? Pooled or in an individual bank account? While interest rates are negligible it is easy to think the cost of cash sitting in a bank account waiting to be invested is negligible. But as interest rates rise over coming years, it is much better to have an individual bank account and receive any interest direct rather than it going to your broker. And similar to pooled HIN’s, pooled bank accounts have less protections and less flexibility.
  3. Are you seeing live and live-streaming pricing? Are you trading at the right price? This one is a biggie. Are you happy to trade or follow your investments on prices that are delayed or that have moved since you last refreshed your screen? Real time pricing is critical to ensure you get the best price for your trades. The few dollars you save on a cheaper broking platform can be quickly eaten away if you are trading on delayed prices.

In saying all that, we also do not believe share trading should cost as much as traditional platforms would lead you believe. There is opportunity for disruption in the share trading sector. But with so many platforms emerging, we are advocates for protecting investors and ensuring they are not at a disadvantage through removal of trading features and data, especially given that there are so many new investors who may not know what to look for.

Bull markets don’t last forever. There will be down markets at some point and it is important investors are prepared to weather all market environments. Making decisions based on saving a few dollars is not the way to maximise wealth and grow a sustainable, profitable investment portfolio over the long term.


Travis Clark is CEO of share market information platform, Marketech. This article is for general information only. Marketech users pay a monthly subscription fee and a nominal dollar fee per trade with live-streaming pricing, individual HINs and separate individual bank accounts. 


August 30, 2021

Does anyone know where IRESS sits in this regard ??

August 27, 2021

Let's name & shame...
Of the newer entrants, I believe that Self Wealth has individual HINs however Super Hero uses a pooled HIN.

August 27, 2021

OK, you asked for it, here's some info on my understanding:
• Superhero – pooled trust and pooled banking where they keep your interest, no access to live-streaming, individual accounts only (ie: no SMSF’s)
• Selfwealth – delayed pricing until you open a buy/sell ticket, pooled banking where they keep the interest, no access to live-streaming
• Stake – delayed pricing, add $9 a month for live (ASX trading costs not yet quoted)

(Editor note: any of these services or others are welcome to respond).

September 02, 2021

SelfWealth - live pricing / individual owned shares / individual ANZ bank account - been using them for about 2 years now and am very happy (especially with premium access)

August 26, 2021

Pooled funds do not always allow access to share buybacks or share purchase plans. If for example you have a beneficial interest in BHP you may or may not be able to participate in its share buyback. As well you will not receive direct dividend statements and will need to check franking.

August 26, 2021

Matt Levine at Bloomberg has pointed out that Robinhood customers get best execution for prices. So I’m not sure payment for Order flow is an issue per se. Pushing unsophisticated customers into options trading on the other hand is very profitable for Robinhood but probably quite risky for their customers.

August 26, 2021

Thanks, we gradually learned how Robinhood was offering a free service by selling its order flow, now we know how brokers make money in other ways.


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