WellsTrade at a glance
What it is
Wells Fargo is a giant of a financial company, with over $1 trillion in total customer deposits. And with a scale like that, it's logical for it to want to offer everything – from conventional banking services to mortgage origination to investment services via an online broker.
That said, even though the WellsTrade platform offers many of the same features as other online brokers, it does not have much brand awareness in the space. That's a bit odd at first glance, considering the sheer power of its parent.
However, a closer inspection of WellsTrade shows that the lack of external marketing around the platform may very well be by design. The reality is that this is a niche product at best, both in its tools and in its pricing structure, that is really best suited for loyal Wells Fargo customers as an add-on and not really competitive in the mainstream brokerage marketplace.
What it costs
The standard pricing for WellsTrade isn't terrible, at $5.95 for stocks and ETFs, and $5.95 plus $0.75 per contract for options trading. But it's worth noting that the number of commission-free ETFs is zero – way out of step with the norm of most brokers offering at least a few dozen exchange traded funds to investors at no cost.
There's a catch, however: If you already do business with Wells Fargo you can qualify for a reduced price of $2.95 per stock and ETF trade – which makes this broker very much on the lower end of the scale for per-trade pricing.
There are still no free ETFs, of course. Nor is there a discount for options trading, which remains at the standard pricing tier regardless of your relationship. Furthermore, you may want to read the fine print about qualifying requirements just in case, since certain student loans or mortgages that don't let you access the discounted rate even if you're indeed doing business with Wells Fargo.
To top it off, there's fine print about a $30 annual fee for your WellsTrade account. That can be waived a few ways, most easily if you have opted for electronic delivery of all your account documents, but it's just another item to be aware of.
In theory, then, you can access $2.95 trades. But the reality includes red tape and limitations, many of which make the platform a non-starter for anyone who has no interest in doing business with Wells Fargo beyond a brokerage platform.
What it offers
The experience on the WellsTrade platform itself does what it should by executing trades easily, but it's not an incredibly deep or flashy system.
This is, after all, a brokerage platform that is simply offered as one element of the online financial efforts of a sprawling parent – and it shows.
Some of the highlights, such as they are, include:
What it lacks
TIf you couldn't tell from the "features" above, WellsTrade often doesn't put its best foot forward. It also lacks the basics like Investing 101 education or tutorials about how to really get the most out of its tools. That means it's pretty much up to you to either learn what's important elsewhere, or to come in with a working knowledge of how to invest.
Frankly, the features that are offered by Wells Fargo often appear to be half-baked. For instance, the front page of the "Commentary & Strategy" section was populated by some items roughly two weeks old when I surfed through. That's an eternity in today's markets! So why even mark off this real estate on the platform if you don't intend to make use of it?
As for individual stock research, there are reports posted every day, but you only get a lined headline such as "SAP: The Best Run Intelligent Enterprise" or "NKE: Raising Estimates And Price Target Following Meetings With FL." If you're savvy enough to recognize the ticker symbols you may find something of interest, but there's no way to preview – you click, and get a dialogue to download a PDF whitepaper that can sometimes be pretty shallow.
There are no abstracts, no quick explainers and no hints via drop downs. It's one big leap of faith after another.
And that's just desktop. Don't even think about getting any serious investing research done on mobile. It's made to check your balances and place a trade, and that's about it.
Heck, just look at the "research" drop down and you can see this minimalist philosophy at work. The lack of options is a conspicuous sign that Wells Fargo is content offering the bare minimum of an online broker, perhaps even adding some of these fields and features because it felt it had to instead of because it really wanted a great customer experience.
Honestly, you can get a watch list and basic tools to chart and screen anywhere. What WellsTrade ultimately lacks is anything that sets it apart from the field, and anything that shows a commitment to high-quality research that serious investors demand.
This broker is best for...
Even if you do have a Wells Fargo account, you likely can do better elsewhere – both in regards to tools and education, as well as in regards to cost structure. There is simply no reason to settle for $2.95 trades with a sub-par experience simply because you happened to open a Wells Fargo checking account a decade ago.
But inertia is a powerful thing, and admittedly many consumers prefer to simply keep all their accounts in one place rather than shop around for solutions elsewhere.
To me, these customers are the core audience of WellsTrade. Because most serious investors will demand more, and find it easily – and more cheaply – somewhere else.