WellsTrade® Review 2018

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Bottom line in a sentence

WellsTrade is the path of least resistance for Wells Fargo banking customers, but doesn't offer a deep or flexible experience for serious traders.

WellsTrade at a glance

Star Rating

2.5
  • Affordablity: 4 of 5
  • Usability: 3 of 5
  • Tools & Research: 2 of 5
  • Mobile: 2 of 5
  • Scalability: 3 of 5
  • Minimum Balance:
    $0
  • Cost per stock trade:
    $5.95
  • Cost per options trade:
    $5.95, $0.75 per contract
  • Commission-free mutual funds or ETFs:
    More than 2,000 commission-free mutual funds but zero commission-free ETFs
  • Customer service:
    24/7 phone support.
  • Inactivity fee:
    There is no inactivity fee.
  • Mobile app:
    WellsTrade does not off a mobile app, but it can be accessed using your mobile device via any internet service.
  • Annual fees:
    There is a $30 annual fee that can be waived by enrolling in electronic delivery for all documents.
  • How long to withdraw:
    It generally takes 3-5 business days to receive your funds after requesting a withdrawal.
  • SIPC insured:
    Yes, the SIPC protects securities of WellsTrade customers up to $500,000 (including $250,000 for claims for cash).
  • Best for:
    Intermediate investors with an existing Wells Fargo relationship

What WellsTrade 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 WellsTrade 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 WellsTrade 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.

Quick comparison of Brokerage options:
Brokerage Overall Rating Avg. Cost Per Trade Usability Rating
wellstrade logo
$5.95 3 of 5
e-trade logo Read Our Review
$6.95 4 of 5
charles-schwab logo Read Our Review
$4.95 5 of 5
td-ameritrade logo Read Our Review
$6.95 5 of 5

Some of the highlights, such as they are, include:

  • Quality Charting: The charting on Wells Trade is surprisingly good, with an intuitive and clean design, and a variety of ways to make useful comparisons between assets – including marking earnings dates or dividend dates on the chart, since these events can often spark a big move. There's also a decent suite of tools for basic technical analysis using measures like moving averages, Bollinger bands and MACD. It was a little disappointing that there are no way to determine chart presets so you won't have to key in the same screening process whenever you change tickers, but the usability itself is very good.
  • Useful Screener: Wells put some time and effort into its screeners, offering a way for investors to research stocks, ETFs, mutual funds and even bonds. The menus are easy to read and flexible, though admittedly you have to know a bit about market basics to put it to good use. For instance, there are no preset screens such as a generic "large cap" or "small cap" setting; you have to manually adjust the market capitalization to whatever window you're looking for. There are also other only granular industry groups like "diagnostics and research" and "drug manufacturers – specialty & generic" instead of allowing a high level filter first like simply "healthcare." This approach is a necessity to any good screener, however, and is far preferable to a vanilla high-level screener that you can find just about anywhere.
  • Easy Integration with Wells Accounts: Signing up is a breeze if you have any Wells Fargo account – including simply having the bank as your mortgage servicer, which was my personal experience even though it's now an old mortgage that has been paid in full. If you have any online relationship with this bank, you can get approval in minutes and begin poking around the interface. And if you have checking or savings accounts, it is incredibly easy to transfer funds or get a holistic view of your family finances in one place.

What WellsTrade 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.

WellsTrade 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.