3 of the Best and Worst Companies for Investment Advice

Sundry Photography / Shutterstock.com

Sundry Photography / Shutterstock.com

When it comes to financial services firms, investors are inundated with options. For the most part, this is a good thing. Competition in the industry means most firms now offer no-commission online trading of both stocks and exchange-traded funds, helping keep costs low for all investors.

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However, if you’re looking for actual investment advice, many of these “no-cost” brokerage firms come up short. While they may offer robust trading tools, charting capabilities and unlimited zero-commission trading, if you’re looking for actual advice from a flesh-and-blood human, you may be out of luck.

Using these parameters, here’s a look at three of the best — and three of the worst — brokerage firms in terms of investment advice.

13-Smile / Getty Images/iStockphoto

13-Smile / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Best: Vanguard

Vanguard was one of the pioneers of low-cost investing, primarily through its no-load mutual funds. In recent decades, the firm has expanded into zero-commission stock trading and two types of financial advisory services: Vanguard Digital Advisor and Vanguard Personal Advisor Services.

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Vanguard Digital Advisor is a robo-advisor that charges $0 for the first 90 days and no more than 0.20% of assets annually thereafter. As with most robo-advisory services, Vanguard Digital Advisor relies on client input in terms of risk tolerance and investment goals to create a Vanguard-managed portfolio.

Those seeking live advisory services may prefer using Vanguard Personal Advisor Services. For a $50,000 account minimum, investors have access to a flesh-and-blood Vanguard financial advisor whenever they need one, for a fee not exceeding 0.30% of assets annually.

This wide range of services means Vanguard clients can either run a completely self-directed portfolio, utilize a robo-advisor or work directly with a fiduciary advisor.

13-Smile / Getty Images/iStockphoto

13-Smile / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Best: Schwab

Schwab is another pioneering firm that has long dedicated itself to low investment costs for clients. The firm now offers the same $0 online commissions for stock and ETF trades as many of its competitors, but it goes the extra mile when it comes to providing actual investment advice.

At no additional cost, when you open a brokerage account at Schwab, you can choose to access advanced mobile, web and software trading platforms, trading education services and a dedicated trading specialist. This financial professional can help you create a financial plan tailored to your needs and is available free-of-charge via video call, over the phone or even in person.

This level of no-cost investment advice, coupled with its zero-commission trading, helps make Schwab a top competitor in the industry.

13-Smile / Getty Images/iStockphoto

13-Smile / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Best: Fidelity

Fidelity was one of the first major firms to switch to a zero-commission trading schedule for online stock and ETF trades. It also has long been admired for its stable of no-load mutual funds. But Fidelity now also offers direct access to licensed financial advisors that can help you plan your full financial picture.

General eligibility is for investors with at least $250,000 at the firm, and advisory services range from 0.50% to 1.50% annually. Advisors work with outside specialists, such as experts on estate planning, to supplement their own client assistance, and they help clients use Fidelity’s own in-house tools to help them plan their portfolios as well. At least once per year, a Fidelity advisor will initiate an in-depth review of a client’s total financial situation.

Coupled with the low cost and high reputation of the firm as a whole, access to licensed advisors helps push Fidelity to the top of the pack in terms of investment advice.

Rafael Henrique / SOPA Images

Rafael Henrique / SOPA Images

Worst: Robinhood

Robinhood was the trailblazing investment firm that first offered zero-commission online trading, helping push other firms to drop their fees to remain competitive. This opened up stock investing to a new breed of traders, some of whom may have never bought or sold a stock before.

But for some analysts and market observers, Robinhood is perhaps “too much of a good thing.” The ease with which novice investors can rapidly buy and sell stocks they may know little about helped fuel the meme stock craze; some investors made lots of money on stocks such as GameStop and AMC Entertainment, and many others took big losses. No less than the “Oracle of Omaha” himself, billionaire Warren Buffett, has said that Robinhood is more like a casino, attracting short-term gamblers rather than long-term investors.

While Robinhood may be a good trading platform for those seeking zero-commission trades, those in need of assistance with general investment principles are more or less on their own.

13-Smile / Getty Images/iStockphoto

13-Smile / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Worst: Ally

Ally is a competitive, one-stop shop in the financial services industry. In addition to a highly competitive APY on its online savings account, the firm offers no-commission trading on stocks and ETFs and a wide range of financial products, from home mortgages and auto loans to forex trading and mutual funds. Ally offers both self-directed investment accounts and a no-fee robo advisor, although 30% of your invested funds are set aside in cash.

While Ally is a good option for many investors, those looking for direct access to financial advisors are out of luck. While the robo portfolios are set up and monitored by specialists who can be contacted 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, they can help only with the robo portfolios themselves and not with stock and ETF advice.

For those who simply want to work with a robo-advisor, this may be sufficient; but, for those looking for direct stock market advice, it may be better to go with a firm that offers dedicated portfolio advisors.

Carol M. Highsmith / Library of Congress

Carol M. Highsmith / Library of Congress

Worst: Webull

Webull is an app-based trading platform that unabashedly works with traders, including those who trade options. The platform offers numerous trading tools, advanced charting capabilities and various options strategies, and it charges $0 commission on stocks, ETFs and options contracts.

For sophisticated traders who want fast execution of stock and options trades in the palm of their hands, Webull can be a viable option. However, for those looking for investment advice, particularly beginning investors, help is limited to some generic online lessons. The information on Webull’s site is interesting and helpful, but it’s not a substitute for professional financial advice from a licensed advisor.

Those who regularly trade on this platform may not want or need such assistance, but those looking for accessible advice while they are trading may prefer a different platform.

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