Investing > Interactive Brokers Review

Interactive Brokers Review

Interactive Brokers is a world-class brokerage firm with a huge selection of tradable securities.

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Last year saw big changes in the world of online brokers.

First one, then another and then another dropped trading fees altogether, sending the industry into a tailspin. The earliest adopters reaped the rewards of increased share value and trader interest.

Interestingly enough, Interactive Brokers (IBKR) has always been more of a trend-setter than an early adopter. Its IBKR Lite program for lower-volume traders was already operating on a fee-free model.

While changes in fee structure have significantly shaken the financial services industry, IBKR has remained a leading global platform for trading a wide variety of assets. Does that mean IBKR is the right platform for you?

Let’s find out.

Interactive Brokers is a top choice for experienced active traders. The firm stands out with its low fees, discounts, and powerful trading platform. However, casual and inexperienced investors might be intimidated.

Fast Facts

  • Account Minimum: $0
  • Fees: $0.005 per share on the standard platform, $0 on IBKR Lite
  • Best for: Active traders
  • Highlight: Huge discounts for high-volume trading

Rating

  • Usability: 6/10
  • Customer Service & Help: 9.5/10
  • Tools & Resources: 7.5/10
  • Research and Education: 8.5/10
  • Commissions & Fees: 8/10
  • Overall: 8/10
Visit Interactive Brokers on Interactive Brokers’ website

Investor Warning: The risk of loss in trading with Interactive Brokers, whether it is with stocks, options, futures, forex, foreign equities, and fixed income, can be substantial.
Options involve risk and are not suitable for all investors. For more information read the “Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options”. For a copy call Interactive Brokers’ Client Services on 312-542-6901. Before trading, clients must read the relevant risk disclosure statements on our Warnings and Disclosures page – http://www.interactivebrokers.com/disclosures. Trading on margin is only for sophisticated investors with high risk tolerance. You may lose more than your initial investment. For additional information regarding margin loan rates, see http://www.interactivebrokers.com/interest. Security futures involve a high degree of risk and are not suitable for all investors. The amount you may lose may be greater than your initial investment. Before trading security futures, read the Security Futures Risk Disclosure Statement. For a copy visit http://www.interactivebrokers.com/disclosures. Structured products and fixed income products such as bonds are complex products that are more risky and are not suitable for all investors. Before trading, please read the Risk warning and Disclosure Statement at http://www.interactivebrokers.com/disclosures.

What is Interactive Brokers?

In 1978 Thomas Peterffy founded the company that is known today as Interactive Brokers, or IBKR. To date, the company has amassed a hefty $8.1 billion in equity capital, and is one of the top choices for active traders.

In the late 70s and early 80s, the company was a securities dealer with a more traditional approach. However, Thomas Peterffy, the founder, and CEO at the time, came up with the first fully automatic algorithmic system for submitting and creating market orders in 1985. Less than a decade later, in 1993, Interactive Brokers had turned into a fully-fledged E-trading platform.

As the company’s own website outlines, Interactive Brokers’ founding mission is the same today as it was in 1977;

“To create technology that successfully competes on price, size, speed, global product diversity, trading tools and better terms on liquidity.”

The company averages about 1.4 million trades per day (as of July 2020). It offers three basic tiers:

  1. Interactive Advisors: A digital algorithm-based robo advisor platform with reasonable management fees ranging from 0.08% to 1.50%.
  2. IBKR Lite: A service level for casual traders that assesses zero commissions.
  3. IBKR Pro: A service level providing fee advantages for traders of all levels. According to Interactive Brokers, IBKR Pro saves clients an average of $4.42/trade when compared to the industry. These savings quickly add up, making IBKR Pro a great fit when compared to fee-free models — except for those with extremely low trade volume.

While Interactive Brokers has its international headquarters in Greenwich, CT, it operates in over 135 markets, with offices in 14 countries: Australia, Canada, China, Estonia, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Luxembourg, Japan, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Interactive Brokers receives regulatory oversight through FINRA, the SEC, NYSE, FCA, and various international agencies.

Historically speaking, Interactive Brokers has always been an industry leader. In 1983, an earlier iteration of IBKR, Timber Hill, was the first to develop and launch handheld trading computers.

Screenshot of IBKR website homepage
Interactive Brokers has been busy developing its trading technology since the late 70s.

In 1984, Timber Hill began developing a digital tool to trade stocks and options. In 1985, that tool launched online and became the first true digital algorithm – an automated trading system that works live across multiple platforms.

In 1993, Interactive Brokers was registered and has run alongside until Timber Hill, until Timber Hill was sold a couple of years ago.

Over the next several years, IBG receives numerous awards, including multi-year awards from Barron’s as Best Online Broker, and Standard & Poor’s issues the company an investment grade ranking.

In 2019, IBKR Lite launches and immediately appeals to the casual trader. The company also rolls out special incentives to younger traders (aged 25 and younger).

Interactive Brokers Overview

  1. 41 years ago, Thomas Peterffy founded the company that is known today as Interactive Brokers, or IBKR. To date, the company has amassed a hefty $7.9 billion in equity capital, and is one of the top choices for active traders.
  2. In 2019, IBKR Lite launches and immediately appeals to the casual trader. The company also rolls out special incentives to younger traders (aged 25 and younger).
  3. Interactive Brokers is intended for advanced traders. If you are a beginner you might find this platform overwhelming, as many do.
  4. Interactive Brokers offers forex trading options in four global marketplaces as outlined here below. All forex trading is conducted through the company’s IDEAL PRO platform.
  5. Account minimums to use Interactive Brokers are $0 for a regular brokerage account and $2,000 for a margin trading account.
  6. Interactive Brokers has an alluring pricing system with low commissions overall and great bonuses for very active traders.

Who Can Use Interactive Brokers?

IBKR Pro is intended for advanced traders. If you are a beginner you might find this platform overwhelming, as many do. The ones who benefit on this platform are experienced brokers who don’t need any hand-holding.

Trading forex and options has historically been regulation-intensive. This is more the case in some regions than in others.

As of the time of publication, Interactive Brokers states that these geographic regions are eligible to trade forex/options through their global IDEAL PRO platform. The website states that IBKR has clients in 200 countries and territories across the globe.

Interactive Brokers Summary

Here’s a general summary of what we liked and didn’t like when analyzing Interactive Brokers.

Pros

  • Do-it-yourself structure and trading platform options work well for advanced, high volume traders.
  • Extremely low cost trades for high volume trading, margin trading.
  • Access to 135 markets in 33 countries, along with access to stocks, forex, options, ETFs, futures, warrants, mutual funds, metals, fractional shares.
  • Access to bitcoin futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

Cons

  • Customer service is unimpressive overall
  • Expensive overall for traders with low monthly trade volume.
  • Watch out for hidden fees on the IBKR Pro plan

Interactive Brokers Compared

Fees
Average spread EUR/USD standard

N/A

0.9

All-in cost EUR/USD - active

N/A

0.363

Minimum initial deposit

$0

£250

General
Total currency pairs

105

93

Demo account?
Social / copy trading?
Rating
Fees
Average spread EUR/USD standard

0.9

1.13

All-in cost EUR/USD - active

0.363

0.86

Minimum initial deposit

£250

$200.00

General
Total currency pairs

93

59

Demo account?
Social / copy trading?
Rating
Fees

Average spread EUR/USD standard

N/A

0.9

1.13

All-in cost EUR/USD - active

N/A

0.363

0.86

Minimum initial deposit

$0

£250

$200.00

General

Total currency pairs

105

93

59

Demo account?

Social / copy trading?

Can I Trade Forex with Interactive Brokers?

Interactive Brokers offers forex trading options in four global marketplaces, as outlined below. All forex trading is conducted through the company’s IDEAL PRO platform.

  • America: United States, Canada, Mexico.
  • Europe: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Israel, Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom.
  • Asia-Pacific: Australia, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea.
  • Africa (the company website currently does not list any details on eligible areas).

Countries with Trade Access to IBKR

Interactive Brokers is internationally headquartered in the United States in Greenwich, CT.

The company is chartered as a global e-trading platform accessible to users around the world. Currently Interactive Brokers is available for use in 218 countries.

It is important to note that currently in the United States, only traders with the special designation of ECP (Eligible Contract Participant).

Any individual or entity applying to become an ECP must meet one of two conditions:

  • Assets of at least $10M.
  • Assets of at least $5M (if trades are hedging).

Outside of the United States, retail forex spot trading is available to foreign traders.

Available Trading Currencies

Currently, Interactive Brokers offers 115 forex pairs and trades in 23 currencies.

Real-time Forex Prices from 17 International Banks

Interactive Brokers provides real-time pricing from 17 global banks dealing in forex.

The company states that the forex vendors it uses collectively represent 60 percent of the global forex marketplace.

Forex Products Available via IDEAL PRO Exchange

This chart from the Interactive Brokers website (note it is a two-page chart) outlines the Forex products available to trade via IDEAL PRO online.

Forex Trades Comparative Analysis Tool

One neat feature on the Interactive Brokers website is the forex execution statistics tool, called the FX Browser Tool.

Screenshot of IBKR comparative analysis app
IBKR offers advanced comparative analysis tools for Forex traders.

It works by taking up to 15 forex transactions with matching currency: currency pairs that occurred immediately prior to and following your own forex transaction within a 15 minute or shorter period.

The FX Browser Tool then compares your trades to these neighboring similar trades to help you analyze the quality of your trades and learn from that.

Forex Trader Online Interface

The Forex Trader is a proprietary online interface designed by initiating brokers specifically for forex trading.

You can see a snapshot of the tool on the Interactive Brokers website here.

This tool supports 20 different order types and displays multiple currency pairs on a single screen, complete with real-time bid ask and market data. Within each cell, you can then drill down for more information on that currency pair before deciding to place your trade order.

The Forex Trader can also be used for other types of trades beyond forex, such as forex futures, stocks, bonds, fx options, futures.

How Does Interactive Brokers Stack Up Overall?

In the sections that follow, we will dig down deep to explore what Interactive Brokers has to offer in terms of its platform, digital interface, fees, mobile experience, learning resources and more.

IBKR Mobile vs Desktop User Experience

While the Interactive Brokers website gives its iOS/Android app glowing reviews, it is easy to see users do not precisely agree.

When working correctly, both the iOS/Apple and Android versions of the app are supposed to be able to support on-the-go trading, secure spending, mobile check deposit, two-factor security authentication and more.

In the real world, user reviews report problems ranging from limited functionality to non-loading option quotes to slow operation. With comments such as “buggy,” “user UNfriendly” and “worst experience EVER,” it is clear the iOS/Apple version is a disappointment.

Android app user comments read like variations on the same theme: “full of bugs,” “list of issues,” “super difficult” and, just in case there was any grey area, “terrible.”

iOS/Apple app: 3.6 (out of 5 stars); available for iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch

Android app: 3.7 (out of 5 stars)

IBKR Account Minimum Deposit Requirements

Minimum deposits to begin trading through Interactive Brokers used to be amongst the steepest in the online broker industry. In fact, the vast majority of reviews focusing on IBKR have spent a good chunk of time discussing just how high the initial account funding requirement was.

But all that changed in April 2019 when Interactive Brokers did away with the $10,000 initial deposit minimum for using the platform.

Today, the account minimums to use Interactive Brokers is $0 for a regular brokerage account and $2,000 for a margin trading account, which is standard throughout the online trading industry.

Interestingly, Interactive Brokers’s executive vice president also admitted that for the preceding five years, the company had not been enforcing its own written account minimums!

However, the same press release warns new prospective users that the bulk of the user experience remains the same.

The guidance the executive vice president offers also remains the same: for anyone who plans to trade at volume (meaning maintaining at least $100,000 in your account or generating $10/month in commissions), Interactive Brokers offers a feature-rich, fully digital online trading platform with access to multiple security types around the globe.

For users who do not meet this minimum criteria, there is IBKR Lite or Interactive Advisors, the robo advisor service that do maintain certain account minimums as follows:

– $100 minimum to fund a smart beta portfolio (made up of diversified groups of stocks) that comes with an account management fee ranging from 0.08 to 0.09 percent.

– $10,000 minimum to fund stock portfolio actively managed by professional money managers (minimums here can range up to $120,000 per account) that comes with a higher account management fee ranging from 0.5 to 1.5 percent.

For brokers who want to use IBKR, there are still account minimums as follows:

– For the first eight months of use: a minimum account funding of $10,000USD (or equivalent) is required.

– For use starting in month nine: a minimum account balance of $2,000USD (or equivalent) is required.

IBKR Account Fees and Other Fees

Speaking of account fees, let’s take a much closer look at how Interactive Brokers assess fees.

This is a hot button topic for anyone considering an online so-called “discount broker” because these platforms are ideally supposed to be cheaper to use in exchange for less hand-holding and professional guidance.

Of course, as you just learned above here, Interactive Brokers was formerly in the business of making news headlines for their pricey account minimums and high penalty and inactivity fees for lower volume trade users.

Has anything changed?

Today, Interactive Brokers has an alluring pricing system with low commissions overall and great bonuses for very active traders.

IBKR Lite users do not incur any inactivity fees, penalty fees for fewer monthly trades, or account maintenance fees.

IBKR Pro users will incur a monthly maintenance fee of up to $10USD if the user does not generate at least $10USD in trading commissions in a calendar month.

While there is currently no account minimum for using IBKR’s programs, if your account falls to less than $2,000, you will incur up to a $20USD service fee each month or the difference between your trade commissions, plus a fee of $20.

Supported platforms include: VPN (virtual private network), IB Gateway Internet, Extranet (ex: TNS, Savvis, Radianz), Cross-Connect and Dedicated Leased Line (provider: AT&T, Verizon, et al).

Curious how Interactive Brokers stacks up to the competitions? See our TD Ameritrade vs Interactive Brokers comparison.

IBKR Trading Platform Interface Options: Trader Workstations

Where Interactive Brokers really starts to rack up the user experience points is when experienced brokers are using the feature-rich, customizable Trader Workstation.

Interactive Brokers website, trading platforms page
Interactive Brokers’ trading platform is very easy to customize.

The Trader Workstation is replete with the types of tools seasoned, high volume, busy, serious investors and traders love and seek out. But it is just one out of a set of platform interface options you have when you use Interactive Brokers.

It is not a platform for beginners or anyone who is using IBKR Pro and needs to make a lot of trades relatively quickly without time for a steep learning curve. For these folks, there are other options, including WebTrader, which comes with a less time-intensive onboarding process.

Here is a quick overview of all the platform options available, but keep in mind that none of these are intuitive. Also, only the desktop version offers 100 percent of the trading features that IBKR offers users.

Because Interactive Brokers targets the serious trader and provides access to the most complex types of trading activity, each of these platforms will provide additional features and tools that a less experienced trader might not even know to look for.

There is also an API (applications programming tool) tool that allows programmers to further customize IBKR platforms to your personal needs and interests.

Client Portal

The client portal can be customized based on user preferences. You can view your account overview, use text and voice commands to ask questions and request information and find all of the essential basics in one place.

Desktop Trader Workstation

If you plan to trade in multiple types of portfolios and individual securities, including forex and options, the desktop version of TWS, or Trader Workstation, is what you will need to use. You have two view options: TWS Mosaic and TWS Classic.

Screenshot of Trader Workstation app with mosaic view selected
Trader Workstation is a desktop platform designed to facilitate research and trading.

This is an in depth platform with comprehensive risk analysis and global technical research news to help serious traders do some serious business. It requires a software download – this is not an online-only platform.

IBKR Mobile

Interactive Brokers offers a mobile experience which appreciated by users across the industry. A number of leading media outlets praise it as the best mobile app available.

IBKR WebTrader (for Pro users only)

WebTrader, as we mentioned earlier, is only available if you plan to sign up for the IBKR Pro plan. This portal is designed to offer a simpler, more intuitive interface. It is HTML-based with traditional web tabs and a customization feature, so you can arrange your desktop view just the way you like it, down to font types, sizes, colors, and more.

Although, it might be worth mentioning that IBKR users say “intuitive” is a relative term when it comes to IBKR’s platform.

If you are trading behind a firewall, IBKR WebTrader is probably the platform you are going to want to choose.

IBKR APIs (for Pro users only)

While Interactive Brokers essentially wrote the first comprehensive code to automate trading online, some IBKR Pro users are using their own proprietary system, or want to construct a personalized application or online platform to conduct trading.

If this describes you, and you’re planning on using IBKR Pro, you can access the company’s API to customize the TWS platform to your needs.

IBKR’s Customer Service

It doesn’t take much research to learn that Interactive Brokers’s customer service isn’t the most popular with users worldwide. Although the firm has improved its service over the years with the introduction of IBot on mobile, a new offering that permits you to use voice-activated commands, and queries, to request information and place trades. IBot helps traders navigate the platform, and its tools better

The firm also offers a robust set of contact options, available 24/7 hours six days, though their phone support can leave you on hold for a while.

Final Thoughts

Interactive Brokers offers the lowest commission rates in the industry, an abundance of order types, incredibly low margin rates, trading in over 135 markets worldwide, and a powerful trade platform adequate for any experienced trader, making it one of the top destinations for advanced investors.

The broker’s customer service is far from the best out there though. For less frequent investors, IBKR Lite might be the better option.

Interactive Brokers and the Competition

See how Interactive Brokers compares to the leading Forex brokers by reading one of the reviews below.

All reviews, research, news and assessments of any kind on The Tokenist are compiled using a strict editorial review process by our editorial team. Neither our writers nor our editors receive direct compensation of any kind to publish information on tokenist.com. Our company, Tokenist Media LLC, is community supported and may receive a small commission when you purchase products or services through links on our website. Click here for a full list of our partners and an in-depth explanation on how we get paid.

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