Comparing Fractional Trading Offerings at Online Brokers

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Comparing Fractional Trading Offerings at Online Brokers

As younger individuals join the trading market and encounter prominent equities that trade for more than $1,000 per share, the popularity of trading fractional shares has grown significantly. A fractional share is a share of stock that is less than one complete share. Investors have previously encountered fractional shares in their portfolios as a consequence of dividend reinvestment, stock splits, or mergers and acquisitions. You may keep a fractional share in your account or sell it, but it was incredibly difficult to purchase a portion of a share until recently.

Several fractional share offers were made during the dot-com boom, but they have since vanished. Several large online brokers have begun to reintroduce fractional share trading, which has become more appealing to their consumers since commissions have been reduced to $0. Fidelity, Charles Schwab, and Robinhood have all supported fractional share trading since Interactive Brokers launched it in November 2019. Most robo-advisors provide fractional share trading so that their customers may make the most of their assets while putting all of their money to work. More brokerages are attempting to make fractional share trading accessible to their consumers; we will update this post when the services become available.

This market occurs because the long-standing practice of dividing shares when the price settles at $100 has faded, with some firms seeing their exceptionally high share values as a kind of ego boost. Unfortunately, high share prices have rendered certain firms unsuitable for ordinary investors, removing them from the retail market and making them accessible to institutions instead. Retail participation is possible with fractional shares.

Key Takeaways

  • Online brokers are launching services that enable customers to buy fractional shares of stock.
  • There are significant distinctions between the broker offers, such as minimum purchase amounts and the universe of accessible stocks.
  • Trading with no commissions makes fractional share schemes more affordable.
  • Younger investors participate at a greater rate than older ones.

History of Fractional Shares

Starting in 1999 with the November debut of BuyandHold, which is now defunct, there were a few scattered offers of fractional shares. You might acquire shares in tiny quantities for a monthly subscription of $1-3. The website encouraged visitors to make monthly purchases, accumulating a savings account over time. There were a few no-fee brokers active in 1999, but they didn’t survive long. Because most other online brokers charged $9.99-24.99 per transaction, developing a lucrative trading strategy by acquiring a share or two at a time was practically impossible. That monthly charge, which today seems ridiculous, was really a terrific bargain.

Once large online brokers reduced their rates for equity transactions to zero, they permitted odd lot trading, which did not punish their consumers with charges on minor deals. In November 2019, Interactive Brokers introduced fractional share trading for U.S. companies listed on the NYSE, AMEX, NASDAQ, ARCA, or BATS, as well as OTC Pink U.S. penny stocks with average daily volume more than $10 million and market capitalization greater than $400 million. Others followed following, and there are currently four main brokers and numerous automated trading programs that offer real-time trading of fractional shares. Most robo-advisors support fractional share trading for portfolio balance, albeit the timing of such transactions is not determined by investors. For example, at market closure, Stockpile executes all transactions requested by clients throughout the day. M1 Finance was featured in this table because they provide real-time trading of fractional shares.

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New Investors Latch on to Fractional Shares

According to Fidelity, its fractional trading service, which debuted in January 2020, has proven popular among younger investors. Almost half (45%) of Fidelity’s fractional trading customers are between the ages of 18 and 35. Approximately 630,000 Fidelity accounts exchanged fractional shares in the first three quarters of 2020, with the bulk of transactions made in the FAANG companies, as well as Microsoft (MSFT) and Tesla (TSLA).

Because exchanges do not allow for fractional share trading, brokers or their clearing companies must have a mechanism to keep the leftover fractions of shares. So, if you are a Schwab customer and purchase 0.2 shares of Apple, Schwab will hold the remaining 0.8 shares in an internal inventory account. That fraction may be utilized to fulfill the order of another client, or it may be liquidated at the conclusion of the trading day.

Another complication of having fractional shares arises when you transfer a brokerage account to a different business. Because only entire shares of stock may be transferred, any fractional shares you own will be liquidated, potentially resulting in a taxable event for the owner owing to capital gains. The cash from those transactions, together with any entire shares you own, may then be transferred to the new brokerage. Another disadvantage of having fractional shares is that they cannot be hedged and do not allow for basis improvement via covered calls.

Here are the existing services for real-time trading of fractional shares.

Charles Schwab “Stock Slices”

On June 2, 2020, Schwab’s “Stock Slices” program was introduced. Clients may participate in the program by purchasing any S&P 500 stock for a minimum of $5 per stock. Clients may queue up ten equities and execute a single transaction, distributing their money equally across the ten symbols. Customers may own fractional shares of all 500 S&P stocks if they like, but only 10 can be acquired at a time. If you set up four stocks to buy and put $50 into this group, you’d end up with the fractional equal of $12.50 in each stock after the transaction was done.

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Schwab Stock Slices may be found in Schwab retail brokerage, custodial, and individual retirement accounts (IRAs).”Many new investors perceive this climate as a chance to get into the market, and this is another vehicle for them to do so,” says a Schwab representative. Schwab was unable to provide us with participation data since the initiative is still in its early stages.

Schwab’s offering is the most limited in terms of the universe of accessible stocks, as well as the largest minimum buy.

Fidelity’s “Stocks by the Slice”

At the end of January 2020, Fidelity introduced its “Stocks By The Slice” fractional trading product. Fidelity’s native iOS and Android mobile applications now include a new trade ticket that allows customers to acquire a specific dollar amount or fraction of a share of any exchange-listed stock (except for Berkshire-Hathaway type A stock, ticker BRK.A).In the autumn of 2020, Fidelity will provide fractional share trading to its online platform.

As of the conclusion of the third quarter of 2020, more than 80% of participants in the fractional share program elected to make a dollar-based purchase, while the remainder submitted orders in fractions of a share. The minimum purchase must be $1.00 or more, and it must include at least one tenth (0.001) of a share. Clients may set a market or limit order, and trades are performed in real time.

Entering an order for a fractional share of stock on Fidelity’s mobile app.

In brokerage, HSA, IRA, and custodial accounts, Fidelity provides “Stocks by the Slice.” Customers having a self-directed brokerage account in their 401(K) plan may also access it. You will be requested to check your customer agreement before placing your first fractional share order.

Interactive Brokers

Interactive Brokers Fractional Trading is accessible on all of the firm’s platforms for IBKR Lite and IBKR Pro users, as well as clients of financial advisers, with the exception of those who live in Israel or have Canadian RRSP/TFSA accounts. Before making their first transaction, eligible customers must activate fractional share trading in Client Portal/Account Management. Once the account has been activated, fractional share purchases may be performed in either dollar or share quantities. Interactive Brokers even allows users with margin accounts to short-sell fractional shares, which is a unique feature.

This is by far the most adaptable of the fractional share programs, both in terms of the stocks offered and the order types available. This link opens an Excel file with the most recent list of available stock.

M1 Finance

M1’s Invest product, which debuted in 2016, has built-in support for fractional share purchases. M1 provides nearly 6,000 exchange-listed assets, including most NYSE, NASDAQ, and BATS traded equities and ETFs. Every accessible security supports fractional share trading. M1 combines all of its customers’ transactions and executes them all at once within a trading window, while clients may also perform individual fractional share deals in real-time for a charge. The rest of what is left over after being assigned to client accounts is deposited into an M1 account.

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M1, according to CEO Brian Barnes, is the largest dealer in fractional shares among US-based brokers. “Every day, we do around 200,000 fractional share exchanges for our clients.” To put that in context, E*TRADE completed 44,000 deals per day for all of its clients in April,” Barnes says. Barnes claims that M1 holds between 0 and 1 percent of the whole universe of equities and ETFs available to consumers. When M1’s shareholdings surpass one, the whole share is sold.


All Robinhood clients may now trade fractional shares, which will be accessible until 2020. Stocks and ETFs having a market capitalization more than $25,000,000 are eligible for fractional share orders. Clients of Robinhood may now trade fractional shares of Alibaba and Nintendo ADRs.

When you submit an order for a stock or ETF that isn’t supported, Robinhood notifies you. The minimum order amount is one dollar and/or one thousand thousand shares. According to a Robinhood representative, there are over 7,000 equities that are qualified for fractional share trading.

Opportunities and Risks for Brokers

Brokers that provide fractional shares are experiencing an increase in trading activity and an inflow of younger customers. These companies expect that tiny accounts will grow into big, active accounts over time.

However, enabling fractional share trading poses a variety of obstacles and hazards for brokers. There’s the accounting nightmare of keeping track of these little pieces of stocks and ETFs, which necessitates considerable investment in information services and inventory management on the part of brokers and clearing businesses. Then there’s the financial commitment, since the brokerage firm owns the remaining fractions. In a rising market, this might result in some extra earnings for brokers, but if the market crashes again, the brokers will lose money along with their customers.

To compete, every new brokerage that opens in the next several years will need to consider issuing fractional shares. Due to what has been an industry norm, the new businesses are already locked in to zero commissions. Another barrier to entry for new brokerage companies might be fractional share characteristics.

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