TradingBlock USA is an online discount brokerage based in Chicago, Illinois, that’s one of four brokerages managed by the parent company AOS, with the other three being TradingBlock Pro and TradingBlock Futures and Money Block.
In our TradingBlock review we’ll take a look at the brokerage’s tools, the platform itself and financial growth as well as the TradingBlock open account process to give our overall impression and rating. Ultimately, we’ll pass out TradingBlock opinions onto you and decide if we’d recommend the platform and to what type of customer.
Since TradingBlock is based in Chicago, this will be a TradingBlock review USA.
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When conducting our TradingBlock review, the first thing we did was check the interface and general usability of the website. In terms of aesthetics, the website is a bit simplistic and perhaps slightly dated, with a white grey and orange colour scheme that does little to capture the eye or imagination. However, if you can see past this, the TradingBlock USA website is easy to use and everything is pretty simple to find. We found the basic tools we tested when conducting this TradingBlock review to be easily accessible and straightforward to use, including their trade alerts and interactive charts. Overall, TradingBlock is a very decent platform for beginner and intermediate traders.
TradingBlock also offer a range of advanced trading platforms, however they are not easily nor instantly accessible. In order to gain access to one of their active trading platforms, including Sterling Trader and RealTick, you have to contact their pro trading desk via email. One pitfall is that many of their tools operate Adobe Flash, which is a bit dated and isn’t compatible with some browsers.
Overall, we found the usability in our TradingBlock USA review to be of a high standard that can rival their main competitors such as those in our Vanguard review and USAA review, however the lack of a mobile platform lets them down.
In this section of our TradingBlock review we take a look at the different types of account available and the TradingBlock open account process. USA citizenship will need to be confirmed during the account opening process.
Types of TradingBlock account:
The TradingBlock open account process:
Finding the TradingBlock Open Account button on their homepage is easy, unfortunately, however, the quickness and simplicity stops there. While the TradingBlock open account process isn’t necessarily difficult, it’s extremely long and tedious, with a seemingly endless list of questions. New users also have to submit a number of documents to prove your US residency and citizenship , which can take a while to verify. When it’s all said and done, the TradingBlock open account process takes about two days. We found this to be a bit more dated than some other brokerages, as found in both our WealthFront review and WealthSimple review and ZacksTrade.
We touched upon it a little in our usability section, but this section of our TradingBlock review will focus more closely on the trading platforms available with TradingBlock USA.
The TradingBlock basic platform is good for what it is; a no frills, standard trading platform that’s easy to navigate and use. The basic platform has all of the tools that a trader needs to simply get by. Overall it’s a great first platform for complete beginners and can even serve traders and investors up to a casual intermediate level without making them feel too restricted. We conducted our TradingBlock review of this platform with new traders in mind, and rated it highly. Our review team also liked the simple and accessible platforms offered to newcomers such as found in our SoFi Invest review and our Stash review by way of a comparison.
For the more advanced traders, all of TradingBlock’s active trading platforms are 3rd party platforms that can only be accessed by getting a TradingBlock Pro subscription or by contacting customer service. All of the 3rd party active trading platforms are top notch platforms including Sterling Trader Pro, TradeSpeed Options Professional, RealTick, and SILEXX OEMS.
Once you’ve completed the lengthy TradingBlock account opening process, it’ll be time to make your first payment, which is what this section of our TradingBlock review will focus on.
It’s quite restrictive, and a little disappointing, but there are only two payment methods for making deposits and withdrawals with TradingBlock; check or wire transfer. With both methods, USD is the only accepted currency. For wire transfers there is a $25 domestic fee and a $100 international fee, which is relatively high compared with some other brokers. The processing times are also disappointingly long, as wire transfers can take 7-10 business days. Incoming and outgoing transactions are both limited to $50,000 per day.
We did find out that you can also transfer funds from another brokerage account to yoru TradingBlock account. Although we didn’t have time to test this ourselves our research suggested it to be a lengthy process.
On balance, we’d recommend wire transfers as the best payment method for first time users, however we’re sad to say it’s the best of a bad bunch.
As seems to be a bit of a running theme with TradingBlock, their offerings are a little dated here, as they only offer customer support via emails and phone line, meaning they lack a live chat or any form of guaranteed 24/7 support.
It’s not all negative though, as their customer service channels, however dated they may be, do work very well. Their phones are answered pretty quickly from our experience and their email response times were adequate. On top of this, they are concise and helpful in their answers.
Their phone support is contactable via a toll-free number and is available Mon-Friday 9am-5pm Eastern Time, which isn’t ideal for west coast customers, however as the head office is in Chicago this is to be expected.
As well as their customer service, TradingBlock has a number of help tools that are easy to find and access, including their FAC section (frequently addressed conundrums). The FAC is neatly compacted and laid out with drop down menus, and contains plenty of information specific to certain topics and contexts.
TradingBlock USA is regulated by all of the regulatory bodies that we would expect of a top rated broker in the US.
TradingBlock USA is regulated by both the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the National Futures Association (NFA). These are the two US regulator bodies that truly hold the brokers they regulate to the highest possible standards, so in terms of transparency and regulations, this ticks all the boxes in our TradingBlock review here.
Should you choose to open up a TradingBlock account and start trading with them, you’ll automatically gain membership of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), which is a massive advantage. Being a member of the SIPC means that your deposits are protected in case insolvency or fraud up to the value of $500,000.
To summarize, we’d confidently say that you can feel both safe and secure when trading with TradingBlock. This is definitely the highlight of our TradingBlock review so far.
During what we’ll call its prime years of operation (roughly 2014-2016), TradingBlock USA constantly offered account holders the chance to join educational presentations that lasted about 40 minutes each. Unfortunately, they have gone a bit dormant on this front, and haven’t created a new presentation since February 2016. Videos of all these tutorial presentations are still available on YouTube via the channel TradingBlock TV. They are, however, now a bit dated and we’d like to see them kick start these tutorials again.
What they currently provide instead are promotional email series, such as “Play of the Day”, which provides some expert tips and potential market moves from their in-house expert broker team. This is helpful, but is pittance in comparison to the high quality live and recorded video tutorials they used to offer. All we can hope for is they get taken over, restructured or get some new team members on board to help breathe some life into the company and revive this side of their brokerage offering.
ETF stands for Exchange Traded Fund, and is similar to stocks in some ways, as it’s an investment fund that you trade on the stock exchange. The arbitrage mechanism behind ETFs are designed to keep them trading close to their original net asset value, which makes them ideal for beginners or traders looking for a fairly low risk investment. They also have a range of other qualities that make ETF trading beneficial for beginners, such as a low investment threshold, a decent range of choices and abundant liquidity.
TradingBlock USA claims to have an ordering platform that caters to stock investors trading in volumes of all sizes. Overall, we found this to be true, however their ETF trading order entry definitely appears to be more catered towards the beginner trader.
They have a number of helpful tools when it comes to making your ETF orders, including their TradeBuilder and full integrated portfolio. Overall trading in ETFs with TradingBlock is fairly straightforward and convenient.
Their stock/ETF finder is a really convenient tool that, while it does appear as dated as the layout and colour scheme of their website, does save a lot of time. If you’re looking for a specific ETF, you can simply type the name into their finder tool to see if it’s there. For those looking for a more general and wide ranging search, you can use one of TradingBlock’s 20+ predefined scans which are designed to cater to specific investment styles and are composed of ETFs that are currently making waves in the market. You can also use the TradingBlock scanner for custom sorting, which allows you to scan and sort ETFs according to market cap, sector, primary exchange, and security type.
We mentioned in our pros and cons section earlier that TradingBlock’s fees were rather high. We’ve already covered the deposit and withdrawal fees, so now let’s take a look at the ETF trading fees.
There has actually been a recent improvement with the commission fees here. They are still $0.001 per share, however the minimum has gone down from $7.50 to $5.00. Despite this significant reduction on the minimum price, TradingBlock’s fees are still above the industry average standard, but they aren’t shockingly high to the point you should be put off by this – especially as there are some aspects that both explain the high fees and arguably make them worth it.
Online trading laws in the US are pretty strict and hard to work around, so there are always going to be fees if you’re working with a top end broker who’s doing things legitimately. More than simply keeping it legit, TradingBlock is extremely well regulated and transparent, so the fees can be forgiven.
TradingBlock USA do have an active trader discount, however they don’t dish it out automatically, so you have to contact customer service to find out if you’re eligible.
When it comes to actually trading and buying ETFs, TradingBlock USA helps you keep on top of things, including stock prices and your own personal budget. With TradingBlock, you have real time buying power that both shows available stock and ensures you have sufficient capital to conduct any transaction. If you have any unclosed or pending transactions, your account will also show the amount of capital potentially tied to these, making it easy to keep on top of things.
Stocks & ETFs are TradingBlock’s flagship offerings, and we have to say on balance it works pretty well with them. Sure, things do look a little old fashioned, but their tools are useful and work well. The fact that you can keep on top of your capital easily is also a huge help, especially for beginners or those who don’t have time to constantly sit by the computer and watch the markets.
ETFs are ideal for new traders to get started with and we can say with confidence that TradingBlock is a good place to trade. The platform’s easy to use and helpful for beginners and is well regulated with secured deposits. While it’s true that the fees are high and the deposit options are extremely limited (not to mention seemingly outdated), this is largely unavoidable due to US online trading laws, and we’d say it’s worth it for peace of mind that you’re trading with a regulated brokerage and that your money’s safe. The only big let down again is the TradingBlock open account process.
With a mutual fund, money is pooled from multiple investors in order to purchase shares of a collection of stocks, bonds or securities – so there inlies the ‘mutual’ element. Mutual funds are generally open ended and professionally managed, usually headed and overseen by a portfolio manager. When it comes to mutual funds with TradingBlock, they are the professional manager and the multiple account holders are the investors.
When it comes sto mutual funds, TradingBlock has over 11,000 mutual funds to choose from, or as they like to call them, ‘Fund Families’. This, again, seems like a somewhat overwhelming number to sift through, however there is always the finder to tool to help you try and narrow things down as best you can.
When it comes to assessing your potential investment opportunities with mutual funds, TradingBlock isn’t short of tools and charts to help you out, as you can check the current NAVs (net asset value) and fundamentals of all their mutual funds as well as their historical NAV charts, which shows historical data in custom time frames dating back 5 years. You can also create custom queries and download historical NAV data to analyze in full detail yourself. They claim that “everyday’s a fund family reunion at TradingBlock.” and, to be quite honest from what we’ve seen, we’d have to agree!
The trading price on mutual funds with TradingBlock is set at a round $30 per fund, as opposed to a percentage. Again, this is quite high depending on your volume but it isn’t jaw droppingly off putting. The good thing about this sort of fee structure is that you pay it when you buy the fund and that’s it done – there’s no commission deducted nor hidden fees taken from your profits.
Overall, we were pretty happy with TradingBlock’s mutual funds offerings, even with the $30 per fund fee (which is easy enough to get over really). As well as the vast amount of mutual funds on offer (over 11,000) we also liked TradingBlock’s enthusiasm towards their Mutual Funds and the language they used to describe them.
We have mentioned that TradingBlock’s website and colour scheme is a bit drab and dreary, and that they seem to have lost their way when it comes to offering those little extras to their account holders – not to mention the long and arduous TradingBlock open account process! However the language surrounding their mutual funds is inclusive and family orientated, sweetening up an otherwise bland broker.
As the very name suggests, a futures trading contract is an agreement to buy or sell stocks or a commodity at a predetermined price at an allocated time in the future. Once signed and legally binding, the buyer is contracted to buy (or the seller contracted to sell) at the named price and time regardless of what happens in the market.
Strictly and technically speaking, no, not really. Not on the exact platform we’re reviewing here anyway.
We chose to mention futures here because, while you won’t be able to trade futures with an account on the TradingBlock platform we’re talking about here, they do have a sister brokerage called TradingBlock Futures, where you can buy and sell futures contracts.
Although TradingBlock Futures are part of the same parent company, AOS, trading with TradingBlock futures requires making a completely separate account from the more simple Tradingblock platform we’re reviewing here.
Should you be interested, you can trade futures with a minimum of $2,000 with TradingBlock Futures. The rate per contract is $2.50 per contract per side. For example, if you open 10 contracts on both sides that’s $2.50 x 20 = $50. In keeping with the TradingBlock fee theme, that’s high, but not horrifically so.
In layman’s terms, trading options essentially work the same as insurance, as what you’re basically doing is paying someone else, or another organisation, to assume your risk. When you buy stocks, you can also buy a trading option from someone else, which means they’re contractually obliged to assume your risk, and which also means you can always sell your stocks at the price you bought them, even if their value goes down. On the other hand however, should the stocks increase in value, the amount you paid for your option will be deducted from your profit.
TradingBlock proudly boasts that they have “more choices than a car salesman” when it comes to options, so we set out to find out whether or not that’s true in this section of our TradingBlock review.
TradingBlock does have an impressive range of options, perhaps even too much. However they also have tools and features to help traders quickly find the options that suit them, meaning the wealth of options available isn’t just an overwhelming list that appears seemingly impossible to sift through.
Among TradingBlock’s options assisting tools are complex orders, real time buying power and pre-trade margening assistance. However, the highlight of TradingBlock’s tools here for us is the Trade Analyzer, a pre-trade and post-trade analytics tool that helps you understand your risk and profit/loss margins before you trade and fix your position.
When it comes to trading options, there’s a plethora of choice, and accordingly a lot of strategies to learn and choose from. TradingBlock have beginner and intermediate traders covered here as they offer a range of strategies and options chains, either side by side or stacked. Users can also create customs views to show the data that you find most important
With TradingBlock, options are traded with a $5 starter fee plus $0.50 per contract, which as was the case with their ETF fees, has recently gone down – it was $7.50 ticket plus $0.75 per contract. To get an idea of how this works, let’s say you opened a straddle position of 10 contracts on both sides, the commission you’d pay would work out thus: €5 + ($0.50 x 20) = $15. This is high, but not staggeringly so, and we personally appreciate the round numbers that make it easy enough to calculate.
Overall, we can say we’re pretty impressed with TradingBlock’s options. While their mantra of offering “more choices than a car salesman” may seem a little cheesy for a brokerage, it at least turned out to be a claim that’s not entirely unfounded. With a little modernization of their platform, we’d definitely recommend TradingBlock as a good go-to for options – especially for beginner and intermediate traders.
Their fees aren’t the best, but at least they’ve recently gone down quite significantly, which brings them closer to the industry average. As we mentioned before, US online trading laws make it difficult to have them any lower.
To sum up our TradingBlock review, we’re a little bit frustrated, as this brokerage started off with so much promise back in 2010 and was well on its way to fulfilling its potential by 2016, when it seemed to lose its way a little. That being said it remains a very good, well regulated and secure platform that can serve any trader well, especially beginners. The negatives are of course the fees, the lengthy TradingBlock open account process and the lack of modernisation on many levels.
TradingBlock still has so much potential and we have the impression that with a new investor, or even just a shake up of their back office team, they could revitalise and become one of the best discount brokerages on the market. If we’re lucky, we might just see it happen.
Looking for more brokerage reviews? Head over to our ZacksTrade review!
Trading financial products carries a high risk to your capital, especially trading leverage products such as CFDs. CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. Between 74-89% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.
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