Snapshots of Brokers' Best and Worst Features

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Here are snapshots of the eight most-used brokers in our survey.

The snapshot includes the three main categories in which the broker scored best. Those are its strengths. It also includes the three main features in which the broker scored worst, the weaknesses. We also include other highlights about the broker. Finally, for each broker there's an item to consider that emerged from the survey or interviews.

Datek

Overall Score: 4.1

  • Strengths: Commissions, order confirmation, account administration.
  • Weaknesses: Reliability, customer service, options trading.
  • Highlights: Bull Award for account administration; poor mutual funds score.
  • And keep in mind ... The broker has a reputation for attracting day traders that is well-deserved, but it will have to improve its reliability to stay on top of the competition.

DLJdirect

Overall Score: 4.0

  • Strengths: Reliability, ease of use, order confirmation.
  • Weaknesses: Executions, commissions, options trading.
  • Highlights: Bull Award for reliability; strong marks in research and news and tools.
  • And keep in mind ... With the institutional research, access to IPOs and proprietary software it provides, DLJdirect is focusing on luring wealthy, serious investors.

Fidelity

Overall Score: 3.9

  • Strengths: Customer service, order confirmation, administration.
  • Weaknesses: Tools and news, commissions, options.
  • Highlights: Came out on top in the mutual funds category.
  • And keep in mind ... Fidelity's traditional brokerage services, mutual funds and a lifelong investment focus help it come out on top for customer service.

Waterhouse

Overall Score: 3.9

  • Strengths: Commissions, order confirmation, customer service.
  • Weaknesses: Reliability, options trading, tools and news.
  • Highlights: Strong marks for phone orders and mutual funds.
  • And keep in mind ... Waterhouse's traditional brokerage services help it do well in customer service, and it charges lower commissions than big discounters Schwab and Fidelity.

E*Trade

Overall Score: 3.9

  • Strengths: Order confirmation, ease of use, complex trades.
  • Weaknesses: Customer service, executions, commissions.
  • Highlights: Won the tools and news-and-research categories.
  • And keep in mind ... Its new Web site, combined with a new technology platform, helped E*Trade improve its performance. It's also expanding services for active traders.

Charles Schwab

Overall Score: 3.8

  • Strengths: Customer service, ease of use, account administration, order confirmation (tie).
  • Weaknesses: Commissions, options trading, executions.
  • Highlights: Stinker Award for commissions, strong mutual funds and tools and news scores.
  • And keep in mind ... Schwab's traditional brokerage services, robust site and special services for active/high net-worth traders help support its claims of being a discount "full-service" broker.

Discover Brokerage Direct

Overall Score: 3.8

  • Strengths: Complex trades, ease of use, account administration.
  • Weaknesses: Reliability, executions, tools and news.
  • Highlights: Along with complex trades (stop and limit orders), it won in options-trading, making it the leader in complicated trades.
  • And keep in mind ... Discover says its move to self-clearing will help it introduce new features more quickly -- proprietary index funds and more bond offerings are coming soon -- and improve quality control.

Ameritrade

Overall Score: 3.5

  • Strengths: Commissions, complex trades, ease of use.
  • Weaknesses: Reliability, tools and news, order confirmation.
  • Highlights: Stinker Award for reliability and order confirmation.
  • And keep in mind ... Technology problems have kept the broker from keeping pace, but as things improve, some find its low commissions worth it. Some less-experienced investors like the site's simplicity.

The technical side of this online brokers survey was conducted by

, October 1998.