Opening your brokerage account

If you want to invest in shares, you can use a full-service broker or an online broking service. Let's take a look at the options.

Two brokers analysing stocks.

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When you start investing in the ASX stock market, there's a lot to consider on this path to building wealth.

Choosing a brokerage service so you can start buying shares is a vital step in the process of building an ASX share portfolio. Let's take a look at how it works.

Select your brokerage service to buy and sell shares

If you want to invest in shares, you can use a full-service broker or an online brokerage service. There are some major differences between the two, as we'll see below.

Full-service brokers

With a full-service broker, the broker does the trading for you. They can also advise on what to sell or buy. A broker must have a reasonable basis for recommending a particular company, and they must tell you if they have any interest in that company.

The fees in these cases are a percentage of the trade value. Usually, you'll pay a lower rate for larger transactions. 

For example, you may have a 2.5% fee on a transaction of up to $5,000. For a larger transaction, it may be just 0.1%. Because of this, small trades can end up becoming quite expensive.

It's also worth noting that most brokers will charge you a minimum fee.

Despite these costs, many people are happy to pay these higher transaction fees for the peace of mind of knowing they're receiving help from a professional. Others, however, enjoy the independence of being in charge of their investment decisions.

Online brokerage service

The online brokerage service has become a more popular option in recent years. It enables you to simply open an online trading account and be entirely in charge of your investment decisions. Because you choose which shares to buy and make the share purchases yourself, the fees are relatively low.

You'll have to pay a fee each time you make a transaction, and those fees typically start at about $15-$20. 

When choosing an online broker, you'll want to consider how much you'll pay in transaction fees. Brokers might also charge other fees. Common ones include a foreign exchange fee, a subscription fee, and an inactivity fee.

You'll also want to see what the brokerage will let you trade. Some platforms only allow you to trade shares in the S&P/ASX 200 Index (ASX: XJO). Other platforms will let you trade on exchanges that operate worldwide.

Some online brokerage platforms are more tailored to casual traders, while others focus on servicing experienced and active traders. Generally, if you're just starting, a platform designed for casual traders is all you'll need.

You'll also want to pick a platform that has reliable customer service. Ideally, their customer service team will be based in Australia. 

How to choose a broker

It's essential to do some comparison shopping regarding brokers, as there are significant differences.

Some brokerage services offer a lot of educational features, as well as access to high-value research reports. Some even provide branch offices across the country, which can be helpful if you ever want face-to-face assistance. Others are light on features but charge some of the cheapest commissions in the industry.

Once you've decided which broker best fits your needs, opening a brokerage account is typically a quick and painless process.

There are several brokerages available to Australian investors. Two of the most popular online brokerages are Commsec — managed by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX: CBA) — and Selfwealth Ltd (ASX: SWF). 

Wherever you are in your investment journey, choosing a brokerage that suits your needs, investment goals, and educational requirements is important. Before comparing individual brokerages, take some time to consider what is important to you in a brokerage service. This will depend on where you are on your investment journey. 

If you are just starting out, you may prefer a brokerage that offers easy-to-understand educational resources, support access, and the ability to practice trading before you start investing real money. 

When you have more experience, a platform offering higher-level educational resources, insights from professional investors, and in-depth data may better suit your needs. As your experience level grows, you may seek a brokerage that allows you to trade not just shares but also options, fixed-income products, and commodities. 

Know your investment goals

Your choice of brokerage will also depend on your investment goals. Are you a long-term investor who will trade only occasionally? Or do you intend to trade more frequently? 

Do you prefer a hands-on approach or want to hold your investments over extended periods without frequent monitoring? You should also consider whether you want a brokerage that will assist you in identifying investment opportunities, one that makes it simple to execute trades or a service that offers professional advice. 

Take the time to honestly assess your needs and how much time and energy you have to devote to your investments. These factors may change over time but start by considering your current requirements rather than trying to anticipate your future needs. Once you understand these, you will be in a much better position to understand which brokerage service will best meet your requirements.

Brokerage fees also need to be considered. However, depending on your investment style, these may be less important than other factors. If you intend to buy and hold, trading only infrequently, brokerage fees will be less of a concern as they will only be incurred occasionally. However, broking fees may be a more critical consideration for day traders as they will add up much faster.   

Sign up for an account

After selecting the platform you want to use, it's time to register for an account. Usually, this step is free to complete. However, some platforms might charge you a subscription or other ongoing fees. 

You can register online and will have to provide:

  • Your name, address, date of birth, and contact details
  • Your tax file number (TFN)
  • Linked bank account details
  • Proof of ID.

You will likely have to deposit a certain minimum amount of money to open your account. After your application has been processed and approved, it's time for you to start trading.

SMSFs vs standard accounts

When you open your brokerage account, you'll have to decide what type of account you want. You have a few options, but for first-time investors, there are generally two main ways to go — standard or SMSF.

A standard brokerage account (under your name or joint with your partner) is your basic, everyday investment account. Generally, any profits you make are subject to capital gains tax (CGT), while losses can be used to offset your future CGT liability. On the other hand, dividends are taxed as income, just like your wages.

Another option is to start a self-managed super fund (SMSF) and open a brokerage account under this structure. We won't discuss whether an SMSF is right for you, as your accountant is the best person to give you that advice.

But if you do buy and sell shares under an SMSF, the income you generate is usually taxed at a concessional rate of 15% — and that's likely to be well below the rate you'll pay on earnings received through standard accounts.

The advantage of a standard account is that you can deposit as much money as you want and withdraw your funds whenever you need to.

You should also be aware that there are costs involved in setting up an SMSF and maintaining it, so you should talk to your accountant about these before deciding.

Options for the self-employed

There are several perks of working for yourself. Unfortunately, superannuation isn't one of them, as the tax system does not compel many sole traders and small business owners to contribute to their retirement savings.

This often means they won't have enough to retire on unless they force themselves to put money aside every month for their super. If an SMSF isn't an ideal option for you, then signing up for a super account run by an industry fund or a private financial organisation is probably the way to go. 

However, you will need to do your homework as fees, and investment returns vary greatly. You can compare the performance of the most basic super funds available in Australia (called MySuper funds) through the YourSuper comparison tool.1 Some funds give you greater control over your superannuation savings, and some allow you to invest your super savings directly in the share market.

No matter what you decide, you have to make it a habit to deposit part of your income into your super account — even if it means cutting back on your coffee habit or cafe lunches.

Pick the shares you want to purchase

Perhaps the most anxiety-inducing part of trading is figuring out which shares to buy. Use your brokerage's market research tools to find the best shares for your investment goals. 

Decide if you want shares that bring you value or growth. Many times, when it comes to trading shares, higher risks are associated with higher rewards. Those who are more risk-averse will want to pick shares of value over growth.

You'll also have to think about how many shares of a company you want to buy. This is going to come down to your investment goals and your budget.

It's important to remember that, unless you already own shares in a company, the minimum order size via the ASX is $500. So, if you find a company worth $10 per share, you'll have to purchase at least 50 shares. 

Place your order

Many novice investors tend to get tripped up when it comes to types of share order. There are two primary options you need to know about when purchasing shares. You can either buy shares 'at limit' or 'at market'.

A limit order is when you set a maximum purchase price for your buy order. Your trade is automatically executed if the shares you want to buy reach that price. This is ideal for people who wish to purchase shares of a company when the share price comes down but don't want to stare at their computer screens all day.

You'll want to place a market order when you want to buy shares immediately at their current market price.

Depending on the platform you use, you might also be able to use a variety of conditional orders. After you've entered all the specifics of your trade, you'll get to review those details before finally placing the purchase order. 

Once your order is processed, you will receive a contract note with all the trade details, including the company purchased, the share price it was purchased at, and the brokerage fee. You will usually receive these contract notes via email. 

Pay for the trade and monitor performance

To cover the cost of the trade, you'll need to have enough funds in your online share trading account. This includes having enough to cover the brokerage fees. 

The trade settlement period on the ASX is two business days. This is commonly referred to as T+2. 

After you've purchased your shares, you will want to monitor their performance. If you have a long-term investing strategy, you won't need to monitor them daily. Checking in on your share performance once or twice a month should be enough.

If you have a medium-term or short-term strategy, you might want to check weekly or daily on your shares.

You can review the performance of your shares by logging into your trading account. Many platforms also offer mobile apps that you can review and trade from. 

Selling your shares

Whether you're trying to raise some cash or simply keen to collect some profits, there's going to come a point where you'll want to sell your shares. Hopefully, at a higher price than you bought them for! 

The process of selling shares is very similar to purchasing. You can choose a limit order or a market order. With a limit order, you can set a minimum sale price. With a market order, you'll sell the shares at the current market price. 

Want to learn more about investing?

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This article is part of Motley Fool Australia's comprehensive Investing Education series, covering everything from budgeting and saving to basic investing concepts and how much money you'll need to start.

Packed with easy-to-understand and regularly updated information, our articles contain the answers to your most frequently asked questions about share market investing.

Motley Fool's Education series is tailored for beginner and experienced investors alike and also includes helpful tools and resources, an A-Z glossary of Investing Definitions, and guides to specific topics of interest, including retirement planning, gold and property investment.

Article Sources


  1. Australian Taxation Office, "YourSuper comparison tool"

This article contains general educational content only and does not take into account your personal financial situation. Before investing, your individual circumstances should be considered, and you may need to seek independent financial advice.

To the best of our knowledge, all information in this article is accurate as of time of posting. In our educational articles, a 'top share' is always defined by the largest market cap at the time of last update. On this page, neither the author nor The Motley Fool have chosen a 'top share' by personal opinion.

As always, remember that when investing, the value of your investment may rise or fall, and your capital is at risk.

Motley Fool contributor Katherine O'Brien has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Scott Phillips.