Choosing an Options Trading Platform

08/23/2013 8:00 am EST

Focus: OPTIONS

A key consideration in finding the right options broker for you is knowing which features of the broker’s trading platform are important to your options trading strategies, say Seth Freudberg and Michael Schwartz of SMB Capital.

There are some very different approaches to delivering charts and quotes. So some of the questions you should be asking when considering an options trading platform are as follows:

1. What options for trading does the broker offer?

  • Is the platform Web-based?
  • Is the platform alternatively software-based (i.e., installed on your PC)—if so, does the broker have a Mac version?
  • Is the platform available as a tablet and/or smart phone app?

2. What tools are included with the platform?

  • Charting and studies
  • Option chains and Greeks
  • Portfolio tracking
  • Risk graphs for positions and adjustment
  • News feeds
  • A strong help system and an excellent reputation for customer service

3. How easy is the platform to use?

  • Is it easy to navigate from screen to screen?
  • Does it provide the convenience of structuring trades from single option purchases to multi-legged strategies like condors and butterflies?
  • Are open positions managed easily?

As you get deeper into advanced options trading strategies, you will want to know how to use your broker’s platform like the back of your hand. When you start to initiate straddles, strangles, and spread trades you want the actual execution of the trade to be flawless.

Candidly, one of the criterions that you should consider is discovering the platform that your other trading colleagues and friends are using—the learning curve is greatly improved if someone friendly can show you the ropes. We also suggest starting with a demo account to familiarize yourself with the platform.

Here’s an interesting fact that very few traders know: You can do it the hard way by approaching each broker and setting up a demo account with each platform or you can go to the CBOE website, register once, and gain access to three broker platforms at once.

Navigate your way to the CBOE Options Education Page and register an account. Once you do that you have access to their “tools” tab. Under the tab you will see:

  • “Virtual Trade” which gives you access to the OptionsExpress trading platform

  • “PaperTrade” which gives you access to TradeMonster’s platform

  • “PaperMoney” which is ThinkorSwim’s online platform. Note: if you want to demo ThinkorSwim’s desktop application you’ll need to signup directly through ThinkorSwim.com

Try each of the major options brokers out for a week and place some paper trades to see if one platform fits your style better than the others. You never know what you might find out.

The great news is that most brokers offer very strong and complete packages with absolutely no cost for use of the platform—they make their money on the commissions.

By Seth Freudberg and Michael Schwartz of SMB Capital

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