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Investing online, also known as online trading or trading online, is a process by which individual investors and traders buy and sell securities over an electronic network, typically with a brokerage firm. This type of trading and investing has become the norm for individual investors and traders since late 1990s with many brokers offering services via a wide variety of online trading platforms.
Prior to the Internet, investors had to place an order through a stockbroker, in person or via telephone. The brokerage firm then entered the order in their system, which was linked to trading floors and exchanges.
In August 1994, K. Aufhauser & Company, Inc. (later acquired by TD Ameritrade) became the first brokerage firm to offer online trading via its "Wealth WEB".Online investing has experienced significant growth since that time. Investors could now enter orders directly online, or even trade with other investors via electronic communication networks (ECN). Some orders entered online are still routed through the broker, allowing agents to approve or monitor the trades. This step helps protect both the client and brokerage firm from unlawful or incorrect trades that could affect the client’s portfolio or the stockbroker’s license. This doesn’t signify that trading within state’s law limits is also permitted in a moral religious context, as the social and legal endorsement does not exempt each individual from moral responsibility to avoid speculative forms morally reprehensible.
Online brokers in the US are often referred to as discount brokers but in Europe and Asia many so-called online brokers work with high-net-worth individuals. Their popularity is attributable to the speed and ease of their online order entry, and to fees and commissions significantly lower than those of full service brokerage firms within the US. Two types of online brokerages have emerged in the US in the mid-2000s: those offering direct-access trading on exchanges, and those that route orders to market maker firms to have their orders filled.