How Fractional Shares Trading Works in Modern Online Investing Apps

Fractional shares trading becomes easier with the latest online trading technology.

Fractional shares trading has gained momentum over the last few years and has proven to be an important innovation for digital wealth management and online investing industries. When you think of a share, such as one stock of Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), you likely think of a whole share. Each whole share, in turn, can be thought of as a slice of the company and its equity. Sometimes even one share is simply too large for an investor.

Consider Amazon, which is currently selling for roughly $2,168. With fractional shares you could buy a “slice” of one Amazon share, say 1/3rd. This way while many people cannot afford buying a whole share of AMZN, they could still invest in the company via fractional share trading functionality.

fractional shares, fractional investing

ETNA Trader Lite for Fractional Shares

What are Fractional Shares?

Fractional shares are a piece of a share from a stock. They allow people to invest in expensive stocks that they otherwise would not be able to, thus increasing opportunities for many investors and allow portfolio diversification.

For example, consider Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK.A), the holding company run by Warren Buffet – Fractional shares become especially useful with very high valued stocks such as this one. Even with moderately high-priced stocks, e.g., AMZN, fractions start making more sense.

For the low valued stocks, also known as penny stocks, fractional shares might not make much sense. If a stock total cost is only a quarter, why divide it up further?

Dollar-Based Investing

Also known as dollar-based investing, Fractional Shares are often the result of stock splits, dividend reinvestment plans (AKA DRPs), and other corporate activities. Historically, it has been difficult to acquire fractional shares through traditional financial markets, since they cannot be bought or traded on the open market. However, an increasing number of brokers are now making it possible. The lower price point has opened the doors for more potential investors.

Why You Are Just Now Hearing About Fractional Shares Trading

Compared to conventional stock trading, fractional shares investing has only recently become popular, thanks to brokerage technology advances. Up until recently, the technology and infrastructure simply didn’t exist. Dividing up shares adds some inherent complications, such as tracking ownership. Brokerage technology has evolved and a lot of operations during trade life cycle have been automated. As online trading and online stock brokers have proliferated and grown, this created an opportunity for some of them to begin offering fractional shares trading.

Commission free trading also helps fractional shares investing to be more efficient and has become popular among individual investors.

Market conditions have also provided much tailwind. Many of today’s hottest stocks are now very expensive. A single share of Google’s parent company Alphabet costs well over $1,000. Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) is trading north of $1,500. Netflix costs roughly $400. This is making it more difficult for less wealthy investors to invest.

Indeed, only about half of all American households are investing. High entry costs can be a significant barrier for would-be investors to overcome. Stock market participation is even lower for millennials, with 3 in 5 lacking exposure to markets. Fractional shares, however, enable just about anyone to trade with the money they have. As Stockpile Avi Lele put it:

“People are told all the time, ‘Start early, diversify and do it for the long haul,’ but it’s really hard to start early when you’re young because you don’t have a lot of money and you certainly don’t know anything about the market. They don’t teach it to you in school and you can’t walk into a traditional brokerage saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got $50 bucks, how does the market work?'”


Fractional Shares Investing

Fractional Shares for Novice Investors

One of the best aspects of fractional shares trading is that they allow risk-averse investors and those unfamiliar with markets to test the waters. Before that, a millennial investor looking to build a portfolio with Amazon, Apple, Google, and Netflix would have to save up thousands of dollars. Now, that very same investor could get starting with $50.

How Fractional Shares Investing Works from the Brokerage Side

Traditionally, investing was relegated to whole units. With a fractional share, a single share or other asset is divided up and distributed among purchasers. You can simply set the dollar amount you wish to invest, and your broker will invest that amount.

Fractional shares were used as parts of dividend reinvestment plans. So if a stock paid out a dividend to you, the company could reinvest that payment (or a portion of it) into fractional shares. This was an obvious application as dividends will rarely provide enough to buy whole shares down to the dollar. Since brokers weren’t needed, this kept costs low.

Next came dollar cost averaging, or buying a fixed dollar amount of a stock regardless of its price. Often, dollar cost averaging plans are set on schedules, with set amounts of money invested at predetermined times . Quite simply, you get what you pay for. If you pay for 1/10th of an Apple stock, you get 1/10 of the equity of that stock. Let’s look at how the broker would execute such a trade.

  • First, let’s say a client orders .25 shares of AAPL.
  • Next, the broker will execute this trade. The broker could purchase the stock and simply sell you a slice, distributing the equity.
  • Or, the broker could wait until more orders come in, say one more .25 AAPL share order, a .20 order a .15 order, a .10 order and a .5 order.
  • This is referred to as an execution algorithm and is compiled automatically.
  • The algorithms are quite flexible and can handle varying amounts of shares. The shares are compiled into a block order and executed.
  • Finally, equity is divided up accordingly
  • Broker may wait for more of the similar orders of the other clients (Execution Algorithm)
  • Broker creates a Block Order of a whole number of shares enough to cover all Client Orders and executes it
  • Upon execution the assets are allocated to the Clients’ Accounts.

Fractional Shares Are Fantastic For Digital Advisors

We mentioned that an increasing number of broker-dealers are offering fractional shares investing as more and more firms are realizing the importance of it.

For digital advisors known as robo-advisors, fractional shares are especially important. As such, digital wealth management firms rely heavily on fractional shares trading. Why? There are several reasons, so let’s dig in.

Great For Diversification

Fractional shares make it easy to diversify, even if you only have a small amount to invest. Let’s say you want to invest $1,000. Unfortunately, that won’t buy you a single share of Google. Even if you invest in cheaper stocks, you’d be lucky to pick up more than 10 or so attractive stocks.

With fractional shares, you can diversify down to the last penny, investing your money exactly where you want it. For automated investing, this diversification can help to lower risks while increasing profit potential over the long run.

Give Investors Flexibility

Let’s say you have set up a number of algorithms to monitor a wide range of stocks. If you were forced to buy whole shares, you’d have to set aside enough money to buy those shares at the targeted price. However, with fractional shares you can set aside a budget instead.

Consider Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), which is currently selling for ~$2,150. Let’s assume that the company is going to release their quarterly report, and you think the news is going to be bad. You predict that AMZN will drop to $1,300 and at that price you’re confident that it’s a good deal. You want to set up a robo trader to monitor for the price drop in the hour after the report is released. However, you don’t feel like setting $1,300 aside to cover the trade, as it would pull too much money away from other trade opportunities.

So, you use fractional investing, and then set aside $500. Your prediction proves right, Amazon’s shares drop and your automated strategy executes the trade, netting you $500 worth of a $1,300 Amazon share.

Put All of Your Money to Its Best Use, All of the Time

With fractional shares you don’t have to wait until you have enough money to buy a whole share. For example, if you want to buy stocks of Amazon, but only have $100, you can buy a fraction of an AMZN share. This way you don’t have to wait until you save up $1,500.

Fractional Trading Is Great For Newer Investors as Well

Fractional shares offer another benefit. They are a great way to get started with investing even if you don’t have a lot of money or don’t want to risk a lot of money. Let’s say you’ve been studying stock trading and have formulated several strategies that you are confident in.

Using these strategies and insights, you have identified a portfolio of companies that you would like to invest in. For the sake of our analysis, let’s assume that you want to invest in Google (NASDAQ: GOOG ~$1,100), Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ~$180), 3M (NYSE: MMM ~$240), Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GE ~$270) and United Health (NYSE: UNH ~$230).

There’s a problem: buying one share each of those companies will cost you about $2,000 dollars, with over half of your money being sunk into Google alone. Not only is this a considerable amount of money, but the portfolio will be heavily weighted with GOOG, and you’d prefer to invest 20% of your money in each stock. This will make it difficult to test your strategies. With fractional shares, however, you could take $1000 dollars and then invest $200 in each the above companies.

Create an account in ETNA Trader and trade fractional shares
Fractional Shares Trading is an indispensable part of modern online investing. When choosing a broker or a digital advisor platform, check if they offer fractional shares trading functionality. Even if you don’t use it in the near future, you may find this functionality useful as your portfolio and investment strategies evolve.

ETNA Trader has enabled many WealthTech startups and online broker-dealers to launch fractional shares trading functionality for online investing. ETNA Trader has enabled many WealthTech startups and online broker-dealers to launch fractional shares trading functionality for online investing. Contact us to learn about trading API for fractional shares, trade allocations, order management systems, broker back office, web, and mobile trading apps with easy-to-use interfaces. We bring digital wealth management firms and online broker-dealers technology to the next level.