From the October 01, 2011 issue of Futures Magazine • Subscribe!

Cutting the cord: Mobile trading 101

Traders always have looked for that next piece of technology to give them an edge over other traders. Whether we consider phones with a speed-dialer or computers that made algorithmic trading plausible, technology advances have gone hand-in-hand with trading advances.

Now, as smartphones and tablet computers are becoming the norm, traders are being given the opportunity to cut the cord and step away from the trading desk as more brokers now offer trading platforms on mobile devices. However, although the technology is widely accessible, it still is in its infancy and may not be capable of everything traders need. As such, it is important to understand what mobile trading platforms do well, where they fall short and what special considerations need to be made.

"At this point in time, [a mobile trading platform] may not be the one-stop, end-all solution for a trader, but it certainly is a very nice thing to have," says Paige Miller, director of customer relations at PFGBest. "Even though you have a desktop setup with a couple of monitors, the fact that you do have a life makes it nice to have that mobile trading platform because, if nothing else, you can monitor your positions from almost anywhere."

The ability to stay connected to the markets and to monitor your positions from anywhere at any time makes mobile trading from a smartphone or tablet very attractive. With a mobile trading platform, a trader even can step away from his desk to go on vacation and still be able to monitor his positions from the comfort of his beach chair.

"The biggest pro for having a mobile platform is access. I can sit here at the beach, check my email and still know what’s going on in the market. It’s being able to stay in touch, even when you’re not in front of your trading machine," says Joseph Cusick, senior market analyst at optionsXpress. "Being able to monitor your quotes and watch your portfolio when you’re on the go is invaluable."

That access can go a long way to assuage apprehensions that once may have been common. That doesn’t mean there are no drawbacks, though. Chief among those drawbacks is the issue of speed. "Speed is a consideration for anything you’re doing with mobile technology; you’re at the mercy of whatever kind of connection you have," says Nicole Sherrod, managing director of the Trader Group at TD Ameritrade.

Because it is not physically connected to a data line, a mobile device can send and receive data only as fast as wireless technology will permit, whether that is via a Wi-Fi connection or through a cell phone data service. Relying on a cell carrier has its own considerations.

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