Chapter 5 — Which Interactive Brokers software to use?
After creating my Interactive Brokers account in 2016, I had to choose one of their software to connect to my account.
"And then, we got a problem..."
I found myself in front of no less than 5 different choices!
All of them have an IB history that is easily explained. But when you're new to the world of the stock market, it can be scary.
The 5 ways to connect to your Interactive Brokers account
I think we weren't the only ones who had this concern about understanding what tool is used for what, because IB did a great job of clarification that will make my life easier for this part of the tutorial :)
There are 5 software options to connect to your new Interactive Brokers account:
- Client portal
- Desktop TWS (Trader Workstation)
- IBKR Mobile
- IBKR WebTrader
Let's review them all with some useful screenshots from the Interactive Brokers site.
And then I'll explain to you what the best version is for you.
1. Interactive Brokers client portal
This is the IB website where you log in, and then you have access to all your information and you can even trade there. It's like your e-banking in a way.
Below is a full explanation of the "what" and "for whom" as presented on the Interactive Brokers website:
2. Desktop TWS (Trader Workstation)
Now you're starting to understand IB's history. This software tool is an application that is installed on your computer. It was there before the web version presented in point 1 above.
When I started with IB, it was the one I used as you can see in this article.
3. IBKR Mobile
Normal evolution for any company that wants to be digital: a mobile application. If you are a long-time Interactive Brokers customer, you will still remember the time when you had a dedicated app to secure your account and this IBKR app separately. Fortunately, that time is over and now it's a single Interactive Brokers mobile application for everything.
If like other readers you wonder what IBKR means, it's simply Interactive BroKeRs :)
Logical evolution: after the mobile application, the chatbot. You know, it's that thing that looks like an instant messaging thing that you have on websites or on Facebook Messenger. The idea is that you talk like in a conversation with a human, except that it's a robot that listen to you (more or less) and answers you.
I personally have never used the IB one (which is present in their IBKR Mobile app but also on the web customer portal and TWS) so let me know your opinion if you have already tested it.
5. IBKR WebTrader
That's where it personally disturbed me. This IBKR WebTrader is a platform that you access via a web browser, and where you log in.
Does that remember anything to you?
Correct, it looks a lot like the client portal.
The story is that in fact at the very beginning there was only the "Desktop TWS" (the good old application you have to install), then they developed a first portal on the web (this IBRK WebTrader tool precisely) when the Internet became available. It contains the basic functionalities of TWS, and is quite similar to it.
Then, I think that quite a few people found it practical at the simplistic interface level, so they kept it over the years even if the "Client Portal" is actually only a new version of it (much better done ergonomically in my opinion).
What can you buy/sell on each Interactive Brokers platform?
As I said earlier, IB has done a fantastic job of clarifying its entire software suite.
If like me, you only buy ETFs, stocks, or bonds, then the good news is that all platforms allow you to do it. As a reminder, ETFs trade like shares, so it's normal that you don't see an "ETFs" line.
What features are available on each Interactive Brokers platform?
We continue with the different features (I don't even use 1/10th of them!) which are accessible or not depending on the software you use:
How I use Interactive Brokers' software, concretely
Historically, I only used the TWS software because I thought you could only buy/sell securities with it.
Then I discovered the minimalist web version "IBKR WebTrader" that I used once to try it out.
Then IB updated all its documentation with the new web customer portal and the mobile app.
So, since about the end of 2017, this is my process in general:
- I use the Interactive Brokers client portal to announce a bank transfer
- I regularly check on the IBKR mobile app to see if my transfer arrived
- I then use the client portal to change currencies if necessary (I still use TWS sometimes out of habit, but the client portal is now really great)
- I buy my ETFs/shares via the client portal (or TWS, as in point 3). I recently bought once via the IBKR mobile app because it was for a "value investing" purchase that I wanted to make as soon as possible. But I'm not comfortable using the app for my purchases/sales
- I monitor the performance (profit and loss) of my portfolio via the IBKR mobile application
- Then I use the "Statements" function of the Interactive Brokers client portal to: update my YNAB, check my dividends, and fill in my Swiss taxes
Regarding login, each time and for each platform, Interactive Brokers will send you a push notification on your mobile to connect you in a secure way as seen in the dedicated chapter of this guide.
Which software should you use at first?
Personally, I recommend that you go with the Interactive Brokers client portal at the beginning because it contains everything you need to buy your first ETFs. And it's simple enough that you're not lost in the first place. And then you can copy my modus operandi above once you are more confident.
There you go, I hope the IB software environment is clearer for you now! If not, contact me by email (contact [at] mustachianpost.com) with your remaining questions.
In the next chapter, we take action with currency exchange! This is something you need to know how to do because at some point you will want to buy an ETF/share in EUR or USD.