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I’ve just dropped by App Annie to check on the top finance apps in the App Store. Guess what? 30% are mobile trading and investment apps.

top 50 finance apps in the app store with stock and trading investment apps highlighted

Most of these apps focus solely on investing, while others represent mobile banking apps and offer investing as an add-on feature.

Still, one third seems like a reasonable incentive to invest in stock trading app development. What do you think? Hopefully, you agree and wouldn’t mind getting a second opinion on things you need to consider when building an investment platform.

  1. Trading Apps Market Overview
  2. Types of Trading Software
  3. Top 3 Most Successful Trading Apps
  4. Trading and Investment App Features
  5. Regulatory Compliance in Financial Services
  6. Develop a Trading Platform in 5 Easy Steps
  7. How Much Does Trading App Development Cost?

Trading Apps Market Overview

Trading apps have been on the rise lately. People feel an opportunity to get rich using the market volatility in these unprecedented times, and a mobile investment app is an ideal tool for that.

Can we find other signs of the growing popularity of stock trading software?

Rapidly growing user base

Here’s a good one: since 2017, the Robinhood app — one of the most popular commission-free trading apps — has been growing by 4 million users each year.

From 2 million users in 2017, they grew to 6 million in 2018, and then to 10 million in 2019. In the first four months of 2020, their user base had already topped 13 million users. That’s nearly 2x of their normal growth.

robinhood stock trading app user base growth

A few other facts of the rising demand for trading apps:

  • Merrill Edge saw trading volume rise 184% and new accounts up 13% during the second quarter of 2020
  • Ameritrade added 661,000 new funded retail accounts in the second quarter of 2020

Leading mobile banking apps adding investment options

Even by the looks of the App Annie charts, it’s evident that traditional banks with state-of-the-art developed mobile banking apps are slowly adding investment features into their mobile apps:

  • either directly as Wells Fargo Mobile or Chase Mobile
  • or via stand-alone apps, e.g., Bank of America – MyMerril App

Millennials are ready to invest if you educate them

Investopedia has recently surveyed 1,405 millennials and their Gen X and Gen Z counterparts. The survey revealed these exciting stats:

millenials allocating money

Only 23% to 38% of their money is invested, and almost half of their income stays in checking and savings accounts. Do you see the potential here?

Types of Trading Software

If you want to make a stock trading app, there are different options available. Let’s skim through the most apparent variants you’re likely to face when deciding to create a trading platform.

Trading software by platform

Depending on your target audience’s preferences, you can create a trading app for web, desktop, or mobile platforms. The mobile trading app may look and feel differently on smartphones, tablets, and smartwatches.

Some of the serious market players cover as many platforms as possible. Take the Fidelity trading app, for example. It’s not just an app for iPhone and Android phones. The company has significantly invested in trading application development, and its customers can also access their products on:

  • Apple TV and Apple Watch
  • iPad and Kindle Fire
  • Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa
  • mobile web

I’m not saying you should cover all platforms when you develop a trading app, but be cognizant of your target audience’s preferences.

Day trading vs. investing

Another prominent trait of such applications is that some are more suited for day trading while others are more optimized for long-term investing.

Some trading apps like M1 Finance don’t allow users to trade the same stock more than once per day, making day trading with such solutions in effect non-existent. Instead, users may pick such apps for investing.

Other apps like TD Ameritrade or E*Trade are ideal for day trading while also combining the features you’d expect from apps focused on long-term investments.

Educated vs. novice investors

Finally, some mobile electronic trading platforms are best suited for novice users. Here I’m talking about apps like Acorns, Stash, or Robinhood. On the other spectrum, there are more advanced platforms like Ameritrade and Power E*TRADE that will take some time to learn your way around.

Things you’d expect from the trading apps aiming at newcomers include lots of educational materials and primitive robo-advisors. In contrast, professional investment apps focus on offering advanced options like custom and four-legged spreads.

investor trading app example

Top 3 Most Successful Trading Apps

I think a great exercise on your way to trading platform development is to check up on the leading apps in this segment. We might as well discover a few things worth borrowing and adjusting for our own mobile investment solution.

Robinhood

robinhood app logo

Founded: 2013

Description: Robinhood is one of the most popular fintech apps of the decade. The app has drawn a lot of attention since its very early days, when they piled up a million users on their waitlist, to the present days when they are well over 13 million users.

Highlights: Robinhood was the first app to introduce commission-free trading. As a result, many of their competitors, including Schwab Mobile and E*Trade, followed suit and canceled or reduced their trading fees.

Pros:

  • fractional shares
  • intuitive interface
  • trading cryptocurrency

Cons:

  • No support for retirement accounts
  • no investing in funds or bonds
  • subpar customer support

stock trading app development banner 1

Acorns

acorns logo

Founded: 2012

Description: Acorns takes a different take on investing while still targeting novice traders and investors. This trading app offers portfolio management based on the user’s age, risk tolerance, income, etc. And the best part is investing happens almost on autopilot: every time users make a purchase, Acorns sends the change to their investing account.

Highlights: The app helps users create a strong habit of regular investments, focusing on long-term savings. They also partner with companies like Lyft and Airbnb to offer the cashback that automatically gets reinvested.

Pros:

  • support for Roth and traditional IRAs
  • only $5 to start investing
  • automatic investing

 Cons:

  • no tax strategy
  • not a huge portfolio mix
  • monthly portfolio management fee

TD Ameritrade

ameritrade logo

Founded: 1975

Description: Ameritrade has been on the market for over 4 decades and, therefore, represents one of the most established trading platforms. The company has several mobile trading apps and personal assistant-leveraging tools that make it easier for both novice and experienced traders to follow the market.

Highlights: Ameritrade is available on as many platforms as one could hope for, including two separate mobile trading applications, a smartwatch app, besides a desktop and a web application.

Pros:

  • free market research
  • great customer support
  • thinkorswim app for advanced traders

Cons:

  • high margin rates
  • high options commissions

Trading and Investment App Features

What features do customers expect from a decent trading app? There obviously needs to be something unique for them to switch gears or start their investment journey with your solution. Still, what is the bare minimum you need to spark their interest?

Authorization

To invest, you’ve got to let users in, right? The simplest thing to do is enable whatever bio authentication is supported by the smartphones you’re targeting: Fade ID, Touch ID, or their counterparts on Android phones.

robinhood sign-in screen

On the other hand, you’d also like to gather some user data to create their investor profile in the back end. That’s something that can help you devise the most efficient tactics for making them invest more, on a more regular basis, etc. One thing to do so is by analyzing their social profiles and allowing them to log in using their Facebook or other social media accounts.

Plaid API Integration

A crucial part of the onboarding process in an investment app is adding users’ bank accounts. You can do that by integrating with the Plaid API. The tool has already become a virtual means for securely connecting bank accounts with fintech apps.

Profile

The user profile is where we can always sweep all the secondary stuff that doesn’t have to be front and center all the time:

  • trading history
  • settings and subscriptions (if any)
  • help

Homescreen

Users need some sort of a home screen or a dashboard where they see the amount of money they’ve invested and whether their investments are growing or not.

fidelity trading app

That’s also where we can show them the stocks and other securities they own and their buying power, i.e., a money account to purchase stocks.

Robo-advisor

The simplest robo-advisors are simply surveys that use basic algorithms to identify the user’s investing profile and suggest the corresponding investment options. Some trading apps go as far as adding human advisors, but a mini robo-advisor will absolutely do at the start.

Trading

The focal point of any investment application is the ability to easily sell or buy a stock or other financial instruments. Users expect to see a line or candlestick chart for a given stock, read about the company, and see any additional relevant info. For example, in Robinhood, they show:

  • other stocks people often buy
  • company details
  • earnings
  • analyst ratings
  • news & research reports

That’s also where users might want to add a stop-loss price to automatically sell a stock when it reaches a certain price.

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Newsfeed and social feed

The newsfeed is where users digest news relevant to their stock choices. In addition, we can add a social feed with other users’ comments, investment portfolios, etc., effectively turning our trading app into a social investing experience.

etrade mobile trading app

Search and filters

Users need a robust and at the same time streamlined search tool for stocks and options. A decent search feature will take into account that the user may be looking for a stock by a company name, not necessarily by their symbol: Apple for AAPL.

Favorites and stock discovery pane

One other major section to foresee when we create a stock market app is analytics and grouping of stocks based on what’s trending, what’s most stable, etc. Users can easily add a stock to favorites and review it later.

Notifications

Most often, notifications in trading apps have to deal with tracking stock prices or fire off when a buy/sell order has been completed.

stock trading app development banner 2

Trading 101

Many modern investment apps choose to include educational resources right into the app. Newcomers may watch videos, read blogs, and even evaluate their learning with quizzes.

Extra nice-to-haves

Most of the trading apps didn’t have these features upon their initial launch, but you may still consider adding:

  • fractional shares
  • dividend reinvestment
  • retirement account
  • limit/stop/trailing stop orders
  • widgets for the home screen

Regulatory Compliance in Financial Services

To market an investment or trading mobile app, a company needs to register as a broker-dealer. Naturally, this comes with red tape related to regulatory compliance. If you are planning to allow your app users to invest in and trade stocks, you have to consider:

  • Know Your Customer (KYC)
  • Anti-Money Laundering (AML)
  • Customer Identification Programs (CIP)

Broker-dealers are regulated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and self-regulatory organizations, such as FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority).

finra and sec logos

Other self-regulated organizations include:

  • MSRB (Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board)
  • CBOE (Chicago Board Options Exchange)
  • NFA (National Futures Association)

So if these acronyms are not scary enough (although regardless of this fact, we recommend you get a lawyer before you get the ball rolling), let’s see what legal steps you’ll be taking to start your own trading platform. You’ll need to:

  • Register with the SEC
  • Become a member of FINRA
  • Become a member of Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC)
  • Comply with a state’s stock broker regulations

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. As you can see, there’s plenty of paperwork to take care of before you build a trading platform, or build any fintech app for that matter, and it becomes a reality for your customers.

Fortunately, these regulations-related matters can go in parallel with trading platform software development.

Develop a Trading Platform in 5 Easy Steps

Here’s a good reason why I’ve been calling the same thing an APP and a PLATFORM interchangeably: a trading app simply cannot exist on its own without a platform behind it.

investment or trading app development

Step 1: Platform vs. Mobile App

In this case, a platform is a piece of software running on the back end, aggregating stock market data along with user transactions and everything else that happens in the stock app.

Theoretically, you could build an investment app working directly with stock market data via APIs, but that’s akin to going into this with blinders on.

  • You will have to code the logic each time you need to cover a new platform (iOS, Android, iPadOS, etc.)
  •  Every time there’s an update, you’ll need to spend the same amount of time to update each platform
  • Testing a live environment will be a nightmare

So if you want to create an investing app, you should know that you’ll be working on an investing platform in effect.

Speaking of the platforms, iOS and Android seem like a no-brainer. Both platforms pretty much own the U.S. smartphone market:

iOS vs Android marketshare 2020 US

Step 2: Mobile-First Approach in Design

Since you’re building a mobile trading solution, it’s vital to wield the mobile-first design approach. This means the app’s UX/UI should address typical mobile user needs, e.g., micro-interactions, glimpse views, limited screen space, instead of trying to fit numerous features often found in web-based stock trading applications.

Even if your goal is to adjust your online trading platform for mobile, it’s crucial to keep the mobile-first design perspective in view.

We also always recommend doing a rapid prototype and then run a user testing session to discover how well the product serves its user. It’s often during rapid prototyping, which includes user testing, when we discover UX/UI gems that help to turn a mobile app into a 5-star experience.

For instance, do you know how many investing apps support the landscape mode for charts? And that’s just one example of using the right technology as a step towards a more engaging user experience.

Remember, there are people out there for whom your trading platform is just a market graph app. Therefore, you need to adjust the design and tech to work well for their purposes.

Step 3: Technical aspects: APIs, SDKs

The next big thing when you make trading software is to hook the app with a stock market data feed to get real-time stock quotes, indices, commodities, currencies, etc.

Some of the most popular stock market APIs include:

yahoo finance logo

Some APIs excel at serving real-time data, while others focus on crypto, exchange rates, and historical data. Here’s a decent list of trading APIs.

Some APIs, such as Finbox or Tradier, besides providing stock market feed, offer stock metrics and research functionality. Others, e.g., Alpaca, help trading startups by taking care of the banking (investment accounts) and regulatory complexity.

It goes without saying that trading APIs integration takes place during automated trading software development.

Step 4: Testing

It’s really hard to underestimate testing when you’re custom developing an app like Robinhood. Did you hear about those Robinhood outages throughout 2020? One of the main reasons was their back end (aka server infrastructure, aka platform) wasn’t ready for a flood of new users.

Financial technology doesn’t tolerate bugs because people can lose money. For instance, Robinhood had to compensate out of their own pocket to make peace with customers.

stock trading app development

Therefore, testing an app for UX and algorithm issues is one thing; and stress testing to identify the number of transactions your trading system can process per second is quite another.

To ensure the trades are error-free, you can use special tools like Sailfish, specifically designed for exchange, MTF, and broker systems testing.

Step 5: Maintenance

Final rounds of testing are always followed by a release, which is pretty basic compared to what you’ve already done. Apps are uploaded to the mobile stores and hooked with the production server environment.

That’s when the (hopefully) everlasting phase of stock trading app development takes place. From that moment onwards, you’ll need to keep your app up-to-date, for different reasons:

  • to weed out bugs caused by updates in third-party APIs
  • to beef up the app with new features
  • to support the latest features of new mobile OS versions

It should be noted that you should always have a test sandbox environment for testing purposes and a separate production environment.

mobile trading platform devops and testing

In this scenario, all new features and fixes make it to the app’s users only after thorough testing, without affecting real money.

One word of advice is to check with your development partner if they have established DevOps procedures. This helps with bringing the changes to users quicker and more consistently.

How Much Does Trading App Development Cost?

We can develop trading software on a lean budget of around $69,000 and then continue building it into a full-featured product, staying somewhere within the $199,000 region.

We know that you need to get buy-in from investors first. So we suggest doing a rapid prototype first. The initial cost is very flexible and is around $15,000-$20,000. You get an interactive clickthrough prototype that you can take to investors, already knowing what kind of user traction they can expect based on user testing. 

millions raised with Topflight developed apps

This is the secret sauce we used to help startups raise $165 million to date. It not only helps validate your idea from real users, but also helps reduce app development costs in the long run. We’ll be happy to share the knowledge with you, especially if your app idea is genuinely innovative. Book a call with our experts to learn more about rapid prototyping and how it can help you succeed.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to create a stock trading platform?

 Between 6 and 9 months.

Where do I get live data from a stock exchange for my trading app?

You can use special stock APIs like Yahoo Finance or Alpha Vantage.

What size of a team do I need to create a trading software?

While you can start with just a couple developers: one handling the back-end and the other working on the mobile app, to develop a full-blown app you’ll need a bigger team with UX, QA, and DevOps talent besides full-stack developers.

What is the most essential part of developing an investment app?

Ideally, you will have several development environments. The first one is a live production environment — the app your users download from the App Store and Google Play, and the back end powering the whole magic. The second is a test environment that replicates the live one but doesn’t deal with real money. Finally, there’s also a development environment where you build and run early tests.

What is the most obvious thing most trading app developers miss when they make automated trading software?

It’s funny how most of these apps don’t support the landscape mode.

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What sets apart a successful app from others
Konstantin Kalinin
Technical Copywriter
Konstantin has worked with mobile apps since 2005 (pre-iPhone era). Helping startups and Fortune 100 companies deliver innovative apps while wearing multiple hats (consultant, delivery director, mobile agency owner, and app analyst), Konstantin has developed a deep appreciation of mobile and web technologies. He’s happy to share his knowledge with Topflight partners.

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