T7 Wealth Creators
T7 Wealth Creators

ZERODHA - The Cost, Tech & Nudges

In India, the flat fee model was introduced by Reliance Money in 2007 and they used to charge few paise flat brokerage. But they didn't gather much steam especially as the economic meltdown of 2008 hit the world. Zerodha took a cue from them and charged a flat fee of Rs.20 per order. This was much higher than Reliance Money but was way lower than the other brokers. It was good enough to create a pricing disruption in the % based stock broking industry without compromising on profitability and sustainability. As other brokers scrambled for existence and new ones popped up the market saw several competitors going low and flat with cost. Then Zerodha came with the big tech disruption on the broking space with products like Kite, Console, Coin etc that fueled further growth which accelerated with AADHAR enabled online onboarding. They also have been disseminating knowledge about financial markets via Z-Connect, Varsity and Trading QnA which has added to their mass market appeal. The latest on their scheme of things is to nudge customers away to avoid money mistakes. 

Is Zerodha the best broker ? Is Zerodha that can give you the best trade off between cost, product experience, support, execution freedom & reliability we take a look. 

    • Cost - They are not the cheapest when it comes to brokerage. They have zero brokerage on equity delivery and mutual fund transactions. But they charge Rs.20 for Intraday, F&O trades. Their API charges are exorbitant at Rs.4000 / month if a customer subscribes for both historical data APIs and execution APIs. The cheapest currently in India is Finvasia which offers all of these free of cost. 
    • Product Experience - Their front end Kite has fallen behind the offerings by peers in terms of features. Dhan currently offers the best front end experience. However,  Zerodha Console is the best back office interface currently in the market. But other brokers are catching up fast. Zerodha adopted brokerage as a service business model a bit into their journey. In the process, features that traders want and are available with other broker apps has been off loaded to apps of associated business entities like Sensibull. A prime example would be a full blown option chain that is not natively available in Kite. One has to go to Sensibull app to access this. 
    • Execution Reliability -  Zerodha faced a massive upsurge of customers since the demonetization drive of Indian government. It took a toll on their infrastructure and outages were reported several times in the past. But they have learned from the mistakes and made their infrastructure much more robust and reliable. The peak wave of new customers during the COVID lockdown tested their infrastructure massively but it handled the peak loads well. None of the stock brokers in India seems to have been tested like Zerodha and hence it has the upper hand in the execution reliability parameter. If you are interested you can read about the Zerodha technology here.
    • Execution Freedom - Nudging customers away from what Zerodha sees as a mistake is a big hindrance in the freedom to execute. Good intentions or not the fact is that certain nudges are bad for the customer. For instance as per current margin rules it is possible to get margin benefit if you first buy an option and then sell another option. However Zerodha doesn't allow to buy deep OTM options first. A customer is thus deprived of margin benefit at the time of order placement. By naked option buying at far OTMs the risk to the broker and the customer is only a small premium amount. By naked option selling there is unlimited risk to both the customer and the broker. Yet naked far OTM option selling is allowed and buying is not allowed. We think this is really weird from Zerodha and it is going to hurt them badly with active traders preferring to nest with stock brokers that allow execution freedom. 
    • Support - It can certainly be way better and is not he best in the Indian broking space. Yes Zerodha CEO does reply on Trading QnA and share information. But bugs, feature requests all take a lot of time to get fixed and implemented. Replies are sometimes vague and not to the point of concern. For the kind of revenue that Zerodha makes they can certainly improve on the support aspect. Dhan & Finvasia undoubtedly has much better support services and trumps Zerodha hands down on this aspect. 
    • Community - While Zerodha says it is free and open it is a Zerodha tilted one where they promote themselves alone. A broker is a critical part of retail trading experience. So a free and open forum will and should have discussions on other brokers as well. However this is not tolerated by moderators especially discussions on those who bring in features fast and run their own inhouse OMS / RMS like DhanZerodha moderators also actively engage in hiding, unlisitng, deleting post which shows the other not so nice sides of Zerodha. They also muffle users who point out bluntly what they lack. Broker promoted forums like those run by Zerodha are likely to go down this path and hence we run our own free and open active trader community to engage in and promote free and open discussion around trading in Indian Stock Market. 
    • Glitches and Refund - Tech glitches tend to happen with any broker. Zerodha also had and may have tech glitches in the future. But even with the kind of money they make as profit they don't seem willing most of the time to refund the customer, who lost money for no fault of his / her. This at a time when brokers like Dhan are actively taking responsibility and demonstrating accountability for tech glitches by issuing refunds and compensation to customers for tech glitches at their end. 

Zerodha has the largest number of active retail clients now. It has its nose slightly ahead if we weigh all the factors in. But other stock brokers are rapidly bridging the tech gap and beating them on price, tech, customer support etc. In this tight rope walk in an industry with wafer thin margin, it would be interesting to see if Zerodha innovates and stands for the customer or choose to nudge away customers to other stock brokers. Also "everything is done for the customer" punch line that they seem to use often doesn't sync well with actions on the ground when they don't provide a good customer support and take a stand against issuing refunds to customers.