When you sign up for a brokerage account with one of the big firms, you will have access to everything that is exchange traded in your trading platform. We usually think of these as stocks, but many other financial instruments are exchange-traded. You will also have access to buy a wealth of financial products from your broker, usually through the main website. Most brokerages are one-stop shopping these days. You can even buy CDs, so no going to the bank. There are also exotic instruments, some of which are excellent investments and some are lottery tickets. Don’t mess around with this stuff without doing your homework and knowing exactly what you are doing.
From a technical perspective, there are many stock exchanges, and still other types of exchanges for commodities, options, and other instruments. You may want to read up on these as part of becoming a well-informed investor, but in practice, they are irrelevant. If you put in an order, your brokerage’s computers will find the investment you want to buy and connect to the proper exchange, buy the security, and deposit it into your account. All this happens in fractions of a second and all you know is that you a new stock pops up on your screen. There used to be an art to the practical side of trading, but computers and networks have made it so easy anybody that can read can trade.
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