Natalie Monko Lead Project Manager

    How to Create an Investing App: What You Need to Know

    As technology evolves and pandemic forces businesses to switch operations into online mode, the fintech industry is flourishing. To have all financial options in the palm of your hand on a mobile phone has become a new norm. Since more than half of Americans invest in the stock market, and almost 15% own cryptocurrency, easy investing apps are naturally in demand — people want a convenient solution to buy and sell stocks, exchange currency and build their passive income. So why not bring it to them?

    Today, the development of an investing app has a great potential of making a profitable business: you can monetize the app by commissions on trading, premium advisor features and money management, and even (who knows, right?) sell it to a big financial corporation. We at Surf have created apps for banks and crypto exchanges and know how to build a stock trading app and other fintech projects first hand. In the article, we’ll explore how an investing app works, what features it needs and how much money and time it takes to build one.

    Top investment apps in 2021

    Before starting any enterprise, it pays off to know your rivals. In our case, we’re talking about other apps to invest money. Let’s take a look at the best investment apps out there.


    Robinhood app is widely used by beginners and experienced traders as well. The app lets you invest in stocks, options, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and crypto. Convenient real-time charts make it a suitable option for active day trading. Because Robinhood makes money on rebates from market makers and trading venues, along with fees on money management and premium features, the app has a $0 trading commission. Along with a variety of investment instruments, Robinhood can manage your bills and paychecks and offers interest on uninvested cash. Is Robinhood a good investment app? Absolutely. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have 18 million clients. But, if asked “What’s the best investing app?” we wouldn’t name it  — there are constant lawsuits and controversies around the company, meaning there is plenty of room for improvement.

    Robinhood app mockup


    With Acorns app you can set up an automatic investment of your spare change and free funds into a diversified portfolio. The app has a clean and user-friendly interface, suitable for people who don’t want to spend time learning the ropes of investment and follow daily stock market news. The app monthly fee ranges from $1 to $5 depending on the type of account.

    Acorns app mockup


    The Betterment app belongs to a category of robo-advisor investing apps. With the help of AI algorithms, the app automates the investment process by doing portfolio rebalancing and reinvesting dividends. A feature called Socially Responsible Investing lets customers invest in instruments that have a positive impact on climate change and other global problems. In addition, the Betterment app helps users track their finances, serving as a budget app, and optimizes tax strategies. The app deducts a single annual fee of 0.25% of the funds invested.

    Betterment app mockup


    Stockpile is another commission-free investing app that provides a fractional investment option that lets users buy a part of a single share, making even expensive instruments available to everyone. The app doesn’t support margin trading or real-time trading and is focused on long-term investors. Another Stockpile’s cool feature is gift cards that can be redeemed for stock — a smart option of a birthday present to children.

    Stockpile app mockup

    How an investing app works

    Now, let’s see what a potential user is going to do in our app, and what functionality it needs to have.

    Login and profiling

    When the user begins using the investing app, they are likely to have registered and opened an account with the brokerage firm (in person or via website) and has login & password beforehand. However, as banks and exchanges adopt a mobile-first approach, your customers should have an easy option of signing up and creating an account right in the app. This process can be sped up by offering sign-up via social networks and integration of OCR (optical character recognition) systems — a new client just directs their camera at their documents and the app automatically inputs the data. It is also important to integrate Touch and Face ID features: an investing app has a lot of sensitive financial data, but nobody wants to enter a pin every time they open it to check the stock market.

    After the initial sign-up, the app should learn more about the user to offer personalized investment solutions and tailor the user experience. This can be done by asking the customer to complete a short questionnaire: what are their financial goals and investing experience, expected yearly return, how much risk they are willing to take and how much funds to invest.

    Making investments

    After setting up the profile and transferring funds to the trading account, the user will naturally want to start buying investment instruments. How this will look depends highly on who’s our audience. If, like Acorns or Stockpile, your app caters to long-term investors with little to no experience, the screen can be divided into a sort of cards, each of them offering a particular investment strategy with expected risk and returns. 

    On the other hand, if the app focuses on active investors, your app should include real-time trading charts with an intuitive interface to quickly place buy and sell orders. To attract experienced traders, do not forget to include different types of orders, such as stop-loss and trailing stop.

    Making investments in Robinhood app

    Recommendations and notifications

    Based on the user’s profile, the app can prioritize particular instruments and adjust the user interface. For example, if a customer is not interested in crypto trading, this option can be hidden from the main screen. For a more elaborate approach, the investing app can have an integrated robo-advisor — an AI algorithm that analyzes how customers use the app and suggests new ways to earn money, based on their available funds and risk tolerance. 

    It is important to keep investors in the loop by providing market news feed in the form of stories and more in-depth analytical articles. The most significant news, related to the stocks owned by a customer, should be delivered via push notifications. All in all, the amount of news and notifications should correspond to the user’s activity — long-term investors and infrequent traders require far less market news to make informed decisions. 

    Detailed analytics

    No matter the level of experience, every investor wants to see clearly how much they gained and how much they lost. The key takeaway here — do not scrimp on the UX/UI design of an investing app. If users have a hard time understanding how much money they’ve made using your app, this can easily lead them to switch to another service. An investing app should provide analytics in the forms of easily-read charts and diagrams with options to compare dynamics during different periods and with different instruments. 

    Also, don’t forget to implement a dark mode — users often trade in foreign markets and have spare time to reflect on their financial situation in the evening. When developing an app for Twim crypto exchange, Surf designed a color scheme of dark gray background and fonts in bright orange and shades of white to make it less stressful for eyes at night and do not hamper the secretion of the ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin.

    Twim app mockup

    Customer-oriented support

    Because not everyone is a guru in finance, that doesn’t mean they can’t be investors. To help customers with arising questions your app should be able to provide quick support. This can be done by an extensive FAQ section with easy navigation together with real-time chat support. The first line support can be handled by a chatbot, but your users should have no problem connecting with a human in case of an uncommon request.

    Also, because many investors trade on foreign markets, there should be an easy-to-use section where users can download tax reports and other documents, which might be required for financial institutions. For example, when Surf developed a corporate banking app for Rosbank (part of Société Générale group), we created a ‘repeat’ feature that allows users to create documents from existing templates in just three clicks.

    Important features

    To build a successful investing app in 2021 consider implementing the following features.

    Portfolio categorization

    Offer your customers a way to divide their investments into categories. For example, a typical user might have the majority of their long-term low-risk assets put under a ‘Retirement’ category, while the rest of the assets can be divided between ‘Savings for a new car’ and  ‘Speculative high-risk’ purchases. Categorization eases money management and lets track the performance of each part of the portfolio separately.

    Financial education and robo-advisors

    An investing app that provides knowledge to its users has inevitably more value than an app that only allows you to purchase and sell. Consider adding lessons on financial literacy in the forms of interactive articles or short videos for beginners, along with an AI-powered advisor that helps make the right decisions by quickly providing necessary analytics.

    Automated & regular investing

    For long-term and less experienced investors an option to have some of their funds invested regularly into ETFs and other relatively safe and diversified instruments might be very appealing. A user sets the desired amount of regular investments, an expected returns and risk levels, and the app purchases the suitable assets automatically. 

    Regulatory Compliance

    Building a fintech app comes with plenty of red tape. To operate legally in any country, your business should be licensed for brokerage services with the local government authorities. If you plan to launch in the US, you’ll need to register the app with the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission), become a member of FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) and SIPC (Securities Investor Protection Corporation), while the app should meet KYC (Know Your Customer and AML (Anti Money Laundering) standards. These requirements vary from country to country and even from one state to another. So, even if you’re not new to the brokerage market, we’ll recommend getting lawyers on board to help with the paperwork.

    Investing app development roadmap and costs

    The process of stock trading app development, as well as the development of any other mobile app, can be divided into four main stages. Each of them has different goals and involves different team members. Let’s take a look at them.

    Discovery stage

    The initial stage is focused on analyzing the market and competitors, as well as defining the app’s features and user flows. The largest part of the work during this stage is done by business analysts and a project manager.

    Design stage

    When you have a clear vision of your app concept, it is time to call in the design team to build the app’s mock-ups and prototypes. After testing and gathering the feedback from focus groups, designers refine and improve the app’s user interface.

    Development stage 

    This phase is mainly focused on the developers: they write code for the app, and in the end, you have a working app prototype but with limited functionality.

    Test & improvement stage

    Having an MVP on hand, developers and QA engineers continue to test and improve the app’s performance and features, gradually rolling out all functions according to their level of priority. The result of this stage is a fully functional app that gets publicly released in stores.

    To learn more about what specialists you’ll need to develop an app, check our article on app development team roles & responsibilities.

    Time & costs

    The final price of your investing app will depend on the available features, their complexity, supported platforms and other factors. Generally, building a native app for investment might take 6 to 10 months, which amounts to roughly 3000 hours. If you hire a US-based development team with a $100 hourly rate, this will set you back $300,000. The right move will be to look for development teams offshore, in Western Europe or Asia, where hourly rates of high-quality programmers vary from $20 to $40. Outsourcing developers from these regions will make the same app cost only $100,000. Learn more about the best locations to hire IT talent in our detailed article.

    Another way to drive down the costs is choosing a cross-platform framework that allows building both iOS and Android apps from one set of code. As an example, when Surf developed apps for the Rigla pharmaceutical chain, we managed to save 40% of the client’s initial budget by using Flutter cross-platform technology instead of native development.

    If you want to learn more about what affects the price of building an app, see our article “Mobile App Development: How Much Does It Cost?


    Since more and more people come to the stock market and consider investments into cryptocurrencies, developing investment apps in 2021 is a good prospect for building a successful business. Start by defining your typical customers: whether they will be experienced day-traders, casual investors, or a broader segment of people with various levels of income and goals. Then shape your future app according to your users’ needs and include relevant features along with proven security measures.

    The success of such an enterprise is largely defined by the quality of the development process — technical issues in apps for investing in stocks come at an extra cost: it is not uncommon for users to file complaints and demand compensation if they had trouble selling an asset because of a frozen app. So, it is better to choose developers with a proven track record and relevant experience. Surf has been developing mobile apps for almost a decade, using both native and cross-platform technologies, and we have created fintech apps for banks and other financial organizations. Feel free to discuss your project with us — just fill this short form, and we’ll get in touch soon.