Thousands of wirehouse clients are still paying full-service commissions on securities transactions, making them the most vulnerable to the trend toward do-it-yourself investing through web-based investment services.
As a result, Wells Fargo and Bank of America have made significant investments in online platforms designed to accommodate the do-it-yourself investor.
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Many of those investors use competitor discount brokers like Charles Schwab & Co. Inc., Fidelity Investments, or TD Ameritrade Inc.
Such competitors are moving toward cheaper and more powerful web-based investor tools.
Bank of America is moving ahead through its Merrill Edge platform and Wells Fargo with its WellsTrade platform in taking bigger steps toward offering an online trading platform.
Morgan Stanley and UBS AG have made improvements in their offerings but they have not yet offered a separate low-cost service for self-directed clients.
The majority of investors have traditional accounts but as much as 70%
also have self-directed accounts.
Defining mass affluent as investors with between $50 million and $225 million in assets, Merrill Edge focuses on attracting those clients and offering the services of a financial advisor as their needs grow more complex.
The quality of these sites will only improve as more tools and content are added. Whether the sites will be a drain on the advisory channel remains to be seen.