When E*TRADE Financial
Reigniting the broker wars
Back in July, it didn't look like E*TRADE would still be an independent entity by now. With hedge fund Citadel as a near-10% shareholder demanding that the company find a potential merger partner, it looked as though the broker would fulfill the long-held expectations of many shareholders and marry itself off to rival TD AMERITRADE
But yesterday, E*TRADE said that after its strategic review, it would best serve investors by remaining independent. Shareholders weren't happy about the move -- shares traded down nearly 5% after-hours following the announcement.
In order to thrive going forward, E*TRADE needs to get itself back in the game. And right now, there's no better way to jump on the bandwagon than for it to finally enter the broker wars and offer its customers a wide selection of ETFs at no commission.
Come on -- everyone's doing it!
The thing is that E*TRADE is one of the only brokers left that isn't giving its customers free access to ETFs. Schwab
Slowly but surely, other players fell into line, emphasizing their own particular strengths. Scottrade launched FocusShares ETFs based on indexes from Morningstar
For E*TRADE, the answer going forward is simple: Make a deal with State Street
Consider the impact that such an E*TRADE/State Street partnership would have on the financial industry. For E*TRADE, it would put an exclamation point on its decision to remain independent, making it clear that the company wants to do whatever it takes to compete. For State Street, it would reinvigorate the No. 2 ETF manager, lifting it back up against charging No. 3 player Vanguard and asserting its position against BlackRock as a top ETF industry player. And for customers, having SPDRs available at no commission would make it cheaper and easier to establish an ETF-based diversified portfolio -- and potentially draw new customers away from rivals.
Of course, ETFs alone won't save E*TRADE. With Schwab having recently completed its acquisition of optionsXpress, growth at all costs seems to be the rule of the day. And in a highly competitive industry, having a good selection of popular exchange-traded funds is increasingly a necessity to be considered a serious contender -- and to attract assets from high-frequency traders who are most likely to generate commissions in other areas of the business.
E*TRADE says it has a perfectly good plan going forward. Until that plan includes commission-free ETFs, however, I don't think it will succeed over the long haul.
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