Boom! Did you hear that, Fools? And you thought the era of the dot-bomb was over.
Last week, budget-minded stock traders were stunned to receive this falsely happy-sounding announcement in their email inboxes: "Your Freetrade account is moving to Ameritrade Izone!" But exclamation point or no, this was not good news.
After several years of offering investors the improbably great deal of making as many as 20 (20?!) trades a month fully commission-free, the economics of the deal finally caught up to the Ameritrade
So effective at the end of business April 29, Freetrade will be no more. It's shutting the doors, closing up shop, putting a "next teller, please" sign in the window. It's also addressing a question that fellow Fool Rick Munarriz posed in January. Back then, Ameritrade had just announced a new variation on the basic discount broker theme, a "super-discount broker" subsidiary called Izone. Izone was initially planned as a 12-week-long pilot project, to see if Ameritrade could successfully lure clients away from competitors such as Schwab
While the jury's still out on that question, Ameritrade has at least addressed the concern in part. Whatever commission revenue the company loses from clients downgrading from Ameritrade proper to Izone may well be made up from the other clients upgrading (albeit involuntarily) from Freetrade to Izone.
I guess it's worth a try. But the company is also taking a risk here. Judging from reactions to Freetrade's announcement on our own Foolish HG: Choosing a Broker board, many soon-to-be-ex-Freetraders view the change as little more than a "bait and switch." Worse for Ameritrade, they're talking about abandoning that company altogether and moving their accounts to brokers that are just as, or nearly as, cheap as Izone. For example, Bank of Montreal's
That's not, one would imagine, the reaction that Ameritrade was hoping for. And it suggests that the Freetrade experiment may turn out to be a dot-bomb in more ways than one.
Read more about the Izone project in:
Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in any of the companies mentioned here. Caveats: He does maintain brokerage accounts with Ameritrade and Freetrade.com (apparently not for long).