Remember back in the go-go late '90s when everyone was a stock-picking genius? Boy, those were the days, weren't they?

Even the financial industry's commercials were great. Rather than snoozathons about, ahem, "the right way to invest," we all got treated to some guy on a stretcher being wheeled into surgery because he had -- and I quote -- "money coming out the wazoo."

That knee-slapper came courtesy of E*Trade (NYSE:ET), which has lately become more serious about efforts to acquire its Omaha-based rival, Ameritrade (NASDAQ:AMTD).

Indeed, yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported that, in order to head off Toronto-Dominion Bank's (NYSE:TD) TD Waterhouse unit at the negotiating pass, E*Trade upped its offer by a cool half billion (for a total of $2 billion) and an increased equity stake in the resulting company. 49.5% is now reportedly that magic number.

All of which should lead individual investors -- at least those who don't currently own any of the aforementioned -- to this conclusion: Big whoop.

Yes, indeed. As my colleague Seth Jayson recently pointed out, Ameritrade must feel like the belle of the brokerage ball right now. But there's good reason it's clobbering, I mean consolidating, time in the company's industry.

At Ameritrade, for example, commissions are down over the last two quarters because of lower trading volume-- not exactly a confidence-inspiring trend in the notoriously volatile brokerage biz. Revenue per trade is on the decline at E*Trade, too, though that company has admittedly done a decent job of -- as the pros like to say -- "extending its brand" into such areas as mutual funds, banking, and mortgage lending.

Still, no matter how efficiently managed these businesses are -- and both deserve credit for making a virtue of that necessity -- their fortunes remain subject to the whims of investors who, when the going gets tough, have a habit of taking their proverbial football and going home.

With that in mind, it's best to watch this one from the sidelines.

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Shannon Zimmerman has an Ameritrade account, but he doesn't own any of the securities mentioned. The Fool's disclosure policy is available here.