This morning provided a sharp contrast between the decimation of full-service brokerages and the resilience of the discounters.

On the one hand, you have Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) posting abysmal results, weighed down by a $15.3 billion loss at its recently acquired Merrill Lynch albatross. Citigroup (NYSE:C) -- with its 49% stake in Morgan Stanley -- posted its fifth consecutive quarterly loss this morning.

The outlook is a lot rosier at Charles Schwab (NASDAQ:SCHW). The leading discount broker delivered fourth-quarter earnings of $0.27 a share, just ahead of the $0.26 a share that it had earned a year earlier. Revenue fell by 5% to $1.3 billion, but that's a forgivable dip compared to what industry investors are seeing elsewhere.

Schwab closed out the quarter with 5.2 million accounts, 3% ahead of where it was last year. The volume of net new accounts acquired during the period did drop from last year's pace, but it's easy to see why potential investors have been gun-shy lately.

"Investors needed a trusted ally more than ever during 2008 as they faced a faltering economy, 40% declines in the broad equity indices, and disarray across much of financial services," Chairman Charles Schwab notes, and it's harder to put it any better than that.

Discount brokers like Schwab, E*Trade (NASDAQ:ETFC), and TD AMERITRADE (NASDAQ:AMTD) -- along with its soon-to-be acquired thinkorswim Group (NASDAQ:SWIM) -- are survivors.

Conventional brokers have been hit from all over. Their investment banking business has dried up. Full-service brokerage clients are tired of overpaying for advice that likely led to losses last year. There are also the toxic investments that, save for E*Trade's unfortunate foray into mortgage lending, have spared the discounters.  

Naturally things will get harder for the discount brokers if investors ultimately lose faith in trading. However, until that happens, it's hard not to warm up to Scwhab, TD AMERITRADE, and E*Trade. The niche may not be the most happening of party places, but at least it didn't RSVP to the full-service calamity kegger.

In the market for a new discount broker? The way that rates and initial deposits are bouncing around, I can't say that I blame you. Check the sponsored broker comparison table in the Discount Broker Center to see if you can find the bargain-minded brokerage outfit that's right for you.

Bank of America is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick. Charles Schwab is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz believes in self-service gasoline pumps and self-service stock brokerages. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.