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Let’s Talk About: The Race to the Bottom

We’ll see how quickly our competition cuts their rates to extend the benefit to their clients.

Commission rates on stock, ETFs, and options were cut to $0.00 by Schwab yesterday and quickly followed by the discount brokers. While the loss of revenue at the outset is less relevant to Schwab, in anticipation of this move they cut their workforce by 3%. While the discounters say that this is a commoditized product it will further erode their main profit centers of banking and investment management.

As an RIA we would always use the Schwab S&P 500 fund rather than the SPY ETF as the cost to purchase was $0.00, we’ll discontinue using that fund now that we can buy the ETF for 0.00. I’m sure other cost conscious managers will do the same as long as the fee to run the fund is comparable 80% of our equity exposure is in the S&P 500 so if it is thematic the hit will be much bigger.

Additionally a couple weeks ago Fidelity began paying Treasury Rates on their clients’ sweep funds. Schwab pays .28% or 28 basis points on sweep funds. This will cost Schwab at least 150 basis points of revenue when they follow suit. So as their revenues decline what’s that mean.

We chose Schwab in 2008 as it was my judgement they were the safest place to hold our clients’ money. I believe they still are and they don’t have the competitive Investment Bank competing with leverage, a key component of the collapse in 2008. (as an aside, the Volker rules have limited a lot of what I call other peoples money behavior).

The move to zero benefits our clients as we passed along Schwab’s fees so our clients see clearly what we charge and the additional fees they pay to Schwab (which in reality add up to less than $100/yr per client). We never “wrapped” our fee to cover Schwab’s charges. We’ll see how quickly our competition cuts their rates to extend the benefit to their clients.

Any questions please call me at 561 847-3596.

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