Subject: Advice - Using a Full-Service Broker

Last-Revised: 23 Mar 1998
Contributed-By: Bill Rini, Chris Lott (contact me)

There are several reasons to choose a full-service broker over a discount or web broker. People use a full-service broker because they may not want to do their own research, because they are only interested in long-term investing, because they like to hear the broker's investment ideas, etc. But another important reason is that not everybody likes to trade. I may want retirement planning services from my broker. I may want to buy 3 or 4 mutual funds and have my broker worry about them. If my broker is a financial planner, perhaps I want tax or estate advice on certain investment options. Maybe I'm saving for my newborn child's education but I have no idea or desire to work out a plan to make sure the money is there when she or he needs it.

A huge reason to stick with a full-service broker is access to initial public offerings (IPOs). These are generally reserved for the very best clients, where best is defined as "someone who generates lots of revenue," so someone who trades just a few times a year doesn't have a chance. But if you can afford to trade frequently at the full-service commission rates, you may be favored with access to some great IPOs.

And the real big one for a lot of people is quite simply time.

Full service brokerage clients also tend to be higher net worth individuals as well. If I'm a doctor or lawyer, I can probably make more money by focusing on my business than spending it researching stocks. For many people today, time is a more valuable commodity than money. In fact, it doesn't even have to do with how wealthy you are. Americans, in general, work some pretty insane hours. Spending time researching stocks or staying up on the market is quality time not spent with family, friends, or doing things that they enjoy. On the other hand some people enjoy the market and for those people there are discount brokers.

The one thing that sort of scares me about the difference between full service and discount brokers is that a pretty good chunk of discount brokerage firm clients are not that educated about investing. They look at a $20 commission (discount broker) and a $50 commission (full service broker) and they decide they can't afford to invest with a full service broker. Instead they plow their life savings into some wonder stock they heard about from a friend (hey, it's only a $20 commission, why not?) and lose a few hundred or thousand bucks when the investment goes south. Not that a broker is going to pick winners 100% of the time but at least the broker can guide or mentor a beginning investor until they learn enough to know what to look for and what not to look for in a stock. I look at the $30 difference in what the two types of brokerage firms charge as the rebate for education and doing my own research. If you're not going to educate yourself or do your own research, you don't deserve the rebate.

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