As president of Wall Street online brokerage BuyandHold Inc., Michael D. Macleod has a lofty goal: to change the way the stock transfer industry operates.
Mr. Macleod hopes to do that by tapping into banks' corporate clients - and, in turn, their investors - with programs BuyandHold is marketing to financial institutions. The brokerage has a "shareholder conversion" program aimed at persuading investors to transfer their stock certificates from banks into a BuyandHold account.
Mr. Macleod said the program is unique to BuyandHold and was one of the reasons he and two partners started the company in 1998.
There are 64 million registered shareholders in the United States, he said, and many of them acquire stock certificates "by accident," through corporate restructuring or job changes. Often, he said, those people do not know what to do with their stock certificates and leave them sitting in the bank, which acts as the stock transfer agent and administers accounts.
"We're here to change all that," he said. "This was a market no one was looking at."
With permission from banks' corporate clients, BuyandHold will mail investors information that helps them transfer their accounts to the brokerage, which offers $9.99 unlimited monthly trading and $1.99 automatic trades. Certificates from various financial institutions acting as stock transfer agents can be consolidated into one account, and BuyandHold will reinvest dividends at no cost.
The arrangement, he said, makes banks look good by saving their corporate clients about $12 per account annually in stock transfer agent fees. In turn, the banks are relieved of the tasks required of agents, such as answering customer service calls, providing monthly statements, and replacing lost stock certificates.
The brokerage recently struck partnerships with Citibank and First Union Corp., and on Jan. 22 announced its biggest coup yet, an alliance with Bank of New York. With more than 1,750 corporate clients and 14 million shareholders worldwide, the bank is among the world's largest transfer agents.
Eric Kamback, Bank of New York's senior vice president and stock transfer division head, said that while the partnership with BuyandHold may cut down on administrative tasks, the major advantage is the ability to offer clients more services. "Stock transfer has always been competitive, so we're trying to come up with innovative ways to offer additional flexibility," he said.
BuyandHold, which opened its Web site in November 1999 and now has nearly 200,000 customer accounts, wants to attract long-term investors. But Jim Marks, director of equity research at Credit Suisse First Boston, said the company could draw only "a niche market, at best."
"The mechanisms aren't that difficult for moving those certificates, so there's a reason they're where they are," Mr. Marks said. "People are probably not going to be very receptive to messages bugging them about what they're doing with those certificates."
But Matt Carrick, a research analyst at Gomez Advisors, said BuyandHold's approach is timely.
"Given the market's recent downturn, they should show some success in trying to attract the more wary or mainstream investor who's just looking to begin investing," he said. "It's looked at as a longer-term, more systematic, safe approach."