As full-service brokers step into the world of online investing, the Web discount brokers are in turn breaking ground for branches and offering investors an offline alternative.
CSFBdirect, the mostly electronic brokerage arm of the New York investment banking firm Credit Suisse First Boston, today will open an office in midtown Manhattan, its second brick-and-mortar branch in this country.
Blake Darcy, the online units chief executive, said it plans to open as many as 20 sites this year, including branches in Chicago, Atlanta, and Philadelphia next quarter.
CSFBdirect will monitor the success of the branches it opens this year and could eventually have 100 physical sites nationwide, Mr. Darcy said.
The brokerages first branch, in Boca Raton, Fla., was opened last year, when the firm was known as DLJdirect. (Its parent, Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Inc., was bought by Credit Suisse Group in November.)
The strategy is simple, according to Mr. Darcy: The needs of the high-net-worth investors CSFBdirect targets, those with $100,000 or more to invest, are changing. The way we see the market increasingly is that individuals are going to want a physical presence, he said.
And though CSFBdirect is not motivated by market volatility, investors require more handholding than usual during turbulent market periods, Mr. Darcy said.
At the companys 300 Park Ave. office in Manhattan just down the street from a Salomon Smith Barney office customers will get that kind of support initially from a team of six investment professionals, he said.
Though competitors like Charles Schwab & Co. of San Francisco credit their branches with bringing in 70% of new business and 50% of total assets, Mr. Darcy said CSFBdirects new branch will encourage existing customers to invest more through the company.
Our existing customers tend to put in more assets if they see were close by, he said.
Discount brokers have increasingly embraced a more hybrid approach to asset gathering after some originally shunned an offline presence in favor of dealing with customers over the phone or on the Internet.
Founded in 1971, Schwab has 357 U.S. branches. Even E-Trade Group, the Menlo Park, Calif., discount broker that originally pooh-poohed a branch presence, now has two branches, one in a SuperTarget store outside Roswell, Ga., and one that opened for business last week in New York but is scheduled to be officially opened April 1, a company spokeswoman said.
E-Trade, which now has a network of 10,000 automated teller machines nationwide, also plans to open branches in another 20 Target stores.
Were basically an electronic company, but we want to offer customers an alternative, the spokeswoman said.
Richard Repetto, an equity analyst at Putnam Lovell Securities in New York, said E-Trades New York office at Madison Avenue and 55th Street, presents quite a spectacle.
The three-level office has 56 terminals for day traders on the ground floor, a lounge for Club-E-Trade investors those with more than $100,000 to invest a hip cafe, a souvenir store, and black-clad employees, Mr. Repetto said.
It really challenges your perception of what a broker branch location should look like, he said.
By contrast, CSFBdirects new branch is more what you would expect of a traditional branch targeting high-net-worth investors, Mr. Repetto said. E-Trade is a lot more showy than CSFB. Its very much over the top.