The full-service brokerage house Edward Jones & Co. is taking a step into the on-line world and plans to introduce banking services through the Internet by yearend.
However, despite the fact that the majority of its competitors - including the much larger Merrill Lynch & Co. and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. - have launched on-line trading platforms, the St. Louis company has no plans to do so this year.
"We don't think that on-line trading is the primary Internet strategy that makes sense for our customers. We are making a conscious tradeoff and realize that we can't be all things to all people," said Eric Steinhouse, a principal who is in charge of marketing.
Unlike most full-service brokerages, Edward Jones, which manages $228 million of assets, is focusing its efforts on maintaining a full-service approach, running a commission-based business, and promoting individual guidance from advisers. The company's client base is primarily made up of retired people and small-business owners in rural communities and suburbs, whom it does not see as wanting or needing on-line brokerage services.
"We are focusing on other initiatives, like on-line banking, providing increased research and information, and really focusing on our investment reps, who are the core of our business strategy," Mr. Steinhouse said.
Edward Jones' move into on-line banking may be an attempt to attract customers away from banks, which, like the brokerage, often target conservative customers and smaller communities, noted Ron Shevlin, director of on-line financial services at Forrester Research of Cambridge, Mass.
"The banks and brokers are all competing for the same funds right now. Checking accounts are sort of the pools that feed the money into the brokerage accounts." But, if that is the case, the brokerage is taking the wrong approach, Mr. Shevlin added. "The clientele that they are targeting do not bank on-line."
Edward Jones' decision to not offer on-line trading is in line with its unusual business approach, analysts noted. The company accepts brokers with no experience and, after extensive training, plants them in small communities across the United States, monitoring their activities closely. Edward Jones brokers are encouraged to become active members of the communities in which they work, and their sales efforts are based around personal contact.
The average holding period for a customer's mutual fund account is 15 to 20 years at Edward Jones, which is "well above average," according to John Payne, a consultant with Cerulli Associates, a Boston research firm. The brokerage has about 4,600 satellite-linked offices in the United States, Canada, and most recently, the United Kingdom, which are predominantly single-broker offices. Last month the company announced plans to more than double the number of its offices, to 10,000, over the next four years.
Edward Jones may be shooting itself in the foot by offering on-line banking without on-line trading, said John Payne, a consultant with Cerulli.
"Out of all of the leading brokerage houses, Edward Jones has been the slowest to incorporate the Internet into its business practice," he said. "It feels a bit incongruous to me to offer on-line banking without offering on-line brokerage capabilities, but maybe this is their first step to understanding the technology before integrating it full-scale."
Providing customers with the ability to move money from their brokerage to bank accounts on-line will not be a truly valuable tool unless Edward Jones provides real-time access to account information, the consultant said. Currently, investors can access updated account information only at the end of the day. "If customers are going to move money back and forth from their on-line brokerage accounts to their on-line banking accounts, they are going to want real-time access" instead of settlement at the end of the day, Mr. Payne said.
Mr. Steinhouse said Edward Jones does not plan to offer real-time account access. "Our investment philosophy really is a long-term buy-and-hold strategy, and we think providing information on a daily basis is more than sufficient to let customers know where they stand," he said.