Fidelity Investments and American Express Financial Direct are the latest brokerages offering free trades to attract new customers, but they are trolling for very different kinds.
The freebies are for opening a Fidelity account with at least $100,000 or an American Express account with just $2,000.
Stephen A. Cone, president of Fidelity customer marketing and development, said the company's Spartan Brokerage program is for people who trade more than 36 times a year.
In fact, "some of them trade 36 times a day," he said, and many tend toward "esoteric trading"-in options and other exotic securities as well as stocks and bonds.
Fidelity, which is based in Boston, announced Monday that anyone opening a Spartan account by the end of the year would get five free trades. The minimum fee for a Spartan trade is otherwise $14.95, for an Internet trade.
The program is being advertised in financial publications such as The Wall Street Journal and Investors Business Daily but will also be marketed to existing Fidelity customers who qualify, Mr. Cone said. He hopes to double the roster of Spartan customers, of whom there are fewer than 100,000, he said.
The American Express offer, first made last month, is for two free trades. No expiration date has been set. The company's lowest trading fee is $24.95, for an Internet trade, said Brian Kleinberg, an executive vice president with the Minneapolis company.
The program is being marketed through direct mail and World Wide Web advertising as well as in American Express brochures available in stores and restaurants.
The moves by Fidelity and American Express are typical copycatting of more aggressive firms, said Bill Burnham, an equity analyst with Credit Suisse First Boston Corp. in San Francisco.
Free stock trades are more likely to appeal to small investors who are "on the fence" than to bigger ones like those Fidelity is targeting, said Timothy M. Klein, an equity analyst with Piper Jaffray Inc., Minneapolis. Active investors are likely to trade no matter what, Mr. Klein said.
Ameritrade Inc. offered a limited free-trading program last year. E- Trade Group has done the same, industry observers said.
For several years Quick & Reilly, now Fleet Financial Group's discount brokerage, has offered coupons cutting the cost of trades, a spokeswoman said. New customers get a coupon that offers 25% off one trade. Customers who refer new investors get three such coupons. Discounts are also offered to brokerage customers who have credit cards through Quick & Reilly.