Thursday's deal between U.S. Trust Corp. and Charles Schwab Corp. could usher in the next wave of consolidation in financial services, but its real significance may be that it highlights the muscle that on-line brokerages have amassed.

In just a few short years, new-era Internet companies have evolved from potential takeover targets to buyers of powerhouses of the old economy, as evidenced by this week's blockbuster media deal between America Online and Time Warner Inc. Schwab's plan to purchase U.S. Trust shows that the shift is also evident in financial services.

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