The global financial crisis and consolidation in the financial industry are helping TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. get new retirement business, an executive with the brokerage said.
"Given the turmoil, we have seen a tremendous influx of new accounts," said Diane Young, the Omaha company's director of retirement and goal planning. "More clients are coming to TD Ameritrade. We are not just talking trading, but net new assets are coming in the door."
These clients are leaving banks, other brokerage firms, and insurance companies for TD Ameritrade, Ms. Young said.
The company, which is partly owned by Toronto-Dominion Bank, is just starting to survey customers to find out specifically why it is getting this business, Ms. Young said. She would not say how many customers it has added, but she said the financial crisis is clearly a factor.
"It is not like we marketed and solicited these new customers," she said. "They found us on their own. At the moment it is clear that customers find this a safe place to be."
The consolidation in the financial industry over the past couple of months worries customers preparing for retirement, analysts say. Burton Greenwald of BJ Greenwald Associates in Philadelphia said most large brokerage companies, including TD Ameritrade and Charles Schwab Corp., have been able to sign up new customers simply by "remaining steady."
Geoffrey Bobroff, an analyst with Bobroff Consulting in East Greenwich, R.I., said he would be surprised if a lot of investors saving for retirement with a 401(k) plan are moving their assets around, because "most retirement plans are at the discretion of an employee and most people don't like to through the conversion from one provider to another." However, it is likely some trust customers and trading customers are moving around, he said.
"There is some shifting and some attrition that is natural when large institutions are bought and sold," Mr. Bobroff said. "We haven't seen the end of bank failures or bank consolidation so that means that this disruption isn't over. So, I think investors will look to align themselves with well-known financial institutions. Then again, I would've thought Wachovia was a well-known institution three months ago."
The economic turmoil could be causing some investors to stop saving for retirement, Mr. Bobroff said.
TD Ameritrade said in a survey it released Oct. 28 that only 54% of 1,005 people polled between Sept. 11 and Sept. 14 were investing in a retirement plan. About a third (34%) said they had less than $50,000 of investable assets, 21% had $500,000 or more, 17% had saved nothing, and 28% did not know or would not say.
"While most Americans are tightening their belts by cutting back on spending, reducing retirement plan contributions should always be the last resort, as the power of compounding quickly fades away as time passes," Ms. Young said.
Fifty percent of respondents to the survey, the first of a planned annual survey, said the financial strain of the economic downturn has forced them to stop or reduce their retirement savings contributions. The polling was conducted for TD Ameritrade by Opinion Research Corp.
Thirty-five percent said they had reduced their retirement plan contributions by some amount. Fourteen percent said it was by 5% to 20%, and 6% said it was by 21% or more.
Sixty-three percent said they had stopped contributing completely. Twenty-two percent in the 35-to-44 age bracket said they had stopped or reduced their retirement plan contributions, more than any other age group.
"This is alarming," Ms. Young said. "People are not saving enough for retirement and too many have opted to stop saving altogether. Hopefully, this is just a momentary lapse. Investors need to understand that markets go up and down and they have always recovered. Saving for retirement is all about fostering good long-term behavior."
To get customers to stay the course and continue to save for retirement, TD Ameritrade is staying in touch with clients by phone and e-mail, Ms. Young said. Analysts said most financial services companies are reaching out to their wealth management customers during the financial crisis.
Last month TD Ameritrade launched a marketing campaign to remind people "that we are here," Ms. Young said.
"We want customers to know that they can reach us via the Web, or through online chat capabilities, through our call centers, or through our 105 branches nationally," she said. "Customers feel the pinch right now, but they still need to focus on preparing for retirement."