Every few years, we review commissions at the firms that we monitor. Given the recent elimination of the "Merrill Rule", it seemed an opportune time to revisit this issue since the default account that clients are being switched into (unless they specify otherwise) are standard commissionable brokerage account.Our latest Broker Monitor report shows some interesting trends when compared to our last review of the topic in 2003:
• For the most part, online commissions have trended lower. - probably no great surprise there. But... • Commission-Free Trades are starting to appear as customer loyalty programs. Three firms we track - BofA, Vanguard, and Wells Fargo - have launched such programs recently. While their qualifying criteria differ somewhat, the number of free trades range from 12 to 360 per year. • Full-service firms by and large don't publish their commission schedules (nor are they simply a matter of number of shares - in fact it often seems like the phases of the moon comes into play when calculating full service firm commissions). So, to test this, we asked our brokers what the commission would be for both a 100-share and a 500-share buy of Citigroup. We used Citigroup in 2003 as well, which luckily for us was trading at pretty much the same levels making comparisons easy. As it turns out, most of the wire-houses commissions for this particular trade were flat. One, however, was up 40% for the 100 share trade and up 24% for the 500 share trade. The regional firms were also up about 10% or so. The only firm whose commission for the trade we conducted was down significantly was Wachovia by 14% on the 100 share trade and 5% on the 500 share trade.