If you’ve been paying attention to financial headlines or the brokerage industry at all, you may know that competitive pressures have been heating up recently. Last year Charles Schwab announced it was reducing commission rates for stock trades to $0, hoping to capture market share and thwart momentum from upstart firms like Robinhood. Oh, and once the pressure on competitors began to sink in, Schwab purchased TD Ameritrade.
Since then more chips have begun to fall. Vanguard and Fidelity both decided to follow suit and reduce their own commissions to $0. As the brokerage industry continues to mature, I’m certain we’ll see more changes that benefit investors. In the meantime, you may be asking how these brokerage firms are even able to offer trading for free. Isn’t that how they make money? How can brokerages be profitable when they don’t charge anyone for trading?
Over the last decade or so brokerage firms have transitioned steadily away from commission revenue and toward net interest margin. Just like a bank, the idle cash sitting in your investment accounts is reinvested by your broker.
You don’t see this, of course. All we see as investors is the paltry monthly interest that accumulates in our accounts. But just like a bank your brokerage firm is taking that cash, reinvesting it in various bonds, collecting somewhere between 3%-5% per year, and paying you a fraction of that.
Is this a nefarious activity? Absolutely not. But it does mean that brokerage firms have a major incentive to suppress the interest paid to everyday investors. And with equity market valuations stretching further and the business cycle growing more gray hairs, it’s becoming more important to command an adequate yield on our cash.
This post will cover how you can go about it.