Fidelity announced the latest in a series of price cuts Tuesday. But the move has less to do with an ongoing price war between itself and Schwab than with the firm’s decision to eliminate discrepancies between pricing offered to its RIA clients and to its retail clients.
Fidelity’s RIA custody division, Institutional Wealth Services, said it was cutting fees for U.S. equity and options trades to $7.95 for up to 10,000 shares, down from $8.00 for up to 3,000 shares. It also began offering commission-free online trades for its iShares ETFs and Fidelity Nasdaq Composite Index Tracking Fund. But Fidelity already charged less for such trades than does Schwab, which announced on Jan. 7 that it was cutting its fee for all online trades in equities and non-Schwab exchange traded funds to $8.95 from $12.95. The new pricing applies to all Schwab clients.
“Pricing across retail and institutional platforms is now uniform, so that we don’t put advisors in a spot where their investors can get one price point in one area of Fidelity and not on another,” says Ron Fiske, executive vice president of Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services, of today’s move. “I think it’s highly visible to customers on both platforms. We don’t want to have to force advisors in to discussions about this with clients. This makes what could potentially be a discussion that explains differences, makes it an easy discussion.”
Fidelity’s new fee schedule applies to households with over $1 million in assets at Fidelity, and households with less than $1 million in assets that are enrolled in e-delivery for statements and trade confirmations. As for whether Fidelity would continue cutting pricing in 2010, Fiske said the firm would “continue to evaluate the marketplace. We’re constantly evaluating.”
Fidelity and Schwab have both been cutting fees in recent months as competition for breakaway brokers and assets intensified. Last year, a record number of wirehouse brokers joined existing RIAs or set up their own in the wake of Wall Street’s meltdown.
On October 1, following in Schwab’s footsteps, Fidelity waived commissions on equity and options trades for all new RIA accounts and offered to reimburse account-transfer fees that clients pay to switch accounts to a new firm. It also waived fees for new alternative investment accounts, personal trust accounts and separately managed accounts on its SMA platform, and cut licensing fees for its Advent technology by up to half.
Several months earlier, in June, Schwab had announced its own plans to waive commissions over the following 12 months on online stock trades, and to reimburse account–transfer charges for new accounts through Dec. 31. It also waived the licensing fee it charges for proprietary portfolio management software.
“It’s important to not take what we’ve done in isolation,” says Fiske. “We’ve made a large variety of announcements around technology, tech pricing, securities products pricing. If you take everything in context, we are working to bring the highest-value platform to advisors,” he says. “We wanted to make sure that price was not going to be a barrier for advisors or end-investors in choosing where to trade. If a price point of x is available from another part of Fidelity, now it’s available to them on the Institutional Wealth platform as well.”