What is a 'Wire House'

A wire house is an archaic term used to describe a broker-dealer. Modern-day wire houses can range from small regional brokerages to giant institutions with offices around the world. The term "wire house" owes its origins to the fact that prior to the advent of modern wireless communications, brokerage firms were connected to their branches primarily through telephone and telegraph wires. This enabled branches to have access to the same market information as the head office, thus allowing their brokers to provide stock quotes and market news to their clients.

BREAKING DOWN 'Wire House'

The global financial crisis of 2008 led to unprecedented turmoil among wire houses, primarily because of the very substantial exposure that many of them had to mortgage-backed securities. While a number of the smaller players were forced to shut shop, some of the most prominent names in the industry (such as Merrill Lynch and Bear Stearns) were either acquired by bigger banks or disappeared altogether into bankruptcy (Lehman Brothers).

Most present-day wire houses are full-service brokerages that provide the complete range of services to clients, from investment banking and research, to trading and wealth management. Although the proliferation of discount brokerages and online quotes has eroded the edge in market information that the wire houses formerly possessed, their diversified activities in capital markets continues to make them very profitable entities.

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