Wells Fargo Takes Aim at Merrill Lynch's Merrill Edge

Bank of America Merrill Lynch's Merrill Edge online trading platform is seeing increased competition now that Wells Fargo & Company (WFC) is entering the market. Earlier this week, the embattled San Francisco bank announced the nationwide launch of Intuitive Investor, an online investment platform that blends technology with human advice to give customers access to low-cost investing. With the new robo-advisor platform, customers can go it alone or get advice from Wells Fargo Advisors.

"Significant advancements in technology, changing consumer preferences and evolving demographics inspired us to provide this new, compelling investment experience for our clients," Jon Weiss, head of wealth and investment management at Wells Fargo, said in a press release announcing the new service. "As Wells Fargo continues to innovate to deliver experiences our customers can use whenever and wherever they want, the Intuitive Investor offering fills their needs while also preserving the advantages that come with having access to one of the largest investment firms."

Customers have to invest a minimum of $10,000 to access the service, which charges a 0.50% annual advisory fee. Existing Wells Fargo customers pay a discounted 0.40% annual advisory fee when they link their Intuitive Investor brokerage accounts with the Wells Fargo checking relationship program. Customers of the investment platform will also get access to low-cost exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that are designed by the Wells Fargo Investment Institute. It is not clear if Wells Fargo will sell other ETFs.

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The Wells Fargo move comes as traditional investment houses and financial firms are getting into the self-directed investment market in a big way. While Wells is just entering, it could pressure Merrill Lynch, which has had success so far with its Merrill Edge robo-advisor and its newer Merrill Edge Guided Investing online advisory platform, which debuted last February. Merrill Edge Guided Investing combines online trading with advice from financial advisors. Merrill Edge has been around for a decade and today has $166 billion in assets and more than 2.3 million accounts.

While online and discount brokers have been doing so for some time, Wells Fargo's move marks the entrance of another traditional player that could chip away at Merrill Lynch. While millennials are not brand loyal and are not skeptical of newer firms and fintechs, their older counterparts are, and the older demographic could turn to a well-known financial company over a fintech when trading online. In January, Raymond James Financial, the independent investment firm, launched its online platform dubbed Connected Advisor.