By Colin Barr
June 18, 2010

Brace yourself. The thundering herd is going online, with all the subtlety the name implies.

Bank of America’s

Merrill Lynch will roll out its new online discount brokerage, MerrillEdge, on Monday, the Wall Street Journal notes.

The paper says the move will help the firm compete with the likes of E*Trade

, TD Bank’s

Ameritrade, and Charles Schwab

, and hold onto clients who aren’t sure they trust brokers.

There has rarely been a shortage of people who are leery of so-called financial advisers, but mistrust seems especially intense right now. The last decade has brought two market crashes, a series of accounting scandals, and a round of costly bailouts, but the financial industry only seems to get richer and richer.

The Chicago Booth Kellogg School Financial Trust Index, which measures Americans’ trust in the financial system, dropped to 23% in the first quarter from 25% at the end of 2009. Trust in national banks dropped 6 points to 29%, while trust in institutions in which the government owns a stake — a characterization that only recently, and rather infamously, applied to BofA — slipped 2 points to 21%.

The trust ratings aren’t likely to be helped by the comments the Journal gets from Merrill Lynch broker Bob Waldele. The 30-year veteran of Merrill puzzles over his clients’ habit of holding assets in accounts he doesn’t have access to, then laments:

“I always tell them I want to know them financially better than they know themselves. But I can’t do that if I can’t see all their assets.”

Sounds perfect for a hard-hitting new branding campaign: MerrillEdge — we take transparency too far.

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