Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. (A): In 1999

By Robert Burgelman, Kelly DuBois, Margot Sutherland
2000 | Case No. SM35A

This business case study opens with Dave Pottruck, president and co-CEO of Charles Schwab Corporation (CSC), contemplating a piece of news in the June 1, 1999 edition of the Wall Street Journal that was about to send shock waves through the brokerage community. The newspaper had just announced Merrill Lynch’s decision to launch online trading on December 1st, 1999. Customers at Merrill Lynch would be able to trade online for $29.95/trade or, for a minimum annual fee of $1,500, make as many trades as they wanted. Now that Merrill Lynch had joined the online trading revolution, Pottruck wondered, how would this affect Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. (Schwab), and what should the company do in response? Pottruck observes that Merrill Lynch, E*Trade, Wingspan Bank and Schwab, although competing for similar customers, appeared to be doing so from very different starting points. Pottruck considers the competitive dynamics of the brokerage industry and wonders: How can Schwab maintain its growth trajectory in the face of so many, varied competitors? What other firms might enter the space? How could Schwab protect and grow its existing customer base? Was Schwab getting “squeezed in the middle” or could it create a “category of one?”

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