Merrill Lynch was acquired by Bank of America in January 2009 and Merrill Edge was formally launched in June 2010. Despite the acquisition, Merrill Edge is not restricted to clients from Bank of America. Instead, any investor can open a Merrill Edge account.
Naturally, there are synergies for those who are already clients of Bank of America. From viewing all accounts together to managing those accounts transferring funds, updating contact information, universal log-ins, etc. and qualifying for free monthly trades, Bank of America makes it an easy win for current banking customers.
Commissions & Fees
Merrill Edge is a full-service broker that offers equities and options trading. Regular stock trades are a flat $6.95 per trade with no additional charges for stocks less than $1 per share. Options trades cost $6.95, plus $.75 per contract. When compared to other full-service brokers such as TD Ameritrade, Fidelity, Charles Schwab, ETRADE, and Scottrade, Merrill Edge offers the lowest rates.
Alongside its competitive commissions structure, Merrill Edge also offers something unique that its competitors do not: free trades. As long as clients maintain a $25,000 minimum cash balance in either their Merrill Edge account or a connected Bank of America account, they automatically qualify for up to 30 commission-free trades each month. Another way to receive the free monthly trades is by qualifying for Platinum Privileges ($50k combined Bank of America / Merrill Lynch balance). While we were not able to test execution quality or speed, free trades is a huge advantage for clients.
Through our testing of Merrill Edges phone and email support, we found the broker to be excellent. Merrill Edges phone support was No. 1 in our 2014 Review, and for good reason. Every broker rep we spoke to was friendly, knowledgeable, and professional. It is very apparent Merrill Edge trains its staff well and understands what it takes to provide consistent, high-quality support for its clients.
Our email support experience was similar the broker responded to all of our email inquiries within one business day, and had no problem answering our questions. In fact, the email templates Merrill Edge uses are so perfect that several times, especially when our answers required lengthy explanations, it felt like the emails were automated. Even so, we didnt mind one bit.
Merrill Edge finished No. 3 in email support, and No. 2 overall for customer service behind Fidelity Investments.
Merrill Edge uses both Morningstar and Lippers as its primary research providers. Typically, online brokers use one or the other, so to see Merrill Edge use both is an extra benefit for clients.
Thanks to this dual provider offering, Merrill Edge's ETF and mutual funds research is very strong and extremely thorough. For example, pulling up a quote of SPY reveals not only the infamous Morningstar Style Map but also the Lipper Ratings as well.
For equities research, pulling up a quote for Apple (AAPL) reveals three research report providers: Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Morningstar, and S&P Capital IQ. While offering clients a report from its own research group is unique, I found the report to be the weakest of the three. Furthermore, while three report providers is above average, it is still lower than the leading brokers in research, including Charles Schwab, Fidelity, and TD Ameritrade, which offer clients access to seven or more research reports.
Despite not having a large selection of report providers available to clients, Merrill Edge still offers clients great coverage of equities that will satisfy the vast majority. This includes both ETFs and mutual funds research, where we also found Merrill Edge excelled. Overall, while Merrill Edge trails its larger competitors, the broker still finished with a Best in Class finish in our 2014 Review.
Thanks to being owned by Bank of America, Merrill Edge is a natural win for current clients. As a Bank of America client myself, I found the account opening process extremely straightforward. Much of my information was prefilled for me, which was a nice touch, and immediately after completing the application, funding the account was a breeze thanks to the account linking. Now when I log in to my Bank of America account, I can see all my bank, credit cards, loan, and investment accounts right on the same screen. If I want to access Merrill Edge, I simply click and go.
Focusing on the Merrill Edge website, the broker covers the main bases I expect to see: sitewide quote bar with sticky quotes (meaning they remain as you navigate the site, so you do not have to constantly keep re-entering the symbol) and real-time quotes. Looking ahead, however, it would be nice to see streaming real-time quotes not be limited to just the Streaming Quotes application.
I found navigating the website easy as the broker does a good job of organizing its primary navigation. Performing research, placing trades, and managing my account are also all very straight-forward. All in all, Merrill Edge makes it easy for clients to perform the tasks they want, when they want, and is an excellent fit for current Bank of America clients.
Merrill Edges offering for active traders is a mixed bag. While the broker does offer an active trader platform, Merrill Edge Market Pro, which is well built and has a variety of bells and whistles, the order options currently available to traders are very weak. Direct market routing is not available, nor are advanced order types such as conditional orders. The broker just began offering after hours trading in late 2013, and it is apparent they still have some work to do to attract active traders.
On the mobile front, Merrill Edge supports both the Apple iPhone and iPad alongside Android smartphones. All things considered, I found the apps to be good, but not great. They accomplish their job by allowing clients to perform core actions: pull real-time quotes, see a chart, view their watchlists (syncing with the site is a nice plus), set alerts, and place basic trades. The apps could be kicked up a notch with the addition of customizable dashboards and streaming real-time quotes, for example.
Merrill Edge provides investors with several key highlights: excellent customer service, up to 30 commission-free trades each month with a $25,000 cash balance, and great ease-of-use for Bank of America clients. The primary drawbacks revolve around order entry capabilities: no conditional orders, max two legged options, and no direct market access.
The broker on the whole provides clients a well-rounded offering worth being a client for. Casual investors will find the broker to be a very good fit, and Bank of America clients will find the broker to be an excellent extension of the Bank of America brand.
Blain has been involved in the markets for over 12 years, heading StockBrokers.com equity broker research and reviews. His personal blog, StockTradingToGo.com, provides to-the-point daily market recaps to over 17,000 subscribers.