Published by Blain Reinkensmeyer
On Thursday, April 30th, 2015 .
Merrill Edge offers clients fantastic customer service and a well-rounded package worth being a client for, especially Bank of America clients under the Preferred Rewards program.
Merrill Edge accounts linkable to any Bank of America account; up to 100 free trades per month through the Preferred Rewards program; excellent customer support.
Advanced order types not supported; only supports up to two legged option spreads; Market Pro platform offers no one-click buy/sell tools for active traders.
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 logins, 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. 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. Qualifying for free trades each month is possible through the Preferred Awards program. Clients can receive up to 30 free equity trades per month with a three-month average combined balance of at least $50,000 (Platinum status) or up to 100 free trades per month with a three-month average combined balance of at least $100,000 (Platinum Honors status). Benefits through the Preferred Awards program extend beyond free trades as well, with money market savings boosts, credit card bonuses, and more.
Through our testing of Merrill Edge’s phone and email support, we found the broker to be excellent. Merrill Edge’s phone support was No. 1 in our 2014 Review and #4 in this 2015 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 to phone. The broker responded to all of our email inquiries and the quality of the responses was commendable. The only negatives were response time and the templates used. Responses took an average of 24 hours per receipt, and the templates used were poorly formatted and difficult to read. However, for live chat, the broker once again hit on all strides, finishing No. 2 in the industry.
Overall, Merrill Edge finished No. 2 for customer service, showing excellence in the art of quality customer care.
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.
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 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 six 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 accolade in our 2015 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: site-wide 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 limited to just the Streaming Quotes application.
In 2014 the broker released numerous updates to its website design, navigation, and flow. The site was already good before the rollouts, but with these latest enhancements in place, it is now great.
Performing research, placing trades, and managing my account are also all very straightforward. 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.
Platforms & Tools, Mobile Trading
Merrill Edge’s offering for active traders is a mixed bag. While the broker does offer an active trader platform, Merrill Edge MarketPro, which is well built and has a variety of bells and whistles, there are several critical drawbacks. First, there are no one-click buy and sell buttons for speedy order entry, nor a way to bypass the order confirmation window. Second, complex options are not supported. Third, direct market routing nor advanced order types such as conditional orders are supported.
On the positive side, 68 technical indicators are available for charting, the stock alerts functionality is robust, and the options functionality is strong across the board. MarketPro even offers high-quality executions, thanks to its commitment of not accepting payment for order flow. Active traders desire all these great assets, yet they can’t trade on the fly. Until Merrill Edge can clear its key hurdles, the broker is holding itself back from attracting the Holy Grail of clientele: the active trader.
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 watch lists (syncing with the site is a nice plus), set basic alerts, and place basic trades. The apps could be kicked up a notch with the addition of customizable dashboards, streaming real-time quotes, and push notifications, for example.
Merrill Edge provides investors with several key highlights: excellent customer service, up to 100 commission-free trades each month through its Preferred Awards program, robust research, and great ease of use for Bank of America clients. The primary drawbacks revolve around the broker’s basic mobile apps and lack of order entry capabilities: no trading on the fly, no conditional orders, max two legged options, and no direct market access.
Overall, the broker provides clients with a well-rounded offering. Casual investors will find the broker to be a very good fit, and Bank of America clients will discover that the broker is 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.
All pricing data was obtained from a published web site as of 5/01/2015 and is believed to be accurate, but is not guaranteed. The StockBrokers.com staff is constantly working with its online broker representatives to obtain the latest pricing data. If you believe any data listed above is inaccurate, please contact us using the link at the top of this page. For stock trade rates, advertised pricing is for a standard order size of 500 shares of stock priced at $30 per share. For options orders, an options regulatory fee per contract may apply.