Update (Nov. 26, 01:30 UTC): Schwab has officially announced a deal to buy TD Ameritrade for $26 billion in stock, confirming last week's press reports.
An acquisition of TD Ameritrade by Charles Schwab would change the landscape of the traditional brokerage industry – and it may have implications for the ongoing mainstreaming of cryptocurrency trading.
The companies are reportedly in talks, and while a deal is by no means confirmed, it would marry one of the few mainstream financial companies to embrace the crypto market with one whose stance is less clear.
Nebraska-based TD Ameritrade has been allowing clients to trade bitcoin futures contracts on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) since 2018. Moreover, it owns a stake in ErisX, a bitcoin spot and futures exchange that may allow ethereum and litecoin futures trading as well.
Speaking at CoinDesk’s Consensus in May 2019, the brokerage’s executive vice president Steven Quirk said there is high demand for digital assets among retail investors across different ages and registered investment advisors.
“We get calls, emails, 60,000 clients have traded something in this complex,” Quirk said.
Schwab, on the other hand, has not leaned in to crypto quite as much. The San Francisco-based firm did enable clients with futures accounts to trade Cboe Bitcoin Futures (XBT) on the StreetSmart Central or StreetSmart Mobile trading platforms as far back as April 2018, according to a statement from the firm. Cboe later phased out the product, however.
Also, one of Schwab’s directors, Chris Dodds, also sits on the board of crypto exchange powerhouse Coinbase.
However, as recently as September, Schwab pointedly said it had no plans to offer direct trading of cryptocurrencies, with a spokesman telling brokerage industry publication RIABiz: “Investors should view these currencies as a purely speculative instrument.”
CEO Walt Bettinger – who would remain at the top of the potential merged company, according to news reports – is known for being cautious, which also suggests the firm would remain standoffish about crypto.
“Schwab, similar to Vanguard, tends to be more conservative in their general approach,” said Kostya Etus, a portfolio manager at money management firm CLS Investments.
“They are more methodical in launching new products and evaluating new initiatives, having a longer term view and outlook, because they don’t want to abandon something that doesn’t work,” he said. “Another way to put it is that they are very cost-conscious.”
Neither TD Ameritrade nor Schwab has gone as far as Fidelity Investments, a close second to Schwab in traditional brokerage services, which earlier this year launched a crypto brokerage and custodian for institutional clients, Fidelity Digital Assets.
“Fidelity can be more experimental with crypto services than Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade since it is privately held and more free of shareholders’ opinion over new investments than the other two public companies,” said Samuel Lee, a financial advisor at SVRN Asset Management.
If Schwab were to take over TD Ameritrade, the combined company could hold more than $5 trillion in assets with 20 million clients, compared to Fidelity’s nearly $8 trillion with some 30 million clients.
Merging them could increase the scale of their businesses and further reduce transaction fees to boost their position as two of the most cost-effective brokerage services providers in the industry, said Jeff Tjornehoj, director of Fund Insights at Broadridge, a U.S.-based financial services company.
“But it is still too early to tell how exactly the two firms would benefit from the deal,” Tjornehoj said.
And the same goes for how it would affect their limited involvement in crypto, though part of the allure for Schwab may be TD Ameritrade’s tech savvy.
“TD Ameritrade is a technologically advanced investment firm,” Lee said.