Is a Full Service Broker Right for You?

How to Know if You Should Pay Up for a Full Service Broker

Full Service Stock Brokers Can Add Value for Some Families
Although more expensive, a full service broker can add value for some families,especially if the relationship keeps the investor from doing something foolish or helps minimize taxes on highly appreciated positions. Hero Images / Hero Images / Getty Images

In a world of discount brokers with $10 trades, is there any reason to return to full service brokerage firms with their commissions that can sometimes run as high as $400, $600, or more per trade? Believe it or not, there are some of you that might be better suited for these types of full service brokerage firms with their mahogany paneled walls, well-heeled brokers, and fine cut crystal glasses despite the substantial costs.

What You Get When You Pay for a Full Service Stock Broker

With a discount broker, you are simply paying to get your trades executed. For those with experience, the ability to analyze financial statements, and an understanding of businesses, this is an ideal arrangement. You just need someone to place the trades you order. For those without any financial experience or who want the comfort and security of handholding – and just as importantly, don’t mind paying for it – a full service broker can be worth the cost.

Although services and products are not fully uniform and costs will vary from firm to firm, typically you should want some or all of the following from your full service broker:

  • Access to research on stocks and bonds
  • Retirement planning
  • Tax preparation and strategies
  • Experience
  • Opportunities to invest in certain private equity or hedge funds

Perhaps the biggest benefit for someone without experience is the opportunity to have a reputable firm guide you through the process.

Although it is highly probable that the fees will cut into your returns, you may be better off in the long run because a good broker can hold your hand through turbulent markets, helping you to avoid mistakes such as selling at market bottoms or buying during speculative bubbles.

That is, of course, if you can resist the temptation to bail.

It’s amazing how many investors, who are the first to admit they don’t know hide nor hare about the market, will call their broker and complain about a few percentage points drop. Just last week, I was chatting with a financial representative from a major U.S. bank in his office and he confessed that when his client accounts were up more than 20% last year, no one called. Yet, a 4% drop in the broader markets caused, no joke, what he estimated were 250 calls to his office. That is madness. As long as you have a reputable firm with a proven history of good, long-term results, stay the course.

An Alternative to Full Service Brokerage Firms

There is one alternative to full service brokers that is particularly attractive if you don't have a lot of capital to invest or you are primarily interested in buying and holding stocks for the long term (ten years or more). You aren't likely to hear about them because there really isn't a motivation as they don't produce profits for any brokerage house.

It's called a direct stock purchase plan or a dividend reinvestment plan. Basically, these low-cost plans allow you to buy shares directly from a company, paying only $1 or $2 in commissions through optional cash payments or regular, recurring withdrawals from a checking or savings account.

Every quarter, you'll likely receive a statement detailing the reinvested dividends, purchases, sales, stock splits, or any other information that resulted in changes to your account.

Put together enough of these plans, and you have a simple, cheap way to build equity in some of the biggest names in the world - Coca-Cola, General Electric, Bank of America, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, etc.