E*Trade and Ernst & Young in Net Advice Venture

E*Trade and accounting giant Ernst & Young announced plans on Tuesday to make financial advice available to the brokerage firm’s 2.6 million clients over the Internet.

Investors will be able to seek professional advice on a number of financial planning issues, such as financing a home, funding a child’s education, saving for retirement, and planning an estate. Each company will reportedly invest $25 million (US$) in the new venture.

“Customers will now be able to conveniently log on to E*Trade to obtain not only the electronic access and tools to invest anytime, anywhere from any device, but also the expert advice to help them effectively map out their financial futures,” said Christos Cotsakos, chairman and chief executive officer of E*Trade.

Going Wide

The formidable combination of E*Trade’s online reach and Ernst & Young’s expertise in financial planning will likely turn up the heat in an already competitive market. Leading discount and Internet brokerage house Charles Schwab agreed earlier this year to buy money management firm U.S. Trust Corp., also for the purpose of offering financial advice and trust services.

Though not yet as big as Merrill Lynch, Paine Webber, or some other brokerage houses with longer histories and stronger track records, E*Trade has been aggressive in expanding its offerings.

Earlier this month, the company announced the acquisition of a network of 8,800 automatic teller machines (ATMs) that it intends to use as financial services kiosks. The move instantly gave E*Trade a physical presence to complement its online position.

The new kiosks are located in grocery stores, shopping malls, and gas stations. E*Trade also recently expanded its relationship with Yahoo! and now allows investors to access E*Trade portfolio data through a secure encrypted channel while at the Yahoo! site.

House Calls

While the alliance between E*Trade and Ernst & Young seeks to approximate the experience of an in-person meeting with a financial planner, E*Trade has acknowledged the limitations of an all-electronic financial planning service.

To close the gap, Cotsakos unveiled a plan earlier this month to offer house calls to E*Trade customers anywhere in the United States — a service expected to launch by the end of this year.

“Electronic advice is great,” said Cotsakos earlier this month, “but some people just want to talk to somebody. Access points to customers are unlimited. We know we have to have all the touch points available and if that means you want someone to come to your house, then we’ll be able to send a trusted financial adviser there.”

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