Cost of Capital at Ameritrade

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Harvard Business School 9-201-046 Rev. April 26, 2001 Cost of Capital at Ameritrade In mid-1997, Joe Ricketts, Chairman and CEO of Ameritrade Holding Corporation, wanted to improve his company’s competitive position in deep-discount brokerage1 by taking advantage of emerging economies of scale. The success of the strategy required Ameritrade grow its customer base. The growth would require substantial investments in technology to improve service and capacity, and in advertising, to increase customer awareness. The strategy would require large expenditures relative to Ameritrade’s existing capital. In order to evaluate whether the strategy would generate sufficient future cash flows to merit the investment, Ricketts needed an…show more content…
Full-service brokers were less sensitive to market movements than deep-discount brokers like Ameritrade. Full-service brokers received asset management fees, which partially shielded the revenue stream from market declines. Moreover, most full-service brokerage firms such as Merrill Lynch diversified their revenue stream by engaging in investment banking activities such as mergers and security underwritings. Planned Investments and the Cost of Capital Ricketts planned to grow Ameritrade’s revenues by targeting self-directed investors. Ricketts decided Ameritrade’s mission was ‘to be the largest brokerage firm worldwide based on the number of trades.’ Ricketts’ strategy called for price cutting, technology enhancements, and increased advertising. First, Ameritrade would reduce commissions from $29.95 to $8.00 per trade for all Internet market orders. There were currently no major players in this price range although many customers were price sensitive. To ensure competitors such as Charles Schwab and E*Trade did not follow Ameritrade’s lead and try to compete on price, Ameritrade would have to become the low cost provider of reliable online brokerage services. State of the art technology was the only way to prevent system outages and move towards the goal of 100% reliability. Therefore, up to $100 million would be budgeted for technology enhancements which also would increase trade execution speed - an important attribute to individual investors.

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