When the Securities and Exchange Commission eliminated the practice of fixed brokerage commissions on May 1, 1975, none of the major brokerage firms at the time thought anyone would ‘break ranks’ and offer discounted commissions. But, a handful of small firms, including First Omaha Securities, Inc., saw a unique opportunity. First Omaha Securities evolved into TD Ameritrade, and for over 35 years has remained a pioneer in an industry that continues to innovate new ways that make Wall Street more accessible to the individual investor.
In the 1980s and 1990s, TD Ameritrade pioneered a number of ‘firsts,’ leveraging technology to make investing easier, faster, and more efficient. In 1988, the company was the first to offer touch-tone phone trading. And, in 1995 it acquired K. Aufhauser & Co., which was credited with executing the first online trade in 1994. Following its Initial Public Offering (IPO) in March 1997, the company combined its various brokerage units into one broker dealer, Ameritrade, Inc., and launched its first national advertising campaign, complete with a pricing philosophy that continues today.
Between 1998 and 1999, Ameritrade helped grow and improve the online trading experience for self-directed investors. The company started offering online options order entry and electronic trade confirmations via email. These innovations, along with extended-hours trading, the Ameritrade Online Investor Index™ (one of the first online investor behavior measuring tools), and trading via the SprintPCSSMWireless Web, the first of its kind via mobile device, helped keep Ameritrade at the forefront of a booming industry.
With the start of the new millennium, Ameritrade launched paperless account creation, which brought the entire account opening process online for the first time. The bursting of the ‘Tech Bubble’ resulted in excess industry capacity, and no firm was more involved in consolidation than Ameritrade. Starting in 2001 with its purchase of NationalDiscountBrokers, the company would acquire 10 firms in 10 years, adding clients, accounts, technology, and other services for self-directed investors. In 2003, it launches the industry’s first trade execution guarantee of 10 seconds. And, following its integration of Datek Online Holdings, Ameritrade unveiled a redesigned client website in 2004 that streamlined processes and tools, and made trading more flexible with now industry-standard solutions like SnapTicket™ and Trade Triggers™.
In 2006, Ameritrade purchased TD Waterhouse USA from TD Bank Financial Group, creating TD Ameritrade, one of the largest discount brokerages in the United States – and the largest in terms of average client trades placed each day. The merger with TD Waterhouse helped the company expand its product offering, with a more concentrated focus on long-term investing, guidance and asset gathering. With a nationwide branch network and offerings for IRAs and college savings accounts, among other things, the company created unique tools designed to make the planning process less intimidating for American investors. Tools that help investors decide between Traditional and Roth IRAs, the retirement readiness calculator, WealthRuler, and the asset allocation guidance tool, Portfolio Planner, helped make TD Ameritrade a bona fide player in the competitive retirement business.
In 2009, TD Ameritrade looked back to its trading roots and acquired thinkorswim Group Inc., which included the fastest-growing brokerage at the time, thinkorswim, a company recognized throughout the industry for its record of innovative technology and sophisticated trading platforms. This most recent combination allowed TD Ameritrade to further expand its offerings for active traders by introducing complex options, futures and foreign exchange trading. In 2010 and 2011 the company embraced mobile devices by developing trading applications for the BlackBerry, Android, iPhone, and iPad. And, in 2011, the company launched Trade Architect, a streaming web-based trading platform that brought together the best of thinkorswim and TD Ameritrade.
Today, TD Ameritrade provides investing and trading services for nearly six million client accounts that total more than $600 billion in assets, and custodial services for more than 4,000 independent registered investment advisors. With clients placing, on average, approximately 400,000 trades each day, it maintains the leadership position it assumed when founder Joe Ricketts opened his doors in Omaha, NE, in 1975.