Merrill Edge at a glance
What it is
Merrill Edge is an online broker that traces its roots to some of the oldest and most powerful names on Wall Street. In 2008, Bank of America spent $50 billion to acquire Merrill Lynch, what was then the largest retail stock broker in America.
Bank of America has done some tinkering since that marriage, including rebranding the brokerage arm as Merrill Edge in 2010. But in many ways, Merrill Edge feels like a broker that has simply been bolted on as part of a big retail bank -- and as such, falls short for the typical individual investor in 2018. Merrill Edge offers basic features for investors, but nothing that really stands out from its competitors.
The big exception, however, is if you're a customer at its parent Bank of America and can unlock a bunch of perks including free trades each month and priority customer service. For these elite users, Merrill Edge has a lot to offer.
What it offers
Merrill Edge's interface is clearly designed to offer a wide umbrella of financial services and education, beyond simply functionality to buy and sell stocks.
In general, there is a welcoming approach with robust financial education of all types. This includes extensive investor resources to the intuitive design of navigation menus, as well as goal-based "how-to" guides like how to save for a home or improve your credit score. Common tasks are spelled out explicitly -- for example, "I want to convert to a Roth IRA" -- to help users demystify the investing process.
Some of these specific features worth noting include:
What it lacks
Merrill Edge simply lacks subtlety. The platform is run by its parent Bank of America with clear goals to up-sell small-time customers across its financial products, and to save the best experience for its wealthy customers who generate the most business.
If you qualify for it, the MarketPro software fills in many of the gaps the broker lacks on its standard research and analysis. And free transactions can save active traders thousands annually in fees. But these perks are available only if you meet the $50,000 threshold on your balances – and then your balance has to say there reliably amid the ebb and flow of the stock market.
Compared with the engaging design and deep analysis other brokers offer their regular customers, Merrill Edge clearly falls short.
This broker is best for...
If you don't have at least $50,000 to invest or simply don’t want to do business at Bank of America instead of your local institution, you'll likely benefit from using a different broker. But if you're already a customer with significant savings or don't mind moving over your cash to unlock premium perks, then this broker is definitely worth a look.
This is particularly true if you're a fan of mobile banking products, as the Merrill Edge app truly is first-class.
If you're a reasonably active trader with a big balance, the savings and synergy with Bank of America quickly become a feature instead of a drawback.