Citigroup Opens Online Brokerage

It joins a crowded marketplace

Citigroup Inc. launched its online brokerage last week. Called CitiTrade, it's a stand-alone brokerage with the latest tools, but it may not offer enough to keep customers happy, said analysts.

New York-based Citigroup currently offers two different kinds of trading. One subsidiary, full-service brokerage Salomon Smith Barney Holdings Inc., has almost 2 million customers. Another 100,000 Citibank customers use the brokerage function of the bank's online service. CitiTrade will be another stand-alone service, aimed at do-it-yourself traders and not integrated with Citigroup's other services.

"Customers will get some Salomon Smith Barney research," said Steve Clifford, CitiTrade director. "But if they want advice, they have to open a Salomon Smith Barney account." There are no plans to integrate the services, Clifford added, though integration could come in the future.

So what will make CitiTrade stand out? According to Clifford, customers will come for reasonably priced trades - $29.95 per transaction, similar to the rate offered by San Francisco-based Charles Schwab & Co. - and great tools. Customers will be able to pick and research mutual funds, stocks and fixed-income equities as well as plan their finances and do their taxes.

According to Clifford, CitiTrade is one of the few online brokerages integrated with Mountain View, Calif.-based Intuit Inc.'s TurboTax software, taking all the work out of filling out trading-related tax forms.

Larry Tabb, an analyst at Needham, Mass.-based TowerGroup, said many online brokers are moving to an integrated model, in which customers can access their accounts through multiple channels.

At San Francisco-based Schwab, for example, customers can open accounts at a brick-and-mortar location, perform do-it-yourself trades, talk to an advisor or receive private banking services.

"That's the real direction you see the industry headed in," Tabb said. "Citibank is going to be targeting the generic investor, and it's probably too late for that. The market has grown up around it."

- Maria Trombly

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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