Feature

The house that Chuck built

Should a picture of the founder and co-chief executive officer of the company that bears his name be used in publicity and advertising in place of the company's logo?

In the case of Charles Schwab (the company) it is not inappropriate. Used as the major spokesman for the company in both TV and print media, Schwab (the man) is the most identifiable person within the company. This was by design because many people like to know who they are dealing with when they invest their money. Since Schwab does not assign clients to specific brokers, the advertisements aimed to help people feel like they were dealing with Charles (or Chuck as he is affectionately known) Schwab himself when transacting a trade through the company.

Charles Schwab & Co created the discount brokerage industry when it was formed in 1974. The company's management decided early on that they would build the business on IT. This meant that no products would be offered that were not based and supported by information systems and the four IS executives have all been considered members of the senior management team and have reported very high within the organisation.

The company became a resource for individual investors - a discount brokerage where investors could manage their assets, make decisions and transact business without the conflict of interest and high-pressure sales tactics customers might have faced with traditional brokerages. Charles Schwab claims it helped create a new way for individuals to invest.

In the 1980s, Charles Schwab expanded greatly, as did the investing marketplace. Mutual funds began emerging as the primary vehicles for investors seeking convenience and diversified portfolios. The company took the bold step in 1984 of creating the mutual fund supermarket concept: hundreds of funds available through The Schwab Mutual Fund MarketPlace.

There was also great upheaval and change at Charles Schwab during the 1980s. By the end of the decade, it had sold itself to Bank of America, and then bought itself back again. Soon after the buyback, the company went public, less than two months before one of the worst market crashes of the century. By the end of the decade, however, it was back on its feet and ready to break more boundaries.

By the early 1990s, Charles Schwab was positioning itself for even more growth. In 1992, the company introduced MutualFund OneSource. In its first five years, OneSource assets grew from less than $2bn to more than $50bn. In the mid-1990s, the Internet was just penetrating the national consciousness. Charles Schwab invested heavily in, and aggressively prepared for, online investing.

Just as the company's move into discount trading 20 years earlier paid off, foresight in the mid-1990s earned Schwab an early and significant leadership position in online investing. From 1996 to 1998, online accounts in the US grew to 2.2 million from 600,000, and online assets grew to $174bn from $42bn.

In July 1998 Charles Schwab Europe was formed and in just two years it has moved its business from being completely offline to a point where more than 70% of its business is now conducted via the Web. The European subsidiary now boasts 100,000 active users and more than £5bn traded.


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This was first published in November 2000

 

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