Online Brokerage: The Case of Ameritrade AMTD
This case teaches the student how to apply economic and NPV analysis to the fundamentals of a B2C transactional e-commerce business. It uses as an application how a new entrant online broker such as Ameritrade attacks incumbent financial service providers in the U.S. by unbundling its services, offering prices close to marginal production costs, and by expanding consumer choice and convenience, all supported by intensive investments in aggressive advertising. It analyses marketing expenses as an investment in the acquisition of customer accounts and deepens the understanding of the profit model of this B2C activity, reflecting on the relative importance of net income from transactions versus net income from margin loans and on the relevance of transaction costs and trading volumes. The emphasis of the case is on the particular free cash flows economics of many B2C business and the annuity free cash flow income stream to be collected from a customer. It allows estimating NPV and IRR of the marketing investments. It provides an opportunity for students to study the sensitivity of this NPV to the different account value drivers. This gives students an insight into the strategic threats and opportunities of the business, and into the economic reasons for the high volatility on Internet stocks during a period in which contenders compete intensively to gain significant first mover advantages and to be ahead on the power curve in order to attain a winner take all position.