All three are what are called "wirehouse firms". Pick the broker, not the firm. I've had an account with Merrill Lynch since 1960, with several offices as we have moved from one area to another, and a succession of brokers. The one I have now I've had since 1993, and am very pleased. What is in that account is bonds, with a touch of master limited partnerships. Merrill has a good selection of bonds, and the costs are no more than with a discounter. My broker looks for "improving situations" and has done very well over the years. For stock trading, I have an account with a deep discounter (e-trade). To trade stocks with a full service broker would destroy my % returns, but for bonds, which are held to maturity, the costs aren't prohibitive. Here is my advice: call each local office (that is why you want to deal with a full-service broker, right?) and ask to talk to the office manager. Tell him/her you have $XXXXX to invest, want to open an account, and would like to interview some brokers who are taking new clients. You want a broker with at least 5 years of experience, no complaints against his/her license, and interest/experience in some more exotic vehicles. Your goal is speculation/moderation/capital preservation--whatever. The manager should set you up with appointments with 2 or 3 candidates after giving you a quick resume' of the qualifications of each. If you just call the office and speak with a broker, you get the "broker of the day" who is newly licensed, and trying to build up some clients. No, you want to interview candidates before you select somebody that you have rapport with and don't think will be maximizing his/her return at the expense of yours. My own preference is Merrill. At one time I had an account with UBS when it was called PayneWebber. Later, I inherited a Morgan Stanley account, talked to the broker one time and closed the account. We didn't hitch. Depending on the broker, you might be happy with any of the three--or with somebody from Edward Jones or Prudential. You may also discover that these brokers may move from one firm to another. After all, YOU don't plan to work for the same employer your whole life, do you? When they move, they can offer incentives for you to move your account to their new firm. Best wishes, Chris
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