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Who Needs A Broker?

THREE YEARS AGO, IT WAS AN ALMOST INVISIBLE BLIP. TWO YEARS LATER, IT WAS HARD TO MISS. But the major brokerage firms continued to ignore the exploding phenomenon of online trading.

Today, online trading has caught Wall Street's attention with a vengeance. Fueled by the bull market, Internet brokers have attracted a deluge of new customers. Online brokers' stocks have soared, with Ameritrade Inc. up 118% since Jan. 4. Some 14% of all equity trades were executed online last year, up 50% since 1997. The online brokerage industry has doubled customer assets, to $420 billion, and doubled accounts, to 7.3 million, reports Piper Jaffray Inc.