Letter from the CEO

“For over 40 years, your company has stood as a beacon of inclusion, opportunity, and respect for all. This commitment has never been more important than right now, as we continue fulfilling our long-standing strategy of seeing the world “Through Clients’ Eyes.

Walt Bettinger 
President and Chief Executive Officer

A Time for Gratitude

A Time for Gratitude

Thank you!

This may seem like an unusual way to open my 13th Annual Report letter to you, my fellow stockholders. But in many ways, this simple but sincere expression sums up how I think about the very difficult year we all faced—with deep gratitude for all the people who helped us persevere in 2020.

Thank you to our clients for entrusting us with record levels of net new assets and new accounts.

Thank you to our stockholders for focusing on the long-term opportunities ahead, despite a volatile year and another round of ZIRP (zero interest rate policy) implemented by the Federal Reserve.

And thank you to our employees for their diligent commitment to serving others while balancing the health and safety of their own families.

While I am grateful for much in 2020, I cannot discuss this past year without first acknowledging both the pain and tragedy that the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted on so many of our clients, colleagues, vendors, and partners; as well as the tensions that exist in our country—politically, racially, and otherwise. For over 40 years, your company has stood as a beacon of inclusion, opportunity, and respect for all. This commitment has never been more important than right now, as we continue fulfilling our longstanding strategy of seeing the world “Through Clients’ Eyes.”

As in past years, my goal for this annual letter is to be clear and straightforward—using minimal jargon, corporate speak, and trendy buzzwords. The litmus test for my letter is whether it reads as if I were corresponding with a business partner who has been out of touch for the past year. As always, please let me know if I’ve achieved this goal.

2020 was a year of incredible challenges. Volatile equity markets tested the patience of even the most experienced investors, and the collapse in interest rates to record lows made conservative investing difficult. Ultimately, the equity markets provided strong returns in 2020, although much of the return was concentrated in a modest number of stocks. For the year, the S&P 500® Index gained 16.3%, while the NASDAQ® gained 43.6% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average® only 7.2% compared to the year before—illustrating the concentrated nature of results in 2020.

Our stockholders experienced similar volatility in 2020. SCHW began the year at $47.56 and fell as low as $28.00 before ending the year at $53.04. Stockholder returns were further boosted by our regular dividend payments.

Value of Schwab Stock and S&P 500® Index

2020—The Golden Rule

2020—The Golden Rule

Just as my goal for this annual letter is to be clear and straightforward, our corporate-wide strategy adheres to a similar concept—the Golden Rule. As I have said many times, if we serve clients and prospects the way we would want to be served, they inevitably choose to do more business with us. We refer to this strategy as “Through Clients’ Eyes.” Put simply, it means that we try to operate your company by looking at all our actions from the perspective of our clients. And we execute this strategy through a concept we call “The Virtuous Cycle.”

Schwab’s “Virtuous Cycle”

Note: All growth metrics are 2020 vs. 2016.
Financial results include TD Ameritrade from October 6, 2020, forward.

“The Virtuous Cycle” recognizes and rewards our clients, employees, stockholders, and communities in a way that reinforces the benefits of continuing to work with Schwab over time. This type of long-term thinking defines the way we operate at Schwab. We strive to make decisions that will benefit all our constituencies—for years to come.

Did this approach work in 2020? Can it work during a global pandemic? Can it work in a world that’s changing rapidly before us? Yes. It can and it does. Because serving others as we would want to be served is timeless. And as a result of this approach, clients continue to reward us by investing their hard-earned money with us at impressive levels.

2020 results for Charles Schwab only:1

  • New-to-firm households in our retail business of over 1,500,000
  • New brokerage and banking accounts of over 3,700,000
  • 389 million client trades, with a daily average of 1.5 million
  • Core net new client assets of $254.8 billion
  • Total client assets reached $4.9 trillion

2020 combined results for Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade:2

  • New-to-firm households in our retail business of over 3,500,000
  • New brokerage and banking accounts of over 7,600,000
  • 1.3 billion client trades, with a daily average of 5.3 million
  • Core net new client assets of $387.2 billion
  • Total client assets reached $6.7 trillion

When I pause to look back at 2020, I see that our business year was defined by three factors:

  1. The priority we placed on the safety and health of our employees during the COVID-19 pandemic;
  2. The closing of four important acquisitions and the subsequent integration efforts; and
  3. Extraordinary organic growth of client assets and its accompanying challenges.

Total Client Assets

(In billions at year-end)

1 2020 Schwab only includes USAA and excludes TDA through December 31, 2020.
2 2020 combined results shown on a pro forma combined company basis.
3 Includes assets related to TD Ameritrade from October 6, 2020, forward.

COVID-19 and our employees

COVID-19 and our employees

If someone would have asked me in January 2020 to estimate the time it would take for us to enable over 95% of our employees to work remotely, my best estimate would have been measured in years—not months, weeks, or even days. And yet, as the pandemic hit the world in full force in March, our technology team accomplished something I did not think possible. Within days, almost all our employees were working remotely.

But ensuring the safety of our employees through remote work was only the beginning. We provided special one-time cash payments to help our non-officer employees deal with unique pandemic-related expenses; we delivered thousands of high-end workstations and pieces of equipment to employees’ homes; and we implemented a program to offset the cost of broadband and related necessities inherent in working from home. We also made a commitment not to eliminate any employees’ jobs in 2020 as a result of the pandemic.

When the pandemic hit, our tech team did the impossible—they had almost all our employees working remotely within days (right alongside their kids).

COVID-19 and our employees con't

We took these steps because we know that we can only see “Through Clients’ Eyes” when our employees know that we prioritize their well-being. There is a famous saying that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In 2020, culture and commitment were clearly put to the test. I am proud to say I believe our people passed that test, maybe even with honors.

As we look to the future, with vaccines for COVID-19 delivered by the millions, we are planning for a new world of work-location flexibility. Although some positions will eventually be required to return to our offices daily, other positions will be afforded more work-location flexibility. It’s still too early to have more specifics, but it is safe to say it is unlikely we will return to the worklocation model that we operated under pre-pandemic.

Important acquisitions and subsequent integration efforts

Important acquisitions and subsequent integration efforts

In 2020, we closed on four important acquisitions:

  1. The brokerage and wealth management business of USAA;
  2. Wasmer, Schroeder & Company LLC (Wasmer Schroeder), a nationally recognized firm in fixed income money management;
  3. The technology of Motif, along with hiring much of their staff; and
  4. TD Ameritrade Holding Corporation (TD Ameritrade).

Each of these transactions plays a key role in implementing our “Through Clients’ Eyes” strategy.

Few companies can rival USAA for their commitment to service and the loyalty of their members (customers). When presented with the opportunity to acquire the brokerage and wealth management business of USAA and build a long-term referral relationship, we were ecstatic. Not only did we add over one million new client accounts and $80 billion in client assets; over 400 talented and capable former USAA employees also joined Schwab. We expect the USAA-Schwab relationship to pay dividends for years to come, with USAA successfully referring members to Schwab for their investing needs.

Wasmer Schroeder is recognized throughout the industry for managing the fixed income investing needs of long-term investors and retirees. With approximately 10,000 Americans reaching age 65 every day and over 45 million Americans currently receiving Social Security, the importance of fixed income investing has never been greater. Today, we fulfill almost all our clients’ fixed income portfolio management needs through third-party asset managers. With Wasmer Schroeder™ Strategies now part of Charles Schwab Investment Management, we will be able to offer similar solutions that meet client needs and frequently do so at a lower cost to our clients, all while adding to Schwab’s financial results.

The acquisition of Motif’s technology and the hiring of much of their staff are consistent with our planning for the future of investing. We believe personalization at the individual investor level will define investing over the coming decades. Some investors will want to focus on certain investing themes (e.g., robotics, artificial intelligence, gene-driven therapies, etc.); others will want their investments to reflect their personal political or societal views; and others will want to capture the benefits of indexing while still owning individual stocks. In all these cases and more, the technology developed by Motif will play a key role in delivering personalization to Schwab clients at an outstanding value.

The acquisition of TD Ameritrade is the single largest brokerage acquisition in history. The deal had an initial transaction value of $26 billion, which decreased to $22 billion at the time of closing as our respective stock prices fluctuated. At the time of closing, TD Ameritrade had 14.5 million client accounts and $1.6 trillion in client assets. Of equal importance, we acquired several outstanding client platforms and welcomed thousands of dedicated and talented TD Ameritrade employees to Schwab. Together, Schwab and TD Ameritrade serve over 29 million brokerage accounts and $6.7 trillion in client assets. But to quote our founder, Chuck Schwab: “The merger is not about being the biggest. To me, it’s about being the strongest.” We believe this combination puts us on the path to being the optimal firm for investors and investment advisors to meet the challenges of investing in the coming years. We expect to complete our integration—a wide-reaching initiative encompassing staffing, systems, facilities, and more—by the fall of 2023.

Combined growth in brokerage accounts5

(In millions)

5 Account growth shown on a pro forma combined company basis

Extraordinary growth and its accompanying challenges

Extraordinary growth and its accompanying challenges

Records, records, and more records. 2020 delivered records in almost every client metric. Combined, Schwab and TD Ameritrade added over six million new brokerage accounts.

These results are a testament to a successful strategy: Companies focused on serving others as we would like to be served, and employees dedicated to serving others. But this type of growth was not without challenges and disappointments.

In 2020, Investor’s Business Daily named Schwab the Most Trusted Online Broker, and J.D. Power ranked Schwab #1 for DIY Self-Directed Investor Satisfaction. We are grateful for these honors, but we also know that recognition like this is fleeting. Our real reputation with each client is only as good as our last interaction with that client. And we know we can do better.

Frankly, on several occasions in 2020, we were overwhelmed by the volume of client engagement and phone calls. Despite our best efforts to plan for spikes in volumes, we did not anticipate volumes that oftentimes were multiples of the highest volume we had ever witnessed before. Our employees responded heroically— front-line staff, in particular—working unprecedented overtime hours to serve our clients. The combination of these volumes, however, with the inevitable impact on efficiency caused by so many of our employees working from home, resulted in service quality that did not consistently meet the high levels our clients deserve. We expect more of ourselves.

For example, in 2019 at Schwab we answered investor client phone calls, on average, in less than 30 seconds. In 2020 that number was just below two minutes. And at times of peak volumes, it could take us even longer—sometimes far longer. From a system standpoint, in 2019 our downtimes could be measured in hundredths of a percent. In 2020, we fell just below 99.9% in system availability. These figures might not sound like much, but they matter to our clients, and they are unacceptable to us. At Schwab, we believe that if you’re a client trying to reach us by phone or trying to make a trade on your computer or mobile device—and we are not there to serve you—we have not met the high standards of service that you expect from us— and which we expect from ourselves.

To help address these challenges, we:

  • Continue to invest in our digital transformation that enables greater self-service for routine service needs;
  • Are reorienting parts of our workforce; and
  • Are hiring thousands of employees dedicated to client service.

We are also spending hundreds of millions of dollars on technology and infrastructure. It may take some time, but we’re working aggressively to restore service levels to the industry-leading place all our clients expect and deserve—whether they are investors or those who serve them.

Though some employees will eventually have to return to our offices daily, other positions will be afforded more work-location flexibility.



Thirteen times I have been honored to write to you, our valued stockholders, about the state of your company. Through the years, we have experienced some amazing times. The financial crisis, years of zero interest rates, stock prices in the $12 range as well as the $60 range, record levels of growth, and significant acquisitions. But nothing that has come before can compare to 2020.

Whether we focus on the social and racial strife, the bruising political campaigns, or the COVID-19 pandemic—2020 was a year that has impacted us all and changed us all. I’ve changed myself—to have an even greater awareness than before of the impact of the color of one’s skin on their life and opportunities, a deeper appreciation for the momentous gaps in how people view capitalism in our country, and a heartfelt sense of gratitude for those first responders and frontline health care workers who have sacrificed so much in the service of others’ health and safety.

I see our continued success, despite a year like 2020, as a testament to the approach your company has employed for decades:

  • A business model rooted in the people we serve and a commitment to serve them the way we would want to be served
  • A vision for making investing easier and more accessible for everyone
  • A belief in managing your company with passion and integrity, to ensure we are using our strength to protect the assets under our care

It is, after all, other people’s money we have been entrusted with—a responsibility we take very seriously. I opened this letter by expressing my gratitude to so many, and I’d like to close it by doing the same.

I’m grateful for each and every one of our clients—no matter how large or how small. The trust you place in Schwab is humbling.

I’m grateful for each and every one of our stockholders— the ones who push us and challenge us, the ones who support our efforts and strategies, and all of those somewhere in between.

I’m grateful for our employees. Their dedication, their selflessness, and their willingness to go beyond what is expected for our clients are always an inspiration to me.

And I’d like to add one more special expression of gratitude—to our founder and Chairman, Chuck Schwab. Chuck, your vision over 40 years ago to start an investment firm to serve the average American and to make investing more accessible to everyone has become a reality. Almost 30 million clients have proven the worth of your vision. You have made a difference for so many. On behalf of our clients, our stockholders, and our employees—thank you.



Walt signature

Walt Bettinger
March 4, 2021