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Merrill, HSBC Join in Venture

Merrill Lynch Asset Management of New York and HSBC of London will invest $1 billion during the next five years to create an international online banking, brokerage and mutual fund company operating in major markets around the world except the United States, the two companies announced last week.

The new venture, to be called Merrill Lynch HSBC, is expected to be in operation by year-end. It will not target the U.S. market since both companies already have a strong presence there, the two firms said. The joint venture will focus on individuals with $100,000 to $500,000 to invest who are not already customers of either firm, the companies said. Because the new company will be accessible primarily through the Internet, Merrill Lynch HSBC will target the "self-directed" investor who prefers to do his own research and investment planning, the companies said.

Merrill Lynch and HSBC estimate the target market for the venture currently numbers 10 million individuals worldwide, a figure that could grow to 50 million within the next few years.

The company will sell customers mutual funds, equities and bonds tailored to the different tax laws of various countries, the companies said.