Vincent Tomczyk LA-based paper sculptor, creates replicas of everyday objects completely with paper.

As an artist working primarily with paper, my art requires me to be part craftsman and part engineer. I learned a lot about how to construct things by working at my father’s side, in his workshop. I’m compelled to produce work that is visually poetic by using a medium that defies perceived limitations.

Happy Anniversary, Guys!

May 1, 1975 is a day that changed Wall Street forever. Today’s 40th anniversary of the SEC-mandated deregulation of the brokerage industry marks the abolishment of exorbitant investment fees. My CEO, Fred Tomczyk, wrote an inspiring piece in USA Today where he called for our industry to continue to accelerate our collective push to transform and enhance our offerings. To welcome new players and ideas. To continue to ask how we can be better.

It got me thinking.

I’ve witnessed this brokerage transformation for most of my life. When I was growing up, my parents always talked about investing. They first opened a brokerage account  in 1970 based on a “tip” from a friend that gold was on the move. That worked out pretty well as gold appreciated from $38.90 to $594.90 in ten years. Through a positive experience with a commodity, they eventually started buying individual equities. Dinner table conversation typically had something to do with the stock market. One of my earliest memories is going to the library with my mom. That’s where she would do her equity research. She spent hours poring over the Standard & Poor’s and Value Line binders, feverishly studying fundamentals and price data that was often three months stale.

When I got to college, my parents encouraged me to take finance and investing courses as pass/fail electives just so I would be slightly less clueless about what to do with my money. My Intro to Investing  101 class sparked an interest in me that would change the entire course of what I wanted to do with my life. When I graduated and landed my first job, it was no surprise to my family that I wanted to put my money to work.  

Here’s how that went down.   It was 1997. I called my Uncle Dave who was a stock broker for Dean Witter in Virginia. He mailed me account opening paperwork. I filled it out. I mailed it back in. In about what seemed like a fiscal quarter later, I was finally all set up and ready to invest. Here is a copy of the cancelled check from my very first investment. Note that at this point I was still dotting the “i” in Nicole with a heart.  In addition, I spelled Dean Witter wrong and my personal checks were adorned with pansies. I was a kid.

I invested in 93 shares of a local Delaware based credit company called MBNA America (ticker KRB). My commission on that transaction was $60.

Like I said, it didn’t surprise my family when I wanted to invest for myself. But what shocked my family was the moment I made up my mind that it wasn’t enough to just dip my toe in the water. I wanted to completely immerse myself in investing. I wanted to work in the brokerage industry. This was a major pivot for a young woman who previously enjoyed reading Victorian literature and painting landscapes.  

My dad suggested I call his Legg Mason broker for career advice. Unfortunately, Legg Mason was only hiring the best and the brightest finance and econ majors. I had zero pedigree, but a ton of passion. “Why don’t you call one of those e-brokers?” he suggested. I still remember his disparaging tone when he said “e-brokers.” But it was good advice and I ran with it. I contacted E*TRADE in Atlanta, Georgia and asked if they were hiring. They were. “What are the qualifications you’re looking for?” I asked. “Do you have a pulse?” the recruiter joked. You see, at that that point, the “e-brokers” were growing at such a ridiculous pace that they could not even keep up with new applications coming in the door. They were recruiting like crazy and I met the baseline requirement—I had a pulse. That was October of 1999. I’ve now been in this business for close to 15 years.  

I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.

Building my street cred

I remember my first day on the trade desk. Most of the people calling in just wanted price quotes on stocks or to place an order over the phone because that’s what they were used to with their full-service brokers. People were still on dial-up internet. But it was the late ‘90s, technology stocks were ripping, and people were making money like crazy. I’ll never forget one guy I talked to who became a millionaire in a day because of Yahoo call options. Or the day of the Red Hat IPO when the stock tripled in value. The trading desk was an incredible place to learn about the business and the anomalies of trading—the detailed stuff you might never get exposed to in your career. Like a sponge, I soaked up everything I could about market making, execution, derivatives, and pricing.  

I had a job where I could learn about the industry and trade while I worked.  It was utopia.

Those were the good times.   And then, the inevitable crash came which taught me vital lessons at a very young age. Did I lose money? Yes. A lot of it. But it didn’t really matter. I would have paid any price for the knowledge I acquired in that correction and I was fortunate to have it happen when I was younger. It humbled me and gave me pause to shift my focus to risk management, fundamentals, and valuation. I was also pained by the conversations I had with clients throughout the bubble burst. I spoke with nice people much older than me as they struggled with tremendous losses. These were real people, some of whom were not able to cover margin calls. My heart broke for them. I’ll never forget those conversations.  

In it for the right reasons

In the years that followed, I moved my game over to TD Ameritrade.   There, I was able to focus my efforts on helping Main Street investors. Nothing frustrates me more than when my clients are referred to as “the dumb money.” It’s my opinion that Americans struggled to outperform the markets in the past predominately because of two things—a lack of quality education and information.

After the tech bubble popped, many looked to learn more about options trading as a means to put less capital at risk. But most available options education courses retailed for thousands of dollars just for mediocre content. Education has since been democratized. That’s why I was so proud this year when TD Ameritrade won #1 in Education from I believe that quality investor education should be free. Those of us who have been dealt punishing blows by the markets owe it to others to share what we have learned.

The same can be said for access to quality information. My parents did really well investing, but think about it…my mother used to research the stock market via outdated library binders. Today, my clients complain if there is a millisecond of latency—as well they should. The other night at a dinner at Gibson’s Steakhouse, I was checking tick-by-tick futures prices on my mobile phone. We now have access to quality, real-time information.

Innovating for retail investors

The pace of innovation has been unbelievable. My calling for many years now has been to level the playing field for the retail investor. Every day my team comes to work with a true sense of passion. We want to roll out capabilities that help investors make more informed decisions. I came to an epiphany the other day when I noticed how many professional investors we now have on thinkorswim®. It occurred to me that we aren’t just leveling the playing field for the retail investor, we’re tipping it in their favor. Many professionals are now using the retail technology. Mind blown.

Our work isn’t done. Not even close. But given that this is such a special anniversary of an event that dramatically accelerated the ability of everyday Americans to realize their dreams, I wanted to share my story as a witness to this evolution. And to thank Fred for pushing not only our team, but the entire industry forward. By partnering together there is so much more we can accomplish to help the clients we serve.


Options are not suitable for all investors as the special risks inherent to options trading may expose investors to potentially rapid and substantial losses. Options trading subject to TD Ameritrade review and approval. Please read Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options before investing in options.

TD Ameritrade was ranked #1 overall out of 15 online brokers evaluated in the Online Broker Review 2015. TD Ameritrade was also rated #1 or Best in Class (within top 5) in several categories, including “Education” (3rd year in a row). Read Full Article (Read Full Article links to:  

Commentary provided for educational purposes only. Inclusion of specific security names in this commentary does not constitute a recommendation from TD Ameritrade to buy, sell, or hold.

All investing involves risks, including loss of principal. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Supporting documentation for any claims, comparison, statistics, or other technical data will be supplied upon request.

© 2015 TD Ameritrade IP Company, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission. TD Ameritrade, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC.