Update: see part two of this post here.
Sometimes I forget that not everyone who reads this blog comes here all glassy-eyed after reading every other churning resource on the web, so let me quickly recap some stuff that may not be common knowledge to all readers:
- American Express generally won’t give you a sign-up bonus on a card if you’ve ever held that particular card before.
- Most churners have or have had the Amex Platinum card at one point.
- Amex offers different “flavors” of the Platinum card that are aligned with their co-brand partners (Mercedes Benz, Morgan Stanley, Charles Schwab, Ameriprise, and so on).
- Each flavor is considered a separate product, so you can kinda sorta earn the bonus on the Platinum card multiple times if you cycle through each one.
- (I’m speculating here) Amex is going to stop doing this at some point, so I want to cycle through as many as I can before they start considering all the versions of the Platinum card as a single product.
So far, I’ve had the basic Platinum as well as the Mercedes and Schwab versions, and each one offers its own unique benefit. (I’ve written before about the Schwab “Invest with Rewards” benefit, which can be very strategically useful.) However, with my Membership Rewards balance depleted, I’m looking for my next big windfall, and my attention has turned to the Platinum card for Morgan Stanley clients. It doesn’t hurt that the Morgan Stanley version includes a free authorized user, which is a great upgrade over the standard Platinum (which charges $175 for the first three authorized users).
There’s one problem, though: Morgan Stanley doesn’t just hand out brokerage accounts. See, a lot of what I do as a churner involves play-acting as a rich asshole (when in reality I’m just a normal asshole). Holding a Platinum card when my income is like 1/5th of the average income for Platinum cardholders (I’m guessing) is an example, as is planning vacations around luxury travel in the first place. The Schwab Platinum card has a special incentive for people that have over $1,000,000 invested, and I have a feeling that those people are the ones that Amex/Schwab is wooing with all the fancy benefits, not the guy in a dilapidated rat-infested apartment in Emeryville, CA.
Sometimes, though, I run into reality checks that some of these products really aren’t meant for me. The Morgan Stanley card is a good example, since I don’t have nearly enough money to start a brokerage account with a real live financial advisor who I pay thousands of dollars to gamble all my money, regardless of whether they win or lose.
However. Morgan Stanley has a new investing platform called Access Investing that’s a downmarket version of their flagship managed accounts. Basically, instead of a financial advisor, you fill out a questionnaire based on your goals and risk tolerance, and Morgan’s algo spits out an equity mix that’s perfectly matched to you. (Fancy that.) Now, lest you not trust the algorithm, they’re happy to remind you that “behind our smart algorithms are our smart people,” which is a delightful tautology that overlooks the fact that Morgan’s smart people marched their investors like cows to slaughter during the financial crisis.
In exchange for automating your portfolio, Morgan only asks you for a $5000 minimum investment and a 0.35% annual management fee. (For those that snort derisively at any management fee at all, check your Acorns account.)
This isn’t a personal finance blog (god help you if you thought it was, you poor bastard), so I’m not going to offer judgment on Access Investing. To be totally honest, I’m curious about it. I don’t invest tons of money in the stock market, but I’m theoretically open to taking $5000 out of my brokerage account with Schwab and giving Morgan’s smart algorithm a shot with it. The fun thing about investing is that everyone thinks that every method of investing aside from their own specific strategy is fucking idiotic. You know a guy who only invests in market tracking funds because the market as a whole always beats individual stocks, you moron. And a lady who only invests in dividend aristocrats because why invest in something that doesn’t pay you income, you simpleton? And a 19 year-old who only buys tech stocks because “tech is the future and so it’s literally impossible for tech to be overvalued, you [insult that’s current with today’s 19 year-olds].” Oh and cryptocurrency or whatever, you blockchain.
So I’m not going to try to convince you that Access Investing is a good or a bad option, since I’m woefully unqualified to do so. My one pearl of wisdom, which should go without saying, is that you should never make serious financial decisions or move money into non-FDIC insured accounts based on the possibility of reward points.
Assuming you’re open to gambling $5k on Morgan Stanley’s automatic trading platform, does Access Investing represent an “eligible brokerage account” in Amex’s eyes? It’s unclear to me, since Amex’s terms are pretty vague and were almost certainly written before Access Investing was rolled out.
I was curious to get more info, so I called the general contact number for Access Investing, pressed 1 for more info, and after sitting on hold for a while, I reached a friendly person and had a conversation that approximates the following:
Her: [fumbling nose] “Morgan Stanley, this is _______.”
Me: “Hi, I have a question about the Access Investing Platform.”
Her: “Are you a Morgan Stanley employee?”
Me: “Uhh, no, I’m a customer… I called the general contact line and pressed 1 for more info, but maybe I reached the wrong department?”
Her: “I guess not… There is a department for them, but they’re in Tampa, so they’re all gone by now. I can help you. What’s your question?”
Me: “Okay, so this is kind of an arcane question, but I was wondering if Access Investing is considered an eligible brokerage account in terms of the Morgan Stanley American Express cards.”
Her: “Oh, that’s a good question. Hmm… Can I put on on a brief hold?”
Me: “GODDAMN IT NO TELL ME NOW!” (Just kidding, I’m polite as fuck.)
Her: [after hold] “Thanks for holding. So I checked, and we’re not offering those cards to Access investors at this time. Just like how Access investors don’t get paper checks.”
Me: “Okay, that makes sense — since Access is all automated, it’s not considered a brokerage account the same way as a full service account would be?”
Her: “No, it’s a brokerage account, just not one that has the full suite of Morgan Stanley features, which includes the American Express credit cards.”
Me: [thanks, pleasantries, hangs up.]
So that should be the end of it, right? I wish. I’m still curious, since some of what she said seemed open to further interpretation. For instance, it’s Amex who verifies the existence of the Morgan Stanley account, and Amex’s terms seem to include all brokerage accounts except the specific ones they exclude. I understand that Access is a limited platform and all that, but it’s still stuck in my head that this might be a gray area where Morgan Stanley doesn’t intend for Access investors to get the Amex cards, but Amex doesn’t know the difference and issues them anyway.
I did open an Access account, but I haven’t funded it yet. I’m still doing my own due diligence on whether I want to invest $5000 this way, and I’m trying to be disciplined in removing all Amex-related upside from my decision calculus. If I do move forward, I’ll definitely apply for the Platinum card, but if anyone else (especially someone who’s already on the Access platform) wants to be a guinea pig, I’m sure the churning community will reward you with bushels of Reddit upvotes.
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