Fidelity, Schwab and E*Trade—firms that made a name for themselves in the world of online trading—are branching out. They've moved into the advisory arena and now court advice-seeking investors in addition to the do-it-yourselfers.

The transformation has happened gradually as online brokerage firms fine-tuned their advisory service offerings. Today, their services are robust enough to mimic those from traditional, full-service advisors at banks, brokerage firms and other channels, says Katharine Wolf, associate director at Boston-based research firm Cerulli Associates.

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