Today I look at some new broker fees, lowered minimum investments, a broker customer service survey and "unsubscribe watch."
New Fees for Confirmations
Here's a change that's annoying but perhaps inevitable.
Terra Nova Trading
, the Chicago-based direct-access broker, now charges customers to have official trade confirms snail mailed to them.
Quick & Reilly
is planning to do the same, possibly as soon as the next couple of weeks.
The change is annoying, because a written trade confirm is something many investors likely take for granted. But it's probably inevitable, because all aspects of our financial lives are increasingly becoming paper-free, from taxes to banking and 401(k)s to investing.
Also in This Column
Currently, most of the bigger full service discounters do not charge for official written confirms. (By official, I mean not the instant email you might receive after a trade is executed, but the document regulators require with details like commissions and fees and legalese.)
, customers can opt to access their confirms electronically and forego snail mail copies, but there's no charge either way. Same at
, which says that about 40% of its transactions are now confirmed electronically. At
, written confirms are standard, no charge; electronic versions are not currently available.
A charge for mailed confirms is not something I'd switch brokers over. Just know your firm's policy to avoid surprises. Here are some examples:
Terra Nova Trading: $3 for mailed confirms for all trades on a given day, no matter how many; electronic confirms free
Wall Street Access: $1.50 "postage and handling" fee on all written confirms; no electronic confirms
Mr. Stock: $1 for mailed confirms; electronic confirms free
Quick & Reilly: plans to charge 50 cents for mailed confirms; electronic confirms free
Streaming Quotes'll Cost Ya
begins charging for its streaming quote service, $9.99 per month, as of April 1. SI was the last online service I know of to offer streaming quotes free of charge.
If you are in the market for a streaming quote service, check out this
series by my colleague,
discusses Money.net, the tool offered by Silicon Investor.
On a Good $$ Note
who have faced $10,000 minimum investments on trades of certain foreign stocks will now have to put up only half that amount, $5,000. Steven Chandler, veep of global trading at Schwab, reports that the firm recently renegotiated its minimums on purchases conducted through a local overseas broker (in contrast to
situations where a U.S. market maker has shares in its inventory). I've liked Schwab for foreign stock investors
from the get-go, and this change only makes it better.
Customer Service Survey
With all the staff reductions at online brokers lately (including
and TD Waterhouse), investors have to wonder how staffing will impact customer service. Then again, with lower trading volume there's probably less demand for customer service.
Pacific Crest Securities,
a Portland, Ore., firm that focuses on Internet companies, recently conducted its own survey of how well brokers service their customers. It looked at the average call wait time to speak to a service rep, email response time and knowledge of customer service reps.
took the prize as most responsive time-wise, while Ameritrade, Schwab and CSFBdirect scored on having knowledgeable reps. No surprise to see
and Datek toward the bottom -- they haven't performed well in this category in
What was strange was seeing Fidelity in last place. While the firm's consistently been No. 1 in
rankings for service, Pacific found its performance lame for call wait time, only average on rep knowledge, and horrific for email response time: 20 hours, 53 minutes (the average for two emails sent).
Comments? Email your customer service woes to
In response to my
call for email newsletters that made it difficult to unsubscribe, readers sent several candidates -- thanks. I'm trying to replicate the situations myself. So far, I've hit two glitches/annoyances, one with
Grant's Investor and the other with
Blue Dolphin, a site that produces all sorts of financial and other newsletters. After I subscribed to Grant's and received the newsletter, I hit the "unsubscribe" link and got this message: "There was an error displaying this link." How convenient for them!
A couple of days later I went back, clicked, and did get a page where I had to log in to unsubscribe. I don't like the "log-in" requirement, because folks forget their passwords, but it did work.
Blue Dolphin made unsubscribing easy enough, but they're a little sneaky about it. The unsubscribe page lists two new offers with "subscribe" buttons selected. If you were to quickly "accept changes" to the page, you'd end up subscribing to new products in the process.
hit home when he reported problems unsubscribing to the email of
director of customer service
says that for about two weeks the unsubscribe link in the
daily bulletin led to a page that did not work, but that it's since been fixed.
points out that email program
has a "junk" email feature that blocks messages from unwanted addresses. Most other e-mail programs have similar features.