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How Fast Can You Reach Your Broker?

On days like this, nervous investors reach out to their brokers. With U.S. stocks falling in volatile trading Monday, Pay Dirt contacted some of the biggest brokerage firms by phone and email to see how fast they were in responding to our queries.


Our telephone response times are listed in order of speed:

E-trade: 40 seconds.

Trade King: 55 seconds.

Vanguard: 50 seconds.

Options Xpress: 1 minute.

Fidelity Investments: 3 minutes, 25 seconds.

Sharebuilder: 4 minutes.

Spokespeople for 5 of the 6 brokers said they experienced an unusually high volume of calls today and had hired extra telephone staff. Sharebuilder spokeswoman Cathy MacFarlane says, “It’s all hands on deck. We’ve had one of the heaviest trading days since 2008.”

Fidelity spokesman Adam Banker says it received a “very high volume” of calls and managed the volume well given the circumstances. OptionsXpress is not making comment to the media about its business due to the takeover by Charles Schwab.

Alison Cahill, a spokeswoman for E-Trade says the company has invested in both technology and talent to improve customer service. TradeKing spokeswoman Kathy Wilson says Monday was one of the busiest days in its history and says it answered 80% of calls in 30 seconds or less.

Warning: it makes sense to call rather than email your broker questions. TradeKing says it aims to respond to every email within 2 hours. But Sharebuilder pledges to “craft a response” within 1-2 business days; the site adds, “In the meantime, we kindly ask you to sit tight.”

Pay Dirt readers, what kind of wait time do you think is appropriate on a day like today?

(This post was updated with response from the brokers.)


We welcome thoughtful comments from readers. Please comply with our guidelines. Our blogs do not require the use of your real name.

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    • Whether you are trading stcoks, commodities, futures, options, or all of these, TerraNova is the only one that you can trade everything, real time, online, direct access. A lot of online brokerages claim to give you direct access, but if they take more than a second to execute your trade, it ain’t direct.Find the articles online, or in the trade magazines, that have evaluated and compared online brokerages. I found a good one online in Barron’s.This is worth putting a little time and effort into, because it’s a pain to switch, so once you choose, you’re kinda stuck with it. Townsend Electronics, the Parent company of TerraNova, are the people that digitized and electronified the Nasdaq. They are technological industry leaders and have a powerful and well built trading system. I use RealTick at TerraNovaOnline, but it costs $ 275/mo. I think the Investor package is free to use, and just uses one screen. What you should try is a free trial of their Investor platform. You only get one window to trade from. Their rates are good also, but of course, it depends on how often you trade. It will take you months to learn all the bells and whistles of what this program can do.The other top-of-the line program is TradeStation, but it costs big bucks to join and operate. Some people consider it the Cadillac of trading and technical analysis. TerraNova is the home of the Day Trader, so they think nothing of you making several hundred trades a day. You don’t have to do that, but it’s okay here if you do.

    • Citigroup should be on the list.try getting in touch with one of them.Plan for a day

    • There is a reason for cheap trades at Scottrade. They go cheap on server numbers so when trading volumes are high when the market is tanking, you cannot get its trading site to load so you can sell to avert a big loss. You are forced to lump it. Also very bad……its sell stops have to be set at 10 cents below bid.

      On my Schwab accounts, plenty of servers handle trading crunches easily and I can always get on its trading site immediately, and sell stops can be set at market so they execute faster and higher than those forced on us by Scottrade. And, my trades cost the same as Scottrade charges.

      You get what you pay for, once again and always. Disclaimer: I have accounts with both brokers(but soon will quit Scottrade).

    • Depends what number you call for Fidelity. They have premium services numbers for their “special” clients that get answered much more quickly in general, and are staffed with sharper folks.

    • Who cares about the wait time? The advice they give you will likely be worthless anyway.

About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.