“Smith Barney, Why do you hate your customers?” A Play by JD

by Johnny Debacle

A tale of dinosaurs in the age of robots.

“For the customer, who doesn’t enjoy high levels of service and has no respect for their money, Financial Management Account, by Smith Barney”

Smith Barney Does Not Rule

JD: I have a brokerage account with you. A relative used to work there and having a live broker helps for things like buying producers of Japanese toilets or Russian Petroleum on their native exchanges rather than illiquid domestic ADR’s.

Smith Barney: Yes, I am a well-known, venerable brokerage house, built upon the philosophy that customers should be rich, have low expectations and a deep self-hatred.

JD: You are a remarkably mediocre brokerage. You are more expensive than my pal Ameritrade, yet you make everything more difficult and less convenient. You are never galling but consistently incalcitrant. Would a customer like to receive their documents by email? They should expect to receive a link to their document by email, and have it not even work half the time. Does a customer want to have one account number? They ought expect to have Smith Barney CHANGE the final digit on you due to some unannounced internal transfer causing the customer to run around not being able to log in. For you, Smith Barney, it is a privilege for me to be able to look at my account online, like it’s 1997 and real time observation of my portfolio is a gift.

Smith Barney: Smith Barney Access has been named the #1 overall website among Full Service Brokerage firms for the sixth consecutive time, by the semi-annual Watchfire GomezPro Scorecard, for fourth quarter 2005. Watchfire GomezPro Scorecards measure the quality of online financial services offerings, with predominant focus on ease-of-use, customer confidence, onsite resources, and relationship services. Unfortunately, it appears as Smith Barney Access has been named the #Crap overall website by Johnny Debacle of Long or Short Capital.

JD: Let me tell you a story, Smith Barney. Last week, I decided to buy Quicken to tidy up my personal finances. Smith Barney, you don’t have any downloadable Quicken or MS Money files or anything at all, outside of PDF’s. I searched and searched and found that the only way I could get access to Quicken ready account statements, with their QIF’s and OFX’s and what not, was by upgrading to a Financial Management Account.

Smith Barney: The cornerstone of your investment relationship with Smith Barney, the Financial Management Account (FMA®) allows you to consolidate, manage, monitor and access your cash and other assets, simply and conveniently.*

JD: …And it costs $100 per year (on top of already expensive fees which I pay) and offers nothing that Ameritrade doesn’t provide gratis. Smith Barney, why would I want this? Why would I want an extended business relationship with you, who has demonstrably shown to me that everything you do is convoluted, user unfriendly, and limited? I’m a twentysomething living in the digital age and I don’t want to have worry about things that should be taken for granted. You make money off the trading I do with my money. $100 means nothing compared to the unduly non-monetary transaction costs you apply to everything. How do you not see that it’s in YOUR interests, not mine, to make it as easy as possible for me to trade and to manage my trades?

Smith Barney: Plastics.


*Except when compared to every other brokerage.

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