The Village View

Monday, March 17, 2008

Please let me do business with you

I'm writing this, my first post in exactly two months, from Amtrak's Acela Express train on route to Philadelphia (I'm actually heading to SAP's Newtown Square US HQ). I'm a big fan of the Acela and to a large degree of Amtrak. Fairly high level of service and especially so given its quasi-governmental status.

I'm not feeling so warm-and-fuzzy about Citibank given a recent experience. As background, I've been a Citibank customer for over 10 years and have two checking and one savings account with them. I've had personal loans and other accounts in the past. Admittedly, I have very modest sums deposited with them. However, recently I've been wanting to open a brokerage account. (I'd like to lose just enough money picking individual stocks to re-confirm my hypothesis that I should be just buying index funds).

But I digress. Point is, I call up Citibank to inquire about how to open a brokerage account, how much per trade, if there is an annual fee etc. Now I just didn't call because I like the sound of my own voice, but rather because I couldn't find this information on Citi's website. It seemed I had to have a "financial advisor" or somebody similar call me. Uh, it's a brokerage account to buy a few stocks, not a wealth management relationship. So I called. A nice gentlemen who sounded like he might actually be located in this country explained to me that the information I sought was not online. Furthermore, I couldn't open an account online or over the phone, but he'd be happy to send me the paperwork. When I asked if he could email it, he replied that the material was actually mailed, which I understand is some arcane form of communication that involves dead trees. He was nice enough, but unable to help me. At the same time, I had Fidelity's web page up. There was the information I needed online and a link to open an account. Oh, and there was no account fee and the commission was cheaper.

So, what's the deal? Does Citibank have inefficient processes? Are they not savvy enough to have the information on the website (weird as they have won awards for their online banking site)? Or, are they trying to get younger customers to self-select away from their brokerage accounts because they likely have less money under management? Whatever the answer, I know have a new brokerage account and it's not with Citi. However, this non-Citi account has just one long position. In a bit of irony, guess what the first "buy" I initiated today was? C


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