The Idle Rich Go Broke
on the Web.
A few months ago, I was sitting naked
counting my Kruggerands, when I realized the time had come to re-evaluate
the way I managed my vast financial empire. I kept wondering if the time
had finally arrived when I could move my investment portfolio over to
a more convenient, more efficient -- and of course, cheaper -- online
operation. After all, I'm the digital guy who keeps hawking the virtues
of online commerce.
It was as the chilled champagne was being
served beside my hot tub that I noticed a commercial on the large screen
television for an online brokerage. "Aha!" I exclaimed to my
legion of pin-striped Yes Men. "Take notes!"
Sure enough, we noticed a bevy of television
spots for online brokerages. We watched Schwab, Ameritrade, Suretrade
and a couple of others. Each one promising safe, secure transactions with
the click of a mouse. Later, as I climbed into my Bentley for a trip to
the club, I listened to yet another brokerage house advertise its service
on the radio.
My financially-secure brain went into
overdrive: "This is it!" I clucked. "Whenever competition
for online services spills over into mass media, it means the industry
has matured to the point where it's safe to play!"
I immediately dispatched Murray, my Chief
Brown Noser, on a mission: his job was to select the best online brokerage
for the job. I wanted everything taken into consideration: price, reputation,
services, research -- everything. And I wanted a decision by the next
By breakfast, we decided on the cheapest:
suretrade.com -- at seven bucks a trade!
The slaves had just finished clearing
the table when I logged on to suretrade.com. Wow. What a set-up. I filled
out the forms. I clicked on the buttons. I entered my password. And in
a moment, the message came back: my account was open!
I was now fully able to beat those blood-sucking
brokers who leached their fortunes from my years of hard work and bone-crushing
Or so I thought.
Turns out you have to print out the application
from the web site. Then you have to fill it out and return it by snail
mail. So much for immediate gratification. But Apple stock was at a low
and MacExpo was still a month or more away, so I signed the papers and
sent them off.
After two weeks, I still had no confirmation.
Not by e-mail. Not by snail mail. So I figured I'd call their toll-free
number to check things out. Unfortunately, there was no toll-free number,
which meant that since I lived outside the 212 area code, this little
investigation was going to cost me plenty of the stuff I was supposed
to be saving.
It being my executive assistant's state-mandated
coffee break, I dialed the number myself, only to be greeted by a machine.
The good news was that they played Elvis tunes while I waited. The bad
news was that I had to sit through twenty-five minutes of Elvis before
a customer service rep picked up the phone to tell me she had no record
of my application and that "we've been getting a lot of complaints
about stuff like this."
My money was growing impatient. Apple
stock was about to jump. She suggested I re-apply via the internet. Which
Still nothing, unless you count another
snail mail application that arrived by Federal Express a day or so later.
For good measure, I had my Vice President in charge of Filling Out Forms
execute that action.
One week later: nothing.
At this point, I wrote to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, I got an answer. No, make that four answers. All saying the same
thing. All sent from the same auto-responder. None of them having any
idea of who I was or what I needed.
Meanwhile, MacExpo came and went. Apple
stock indeed jumped five points. And I -- and my money -- sat out the
So what's the moral of the story? Well,
there are two, actually. The first is that -- like I always tell you --
even multi-million dollar big boys make tons of stupid mistakes on the
web that cost them zillions. Bad service, uninformed sales staff, phone
calls that cost your customer time and money and badly-programmed auto-responders
are sure-fire ways to kill your business, no matter how big or small you
The second moral? Oh. Never piss of a
nationally-syndicated columnist whose articles are read by lots and lots