orders over the phone and reimburse some customers for losses.
Outages last Friday on brokerage Web sites run by TD Waterhouse Group and Discover Brokerage added to the growing pains for the rapidly expanding industry. Computer problems at Automatic Data Processing Inc., which routes orders from the brokerages to exchanges, prevented Waterhouse and Discover customers from placing orders for at least 90 minutes. An official at Automatic Data did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Both trading firms took orders over the phone during the disruptions, which began midmorning Eastern time. Both also said it is their policy to reimburse customers for losses on a case-by-case basis. "We wanted to do whatever is necessary to satisfy our customers," said John Chapel, president and chief operating officer of TD Waterhouse, a unit of Toronto Dominion Bank. "Keeping a customer happy is the bread and butter of our business."
TD Waterhouse has a team of employees trained to address reimbursement queries and compensate customers when appropriate, Mr. Chapel said.
During the outage, TD Waterhouse customers could place orders in person at the brokerage's approximately 160 branches. Taking orders over the telephone also eased the pain, the company said.
Customers of Discover, a unit of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., had to wait an average of 12 to 15 minutes to place orders, a spokeswoman said. A spokesman for TD Waterhouse said it was not clear whether there were significant waiting times.
Companies that can handle many calls and have widespread branch offices, like TD Waterhouse and industry leader Charles Schwab, are much better equipped to handle Internet disruptions than their on-line-only competitors like Discover, industry experts say.
"Waterhouse has robust branch and customer service networks," said Dan Burke, senior brokerage analyst at Gomez Advisors Inc. of Concord, Mass. "It's not as difficult for them to field calls as some of the other on-line brokers. That's an important differentiator for Waterhouse."
On-line brokerages are not the only financial service business that have had problems with Internet technology. Checkfree Holdings Corp., the bill presentment and payment software company, and Intuit Inc., the maker of the popular Quicken financial management software, have run into service disruptions.
"This has affected all sorts of on-line financial service providers," said Robert Sterling, a digital commerce analyst at Jupiter Communications.
In April, service glitches for some home banking customers paying bills through Checkfree caused the company to take a $2.7 million charge in the latest quarter. The charge was the result of monthly service fees that Checkfree did not collect from banks affected by the outage.
The Norcross, Ga.-based company this week announced a guarantee program to help promote consumer confidence in on-line bill payment. Under the program, consumers are liable for no more than $50 of unauthorized bill payments. Checkfree will also pay up to $50 in late fees that customers incur if Checkfree delays a scheduled payment.