stocks, and securities firms that deliver a fuller service get higher customer satisfaction ratings, according to a service quality study by J.D. Power and Associates.
In the company's first on-line brokerage survey, Charles Schwab & Co. of San Francisco came out on top and several bank-owned brokers were well behind in its wake.
"The study is saying that the market is changing," said Andrew March, director for financial services companies at J.D. Power, which is based in Agoura Hills, Calif. "Servicing is the key factor driving satisfaction."
Power, which is best known for its automobile industry ratings and has expanded into airlines, credit cards, and other fields, said customer service accounted for 26% of a satisfaction score, higher than any other factor. Integrity/reputation was assigned a 19% weight, as was information/education. Fees and commissions came in lowest, at 7%.
The survey was conducted in June and involved 2,740 on-line investors nationwide, many of whom have more than one brokerage account, said Mr. March. Those questioned were required to have traded frequently in the prior six months, though they were not drawn from the ranks of the so-called active traders, Mr. March added.
On-line brokerage providers have for the most part ceased to do battle over price and are now attempting to best each other in areas like service and customer support. Brokers have gone out of their way to provide bells and whistles designed to retain active customers. Services include access to customer-support desks into the wee hours and the ability to get the same real-time information available to firms that make markets in Nasdaq-listed stocks.
"There was only a brief window of time when Internet brokerage was based on price," said Christopher Musto, director of financial services at Gomez Advisors, a Lincoln, Mass. consulting firm. "That time came and went," Mr. Musto said.
"New investors coming on are not being driven by whether they're charged $5 or $20," he added.
Less emphasis on price might be good news for some banks, which in general charge higher commissions than the big nonbank competitors. Yet banks did not perform too well in the overall customer satisfaction ranking.
That is not surprising, said Kenneth Clemmer, an analyst with Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., because "it's not their principal business. "They haven't spent the same time and resources as firms like E-Trade," which trailed such leaders Schwab, Fidelity Brokerage, Datek Online, TD Waterhouse, and Discover Brokerage in the Power index.
The industry average score was 100. Citibank came in at 95, Fleet Financial Group's Quick & Reilly unit at 91, and the latter's Suretrade offshoot at 83.
"The banks don't feel they're going to live and die by on-line brokerage,'' Mr. Clemmer said.
Dreyfus Brokerage, a unit of Mellon Bank Corp. of Pittsburgh, and Discover Brokerage, a unit of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. of New York, launched after-hours trading for individual investors Wednesday.
Customers will be able to trade New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq-listed stocks between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Eastern time. Trades will be conducted through an alternative trading system created by New York firm MarketXT. Morgan Stanley and Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities are among the firms that will provide market making for stocks traded after-hours.