Green Line Investor Services Inc. has found that saving money and improving customer service is not a trade-off.
The subsidiary of $61 billion-asset Toronto Dominion Bank, Canada's fifth-largest, is successfully using personal computers and a telephone voice-response system in its discount brokerage operation to provide customers with electronic access to their accounts.
"We have entered the world of automation to let people be more in touch with their investments," said Bruce Seago, a product analyst at Green Line. "Accessibility is very important to our customers, and by entering into the world of automation, we can provide a more accessible delivery network to the customers."
Green Line, the largest discount brokerage firm in Canada, offers a PC-based trading and information system called Micromax. The system allows customers to execute orders and make account inquiries from their homes or anyplace they have a personal computer and a modem.
The Telemax voice-response system allows customers to call in, make account inquiries, and execute trades via a touch-tone phone.
"Customers are able to get access, place orders as well as get real time quotes from any exchange in North America at any time of the day as well as review account information." said David Sypher, manager of delivery systems.
"Personal computer delivery systems make a lot of sense because it gives the customer functionality, while it provides the firm a less expensive tool to execute trades," said Mark Frieser, senior analyst at New York-based Jupiter Communications Co. "People want services from their homes and companies are looking for automation; it works for everyone."
"We offer the Micromax and Telemax as a service to all customers without requiring a minimum balance; as long as they have the hardware, they can use the systems," said Mr. Sypher.
The firm, which began to offer the two services in the spring of 1992, does not charge customers to use the telephone system, although it does require a $19 start-up fee to use Micromax. There are no maintenance fees for either service.
Green Line's main competitors are the discount brokerage arms of the four bigger Canadian banks, plus Canada Trust Co., which also offers voice-response systems. None of those competitors offers the PC service, Mr. Sypher said.
Customers can use the Green Line systems to get quotations on stocks, bonds, and mutual funds; receive account information; and execute trades.
"By focusing on these three areas, we have been able to meet our customers' needs electronically, providing the same level of service that we have always provided," said Mr. Sypher.
The PC system was designed by EMS Inc., Montreal; the telephone system was created by Computer Talk Technology Inc., also of Montreal.
Mr. Seago said customer response and satisfaction have been extremely high since the products were released.
"One of things that customers have found beneficial is the added 10% discount they receive if they trade with us electronically," he said.
"We see it as a way for us to pass on the savings we are getting from the use of the systems to the customer," he continued. "It is a lot cheaper for us to use the automation than have a representative answer all of the calls manually."
Thus far, about 11,000 Green Line customers use Micromax. Overall, 10% of all the firm's trades are being executed electronically.
Mr. Sypher also said that 45% of account inquiries - about 400,000 calls a month - are handled automatically. When customers call or dial into Green Line, the lines are routed directly into the firm's mainframe for processing. The mainframe contains all of the account information as well as real-time stock, and mutual fund prices and index information.
The Micromax system gives users a series of pull-down menus while Telemax prompts customers through a voice-response system.
"The system is very simple, it literally says 'choose 1 for trading, choose 2 for stock quotes," said Mr. Seago. "All you have to do is enter the ticker symbol through either the telephone keypad or on a keyboard and the information is delivered in real time."
"We give the customers the prompts, they enter the information, and the data is delivered automatically," he continued. "The systems delivers over three million quotes a month."
"People are telling us that they like it and that it is easy to use," said Mr. Sypher. "We are planning on adding historical and research information as well as news feeds onto the system in the near future."
"These systems are putting more tools into the hands of the discount investors, which is exactly what they are looking for," said Mr. Sypher.