Penalty? What Penalty?

When I called Ameritrade recently to transfer my account elsewhere, I was surprised to learn that it would cost me $50 — a $25 transfer fee plus a $25 termination fee. The first charge seemed justified. But a fee to stop doing business with them? Whose bright idea was this?

You would think someone in customer service would see the moment a little differently. They could have recovered, or at the very least, closed my account with grace. They didn't say, "We enjoyed doing business with you and we're sorry to lose you, but we hope you keep us in mind in the future," or "What could we have done differently?" They said, "It's company policy" — now pay up.

Ameritrade isn't alone in imposing this type of fee, of course. Plenty of companies adopt a similar short-sighted view these days. They're slamming the door and giving up on customers too easily. They don't seem to realize that they're terminating something more than an account. They're ruining the possibility of a change of heart, of customers coming back and doing business with them in the future.

Add New Comment

11 Comments

  • Paul G

    I invested $2,000 in some penny stocks (alternative fuels) with etrade back in 2001. I bought them for less than $.88 each. Today, they are worth about $5.

    Turns out etrade sold them off at the low price to cover their "service fees" even though I had made no trades and made no use of their website during that time.

    So I'm out of about $8,000. Thank you, etrade.

  • Dan Smith

    I had a similar "incident" with Etrade. I noticed a $20 and a $40 deduction from my account with a generic description like 'Account Fee'. I inquired and found the $40 fee was because I hadn't made a trade this past quarter and didn't have a large balance. The $20 fee was interesting. Apparently a stock I had (AGR.B), did a reverse stock split and Etrade charges $20 for these type of "transactions". Here is the kicker. I had some Lucent shares and when they spun off Agere I received 30 shares of stock. Keep in mind, when I bought Lucent stock, the price was near $50/share, so I didn't have all that much. So, when Agere did a reverse split my 20-30 shares became 1. So, as a result, I sold my $13 single share of Agere (with a $14.99 transaction charge), in order to avoid the next $40 quarter charge...

  • Dan Smith

    I had a similar ‘incident’ with Etrade. I noticed a $20 and a $40 deduction from my account with a generic description like “Account Fee”. I inquired and found the $40 fee was because I hadn’t made a trade this past quarter and didn’t have a large balance. The $20 fee was interesting. Apparently a stock I had (AGR.B), did a reverse stock split and Etrade charges $20 for these type of ‘transactions’. Here is the kicker. I had some Lucent shares and when they spun off Agere I received 30 shares of stock. Keep in mind, when I bought Lucent stock, the price was near $50/share, so I didn’t have all that much. So, when Agere did a reverse split my 20-30 shares became 1. So, as a result, I sold my $13 single share of Agere (with a $14.99 transaction charge), in order to avoid the next $40 quarter charge…..

  • Ron Tanner

    I 2nd the Dan and Sarah's comments. I am always amused at companies and organizations who employ customer retention strategies. If you are a customer-centric business, retention strategies become irrelevant and referrals become a new revenue stream. What a concept.

    I was in a bank recently and on the counter was a sign that read something like this..."Effective 6-01-05, a 10% service fee will be charged to all non-customers requesting newly minted rolls of nickles and quarters." (Don't bother us!)

    If I'm not a customer, why am I there? And, if I am there, I am certain NOT to come back and become one.

  • Syarzhuk

    Why transfer the account? Why not just sell all the stocks and withdraw everything but 1 penny?

  • Sarah Martel

    It seems that some still have not realized that building a loyal customer through quality service will bring far greater returns in the long run than a small transfer or termination fee. It takes time to do that, which some seem unwilling to sacrifice.

    Hidden fees have long been a problem, but not every brokerage firm has them. I work for a boutique brokerage firm that likes to do a lot outside the box, including combating the ever-popular hidden fee mentality by picking up the cost of transfer fees when a client comes from another broker. It is refreshing because they are confident their platform and customer service will keep customers, not hidden charges. The higher-ups here seem to actually remember how they, as consumers, wish to be treated and because of that, they geniunely employ the good ol' Golden Rule.

  • Tom Nelson

    I'd say charging you $25 to leave is wrong. For a small stub account, E*Trade recently started charging me $40/quarter to *stay*. Details are here:

    http://tomnelson.blogspot.com/...

    Before charging me this fee, E*Trade had a decent chance at winning my future business. Now they don't.

  • Dan Seidman

    What's the best move here? Employ the power of the press.

    If WSJ did a short article on this - even if a major city newspaper did - it would drive away potential customers and possibly impact stock price.

    Why not also share this with customer service experts like Jeffrey Gitomer (www.gitomer.com) who are speaking to tens of thousands of people a year.

    Gitomer loves stories like these. In his office are shelves of three-ring binders of airline service horror tales.

    This is how you fight back.

    Dan Seidman, salesautopsy.com

  • Frank Patrick

    Probably wouldn't have been an issue (or a blog post) if they didn't break it out, and instead charged $50 to transfer.

  • Richard

    Then isn't it about time the consumer fought back!!! These company's quote "terms of business" for all their costs imposed. Well if it works for them it works for us/me too. I have often, when faced with fees, quite happily returned the favour with my fee for doing business with them - that's my "terms of business". And it works because once they have themselves in the "terms of business" trap there is no way out - unless its to provide a far better customer service. Now that would be interesting.