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Market lesson: When to fight over brokerage troubles

Taylor ConwayTaylor Conway ·

The set-up: Individual traders have plenty of nervous mornings where there is so much volume across the board as the bell goes off that they legitimately worry that their broker’s platform will bog down and struggle to complete trades.

For day traders who can be in and out of a trade in a matter of seconds, it is crucial to know that trades have gone through and with as close to perfect execution as possible.

When it surfaced: It was one of “those days,” an utter fail, across the board. My trades weren’t going through or, worse, were messed up when they did. It wasn’t just me, as I was in a chat room where every person on E-Trade Pro was freezing, lagging, had charts that didn’t work and more.

Ultimately, the problem cost me somewhere between $800 and $900.

How to handle it: Everyone experiences slippage; it’s a part of doing business. And every brokerage platform has issues; talk to enough traders and you’ll recognize that there’s never been a broker that was problem-free.

If you don’t consider brokerage issues a cost of business, these problems will just make you that much more angry and frustrated.

But whenever that cost is too high – in my case that would be a loss in triple digits – it’s time to complain.

The process: Complaining is frustrating in its own way, because it often looks like you’ll get no help, and the brokerage isn’t under obligation to do more than execute your trades. But you do have something they want, namely a stream of business; if you complain at appropriate times – when you can show how their issues affected you and how big the problem was – they will recognize that it costs them less to keep you happy than it does to find someone who will replace your regular commission dollars.

You must be prepared to actually make a change, even if you don’t want to. My brokerage bill is double my mortgage; if they don’t respond properly to the real threat that I’d take my business elsewhere — I’d expect worse treatment the next time I have a complaint.

The result: E-Trade gave me almost $700 yesterday, a clear acknowledgment that they knew how bad their problems were. I had never gotten a refund over $200 before (sometimes, the payback for complaining is free trades rather than dollars). Am I happy with the result? No, just less frustrated; I’d be better off if everything had traded properly.

The moral of the story: Sometimes, brokerage issues are something you bitch about, and sometimes you take action. Choose your actions carefully and you should get a reasonable response and a modicum of relief when brokerage issues ruin a trading day.

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