While most firms put at least as much thought into the unveiling of new customer-service technologies as they do their creation, A.G. Edwards has taken a step in the other direction. They have launched their new customer-only Web site with the kind of low-key approach usually reserved for bad news. In fact, most customers will hear about it if and when their broker chooses to tell them.
That doesn't mean the St. Louis-based firm isn't pleased with the service it has put together. But "We are really leaving it up to our brokers to decide if they want to tell customers, some are excited to do so, others far less so," says spokesperson Mary Atkin.
The new service, known as AGe-CONNECTS permits customers to log on to a Web site to view delayed stock prices, download research and check their balances and positions. Transactions must still go through brokers--a time-honored system that Edwards has no plans to change. Clients pay a $25 set-up fee and $5 per month; the fee is waived for the firm's UltraAsset account holders.
"We see this as a service for customers and a tool for brokers," says Atkin. "But the basic broker/client relationship is not going to change."
The firm says it is keeping up with the growing number of such services offered by competitors, and is satisfying a number of clients who said they wanted the ability to access their account information on-line--including a West Coast-based pocket of younger, wired clients, who have sizable assets with the firm.
"If there's a heavy demand for a service from any part of the country, that is often good enough to get us into action," Atkin says.
The system has been designed to track customers' on-line activities and provide brokers with information on their clients' interests.
Some Edwards' reps, like their colleagues at other firms, express some concern that the service brings Edwards one step closer to electronic, brokerless transactions.
Ponders one producer: "I suppose as long as Ben [Edwards] is in charge, that won't happen, but who really knows about the future?"