Friday, September 22, 2006

RBC's Inaction Indirect

An e-mail from my on-line broker this morning.

Subject : RBC Action Direct Inc. is changing its name
Date : 22 Sep 2006 23:59:59

Thanks to your feedback, and in an effort to better identify our direct investing business, RBC Action Direct is changing its name to RBC Direct Investing . On October 15, 2006 the online investing site will be updated to reflect the new name.

Our new name is just one of the changes you will see in the online investing site in the coming weeks. We will be adding more tools and resources making it easier for you to stay on top of the market and make informed investment decisions.

Some of the enhancements you will see include:

An Intraday View that will show you your holdings and cash balances in real time;

The expanded Stocks tab with more Research & Tools including aggregated Canadian & US market commentary, stock comparison tools and performance chart views of equities.

Not that it hasn't been harped on before, but this latest round of complaining about the Big Banks' on-line brokerages seems to be de rigueur right now. I think the Globe's Rob Carrick got the ball rolling, and since then it's been picked up by some of my most esteemed personal finance bloggers.

The consensus? The Big Banks, as is their custom, are screwing over do-it-yourself investors with high fees and sub-par services. My own broker, RBC's Action Direct seems to be slowly waking up to these criticisms, by implementing a nominal cut in fees, offering more research tools and intraday price tracking.

It's a nice start I suppose, but it seems like a whole lot of window-dressing to me. More research is theoretically good, but given my general skepticism over analyst reports, I doubt I'll be overly swayed by having access to more of them. Good raw material in terms of numbers for my own research, though, I suppose. And I fail to see what having intra-day stock prices will do for a theoretically long-term investor like me. It's not like I'm going to start buying Tim's shares at $27.40, selling them at $27.84 a few hours later and buying them back for $27.13 at market close or something. That sort of short-term thinking would go against what I'm trying to do here.

At the end of the day, the one feature I really want to see (and that isn't a part of RBC's forthcoming changes) is an improvement in performance reporting. At the moment, all they have is rudimentary tracking of how much +/- your portfolio value has gained or lost compared to the book value of the equities since inception. I'm left to fiddling around on Excel to monitor how I'm doing on a monthly and yearly basis.

If RBC really wanted to help me out (or, indeed, convince me to shell out for some investment advice from them by showcasing my shortcomings) the greatest thing they could do would be to embed some sort of long-term performance tracking system into the home page.

And reduce the fees. That always helps. Although I'm not holding my breath on that one.

They are a bank, after all.

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