Imagine the following scenario: You have a short list of stocks you are interested in and would like to own the stocks when they hit some predetermined levels. You’ve been patient and keep plenty of cash around for what Buffett would call “the perfect pitch”. A few months pass and sure enough, the markets are in turmoil and your stocks are hitting your strike price. You want to buy and try logging into your account but you are unable to access your account and perform any trades. You try and reach a broker on the phone but since other clients can’t access their accounts either and are trying to reach customer service, phone lines are clogged. You face wait times of close to an hour and you may be out of luck if you wanted to make a trade at the end of the day.

That’s what clients of BMO InvestorLine faced on May 25th and 26th. BMO said it was experiencing “technical glitches” and was sorry for the “inconvenience” but it took two days for normal operations to resume. As a goodwill gesture, BMO InvestorLine says it is charging $9.95 per trade for all clients for trades executed while the glitches persisted and also offering two free equity trades in June but some clients may feel the gesture to be very small compared to the opportunity cost of the outage.

BMO InvestorLine may have been the latest but it is certainly not the only discount broker to experience temporary problems. Clients at TD Waterhouse and RBC Direct Investing have experienced website outages in the recent past. Investors may not be able to do much about these intermittent website problems at discount brokers but it is something to be aware of.

This article has 20 comments

  1. i tell you it happened to me about two times,I have trading system installed and i prefer to do trade for myself through it rather than going for phone.I was thinking of buying a stock which was really on the dip hanged and when i tried to call they were busy handling calls..

  2. What concerns me about these outages is the cause. If you told me that 1% of trading days would be lost to outages, but that they were “selected” at random, then I would be understanding. However, if I can expect problems on the heaviest trading days when I’m more likely to be choosing to rebalance, then this is a concern.

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  5. I’m an Investorline customer. But I think finding a discount broker who has never had and never will have a computer glitch is like trying to find an airline that has never had or never will have an accident. I don’t think there is a single airline (except for some new startups), that can say that they’ve never had an accident and there’s even fewer who can guarantee that they’ll never have an accident. I think the same applies to discount brokerages.

  6. Canadian Capitalist

    @Michael: IIRC, past outages at TDW and RBCDI coincided with heavy trading volumes as well. I suppose one option is to have a backup account but I don’t think it is a practical option because it takes some time to move cash around and time is of the essence when it comes to taking advantage of bargains.

    @Phil: I agree. Website outages seem to be a fact of life when dealing with discount brokers and not much can be done about it.

  7. Yes, indeed, I did feel the two free equity trades in June to be a very small gesture compared to the opportunity cost of the outage. Stocks were down on both days and it definitely was a buyer’s market.

    BMO IL even made it a time limited offer! If the market conditions are not right in June I won’t even use those 2 free trades at all.

  8. This situation could be taken care of by selling long term put options with the strike price set at the desired acquisition level. When the stock price falls bellow strike you get assigned the stock you wish to have. You also collect premium.

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  11. BMO Investorline is down again today, this morning… Man, their system & service is REALLY STARTING TO SUCK… I’m about to switch and encourage everyone else out there to switch also, and for anyone thinking of setting up an account there, don’t do it… Go elsewhere, cause… they prevent you from trading when they’re always down…

  12. Here we go again. It is June 4 and I am unable to logon to their website again. As a software developer I can tell you that this is wholy irresponsible on their part. I think they should be sued by investors in a class action lawsuit in order to prevent such incompetence.

  13. I cannot access BMO Investorline as well. My impression is that market volatility causes customers to log in a lot and that kills the capacity. This is definitely incompetence on the part of the management.

    If there is legal way to pursue Investorline, and it is worth the money, I’m on.

  14. Read the fine print……a better option is have a real broker as back up….but it will cost you $80 plus per trade.

  15. worried invester

    investorline’s problems will continue with the markets the way they are rignt now, all the missed opp. i had with this cheap ass company makes me ill. They should be required to repay all losses , if they take fees as they do but don’t give you a system that works when you need it because of the volume of accounts they have and there system cannot handle that volume. we should not loose out because they do not want to spend the money to update there servers , But yet they double last q profits,If you stay with bmo get use to it cus its not going to change , i personally had nothing but headaches with the system many times not just the last 3 in two weeks.Its a joke they say its glitches and it was only down 10% of the volume of trades on the 25 – 26 of may in the globe and mail quotes from bmo, out right liers , system was completly down on the 25 ,and if you place a trade by phone and you cant contacted them for an hour or so , you may loose lot more, joke joke joke…………..

  16. Today, I put in a limit order at the bid and it wasn’t filled. I waited for a few minutes, then changed the order to a market order.

    10 minutes later I got a fill at 1% lower than the bid had been when I submitted the market order. In the interim, I wathed several other orders being filled at the (higher) bid.

    Other brokers offer a commission refund if a market order isn’t filled in seconds.

    Investorline doesn’t even answer their phone.


  17. Share many of the comments above re BMO Investorline

    In the past few months there appears to have been very few ‘glitches’. But guess what on April 20th they completely changed the streamer product, not only did you lose all of your watch lists and settings but the new product is almost indescribably bad. I have not wanted to move to a new broker due to the hassle but dealing with this clumsy and heavy new streamer they have introduced has pushed me over the edge. I was on hold for more than 25 minutes (5star gold) waiting for a rep who confirmed what I thought – many unhappy customers.

  18. I totally dislike the new BMO INVESTORLINE STREAMER. I was prepared for the release, saving copies of old streamer watch lists. I find it very clumsy to use and confusing to view. One main issue I have is that I can no longer customize the watch list for the information I want to look at, just to mention one, there are several other issues. I have suggested they revert back to old one, or at least provide an option to allow us to select the old/new one. They have told there are enhancements coming in the next few weeks, why in the world would they release a product that is not 100% ready. I would like to hear if others are having similar response to new streamer. I am close to switching my account over this.

  19. I totally agree Mark. I dislike the new streamer with a passion and don’t really understand why an option was not available to use the old or new one. Anyways, I am a longtime BMO Investorline customer but I am now in the process of moving some (not all) of my trading accounts to a different broker. Because I make my living trading, I will NOT tolerate that sort of nonsense from BMO for more than a few days…….I think that they have made a huge mistake as they will lose many full-time traders who find the platform unusable.

  20. The new streamer is a disgrace. Why BMO would roll out this POS is beyond me.