A US study conducted by California-based Keynote Systems has found that Fidelity, Scottrade and Schwab deliver the best online experience for prospective brokerage customers, beating E*Trade which had topped the poll last year.
Keynote monitored 1500 customers as they interacted with 10 different online brokerage sites for the study and examined the technical performance of the sites - including overall responsiveness and reliability - by running simulated interactions.
Fidelity came out rated the best for customer experience and also topped the customer acquisition rankings. But despite being edged in customer experience, E*Trade still ranked as one of the best sites at acquiring brokerage customers online, and also came top of the service level rankings which measure site reliability and responsiveness.
However, although prospective customers reported being more satisfied with the products Fidelity offered, they also reported being happier with the online features at Scottrade and Merrill Lynch.
E*Trade, Ameritrade and Sharebuilder had the industry's best reliability, indicating those sites were highly available and experienced little or no downtime. E*Trade and Ameritrade were joined by Merrill Lynch as the top sites in terms of site responsiveness, an indication of how fast the sites were in downloading pages and executing transactions.
Lance Jones, associate director of Internet research for Keynote, says no one site is winning across the board. Some sites perform well in terms of product satisfaction, some in terms of providing strong online features and still others in terms of online customer acquisition.
"The online brokerage industry is clearly among the most competitive on the Web - and the shifts we observe show that leadership and market share are tenuously held in the industry," he adds.
The research found that around one in seven prospective brokerage customers expressed dissatisfied With their online experience. As many as a quarter (27%) wanted clearer information on fees and commissions.
However Keynote says overall performance in the brokerage industry is strong as compared to other financial services industries, and has improved in some areas over the last 12 months. For instance, average page download times over broadband connections improved by approximately six per cent in the past year.