T. Rowe Price: how to annoy the hell out of a good customer (Part l)


“Investment management excellence, world-class service and guidance.” Positioning line at the top of the T. Rowe Price website.

This morning, my wife and I had an unusual message on our answering machine at home from a customer representative at Charles Schwab. It said that Schwab was notifying us formally that the T. Rowe Price fund family had notified Schwab that “they are restricting your account from any further purchases into Price funds. If you have any questions please call me back.”

I picked up the phone and asked the representative, a most friendly and helpful fellow in Schwab’s Phoenix office, to explain his mysterious message. He said, a bit sheepishly, that my wife had sold a Price fund in her IRA account after holding it for six weeks and that Price had a policy (unbeknownst to us) that you can’t sell a fund until you have held it for six months. Price was penalizing us by restricting us from making any further purchases in the Price family by my wife or me in our Schwab accounts. She bought the fund in July, on advice of our investment advisory newsletter, and sold it last week because it had become volatile.

Where did this policy come from, I asked, and why were we not notified of this policy when we bought and sold Price funds, and why were we suddenly hearing of it in this embarrassing way. I told him that our investment advisory newsletter had advised its readers to buy the fund and wrote that there was no redemption fee. Neither Schwab nor Price had given us any notice of such redemption restrictions and penalties. And, I emphasized, I had never heard of Price and Schwab imposing such restrictions and penalties on longtime investors and added that I had never heard of any funds or fund families anywhere imposing such restrictions and penalties without proper and timely notice to its investors. What in the world was going on here?

The Schwab rep apologized, said he was just the messenger bearing the bad news for Price, and gave me the name of a Price rep that the company had designated to answer questions on restrictions: Mia Bartee, at 4l0-345-5597.

I called her immediately and got an answering machine and instructions to leave a message. I detailed my complaint on her answering machine and asked her to call me back as soon as possible and explain the mysterious restrictions and penalties to me. I also asked her to give me any reason why we should ever again invest in the Price family of funds and its “investment management excellence and world class service and guidance.”

At blogtime, still incredulous, I am anxiously waiting for her to call back. Stay tuned.

P.S. Justice through blogging: I will regularly report on consumer problems that I or my colleagues encounter and you can follow how I go about it, as a semi-professional consumer complainer. Let me know of any juicy ones you encounter and how you have fared. Maybe we can provide some object lessons on how to get some justice through blogging. Anybody having any luck with Comcast? B3