Last week, Fidelity sent letters to 25,000 customers who call often for fund balances, stock quotes or other information, telling them to use its Web site or automated phone system instead. That was after sending a similar letter to 5,000 customers last year.
Those who continue making calls will be routed to special representatives who won't give them answers, but will direct them to the routine information.
Those frequent callers only represent a fraction of the world's largest mutual fund company's 15 million customers. But the campaign has miffed some.
"Offensive and insulting," Michael Fischler, a professor at Plymouth State College in New Hampshire, told he Wall Street Journal. "The message is really clear: Don't bother us. You're annoying us. Get in line, or we don't want your business."
But one Fidelity watcher applauded the move.
"The more they can drive their customers to the Internet, the more they reduce their costs," David O'Leary, president of N.H.-based Alpha Equity Research, said Friday.
A phone call fielded by a human being costs Fidelity $13, while an automated phone call costs only $1.
The people who call often, sometimes every hour, are just lazy, retired or have nothing else to do, said O'Leary.
"These are people who are just behind the curve in terms of using technology," he said.
Many customers simply need instruction on how to use Fidelity's automated telephone system or Web site, said Anne Crowley, a Fidelity spokeswoman.
"Most people, once they've been shown it, said, 'This was great,' "Crowley said, noting Fidelity spends at least $500 million every year updating its technology.
Customers who received the letter will still be able to talk to a phone representative to ask more complicated questions about their accounts, said Crowley.
She wouldn't say how frequently a customer had to call to make the cutoff list, but she said the company was careful to screen out customers who needed extra help for more complex transactions. She added that only 34 frequent callers have registered complaints about being cut off.
Fidelity receives 680,000 telephone calls a day, 77 percent of which are handled by automated systems, said Crowley.
The average Fidelity mutual fund customer calls 4 or 5 times a year, she said. The average brokerage customer calls 15 times a year.
Written By Leslie Miller, Associated Press Writer