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RBC online brokerage clients unable to make trades just as Dow sheds 1,000 points

An RBC sign is seen in the financial district on Bay Street in Toronto.

Mark Blinch/The Globe and Mail

Royal Bank of Canada is once again in the hot seat with investors after its online brokerage platform – RBC Direct Investing – experienced technical difficulties that prevented clients from making trades just as markets were plummeting and the Dow index headed toward a loss of more than 1,000 points.

RBC clients took to social media this afternoon to express their frustration with the rolling outages the bank has been experiencing since early January.

Thursday's outage appeared to spike at 1 p.m. (ET) and remained through the market close.

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Being locked out of their online accounts, investors turned to the bank's call centre in attempts to makes trades – but found the wait times were anywhere from 30 minutes to more than an hour, according to multiple clients who reached out to RBC on social media.

"Our initial investigation indicates that this is related to a fibre-optic cable, not to volumes. We have implemented a temporary solution and clients can now place orders online," an RBC spokesperson said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.

The outage occurred as investors watched the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunge in the afternoon hours, ending with a loss of 1,032.89 points, or 4.6 per cent.

It's been a rough start to the year for several discount brokers at Canada's big banks. Last month, both RBC and TD acknowledged intermittent outages on their direct investing platforms. At the time, a TD spokesperson told The Globe the primary issue was "capacity" on its systems, while RBC blamed "heavy trading volumes."

In mid-January, officials for other online brokerages at Bank of Montreal, National Bank of Canada, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Bank of Nova Scotia confirmed they had been seeing higher-than-normal trading volumes for that time of year.

The increased activity has been testing the limits of what some of the brokerages can handle during peak periods in the North American trading day.

The systems appeared to be back in working order earlier this week, when markets first began to turn volatile – although an RBC spokesperson confirmed the bank did experience "some intermittent issues [on Monday] that were quickly resolved."

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While TD has not seen any further outages on its online platform known as TD WebBroker, the outages did delay the launch of a new online account opening procedure intended to shorten the time needed to open accounts.

TD did unveil the new platform earlier this week, allowing clients to open an online account in as little as 15 minutes and trade within 24 hours later.

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