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Zecco Affiliates Can’t Criticize Zecco

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Bargaineering.com relies on a mixture of advertising and affiliate marketing to generate income. Part of the affiliate marketing piece is that we get paid when someone signs up for accounts, such as a trading account with Zecco.com (not everything, just some things). A lot of personal finance bloggers pay the bills and generate income this way. Until about a month ago, no company has tried to influence my opinion until Zecco.

About a month ago, Zecco’s affiliate manager notified me that I would no longer be compensated for leads sent to Zecco because I had negative reviews about them on Bargaineering.com. I was told that I had to “remove any negative reviews of Zecco and [I] can resume promoting and sending orders.” They phrased it in a way that seemed like I was unfairly picking on them, so I said I’d take a look if they told me which posts they found to be negative.

They sent me these three articles as the worst offenders:

Nothing in the posts were untrue. When Zecco first launched, everyone wondered if it was a scam. Free stock trades? It sounded absurd. So I did some research and revealed that it wasn’t. It was run by Equinox Securities Incorporation and has a clean record.

As for poor customer service, I was repeating a well known fact that the 2009 Smart Money’s Best Broker ratings listed Zecco second to last in customer service. I would worry more about your customer service than what your customers are saying.

If I changed my content, they would’ve let me back into their affiliate program and paid me for people opening accounts. However, I feel that I should always be giving you my honest opinion, good or bad, if I want to maintain your trust. I should be giving you all the facts that I know, whether it paints them in a good light or not. I could’ve just changed the posts to make them happy and chances are you wouldn’t have noticed, but I think that would be dishonest.

I have no bias against Zecco, I still don’t, and I’ve never said anything negative that wasn’t my opinion. Any facts I’ve shared are backed up with their sources, as was the case with Smart Money’s ratings. I’ve always believed that if you wanted free trades, you had to deal with a little bit of headache. You can’t have everything, but I suppose they didn’t like me saying that.

So they probably won’t like me saying that I think that their decision to strong arm affiliates into saying only positive things will come back to bite them in the future.

{ 37 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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37 Responses to “Zecco Affiliates Can’t Criticize Zecco”

  1. Mike Piper says:

    Good for you for sticking with your principles.

    Once a blogger starts recommending anything and everything, he becomes a lot harder to trust.

    • Jim says:

      To be perfectly honest, it was less about principles and more about how they approached me. If I was being unfairly harsh on them, I’d be willing to tone it down because maybe I am biased and just don’t know it. However, they kicked me out first and then asked me to change my posts to get back in, which isn’t a good way to approach anything really.

  2. Swamproot says:

    I thought they were lame when they pushed their account limit up to 25K for free trades. Now, after reading this, I think they are double super-lame. I’m glad I moved to another broker with a lot less suck.

    That would be optionsHouse.

  3. Ron says:

    Sounds typical of a big corporation. My boss (the Operations VP) found out I was giving consideration to writing a book about how corporate executives are disconnected from the employees in the field. He never asked me *what* I was planning to say, only implied that writing it would mean looking for employment elsewhere.

    I’m still writing it, just keeping relatively quiet about it on my blog!

  4. I second Mike’s sentiments. If you start letting the affiliates and advertisers dictate what can and cannot appear on your site, then you start to lose no only credibility, but control over your own thoughts and site. Stick to your guns and continue writing for the readers (and yourself).

    • Jim says:

      I’ve always believed that readers are smart and they can make their own decisions if you provide the facts you know. If I provide the facts, you can decide. Zecco was rated last in customer service a few years ago and second to last place in 2009. To not say it would be a disservice, especially since it was a rating by Smart Money magazine.

      • nickel says:

        Hey, sounds like they’re improving! New motto:

        “At least we’re not the worst.”

      • Absolutely Jim. It would have been a huge disservice no ignore information that you had. Trust and reputation are difficult to establish but extremely easy to destroy, but you had the proof to back up your words. Funny thing is that you didn’t even say anything bad, they just didn’t care for you speaking about the negative facts about the business (which, if they are honest, virtually every business has at least one thing that can be improved upon). And, no they probably won’t like that last line either, but that’s their problem now, isn’t it?

        • Jim says:

          I would’ve used the information to try to make the service better. Smart Money didn’t name them last for no reason and anything they did to improve service only moved them to second to last.

  5. Kyle says:

    That is just crap man, good for you though to stick up for your content, nobody wants to read an artificial review.

  6. Wojciech says:

    Awesome! With the MonaVie blow-up we recently saw at Lazy Man and Money, you’d think corporations would be a little more careful about how they deal with bloggers. Not so, apparently.

    You’re right – it will come back to bite them. I, for one, will never open an account with any company who tries to silence an objective analysis of their service.

    Any reviews I personally write almost always contain both positive and negative aspects of a service. Do corporations really think they’re suddenly perfect?

    The fact that your so-called ‘negative’ reviews were still sending them sales should be an indication to them that people trust what you have to say, but are able to come to their own conclusions based on what they know.

    Instead, Zecco decides to filter their corporate identity by – essentially – bribing you with more dollars.

    Well, Zecco – now you have negative reviews and some negative publicity to boot. Congrats! :)

    (And I’m sure Jim doesn’t need your money, he has plenty of other companies who are happy with his reviews).

    • Jim says:

      There have been other companies who have contacted me to tell me about features and services I completely missed. That’s a great way of getting a better, more completely, review.

      If I were Zecco, I would’ve done something different. I’d reach out and say “we made the following changes and our scores are higher, our response rates are faster, etc.” could you please include this in your post to make it as accurate as possible?

  7. Lame, and a bad move on Zecco’s part. Seems they have no understanding of social media outlets and the bad publicity this will get them either.

    Thanks for sticking to your principles.

  8. Matt SF says:

    Got to love when corporations pull the “love me, or else!” card.

    They should have contacted you and asked to work to resolve your questions/comments item by item. Instead, they come off looking shady by pulling affiliate bonuses.

    Stay classy Zecco!

  9. Yana says:

    I, for one, appreciate your honesty. I do trust what I read here, and am glad to know my assumptions were correct.

  10. Laura says:

    I’m glad you’re giving honest reviews Jim. It really hurts Zecco in the long run, not you.

  11. Flexo says:

    Stick with the honest reviews. I would drop a program in a second if they required me to filter my content.

  12. Guzzo says:

    Has Jim’s experiences led any of you other financial bloggers to drop Zecco in your affiliate programs? If not, what makes you think that your not next on their list?

    Personally, I declined participation in their program from the get-go. I had the feeling that they would change their “free” pricing structure right after they were able to sign up enough customers to get them started. I thought I would give it a little time to see if it seemed like a bait-and-switch scheme.

  13. Jesse says:

    I have been pretty impressed with Zecco so far as I have used them as my sole broker since around 07 but this is just irritating.

    It does resemble the MonaVie strong arm trying to silence Lazy Man and makes me wonder if companies understand what blogging is all about.

    You’re a person writing from your life experiences, not some corporation with a PR department that mops up messes and keeps everything quiet so of course you’re probably going to tell your readers when a company pulls the guns on ya…

  14. Evan says:

    HELL YEAH JIM!

    What did Zecco think was going to happen? That you would fold? Now what do they get – your already popular posts with an added footnote that they tried to strong arm you?

  15. Simple Llama says:

    Kudos for sticking to your guns Jim. Can’t believe Zecco tried to strong-arm you. I’ve been happy using them as my brokerage…. but this sort of thing is 100% uncalled-for. I doubt I’ll be promoting them in the future, unless the apologize and make it up to you somehow.

  16. Your “be right, be firm, be fair” approach is the only one that I found worked best when something like this happened at newspapers I’ve worked for. It’s not unusual for a thin-skinned advertiser or budding control freak to sometimes want to dictate copy. It’s a lot harder for one to do that successfully, though, if you treat him just the same as those who don’t hassle you.

    Keep on writing,

  17. Good choice. If Zecco regularly engages in these sorts of tactics, you probably don’t want to have the affiliation erode the goodwill you’ve built up on the site. You seem to have a very good reputation (as that of a person who goes out of their way to help out new PF bloggers).

    On the flip side, it’s nice to see that nobody else has tried to pull this stunt.

  18. Your integrity is who you are.

    You don’t need Zecco.

    I’m going to delete them as an affiliate from my blog just as soon as I submit this message.

  19. Good stuff on being honest about what you believe in Zecco. We the readers depend on opinions of well-followed bloggers.

    Keep up the good work!

  20. nickel says:

    The best part is that your Adsense block includes an ad from Zecco. And here I thought they were against advertising on your site. :)

  21. MFJ says:

    This sounds very much like Zecco – they very closely moderate all of the posts on their message board and anything that could possibly be taken in a negative light is usually deleted within a few hours.

    It’s sad too because while they certainly have issues I can deal with that if I am still getting enough value to overcome those issues such as free trades, but what I can not tolerate is them deceiving people and trying to cover up those mistakes.

    I’d much rather as you pointed out have them come out and say yes this part of our product is not the best but we are working to improve it, instead of spending probably more time and effort in trying to cover it up, and in the process completely losing the trust of their customers, which when you are dealing with people’s money is not a good thing.

    • Jim says:

      A company will always have something wrong with it and if they can be pragmatic about it, show they recognize and appreciate criticism, and take steps to improve it then their customers will appreciate that. No company is perfect. Name any company and there is a flaw, but hiding it isn’t the way to go.

  22. Jack says:

    It’s your honor that Zecco realized how influential your blog is. The post “Is Zecco a Scam or Legitimate?” actually is not negative review. Many times internet marketers use this kind of title to attract traffics. Zecco’s marketing department really should learn something about internet marketing.

  23. Alan says:

    I’m glad to hear that you decided not to give in to them and stay honest!

    From what I understand, their customer service is pretty poor, and while the free trades were attractive I have nowhere near the minimum balance to get free trades.

  24. zapeta says:

    Well, this makes very clear which brokerage I won’t be using in the future.

  25. Juan says:

    Pulled my money out of zecco. Yeah you pay a little more in other brokerages but the tools and good customer service you get is worth it. For buy and hold investors, other brokerages offer many mutual funds with no transaction fees or loads and they are not low quality funds either. Just my two cents on not letting the 4.50 price per trade fool you


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