Online trading problems caused by upgrade glitch at ADP –

Problems with a "routine upgrade" of mainframe software at Automatic Data Processing Inc. (ADP) caused the system crash last Friday that temporarily left customers of at least five brokerages unable to get real-time updates of key information, such as the cost of the online stock trades they were making.

Officials at Roseland, N.J.-based ADP, which claims its brokerage services business processes 25% of the online stock trades in North America, yesterday confirmed that technical problems with one of the company's computers disrupted the transaction-matching system it uses to track incoming buy and sell orders.

Two New York-based brokerages, Quick & Reilly Inc. and TD Waterhouse Group Inc., said earlier this week that they were affected by the system crash at ADP. ADP spokeswoman Arlene Driscoll noted that a total of five brokerage firms took up an offer from the company to help update their trading records last weekend.

However, Driscoll declined to specify how many financial services firms were impacted by the problems or even to say how many brokerage clients the company has. She also wouldn't release specific details about the cause of the system crash beyond saying that it occurred while workers at ADP were installing a "mainframe-based software upgrade."

ADP immediately contacted its clients about the problem and repaired the so-called "order match system" late Friday after the stock markets closed, Driscoll said. The company then offered to help all affected clients update their records, she added. The names of the five brokerages that asked for assistance weren't disclosed.

Customers of the brokerages were still able to make trades while the transaction-matching system was down, but they couldn't receive immediate confirmation of the cost of the trades. Quick & Reilly said its customers also couldn't get confirmation that their trades were actually being made, forcing the company to manually issue those notices.

Larry Tabb, an analyst at TowerGroup in Needham, Mass., called last Friday's incident "a fluke" and said he hadn't heard of many similar technical problems at ADP. "ADP has a pretty good track record," Tabb said, adding that such glitches are typical during upgrades, since complete testing and performance modeling is "virtually impossible" because of the massive amounts of information involved.

Rob Sterling, an analyst at Jupiter Communications Inc. in New York, agreed. "Technical glitches do happen," Sterling said. And since only five brokerages accepted ADP's offer of help in dealing with the fallout, he added, the impact of the problem appears to have been "fairly minor."

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