IT WOULD be rather dramatic to describe the UK stockbroking services presently available on the worldwide web as Hamlet without the prince but it is not a completely outrageous analogy. The UK's largest private client operation is Barclays Stockbrokers, which has no functional website.

In June of this year, one of the largest private client broking businesses in the US, E-trade, took control of established UK online broking business Electronic Share Information (ESI), promising a real-time online trading system for private investors. We are still waiting. The company now says it will announce a launch date in early 1999.

Barclays Stockbrokers, E-trade and Charles Schwab Europe, which used to be known as Sharelink, have all been beaten to the real-time punch by Edinburgh-based stockbroker, Brewin Dolphin Securities, which this week launched a new dealing service which allows you to trade immediately for next-day settlement.

As an execution-only broker, Stocktrade does not offer advice but deals and settles transactions for investors who make their own investment decisions. It was originally set up as a telephone-based service in 1993 and launched its website in 1996.

But while trading may be immediate, it will still take around two weeks to set up your account. Once you are registered, you will be able to receive live dealing prices online, and also to deal at those prices online.The real-time information comes from market-maker Dresdner Kleinwort Benson. Stocktrade also ensures that, once delivery has taken place, payments are automatically taken from, or made to, a deposit account, operated by Stocktrade, paying interest at 1 per cent below the Bank of Scotland's base rate, now 6.75 per cent.

Trades are settled on a T+1 basis, which means you take delivery of the shares or the cash is put into your account the day after you deal. There are safeguards in place to make sure that you do not try to sell more shares than you own, or purchase more than the funds being held can buy. However, it is up to you to make sure you actually buy or sell the right shares.

It will cost you pounds 25 per trade up to a value of pounds 12,500. Commission is charged at 0.2 per cent on bargains over pounds 12,500. In addition you have to pay an annual service charge of pounds 25. There are postal services which charge around half this amount.

The Stocktrade website is still under development. You may check on your shares and review both stock and cash account balances. You may only trade when the market is open and you cannot buy or sell orders which specify a price and trigger either a purchase or sale if the stock reaches the level you have set.

The site offers a small number of links to other potentially useful websites. In future, Stocktrade aims to offer training tips for novice investors and research material.


Robin can be reached at: