USE OF the Internet has more than doubled in the UK in the last two years. According to ICL's report, The Lifestyle Revolution, 24 per cent of British respondents now use the Internet, compared with only 11 per cent in 1996.

Many of us remain mildly technophobic, although, by comparison with people across the USA, Germany, France and Sweden, Britons are apparently more accepting of technology in banking. Indeed, Britain was the only country in which automated machines were preferred to humans.

Does this, however, say more about the humanity of one's bank manager than it does about the quality of automated services offered by the banks?

The survey showed that almost 60 per cent of all those questioned said that worries about security would deter them from using the Internet for banking or shopping. But an almost equal number declared their willingness to try these services out, thus demonstrating some confusion about how transactions on the net actually work.

Across the Atlantic, some 17 million Americans conduct all or part of their financial affairs online, according to a recent study of "interactive consumers" by Cyber Dialogue. Of these, 4.6 million also trade online. In fact about 16 per cent of all trades in the US are now online - double 1997's figure.

Transactions via the net are more secure than making credit card purchases over the telephone. Which brings me to the opening of the last of the big out-of-town shopping centres, the Trafford Centre in Manchester. There will be no more such centres because, in the very near future, we will not need to travel to shop.

This month, Wedgwood, Rolls-Royce and Bentley entered cyberspace, promoting their goods on Buckingham Gate, the Internet shopping mall, operated jointly by ICL and NatWest. Buckingham Gate is targeted at international users. In fact, the site is the first in the world to allow secure multi-currency credit card payments. Other retailers on Buckingham Gate include Church's shoes, Penhaligon's perfumes, Tyrone crystal, Arthur Price cutlery and the Chewton Glen Hotel.

Or you can turn to Enterprise City, a service designed to help you find online stores quickly and simply. Each store listing is accompanied by a brief description, which informs shoppers of the type of products they can expect to find. Anyone new to the Internet, or still worried about the security implications of e-commerce, should read Enterprise City's five-part guide to web shopping.

The newest financial site is the Worldly Investor. It claims to be an online global investing community in which active individual investors can navigate the world of global investments, financial news and information. The site is aimed unashamedly at relatively well-heeled US investors. This is not really surprising. The managing editor of Worldly Investor is Grant Perry, a former presenter of CNN's World Business Today, and its Senior Editor, Jeremy Pink, is former deputy news editor of Wall Street Journal Television.

The site is free to access and aims to provide, as well as news, reports on trends in global investing, and the implications of political and economic developments for international investors.

Buckingham Gate:

Enterprise City:

Worldly Investor: