Personal Finance: Internet Investor

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THIS WEEK E*Trade UK took a step closer to opening its "e-doors" for public business, gaining recognition from market watchdog, the Securities and Futures Authority, to provide both execution-only and also advisory stockbroking services.

The brokerage became the newest member of the London Stock Exchange on May 17. Unlike the brokers already online, E*Trade UK will be the UK's first Internet-only trading and research service to use the Web as its sole link to investors.

Julian Costley, the brokerage's UK chief executive, says: "[This] is the penultimate step in realising our vision of transforming personal investment with a service which empowers the individual investor to take control of their future."

E*Trade UK, due to launch mid-year, is being designed to work best on PCs running Windows 95, 98 or NT. It should also work on Macs and Unix, but isn't guaranteed to do so. You'll only need a browser, such as Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. You may pre-register by leaving your e-mail address, and you'll be advised when the site becomes operational.

The brokerage is a joint venture between E*Trade of the US, and Electronic Share Information of the UK - ESI was set up in 1993 and was the first website outside the US to provide real-time equity prices and share dealing.

The US firm is ancient by Internet standards: in 1982 Bill Porter, a physicist and inventor, offered an online quote and trading service to brokers, then known as Trade*Plus. Ten years later, E*Trade Securities was set up to offer investing services via America Online and CompuServe. The brokerage opened on the Web in 1996, and now has more than one million active trading accounts, and holds $21.1bn in customer assets.

Costley claims that his firm's authorisation for UK business "marks the first time a purely Internet-based service has been regulated by the SFA. We and the authorities have done considerable ground work in laying the foundations for building a UK-regulated online financial services sector."

By contrast with the US, where there are more than 100 online brokerages, online share trading in the UK is still in the very early stages of its development.

The oldest of the three existing services, Charles Schwab Europe, claims to have opened about 14,000 accounts since launching last year. None of the existing Internet trading services yet offer an advisory option.

Developments are continuing, however, and Charles Schwab Europe is expanding its operations to offer automated online dealings in US shares for UK customers from 1 June. You will be able to deal in shares on all the major US markets as well as in traded options, bonds and offshore mutual funds.

Commissions start at $29.95 and are charged at the same rate as for its US customers. But this will not be aimed at tyro investors: Charles Schwab Europe expects you to have starting funds of at least $10,000 (pounds 6,250).

E*Trade UK: www.etrade.co.uk

Charles Schwab Europe's US account: www.schwab-worldwide.com/Worldwide/Europe/Dollar/

Robin can be reached at RobinAmlot@aol.com

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