Personal Finance: Internet Investor

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Indy Lifestyle Online
CAN IT be co-incidence? As Halifax unveiled its results, the bank also promised to launch its own free Internet service provider. Within days, Nationwide Building Society dropped the monthly charge on its ISP. At pounds 7.50 a month for unlimited usage, Nationwide had been one of the cheapest ISPs, but that was before Freeserve. Now Nationwide has a service available to everyone, including non-customers.

Nationwide's ISP offers easy access to the building society's excellent Online Banking service, but the services are independent. You are not required to use one to be able to use the other. The ISP allows access to all standard Internet facilities, the world wide web, e-mail chat and newsgroups. You may also have up to five e-mail addresses and the option of 10mb of web space. Helpdesk calls are 50p a minute, on a par with the competition. You can pick up a CD-Rom from any Nationwide branch or download from the Nationwide website.

Freeserve hopes its embarrassingly high churn rate of customers will slow with the help of its content providers. Private investors can access free real-time share quotes through, the financial and investment information site on the Freeserve Money Channel. But if you use as an ISP you may access real-time prices via Freequotes, which offers live feeds of all UK stockprice data from the London Stock Exchange including the Alternative Investment Market. Other financial sites will also offer real-time prices, if they want to stay competitive.

Which brings us to the LSE itself. The New York Stock Exchange has announced its demutualisation plans and the LSE is following suit. What will this actually mean to private investors? Power, in a word.

Of greater significance even than Big Bang back in 1986 for the way the financial services industry operates, the demutualisation of the London Stock Exchange is likely to be followed by trading on the Internet, offering investors direct access to the market, driving the cost of trading shares down yet further.

The big markets in the USA, the NYSE and Nasdaq-Amex, losing market share to other trading systems and networks, are fighting a rearguard action against Internet trading. As the London Stock Exchange rapidly found out in October 1986, putting computers in stockbrokers' offices did away with the need for a trading floor. Now, putting computers in investors' spare bedrooms may well do away with stockbrokers - unless they can prove their worth to their clients.



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