Well, they are right, of course. Trading online drives down dealing costs for customers and profit margins for brokers. However, not trading online is likely to drive such firms out of business in the long term, as they lose market share to invaders from the United States and to their more nimble-footed domestic competition.
New portfolio management tools, such as those offered by Moneyworld and Compuserve, threaten the livelihood of many a mediocre stockbroker. Compuserve Portfolio, which is launching this month, is available free of charge from Compuserve's Money Channel.
You don't even have to be a Compuserve subscriber to use it, since the portfolio is available on the Web as well as within Compuserve itself. But, if like me you use a Netscape browser, you may encounter some difficulties. Compuserve admits that the site has been "optimised" for use with either Compuserve's own browser or Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
The Compuserve Portfolio includes coverage of six major stockmarkets: London, NYSE, Nasdaq-Amex, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris. There is no limit to the number of elements you may have within a portfolio. It offers charting functions and alerting technology to inform you when share prices move outside your pre-set parameters.
Nick Saalfeld, senior producer at Compuserve's Money Channel, promises that the service will not stand still. He said: "We will be rolling out additional functions in the coming months, such as alerts by phone, news management, and personalisation and share dealing."
The world of personal finance on the Internet is a certainly a small one. Prior to his joining Compuserve last year, Nick Saalfeld was with Moneyworld, which rolled out its own portfolio management offering back in June.
Moneyworld's Portfolio has unique features, including the ability to calculate the percentage change in the investments held in the portfolio since you bought them. Moneyworld allows you to list assets other than shares within its portfolio tool. It also offers a free company annual reports service at the click of a mouse button.
The Moneyworld and Compuserve offerings are both powerful tools for the personal investor and are well ahead of the competition in terms of functionality and usefulness. Virtually all of the other portfolio management services available on the Internet require you to pay for information content. Using one or the other of these services together with one of the cheaper online execution-only brokerages will put the private investor on an equal footing with most so-called market professionals.
Another recent addition to the Web is the AA Insurance online quote facility, which has been live for a couple of months now. It offers a 10 per cent discount on motor insurance policies, and the AA claims to be offering 400 car insurance quotes every day over its website. Once you enter your details, a quote appears on screen. If you wish to go ahead and buy the policy, you click on the "Call Me" button and you can specify when you want the AA to call you to conclude the transaction over the telephone.
Compuserve Portfolio: www.compuserve.co.uk/ portfolio
AA Insurance: www.theaa.co.uk
Robin can be reached at RobinAmlot@aol.comReuse content