Personal Finance: Robin Amlot's column

AFTER TANTALIZING us in February with news of its plans, Nationwide Building Society has officially launched itself as an Internet Service Provider under the brand Nation-wide Internet Services, becoming the first high street-based financial group to do so.

Nationwide's service is being offered on a one-month free trial and pounds 7.50 per month thereafter for unlimited access. Included in the price is up to five E-mail addresses and the option of five mega bytes of Web space so you can create your own pages.

The ISP service is only available to Nationwide members and customers. If you wish to register for the service, the society has set up a free- phone number, 0800-731 6860.

Nationwide is already the market leader in PC and Internet banking services in the UK, with an estimated 35 per cent market share and more than 50,000 users.

If you are going on a holiday there are Websites where you can check on the weather, buy travel tickets and organise accommodation. But what about money? Some leading personal finance sites quote tourist exchange rates which are updated daily. They offer a reasonable starting point from which to gauge your spending power abroad. Moneyworld's tourist-rates, for example, are updated at 5.30pm, with rates supplied by NatWest.

Internet design group Xenon Laboratories offers a currency table which allows you to type in an amount and then specify the currency it is in and the currency you want it converted to. These rates are updated by the Bank of Montreal.

Most of the time you may not need a more up-to-the-minute service. How- ever, it is still possible to be caught out with foreign currency.

I remember, last summer, two young American tourists travelling Britain ruefully displaying a walletful of fivers which no shop would accept. They had changed their money at home at what I can only assume was the First National Bank of the Land That Time Forgot.

They had been given a collection of notes bearing the likeness of the Duke of Wellington's notes which had been withdrawn from circulation in November 1991!

There is a way around such a potential dilemma. At least there is for people in the US. This summer, Direct FX launched an Online currency exchange over the Web. Direct FX is a privately-held limited company based in London, which operates more than 30 currency exchange bureaus throughout the UK. Its Website is aimed at the US market and can only be used if you have a credit card with a US billing address.

For security reasons, Direct FX will only mail foreign exchange to the billing address of the credit card which is paying for it. Direct FX offers immediate dollar quotes on 22 currencies and will quote a rate on others by E-mail on request. Once you have entered the amount of each foreign currency you wish to buy, the computer uses the latest exchange rate to calculate your cost in dollars. Enter your credit card information and the cash is delivered by US registered mail, usually within a week. The minimum currency value you may order through Direct FX is $200 (pounds 124) and the maximum $2,950. There is a service charge of $15 and another $10 for overnight delivery.

Nationwide: www.nation

Moneyworld Tourist Rates:

Universal Currency Converter: currency/

Direct FX: www.foreign