Money: Tap into the Internet's financial resources

There's a wealth of information on-line. David Porter plugs in
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The Independent Online
Do you want to be fully up to date on financial matters and can't wait for the next copy of the Independent to land on your doormat? You can find out instantly by dialling up the Internet. Unlike the Independent though, don't expect it to be user friendly. You can "surf" aimlessly for hours. You have to know what you're looking for.

Interested in personal finance? One place to start is the Moneyworld site (www.moneyworld.co.UK) sponsored by Bradford & Bingley, Sun Alliance, Churchill Insurance, Mortgage Trust and Lincoln National. It has a summary of the main personal financial news of the day. On top, it lists the best borrower and saver rates, performance charts of investment trusts and has a letters page - a good place to find out the burning issue of the moment.

It also provides an excellent route to other interesting sites to view. "Hypertext" links provide the key here. These are words highlighted on screen that, with a touch of the mouse button, take you seamlessly to another site.

There is no shortage of information on the Internet. AAA Investment Guide (www.wisebuy.co.uk), offers answers to personal financial questions. It has the equivalent of 200 pages of text but there is a small charge to view certain pages. More advice is available from Moneyweb (www.demon. co.uk/moneyweb/), which has a whole host of FAQs (Internet-speak for frequently asked questions) on pensions, mortgages, investments, advisers, equities and tax.

Another useful place to view is Interactive Investor (www.iii.co.uk/investor/). This gives details of unit trusts, investment trusts, offshore investments and PEPs. It also includes performance tables.

FTTV's site (www.ftvision. co.uk/), gives European City news highlights, and has a page of the fastest moving, large company shares - known as "hot stocks". It also links company news stories to current share prices.

Do you want a stockbroker's profits estimate for a company in your portfolio? Go to the Hemmington Scott site (www.hemscott.co.uk/hemscott). Its UK Equities Direct is the only on-screen service to provide free access to facts and figures of all 2,300 stock market companies. It also has share price charts and trading outlook statements - just the data you need to decide the fate of your shares portfolio.

But don't expect to do stockbroking dealing over the Internet, although electronic mail (e-mail) can be used to contact your broker. Despite what is said by companies offering services over the Internet, they have still to overcome doubts on the issue of Internet security.

Stockbrokers Fidelity Brokerage (www.fidelity.co.uk) want to provide an on-screen dealing service eventually. That could be up and running by the autumn, although deals would be done through investors' computer modems linked directly to a telephone number at Fidelity.

"Our priority will be to ensure security for investors," admits Judith McMichael, European Marketing Director. One of the most useful pages on the Fidelity site is the monthly listing of its most actively traded shares.

One way to navigate around the Internet is to find a good "search engine". This helps by putting up a number of site addresses after you input a few key words. For a good finance-based search engine, head for the InterNeck Financial Database (www.inect.co.uk/).

A number of information services give you the feel of the Internet without enjoying the principal benefit of being free. They charge on the basis of how much time you are hooked up and may have Internet access as well. One example is CompuServe (0800 289378). It provides a directory of its services to potential subscribers plus the software you need to get started. It levies charges monthly direct to your credit card.

A lot of the information for UK investors and savers is available free from other sites. Infotrade offers a Rolls-Royce service for the private investor. It also has a site on the Internet (www.infotrade.co.uk/), although its information service is separate and accessed through dialling a 0990 trunk call number. Infotrade is to introduce a lo-call (0345) number soon, allowing access at the cost of a local call. One of its services is the AFX news wire service which provides the full stock market text of company announcements.

Infotrade comes at a fraction of the cost of real-time news service Market Eye, although this latter service, costing a subscription fee of from pounds 450 to pounds 1,200 a year, uses a standard TV aerial socket so it does not incur additional telephone-line charges. Even so, for the occasional user of financial information Infotrade provides a good entry for upwards of pounds 10 a month, including two hours of free access to the Internet.

Infotrade's direct competitor is Electronic Share Information (www.esi.co.uk/). In return for registering on-line, Internet users can access information for free, including prices of the top 400 stocks updated eight times day as well as headlines from ESI's financial news service. Other services cost upwards of pounds 5 per month and include share price performance charts, daily personal portfolio valuation and a share tip of the week from tipster Nigel Bolitho. A usage charge is levied on some services. It also has "gateway" access to stockbroker ShareLink, through which investors can place a buy or sell order. The broker would execute the order within five minutes.

Not on the Internet yet? The basic equipment you need to get "wired" is, firstly, a computer - any reasonably modern computer will do - either an IBM compatible (PC) running Windows 3 or better, or an Apple Macintosh. For best results it should have at least a 486 processing silicon chip and four megabytes of random access memory (RAM).

Secondly, you will need a modem - basically this a box that converts the digital output of your computer into data that can be conveyed over telephone lines. That will set you back around pounds 200. Go for one with speeds offering 28,800 bits a second or faster (this is sometimes known as baud rate). A cheaper, and hence slower modem, is a bad buy as you will be plugged into the Internet for longer and pay higher telephone bills as a result. Finally, you need a telephone socket. Then just plug in your modem.

That's the easy bit. The next stage is to sign up with an Internet access provider. There are over 100 in the UK and their names and telephone numbers can be found in the various Internet or computer publications on sale. The best known are Pipex, Demon and Delphi. Linking up will cost pounds 10 to pounds 15 a month. For cheapness choose one with a so-called "Point of Presence" (POP) in your local telephone area.

The POP is the telephone number your computer connects to when you link up with the Internet. If it is local then you will only pay a local telephone charge, thus keeping bills to a minimum. Internet providers normally send you some of the Internet software you need - and a lot of useful software can then be downloaded.

If you aren't "wired" yet, there are an increasing number of Internet bars and cafes where, for the price of an expensive cup of coffee, you can "surf" for around half an hour. Don't expect to get far in that time. But at least you will see how easy it is to use and they also have helpers on hand.

Don't expect too much from the Internet, however. It can be slow and one thing it is short on is interpretation. For that you will need to keep reading the Indy.

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