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Shares without the stuffiness

A new breed of stockbroker is well equipped to handle one-off transactions for small shareholders. Nic Cicutti reports
Suddenly, we appear to be a share-owning democracy once more. After years when the spurt of individual shareholders, boosted by all the privatisations of the Thatcher era, had appeared to be on the wane as Sid finally sold off his BT and British Gas holdings, the movement has seen a huge leap in numbers.

Boosting the total number of UK shareholders has been the wave of building society flotations, which have added up to 10 million new people to company share registers.

For most, one set of shares is probably enough. Others, their interest perhaps awakened by regular checks on the value of their shares and a gradual glimmer of understanding of market gyrations, will want to develop things further.

The good news is that there has never been so much choice for people aiming to increase - or decrease - their stakes in UK equities.

The more traditional and, to many, quite stuffy image of the stockbroker has been superseded by many firms offering a far snappier, dealing operation which competes on price as well as the quality of service.

One of the areas which brokers are active in is execution-only service. This is where dealing is carried out on the basis of a client's instruction, typically given over the phone. No advice is expected or given by the broker to the client.

Finding an execution-only broker is not difficult. The Association of Private Client Investment Managers and Stockbrokers (APCIMS) has about 80 members who offer such a service.

While most brokers will provide dealing services for their clients, for the majority of small investors, the requirement is primarily for someone who will perform a one-off transaction quickly and cheaply. This applies just as much to those who, after years of holding on to their Abbey National or utility company share, now want to realise their gain.

A small number of specialist firms have sprung up offering such deals. Broadly speaking, they can be broken down into three categories.

There are those who, like Fidelity Brokerage, ShareLink and the Share Centre, are set up specifically to cater for this type of market.

Then there are the big banks and building societies which offer both postal and telephone share-dealing services. In some cases, the services is subcontracted: Barclays Stockbrokers, for instance, acts on behalf of Alliance & Leicester.

Even smaller building societies, specifically Norwich and Peterborough and the Skipton, have share dealing operations through Waters Lunniss in the case of the East Anglian society and Dealwise for the Skipton. Yorkshire Building Society offers dealing services through its own operation, Yorkshare.

The third category of brokers offering execution-only services are the large private client firms which have decided to expand their existing customer base, a substantial proportion of which has preferred the more traditional advisory approach on offer.

Firms in this category include Brewin Dolphin Bell Lawrie, which operates a service called Stocktrade. Walter Crips offers Investorlink, while Henderson Crosthwaite has Directdeal.

While the execution-only relationship is typically seen as the very opposite of the cosier relationship many investors have with their brokers, it is important to remember that there are not necessarily just two options to choose from when investigating a service.

Ancillary information, such as analysis and a view - albeit not backed by personal advice - on various stocks is available from Barclays Stockbrokers. Some level of advice, ranging from what is on offer from Barclays to the creation of an individual's portfolio will typically be given, for a fee, by any broker.

Aside from efficient service, the other important aspect of good execution- only trading is price. All firms will offer special deals targeted at certain groups and individuals and it is impossible to give a comprehensive list of each.

The best move is to call companies and ask for a list of prices. Based on assumed volumes of trading, a little homework should rapidly determine which is the cheapest for the kind of share dealing you want to do. For those who might balk at carrying out research of this sort: perhaps share ownership is not your cup of tea after all.

Barclays Stockbrokers 0800 551177; Barratt & Cooke 01603 624236; Brewin Dolphin Bell Lawrie 0131 5290101; CityDeal Services 01708 742288; Fidelity Brokerage Services 0800 222190; Gall & Eke 0161 237 9443; Hargreaves Lansdown 0117 9809800; Henderson Crosthwaite 0345 125719; Lloyds Bank Stockbrokers 0345 388100; Midland Stockbrokers 0800 100250; NatWest Stockbrokers 0171 8955341; Options Direct Europe 0171 6380100; Redmayne Bentley 0113 2436941; The Share Centre 0800008; Sharelink 0121 2002242; Skipton Building Society 0113 2345555; Waters Lunniss & Co 01603 622265; Yorkshire Building Society 01274 736736.