Banking, shares - do it all on your mobile

The internet is going mobile, making it the latest way to do business, and service providers are answering the call
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The Independent Online

If you don't know much about WAP phones, you soon will. With technology moving at the speed of thought, nothing stands still for long in this new millennium. So it should come as no surprise that the internet itself is going mobile.

If you don't know much about WAP phones, you soon will. With technology moving at the speed of thought, nothing stands still for long in this new millennium. So it should come as no surprise that the internet itself is going mobile.

The new generation of WAP mobile phones ("wireless application protocol", to give the fancy title) allow users to access online information on the move. The implications are immense. We are at the beginning of a mobile revolution that could see us use the mobile more frequently than the PC to transact business and access information.

Over three million people in the UK will bank over their WAP phone by 2004, according to Datamonitor, a firm of market analysts.

The WAP revolution is already upon us. Not a day goes by without a new television advert promising instant access to information, whether you are dialling up from Catford or the Caribbean. Websites are queuing up to give away as many Wap-enabled phones as they can get their hands on. Wap is going mass-market - and quickly.

But, of course, reality is often very different from the dream. The technology is still in its infancy, and many financial websites provide only a basic WAP service - or no WAP service at all. So who is doing what, and how useful is WAP to the man or woman in the street?

Banks

Somewhat amazingly, the banks - never known for their speed of innovation - are leading the charge into the brave new WAP world. Having been slow to catch on to the attractions of the internet, they are determined not be caught out again. As they rush to set up their internet operations - which have increasingly bizarre names - WAP is featuring strongly. The Woolwich was one of the first to offer a WAP service, Open Plan, which allows you to view your accounts, pay your bills and transfer money between these accounts. Internet bank First-E recently followed, offering users the facility to find out their "net worth and buying power" - or in other words, to check their balance.

But it is Halifax's new online arm, to be called Intelligent Finance, which made the biggest headlines by announcing it would give away 150,000 WAP phones. But behind the headlines its service does not launch until July and will initially offer just the same type of services as the Woolwich.

Share research

You can now research your shares on the mobile phone. DigitalLook.com, the company research and news alerts website for which I work, has grasped the opportunities presented by WAP to give investors access to large amounts of data on their mobile phones in seconds.

By bookmarking www.wap.digitalLook.com on any WAP-enabled phone, investors can research their shares in depth. They can see share prices, news headlines from the top newspapers, brokers' earnings, sales and dividend forecasts, the latest financial ratios and recent directors' dealings and institutional share trades on their chosen UK stock or portfolio.

Other leading financial sites also offer WAP services. Interactive Investor mobile.iii.co.uk provides quotes and stock graphs as well as general financial news headlines. MoneyeXtra wap.moneyextra.com offers quotes, currency rates and portfolio services. iTouch will offer a range of services on WAP mobile phones when it launches in the next few weeks, including news, sports and weather. On the finance side, it plans to provide real-time stock prices, business news and investment portfolio services.

Independent News & Media, publisher of The Independent, is a major shareholder in iTouch, and content from the group's paper will feature heavily in the service. Other services, such as access to e-mails, will be introduced in the near future.

Yahoo! is leading the way amongst the portals, providing a cut-down version of the information on its website including the weather, news and sports information and access to e-mails. For the financially minded, you can access quotes and general news stories provided by Reuters. UK rival Freeserve has not been as quick to take advantage of the mobile market as it was to seize its opportunity on the internet. It offers access to e-mails but little else - although it too has big plans to push e-commerce ventures on the mobile.

Some international sites also offer basic services. For example, Stockpoint provides US quotes and market information - although during a quick tour of its WAP site its news headlines appeared limited. StockSmart provides US market information including IPOs and quotes, and NCB provides information on Irish stocks. So far, a truly integrated service providing the opportunity to set up an international portfolio and browse US, UK and other international stock information is not available - which is why DigitalLook.com is looking to introduce useful international data into its service in the near future.

Share trading

The mobile phone is also a perfect platform on which to trade shares on the move - whether you are rushing between meetings or perusing your portfolio while sunning yourself in the south of France.

TD Waterhouse, which is the biggest broker in the country following its purchase of Dealwise, will offer a trading service later this month alongside real-time quotes, dividends and trading volumes. It has been pipped to the post by MyBroker, whose own dealing service is up and running. Others are planning to follow as they try and find an edge in an increasingly crowded market place.

As WAP develops research and trading sites begin to provide handy links to each other, once you have researched a share, you will be able to buy it at the touch of a button.

Financial Services

Other financial services companies have dipped their toes in the water. Prudential has a WAP site - but at the moment it provides little more than just contact details. E-Loan (wap.eloan.com/uk) has moved further, offering a mortgage calculator that tells you how much you can borrow and how much you will have to pay back each month.

As with any technological revolution, some players are forging ahead, whilst others risk being left behind. WAP is much more than a gimmick or a toy. It marks the beginning of araft of new and innovative interactive services.

Andrew Yates is Head of Operations at DigitalLook.com (www. DigitalLook.com), which provides free company research, brokers forecasts, e-mail news alerts, directors' dealings, bulletin board comments and a WAP mobile phone equity research service (wap.DigitalLook.com)

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