Internet Investor

Can it be co-incidence? As Halifax unveiled its results, the bank also promised to launch its ownfree Internet service provider. Within days, Nationwide Building Society dropped the monthlycharge on its ISP. At £7.50 a month for unlimited usage, Nationwide had been one of thecheapest ISPs, but that was before Freeserve. Now Nationwide has a service available to everyone,including non-customers.

Can it be co-incidence? As Halifax unveiled its results, the bank also promised to launch its ownfree Internet service provider. Within days, Nationwide Building Society dropped the monthlycharge on its ISP. At £7.50 a month for unlimited usage, Nationwide had been one of thecheapest ISPs, but that was before Freeserve. Now Nationwide has a service available to everyone,including non-customers.

Nationwide's ISP offers easy access to the building society's excellent Online Banking service, butthe services are independent. You are not required to use one to be able to use the other. The ISPallows access to all standard Internet facilities, the world wide web, e-mail chat and newsgroups.You may also have up to five e-mail addresses and the option of 10mb of web space. Helpdeskcalls are 50p a minute, on a par with the competition. You can pick up a CD-Rom from anyNationwide branch or download from the Nationwide website.

Freeserve hopes its embarrassingly high churn rate of customers will slow with the help of itscontent providers. Private investors can access free real-time share quotes through UK-iNvest.com,the financial and investment information site on the Freeserve Money Channel. But if you usethemutual.net as an ISP you may access real-time prices via Freequotes, which offers live feeds ofall UK stockprice data from the London Stock Exchange including the Alternative InvestmentMarket. Other financial sites will also offer real-time prices, if they want to stay competitive.

Which brings us to the LSE itself. The New York Stock Exchange has announced itsdemutualisation plans and the LSE is following suit. What will this actually mean to privateinvestors? Power, in a word.

Of greater significance even than Big Bang back in 1986 for the way the financial services industryoperates, the demutualisation of the London Stock Exchange is likely to be followed by trading onthe Internet, offering investors direct access to the market, driving the cost of trading shares downyet further.

The big markets in the USA, the NYSE and Nasdaq-Amex, losing market share to other tradingsystems and networks, are fighting a rearguard action against Internet trading. As the London StockExchange rapidly found out in October 1986, putting computers in stockbrokers' offices did awaywith the need for a trading floor. Now, putting computers in investors' spare bedrooms may well doaway with stockbrokers - unless they can prove their worth to their clients.

Nationwide: www.nationwide.co.uk

UK-iNvest.com: www.ukinvest.com

themutual.net: www.themutual.net

Freequotes: www.freequotes.co.uk

Robin can be reached at RobinAmlot@aol.com

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