Personal Finance: Internet Investor

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The Independent Online
LATEST ANALYSIS from Fletcher Research suggests online banking is finally taking off with more than half a million people using online banking by the end of March, a rise of almost a third in three months.

Internet users are among the most attractive financial-services customers, with a high proportion of well-heeled ABC1 computer users. Fletcher Research is forecasting seven million users of online banking within the next four years.

It is also likely that many of them will not be banking with the institution they presently have accounts with. You may already be aware of the invasion of US credit cards undercutting the interest rates and annual charges demanded by the likes of Barclaycard. Britain's banks are going to have to be nimble not to be caught out the same way by invaders on the Internet!

You may not be looking to buy shares or insurance but an online banking relationship is likely to become as natural as using an automated teller cash machine is now and as natural as it was for your parents to go cash cheques and pay bills at their local bank branch. However, it is highly unlikely that your foray into finance on the Internet would end with banking. You you will want to know more and do more with your money.

Is the worst of the Asian economic crisis over? Has the Russian financial system begun to recover? Yes and no, in that order; at least that's the conclusion I reached purely by reviewing currency performance. According to Moneyworld's new Currency PowerSearch tool, the best performing currencies against sterling over the past 12 months were the Indonesian rupiah and the South Korean won, which rose by 18 per cent and 14 per cent respectively. The worst performing currency against sterling over the same time period was the rouble, which slumped by 292 per cent!

The Currency PowerSearch contains historical data for nine major currencies going back to 1 January, 1994. Data for some 50 other currencies go back to January 1998. As well as being able to check on how currencies performed against each other over five years, you may also specify date ranges to find out values on certain dates.

This kind of tool may well be useful to anybody considering investing in foreign equities where you face the added uncertainty of the foreign exchange risk as well as the performance of the investment on its domestic market. In fact, I am not aware of any similar kind of database which is freely available.

The site also includes two dozen tourist currency rates updated daily at the end of the day - these are the rates you would be likely to pay for currency at a travel agent or Bureau de Change. Separately, there are tables of more than 50 foreign exchange rates updated daily at 6am. In addition, the pound against the dollar and against the Euro are offered on a 15-minute delay.

In addition to the Currency PowerSearch, Moneyworld has a Currency Converter which allows you to specify both currencies to allow you to check cross- rates as well as rates against sterling. One additional feature of this calculator is that as well as giving you, for example, the value of pounds 1 against the US dollar, it will at the same time tell you the value of $1 against sterling.

The Currency Converter has also been updated to take account of the advent of the single European currency. Any calculation which involves one of the participating currencies will produce a result which will give you the answer in the currency requested but it will also quote you the Euro equivalent as well.

Fletcher Research: www.fletch.co.uk

Currency PowerSearch: www.moneyworld.co.uk/rates/currency

Robin can be reached at RobinAmlot@aol.com

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