PC share dealing for non-surfers

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INVESTMENT is already on the Internet, but last week saw the launch of what claims to be the first specialist computer network to allow PC users to buy and sell shares as well as get hold of on-line investment and share-price information.

Called Infotrade Portfolio, its founders believe that - as a private network - users have less to fear about the security of their transactions than on the Internet. "The Internet is unmanaged and uncontrolled, while what we're doing is completely within our control," says Peter O' Connell, Infotrade's general manager.

The service, set up by the Japanese electronics giant Mitsubishi Electric, uses ShareLink and City Deal Services, two of the UK's leading no-advice stockbrokers, to do the actual buying and selling. The idea is, in time, to extend it from share dealing to other financial services such as mortgages and insurance.

Mr O'Connell says: "We've already had the upsurge in telephone share- dealing services, and this is really the next generation of that idea, using PCs instead of the phone."

Infotrade disseminates prices and other information from the Stock Exchange and other financial sources. To use the service, you will need a CD-Rom drive for your PC, Infotrade's CD-Rom software and a modem to communicate along telephone wires. The software can be bought through BT or from ShareLink or City Deal (ShareLink is selling it at a discount of pounds 39.99 or free if you put pounds 5,000 on deposit with the broker for dealing). To buy or sell shares using the service will mean opening an account with ShareLink or City Deal. No advice on which shares to buy or sell is available from the system.

Infotrade's main rival is the ESI/ShareLink system, which provides similar facilities over the Internet. Which you prefer will depend on whether you are more comfortable with Infotrade's CD-Rom software or the Internet access needed for ESI's.

Infotrade's service sends across the closing prices of shares at midnight for pounds 10 a month, or provisional prices at 6pm and closing prices at 9pm for pounds 12 a month. Real-time prices are also available at 20p a minute. Additionally, there is a one-off pounds 25 connection fee for the service.

The Windows-based software needed to run Infotrade, available only on CD-Rom, gives users three years of financial results for 2,500 UK-quoted companies, their price movements over the past 18 months, a description of their activities and recent share dealings by the directors.

When you make a trade over the system, confirmation that your buy or sell order has been received appears on the screen immediately. You can stay on-line long enough to see the price at which you dealt, or wait until the next time you log on.

Information transmitted on Infotrade is encrypted to protect the system from hackers. Only when the information reaches ShareLink or City Deal is it eventually decoded - even Infotrade cannot access the details of your business. Payment is made outside the system, via direct debit, cheque or by drawing on your own cash account with the stockbroker. The possibility of transferring money using Infotrade is also being investigated.