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Schwab to launch UK share shop network

CHARLES SCHWAB, the US stockbroker that brought Internet trading to the masses, is planning an aggressive push into retail broking with the opening of several share shops in the UK.

The American company is considering a four-fold increase in the number of its British branches in an effort to capture the growing number of small investors and take on established retail players such as Barclays and NatWest.

Schwab is considering opening up to six share shops across the UK in addition to its current premises in London and Birmingham. The company refused to comment last week but it is understood to be looking at new branches in Bristol, Nottingham and Leicester, as well as three extra sites in London.

The branches will offer a range of share dealing services aimed at private investors. Schwab's sites will strive to be more user-friendly than some of its rivals' by offering a dedicated stockbroking service.

The US company believes that the established players' preference for including share shops within bank branches can put off a number of potential investors. "The current model of face-to-face broking is not the right one. People need to be given information, access and control and we think we have the right message," a source close to Schwab said.

The major programme of branch-opening is part of Charles Schwab's offensive into the growing UK market for retail broking.

The company is Britain's largest Internet broker, with more than 16,000 customers. Since last year's launch, its website - www.schwab-europe.com - has traded more than pounds 400m worth of shares over the Net and is adding up to 1,000 customers per week.

Online dealers pay between pounds 15 and pounds 75 per transaction, a much lower rate than with traditional brokers. Schwab admits that Internet dealing commands lower margins than phone-based transactions but argues that the earnings shortfall can be made up by higher volumes. In an effort to boost the number of customers, the US company has just announced that all trades in UK shares in July will be free.

Week Ahead, page 15