Facebook Twitter



If you have a personal computer, you can be your own stockbroker.

You can buy, sell and trade stocks, bonds, options and mutual funds. You can get up-to-the-moment quotes and information, such as insider trades, of more than 7,000 publicly held companies and 60,000 individuals. In some cases, you can even avoid commission fees.In short, you can control your investment portfolio and be comfortable at the same time. The only thing these services don't offer is someone to blame (a broker) if you lose your shirt.

Investors can get this freedom by subscribing to investment-information services, which are offered by information companies and discount brokerages. All the investor needs is a modem - which allows one computer to communicate with others over telephone lines - and, of course, a computer.

Beginning investors should use a broker as well, many brokers say. Start small, with less than $1,000, and bounce investment ideas off the broker. Then investors should wean themselves from the brokers.

"This is not for everyone," said Chuck Spear, president of Spear Securities. "The person has to be self-motivated and be capable of making decisions based on analysis."

Accessing these services is done by placing a phone call. Your computer dials a local phone number and connects to the service. You are then presented with menus from which you make a selection.

For example, if you wanted a stock quote, you simply choose "stock quotes" from the menu and then type in the stock's symbol. If you don't know it, typing the word "help" or a question mark usually will cause the computer to offer assistance in finding the symbol.

Trading is just as easy. The screen will prompt you to type a simple answer to each question and then reconfirm your instructions. You then will receive on-line confirmation, followed by a written confirmation. All transactions are effective immediately.

For example, you'll be asked for the stock symbol, whether you want to buy or sell, number of shares, payment method and your password to confirm the order.

Depending on what service you use, this can cost anywhere between 25 cents to a dollar per transaction. Some offer rebates that cancel these charges completely.

Rates for the services vary widely. A single service can charge as little as 15 cents for a simple dividend report and as much as $100 for an in-depth financial report.

Savings average about 12 percent, compared with the cost of a verbal order made to a discount broker, Spear said. To obtain detailed rate schedules, call the service you're interested in.

These services don't threaten the future of full-service brokers, said Asher Bar-Zev, vice president at Merrill Lynch's branch office in Palm Beach, Fla. For one thing, some brokerages' products can't be purchased through the computer.

Also, people use the computer services like they use a mechanic, Bar-Zev said. Many people can change the oil or check their spark plugs. But when they have a problem that requires more expertise, they'll go see their mechanic.

And when investing gets complicated, investors will visit their brokers, Bar-Zev said.