Investors Are Wary of Handheld Trading

Brokers push wireless service users don't want

However hot the stock market is, investors aren't yet ready to adopt the wireless, handheld trading devices some brokers are pushing, analysts said.

Some online brokers, such as Boston-based Fidelity Investments, offer access to online trading accounts through two-way pagers and the Palm VII organizer from Santa Clara, Calif.-based Palm Inc.

"Right now, it's some quotes, news and trading capability," said Dan Burke, an analyst at Gomez Advisors Inc. in Lincoln, Mass. "I don't think the technology is generally there to show the breadth of features that a lot of the online trading sites offer."

Most of the wireless brokerage offerings appeal only to the most "hard-core" traders, agreed Shaw Lively, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass.

For example, Lively said, Fidelity was able to sign up more than 30,000 customers for its wireless services -- only 1% of about 3 million accounts.

Other brokerages are working to catch up.

Merrill Lynch & Co. in New York, for example, just made a deal with New York-based wireless service provider w-Trade Technologies to take the HTML content of the brokerage's investment Web sites and transform it into material that can be understood -- and displayed -- by a variety of wireless devices.

One of the biggest problems, in addition to the sophistication of the services available, is the devices on which they're delivered, Lively said.

The plethora of pagers, personal digital assistants (PDA) and cellular phones makes it difficult to develop a wireless product, though Lively said he expects one or two devices to dominate by the end of the year.

Frank Zammataro, vice president of online investments at Merrill Lynch's Digital Business Development Group, said more than a quarter of his customers were using pagers or PDAs a year ago. He said he expects to have a pilot wireless project ready to launch "in the next few quarters."

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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