As a busy executive running her own television and film production company, Joelle Norwood rarely has the time for chatting at length with an investment broker about her portfolio and the stock market.
But three times a day she's alerted to the trading price of three stocks she likes via a powerful two-way pager device. If she desires, Norwood can execute buy or sell orders through the device, which features a small screen and keyboard. Her brokerage, Peremel & Co. in Pikesville, began offering the Bell South devices, RIM Interactive Pagers, to customers in August.
Norwood is among the small, but growing number of American investors who have taken a fancy to a new breed of hand-held "smart appliances" that are bringing convenience and Wall Street access to investors.
"My job often takes me into situations where I really can't be talking on a phone, like a movie set or sitting in a hearing on Capitol Hill. But with this device I'm wired to Wall Street," Norwood said.
If you are even mildly fanatical about keeping track of the stock market or are an active trader on the go, chances are you're going to be enticed by this new generation of wireless electronic gadgets that bring Wall Street and other world markets to the palm of your hand almost anywhere, anytime.
By 2002, more Americans will own wireless "information appliances" than own a PC, predicts International Data Corp., a market research firm in Cambridge, Mass.
Jason Brown, a spokesman with w-Trade Technologies Inc., a New York developer of software and electronics that make Web surfing and wireless trading possible by hand-held devices, estimates that about 10,000 people are using such appliances to manage investments.
While that number may seem small compared with the 3.6 million who have online Web accounts, Brown noted that "just a year ago most people never even heard of using a phone or a pager to make a trade."
Neil Adleberg, a broker and vice president at Peremel & Co., is another early user of these devices.
"Technology is leveling the playing field for the small investors and the big guys," he said. "The advantages of these devices are convenience and timing. You could be sitting on the beach with your kids or get up at midnight to place a trade."
So far, Adleberg said, interest has been strong in the RIM pager service.
Prices range from about $300 for the RIM pager up to $750 for Web-surfing wireless phones.
Some brokerages, like Fidelity Investments, are limiting trading and account access via these devices to their most "active" (read wealthy) traders.
But as prices come down and the technology matures, the devices will be used regularly as investment and money management tools, said Jill House, a technology analyst with International Data Corp.
"The people who use hand-held devices see and want more applications as they get used to them. A natural application is financial information," she said.
The technology is an outgrowth of the Web's rapid transformation of people's access to and control of their financial management and planning, House said.
For now, the Web remains the biggest growth area for accessing general and personal financial information and trading, say experts.
Investment house Piper Jaffrey estimates that more than $420 billion in assets is locked up in online accounts, and that more than a quarter of all individual investor trades were conducted through the Web last year.
At Peremel, about 30 percent of the brokerage's clients have signed up for online accounts since the service was launched 18 months ago, said Mitchell B. Peremel, vice president.
He warns that investing online and through personal wireless devices isn't for everyone.
"These technologies are a great thing and consumers are demanding them. But you have to be the kind of person that understands that it's easy to make big mistakes and you have to live with them," Peremel said.
Still, if you're among those who choose to track and manage investments online, there are plenty of sites to guide you in investing and planning for the future.
By 2002, most major banks and brokerages will have established Web sites to give customers access to accounts, from checking and stocks to 401(k) and other retirement investments, predicts Forrester Research, a market research company in Framingham, Mass.
Investors should be aware that Web investing has its pitfalls. For one, while the technology is easy to use, investing demands research, skill and discipline, warns the National Association of Securities Dealers.
Also, investing chat sites and the immediacy of news and rumors flashing across the Web have at times led to a herd mentality with some stocks, making them extremely volatile in a matter of minutes, experts warn.
The NASD Web site (nasd.com) gives investors a briefing about online trading, background checks on stockbrokers, and listings of its enforcement and arbitration actions. It's a must visit for anyone new to online investing.
The Securities and Exchange Commission's Web site (sec.gov) is another excellent resource. It offers detailed company filings and documents, and access to SEC investor warnings about the latest stock and Internet investing scams. SEC enforcement actions are also available.
Finance Web sites
Popular personal finance sites on the Internet. List is not comprehensive.
troweprice.com, thestreet.com, finance.yahoo.com