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On Wall Street - Evan Cooper

Sure, it's easy for me, a non-broker, to tell you not to worry about the online brokerages and the electronic revolution. But whether or not the next bear market drives online customers back into your arms - and, let's be honest, you probably wouldn't want most of them back anyway - the online world is here to stay. And you know what? Great!

As our cover story this month explains (see page 34), the Internet is a great broker tool, not a substitute broker. Assuming you're not trying to make a living merely by executing trades, an activity which the whole world now knows is worth $10 to $20, you are bringing value to your clients. And the ability to make yourself even more valuable to your clients is not that difficult. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.

Let me tell you about a dentist whose story proves my point. He has a successful practice in a prosperous New York suburb and likes investing in the market. I asked him how he handles his investments.

"I have an online account," he told me. "I also use a broker at a firm in Baltimore, who calls me with investment ideas, I know I pay him a lot more than I pay online, but if he makes money for me I don't mind."

Does the broker know the dentist manages most of his money himself?

"He knows I trade online, but he doesn't know how much."

Has the broker ever asked about retirement plans, insurance or estate planning?


Has the broker ever talked about ways to save money on taxes or about anything other than stock ideas?


Would the dentist object if he asked about any of these things?

"I would welcome his help. But he never asks me about those things and I don't know if he knows anything about them."

My friend says many fellow dentists are in the same boat. Sure, they left their brokers to trade online, but who cares? For the amount of business clients like these could generate - if you just asked how you could help - why not give them the transactions as a gift!

Investment sage Benjamin Graham once said that the stock market isn't a weighing machine, it's a voting machine. Now there's a free Internet service - ePredict.com - that invites investors to vote on how they think stocks will perform. (Yes, they have all kinds of security in place to make sure no one fiddles with the voting.) In December, ePredict users said they believed Sandisk shares would strongly outperform the market. By March, the shares had risen from just under $26 (split adjusted) to $169. Bearish? Late last year, users felt Mypoint.com was a sell. In the first quarter, the stock dropped from $81 to $60. If you'd like to see what the "voters" are saying now, check out www.epredict.com or wait until May, when we'll present exclusive highlights from ePredict surveys in our Street Talk Section.




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