Netting Those Investors

The masses are managing their money online. Here's how to grab them

Keeping a tidy financial house has always been important. As far back as ancient Egypt, pharaohs inscribed records of their assets on papyrus scrolls. Today, keeping track of your money isn't so laborious: As investing becomes as much a commoner's obsession as a king's, the Web is making financial management more accessible and convenient. "No doubt about it," says analyst Ekaterina Walsh of Forrester Research Inc., "online investing is going mainstream."

Nearly as many people manage their finances online as read news or check the weather. Forrester data show that 26% of online Americans track stocks on the Net, vs. the 28% that regularly read news or the 20% who visit sports sites. "The Internet levels the playing field and makes the idea of becoming an investor easy," says Stephanie Kerch, a spokeswoman for mutual-fund watchdog Morningstar Inc.

So easy, in fact, it's child's play--or nearly so. Young users who have grown up with the Net are the future of online investing--and they have a deep allegiance to Web brands. A recent Forrester survey suggests that cybernauts in their teens and early 20s are just as likely to trust with their money as Merrill Lynch. Kiara V. Freeman, a 25-year-old communications specialist in Chicago, gets lots of investing tips from the likes of and She doesn't invest, but if she did, she says she might try one of those or their online partners. And what about Merrill or Bank of America? "They seem too serious," she says.

Kid stuff or not, it's serious money. By 2003, online brokerage accounts for funds and stocks will reach $1.5 trillion, Forrester says. By then, more people will have overcome the "misconception" that only the rich invest, says Mark A. Hopkins, 24, who trades stocks and financial futures online. "In reality, you don't need a lot of money."

That creates opportunities for Web sites to cash in. Already, portals such as Yahoo! have started one-stop money shops. Following Yahoo's lead, a variety of sites ought to consider a finance section. Don't be spooked. If the real world of stocks seems too hard-core, be creative. Asian-American portal, for one, is testing a stock game called Market Player that lets users invest a million fake dollars. The player with the highest portfolio value at the end of two months gets a prize. "It's a great way to make something scary into something accessible," says Omar Wasow, a partner at AsianAvenue.

It can even be simpler than that. Afronet, an online community for African Americans, simply built a link to Yahoo Finance from its home page. That way, users with the investment bug can track their portfolios while they're browsing Afronet. And the portal doesn't have to invest a penny.

A link to stocks, banking services, or even financial games isn't appropriate for every Web site. However, where there's a possible fit, try it. After all, everyone wants to be a King Tut these days.

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