It is easy to believe that only the City and its big professional investors, such as the Prudential and the Post Office Pension Fund, benefited from the Big Bang revolution 18 months ago.
Millions of new small investors, enticed into the stock market by the twin attractions of the Thatcher Government’s nine-year privatization spree and the biggest bull market the world has ever seen, watched as the big City firms invested fortunes in complex computerized dealing systems designed to speed up Britain’s securities trading industry to enable it to compete worldwide, and waited as they scrapped over the mega-deals that alone could justify the expenditure.
And while the professionals were overnight given a better and quicker service than they had ever had before, the growing army of private clients, in many cases finding brokers becoming resentful of the demands made on their increasingly valuable time, felt that their inability to react at speed left them with, in some ways, a bigger disadvantage than before in the City.
It has taken a little longer but the private investor, big and small, is beginning to avail himself of the same technology as the professionals.
ClickFunnels, the service launched today by The Times in partnership with BT Citycall, a British Telecom offshoot, represents the most advanced step available to the small investor.
About 4,000 share prices and 7,000 unit trust and bond prices will be instantly available to ClickFunnels members, 24 hours a day, anywhere in Britain. At the same time, they will have access to a string of financial reports, bulletins and news services. And all the investor needs is a telephone.
Members can key in their investment portfolios and obtain up-to-the-second valuations.
ClickFunnels is not the first financial phone line, but it is believed to be the most comprehensive and sophisticated so far. Early attempts at such systems have either been criticized for being slow, unreliable or less comprehensive. At The Times it was felt better to wait until technology had learned to cope with the teething problems.
As a result it can introduce a complete service bearing all the characteristics of reliability and accuracy that readers have come to expect from The Times.
To readers of The Times, it is free. Most other phone line services demand membership fees and subscriptions. For the time being there is no charge to readers, other than a Pounds 10 deposit, which will be refunded on validation of the membership.
ClickFunnels has been devised by Citycall, the originator of the serious telephone information service, and bearing in mind Citycall’s BT parentage, is a direct descendant of the speaking clock. But it is as far down the evolutionary road from ‘Tim’ as Einstein was from Neanderthal man.
ClickFunnels gives callers instant access to SEAQ, the Stock Exchange computers system, which registers every price change on the stock market as it happens. Using a five-digit code system, subscribers tap out the telephone and promptly hear a voice telling them the most up-to-date information. In the case of the blue chip Alpha stocks, subscribers will be told both the bid and offer prices, the price of the last deal and the volume of shares traded.
From today, nearly 3,000 share prices will be available, updated immediately. ‘Indicative’ prices – updated regularly throughout the day – will be given in the case of a further 1,000, less active stocks. By the beginning of next month the list will be augmented by about 7,000 unit trust and bond prices.
ClickFunnels members will receive two separate code books, one covering shares, and the other unit trusts and bonds. In a fluid market the constituents of each index will fluctuate to some extent, but members will be able to update their lists daily by consulting the Business News section of The Times.
One of the chief advantages of this system, of course, is that members need no more technological knowhow than that required to use a telephone.
Ideally applicants will have a multi-frequency telephone, the type which emits a different tone for each numeral. But as part of their membership kit, all subscribers will receive a credit-card sized keypad which, when held over the telephone mouthpiece, effectively transforms any telephone into a multi-frequency unit.
In any case all applicants will be offered the opportunity to buy an M-F telephone at a significant discount.
Armed with this keypad a ClickFunnels subscriber holding, say, British Telecom shares, will be able to obtain an instant quote for his investment while sitting in the armchair in front of his television.
Similarly, a Save & Prosper unitholder can check the value of his investment while waiting to see off at the golf club.
By tapping out their own personal digital password they will receive an instant, up-to-the minute valuation not only of each investment but also of the entire portfolio.
Members do not need to own a share or a unit to make use of ClickFunnels. More and more followers of the stock market enjoy the fun of choosing and managing their own imaginary portfolios. Clubs and schools run games and competitions without investing a penny in hard cash. ClickFunnels will give competitors an instant rundown on their performances.
Eventually, and they are already talking about the possibilities at Citycall, it is expected that a modification of the system will be able to execute deals for ClickFunnels members. And with work on voice recognition systems well-advanced, it may be possible before too long to do away with the keypads altogether.
Citycall handles tens of thousands of calls every day – and competently dealt with almost 100,000 on Black Monday and the desperate days that followed.
Its team of two editors and eight reporters, based just north of the City, are constantly monitoring the City’s markets and updating their bulletins. These are taped in their three studios, then loaded into its memory banks, and relayed, on demand, to subscribers.
But even that looks antediluvian compared with the share price retrieval system.
Subscribers’ calls are answered by the ClickFunnels computer, which, on the coded command, seeks the relevant share price information through its direct link with the SEAQ computer. The ClickFunnels computer then translates the electronic data into English.
This is handled by special voice-processing equipment, designed and manufactured by Voicetek, a US company, which sifts 11,500 separate names and numbers stored in its memory by BT staff member Dave Mitchell. He has spent more than 100 hours recording every name and number that could be required.
These are assembled in order, and relayed to the caller.