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Back up your troubles

As a techno-evangelist standing at the dawn of the Information Age, I

should be con- fident that matters needing attention before the end of the

tax year are no reason for delaying a much needed holiday. So what if I

have yet to set up my Isa or take full advantage of the capital gains tax

exemption? As an e-enabled member of the online community I should be able

to take care of these simple tran-sactions anywhere in the world, shouldn&#39t

I?

This was my belief in early March, when I recognised an approaching 12-day

window in my schedule. Thankfully, e-commerce is now sufficiently developed

to mean that I should be able to carry out all the necessary transactions

from anywhere in the world. That was the theory. What about the facts?

I don&#39t imagine that I am alone in finding that it is always my own

financial needs that are the last items to get attention. Consequently, the

fact that I found myself completing DLJ Direct&#39s on-line Isa application

only a matter of hours before leaving for the airport was no surprise to

me. However, having filled in the online application I found I had to post

DLJ a cheque. Sadly, there was no mechanism for automated electronic

settlement.

Elsewhere in the world, a number of cash transmission initiatives to

support internet trading are rapidly reaching maturity. Regrettably, the UK

has been excluded from these as the clearing banks insisted that their

direct-debit system obviated the need for an alternative. In practice, this

is far from the case and the area of cash transmission is probably the

largest single obstruction to the development of financial e-commerce

services at this time.

Having entrusted my cheque to the Royal Mail, I simply had to hope it

would arrive properly. Not quite e-commerce.

After staying remarkably sober at the Money Marketing awards the night

before, a grey Thursday morning found me sitting in a British Airways&#39

lounge at Gatwick.

Before I even left the ground I suffered my first e-failure.

I have lost count of the number of times that I have used the credit card

phones in airport lounges but, true to all technology, when I really needed

it, the system would not let me send that last essential email to a client.

As someone who on a weekly basis has to suffer the trials and

indignations, no let&#39s be honest, the downright discomfort of the BA

Heathrow-Edinburgh service, I decided a little comfort was in order. Users

of the service will know that, following the installation of the latest,

smaller seats, you can&#39t even get enough room to open your laptop fully.

So, for a change, I decided to indulge myself and travel first-class to

Barbados.

The difference in the service on first class is beyond compare. On the

London-Edinburgh route you squeeze into a less than economy-sized seat,

despite paying a full business fare. But first class to Barbados was a joy

– apart from one small oversight. The on-board duty-free service will sell

you an adaptor to let you use your laptop in flight but, unless you are

flying Heathrow to JFK, they do not have sockets in the seats to take the

adaptor. Clearly, a BA motto is never to let practicality get in the way of

a sales opportunity. At the prices charged, I would expect BA to give you

the adaptor.

Come Monday, April 3 it seemed timely to take a view on what one was going

to buy and sell to take best advantage of the impending end of the tax

period. A quick look at my portfolio on Moneyworld (www.moneyworld.co.uk)

gave me a summary of my investment successes and failures during the last

year (nearly all successes).

The first priority was to get some equities in the newly opened Isa. I

must give full marks to DLJ Direct whose service could not have been easier

to use. Having accessed my online account to confirm that my cheque had

been received, it was a breeze to identify the stock I wanted to buy and

place an order. Even though the size of the order was in excess of what it

could deal with as an automated trade, a message came back offering to take

the transaction as a market order. Having accepted this, checking my online

account again a short while later, I was able to confirm the transaction

had taken place.

Regrettably, dealing with Halifax&#39s ShareXpress service was not such a

joy. All I wanted to do was sell one block of shares and buy another. It

sounds simple.

The service itself is easy to follow, although probably slightly more

user-friendly to the non-professional investor, but I had to repeat each

transaction several times.

This is because I kept receiving “our servers are busy, please try again

shortly” messages.

Each time I finally managed to complete the process, I received a message

saying the order size was in excess of what the system could process

automatically. Each time I was referred to a phone number for assistance.

This happened to be an 0870 number, which is fine if you are in the UK, but

does not work from abroad.

Equally the normal dealing number is a 0990 number, presenting the same

problem. An important message for any organisation hosting a website is

that is that they should display international as well as national numbers

on their websites.

To be fair to Halifax, when I tracked down the main switchboard number,

the staff could not have been more helpful. The transactions were swiftly

processed. But it has to be said that the online service needs a little

more development to complete with DLJ.

Having spoken in more detail to Halifax about this issue, I gather it is

operating the online service under fairly tight criteria from market-makers

and that the size of trades it can deal with via the automated process can

be changed at very short notice. Needless to say, given the computer fiasco

on the last day of the tax year, I was very relieved I had not left things

right until the last moment.

I probably would not even have tried to make these transactions from

abroad a few years ago. This shows we are making clear progress. Although

the Halifax online service failed to deliver what I wanted when I needed

it, it does deserve credit for an excellent manual back-up.

I believe the most important lesson from this experience is that the

technology is still far from perfect and manual back-up is essential.

At the Money Marketing awards dinner, publisher Tim Potter talked of the

benefits of “clicks and advice” as we move into the knowledge economy,

“clicks and back-up” also seem to have a very important role.

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