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Mia Carley CommBiz

BY MIA CARLEY
Associate Producer, TMCnet.com™


[February 20, 2001]

Friends Don't Let Friends Invest And Drive

There are just some things you just shouldn't do while you're driving. Shopping, of course, is one of those activities. (See "Friends Don't Let Friends Shop And Drive." ) I think investing is another one. True, "mobile investing" -- accessing stock portfolios and quotes over a mobile phone -- has been around for a while now. So, why my sudden disapproval?

OnStar and Fidelity Investments recently announced an alliance that will allow OnStar subscribers to monitor, manage, and trade in their Fidelity personal investing accounts through their voice-enabled Virtual Advisor service platform -- another kind of mobile investing. (Communications ASP editorial director Laura Guevin wrote an excellent column about the OnStar technology and deployment.) Basically, this partnership allows drivers to cruise the open highway and day trade, all without lifting a hand from the steering wheel. Currently, OnStar Virtual Advisor is available only in the Northeast, but it's schedule to be nationwide in late spring. If subscribers aren't Fidelity customers, they'll only be able to access quotes, watch lists, and listen to market information through their Virtual Advisor.

In addition to financial data, OnStar subscribers will be able to access Internet-based information including e-mail, stock quotes, sports reports, news, and weather. But, will they be able to shop? I hope not.

Who Will Use This Service?
OnStar's Virtual Advisor seems like a good idea for those of us with hectic schedules. Most of my friends and family fall into that category (their occupations include financial managers, teachers, chemical engineers, a vet, and a professor), but I still have a hard time envisioning them driving while surfing their portfolios, getting balance information, and selling shares without a care in the worldexcept the road and oncoming traffic. Who really has the time or inclination (and for some of us money!) to micromanage their portfolios in this manner?

My husband pointed out this service is probably not marketed to my age group or income bracket, which would partially explain why I have such a hard time relating to the idea and practicality of it. If you watch the demo video Fidelity Investment provides on their site, you'll encounter their ideal client -- a very nicely dressed, well-coiffed, middle-aged woman driving along some American highway effortlessly checking her portfolio and trading some of her stock. Maybe she's on her way to work, between meetings, en route to a soccer game, or just running errands. Regardless of her final destination, OnStar wants you to believe the Virtual Advisor has made her life easier and empowered her to take control and manager her portfolio.

Security
While Jane Doe may be able to trade like a pro from her Volvo station wagon, there still remains the issue of security. How secure are wireless transactions? With all the horror hacker Internet stories -- particularly ones of stealing thousands of credit card numbers from well-established financial institutions like Citibank -- regularly highlighting in the nightly news, one has to question whether the convenience of wireless trading is worth the risk. According to Intelliquest, security is cited as a major concern and barrier to conducting transactions over wireless networks.

If I were that woman who had a balance in the Fidelity video of $200,000 in her IRA account and $95,000 in her 401K, I'm not sure I would be too quick to jump on the wireless trading wagonno matter how convenient. $200,000 is a lot of money to lose to some wise-guy 16 year-old hacking systems just for the challenge of getting in!

Safety First
Now that your hands can stay firmly on the steering wheel, the OnStar Virtual Advisor seems to be a much safer way of making your driving experience more interactive, right? Less distracting than even fiddling with the radio or CD player? With the radio, one hand is adjusting the tuner while the other one controls the car. At least with Virtual Advisor, your voice can do the all the work.

Of course the level of concentration is a little different, especially if you're trading from stock from your portfolio. Checking the news or sports requires the same amount of thought as if you were listening to it over the radio. Call me crazy, but wouldn't you want all of your attention focused on your financial transactions? With the flow of traffic and that car tailing too closely, it's easy imagine a mistake being made in a transaction. Or what about not seeing the traffic slowing down for an accident, because you were so focused on how much of that Lucent stock you should sell?

I may sound like I'm anti- innovation -- a strange characteristic for a communications industry columnist. I'm not. It's just that I question the practicality of mobile investing for the everyday Jane and John Doe who don't really need to micromanage their portfolios in this manner. Maybe I'll test drive a vehicle with OnStar and give this new way of investing a whirl. Until then, I stand by my initial statement: Friends don't let friends invest and drive.

Mia Carley welcomes your comments at mcarley@tmcnet.com.

If Your Car Isn't Blessed With OnStar...

In case your car doesn't have the OnStar service, there are other ways of mobile investing on the road. With the advent of speech recognition on mobile phones and the proliferation of ear buds (with microphones part way down the chord) -- users can now have both hands free. Yahoo! has just begun beta tests on Interactive Telesis' voice-enabled InvestorREACH services. Shareholders can access Yahoo! investor information from any phone using voice commands. (See Communications Solutions managing editor Carol Drzewianowski's recent column, "SimplySpeech." ) If your phone is speech-enabled, you could have the same type of service through your mobile phone, rather than your car. 


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