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E*TRADE Becomes Latest to Stream Quotes

It seems every online financial services firm worth its salt is doing it these days.

E*TRADE (Nasdaq: EGRP) Wednesday became the latest of its kind to offer real-time quotes to its brokerage account holders. Called MarketCaster, the free applet helps customers set up customized lists of stocks and monitor their performance without having to refresh their computer screens.

MarketCaster also allows E*TRADE customers to order trades from these screens at a single click. As for the display, the applet allows a user to set up a preferred display scheme with up to 25 data fields. Investors can also view up to twenty stock symbols per list.

Michael Sievert, chief sales and marketing officer of E*TRADE Group Inc., said the service is just another way of reaching out to consumers, when in truth, the firm is justly giving investors what they want.

How big is the notion of streaming financial news? Big enough for firms to create commercials addressing just that. It's been more than a year since Datek Online launched its commercial featuring a young stock broker and a wizened doctor. During a physical, the doctor tells the disbelieving broker that he gets to see "streaming" quotes that fluctuate right along with the market.

While some may think E*TRADE may be coming to the game late, Johnny-come-latelys may be forgiven: research firms have found that more and more consumers want financial updates, particularly through Web-enabled phones or their Palm handhelds.

In fact, research firm Meridian claims that by 2003 there will be close to 8 million users of wireless financial services, most of whom will desire to see them streamed. While wholesale acceptance of streaming on wireless devices may be a ways off, financial service providers like E*TRADE, and even Microsoft's MoneyCentral and Yahoo! Finance, are rolling out such services on a steady basis.

Just a few weeks ago, MSN MoneyCentral announced that it would offer streaming Webcasts of breaking financial news and market developments. Beefing up their financial offerings makes sense for the E*TRADE's, Ameritrade's and large portals of the world, as IDC Corp. said individual investors' online brokerage accounts are expected to balloon to 28.7 million by 2003, worth a combined $3.5 trillion.