Security APL Inc. has developed a service for discount broker Jack White & Co. to take individual investors' orders for stock and mutual funds over the Internet.
The service, called Path Online, also gives consumers real-time prices, news feeds, and other analytical services - in short, "anything that a high-end individual investor would need to make a decision on a given security or mutual fund," said Kenneth Bachulis, marketing director at Chicago-based Security APL.
If it becomes widely used, experts said, this service and others like it could threaten bank sales of mutual funds.
"The only reason to go though a bank or an intermediary is if they can help you in some way make a better investment," said Kenneth Kehrer, a Princeton, N.J.-based mutual fund consultant.
"But if everything is available on this system over the Internet," investors will increasingly "bypass all intermediaries, including banks," he said.
Path Online gives customers options, such as news services or analytical data, to complement reports on trading activity. Jersey City-based Pershing, a unit of Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette, clears the trades.
"The Internet has the potential to revolutionize the investment business ... by giving every investor unprecedented access to and control over their accounts," said Jack White, president of San Diego-based Jack White & Co. The discount brokerage firm has been selling no-load mutual funds since 1984.
Path Online is a customized version of Security APL's Pawws (Portfolio Accounting Worldwide) Financial Network. Security APL, acquired in March by Checkfree Corp., is a vendor of fixed-income portfolio management and accounting software.
"Pawws is basically a shopping mall of financial services," Mr. Bachulis said. The company hopes to boost volume on the network by adding direct links to mutual fund companies.
Launched in 1994, Pawws is used by brokerage firm Howe Barnes Investments Inc., Chicago, and by 1st Source Corp., a $2 billion-asset banking company in South Bend, Ind.
Geoffrey H. Bobroff, a mutual fund consultant from East Greenwich, R.I., said Jack White's decision to expand its services "makes a lot of sense" because it needs to improve its competitive stance against the likes of Charles Schwab and Fidelity Investments.
But he expressed doubts about the Internet being the proper channel. He said astute investors, particularly those with significant money to invest, will likely maintain close relationships with their advisers.
"Are we going to see a baby boomer come home after a long day at work, sit down at his computer, and start doing things? I doubt it," he said.