A case for fast, cheap, 'wired' investing

If Charles Carlson represents the traditional long-term way to acquire wealth, Christos Cotsakos personifies the take- no-prisoners, rip-and-zip approach of the Internet world.

Mr. Cotsakos is chairman and CEO of E*Trade, one of the new pillars of electronic trading. His discount-brokerage Internet site (www.e-trade.com) lets individuals with as little as $500 instantly buy and sell stocks and bonds just like professional traders do.

Now, Cotsakos has written an introduction to online investing: "It's Your Money. The E*Trade Step-by-Step Guide to Online Investing" (HarperBusiness).

Fortunately, the book is far more than a "how do I get online" primer. It is also a first-rate lesson on the basic elements of personal finance - discussing the intricacies of stocks, bonds, options, IPOs, IRAs, 401(k) plans, and mutual funds.

He also shows how to research stocks and execute buy and sell orders online.

Best of all, the book is written in a razzle-dazzle fashion, complete with interesting sidebars and colorful charts that speak directly to the computer-oriented investor of the 21st Century.

It's not that the Cotsakos book is a cut above the more low-key, less visually oriented, Carlson book. Mr. Carlson, in fact, holds a stake in an online-trading Web site (www.buyandhold.com). But while Carlson's site is aimed at long-term investors, E*Trade is geared toward active buy-and-sell investors. Thus, the two books, taken together, provide a complementary introduction to the essentials of basic investing.

Among professional stock watchers, Cotsakos is considered a visionary, a man on a mission to link high-tech to personal finance. He's also a decorated Vietnam War veteran, whose up-the-hill gutsiness has triggered frowns in the front offices of many traditional (and expensive) brokerage houses, as more people adopt cheaper ways to invest.

As Cotsakos notes, by the end of last year, "online transactions accounted for nearly 50 percent of all retail consumer investment transactions in the United States. It's the way the world is going."

But that doesn't mean Cotsakos totally parts company with a more traditional investor like Carlson. "Historically," he writes, "investing in stocks has been the best way to significantly build your capital over a long period of time." That's vintage investing strategy.

Throughout his book, Cotsakos badgers readers to make certain they understand what they have read, both about stock basics and the main steps involved in online trading.

That's fair. As Cotsakos shows, investing with information equates to power - the type of access and understanding once enjoyed by the most well-to-do. Without that understanding, he says, an investor becomes merely a gambler, playing hunches with his or her money.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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