Charles Schwab & Co. of San Francisco may include co-browsing technology on its website. This relatively new technology, which is becoming commonplace at consumer goods websites but is still new to financial services, would permit Schwab customers to view the site, including their password-protected statements, at the same time as a Schwab representative.

The co-browser would enable a Schwab representative to view the same computer screen an investor was viewing, and gives both the Schwab representative and the investor the ability to alternately navigate the site for both viewers. The technology works very much like the co-browsing technology that computer help desks use to remotely view and correct problems on end-users' computers, said Peggy Chastain, director for compliance administration in Schwab's global compliance division.

Schwab is only in the early stages of exploring this technology, Chastain said.

However, the firm is interested in offering this capability to improve customer service and education, Chastain said. Co-browsing would not be used to sell Schwab products or services, she said.

The added capability would have "absolutely nothing" to do with offering investment or financial-planning guidance, Chastain said.

"It's simply another tool to enable Schwab customer-service representatives to provide education, discuss existing content and information more effectively, and continue providing excellent customer service," Chastain said.

However, being able to steer an investor to information about new products, as well as to calculators and other interactive tools, could result in increased sales, said Lee Kowarski, a consultant with kasina, an electronic commerce consulting firm in New York. Many retailers, including J. Crew, have begun offering similar co-browsing services to customers not only to improve customer service but also sales, said Kowarski.

While this technology may be new to mutual fund companies now, it is likely to become commonplace at call centers within the next few years, Kowarski said.

If it goes ahead with these plans, Schwab will not be the first fund company to offer co-browsing capabilities. Strong Capital Management of Milwaukee tested a similar capability at its website in early 1998, said Stephanie Truog, a spokesperson for Strong. At that time, however, connection rates were slow and few investors took advantage of the service, so Strong discontinued it. But if other fund companies begin to offer co-browsing capabilities, Strong may offer this service once again, Truog said.

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