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Charles schwab & co. electrified consumer investing by putting its low-cost, do-it-yourself discount stock brokerage formula into a personal computer program called StreetSmart.

The state-of-the-art version of StreetSmart 2.0, introduced last July, has lured more than 600,000 new investors who do their own stock research and trades using Schwab's online resources and e-mail-all at minimal cost to Schwab.

It's only the latest example of how Schwab has been undercutting full-service brokerage houses by offering consumers stripped-down investment services without advice or sales pitches.

"Our customers tell us they'd rather make their own investment decisions, so we've given them the ability to do so using the PC as their tool," says Beth Sawi, 44, exec VP-electronic brokerage and a 14-year Schwab veteran who often listens in on the raves and complaints of customer-service calls to help refine its systems.

Schwab has used customer research to tailor its booming line of automated investment products to users' needs. Some services are 100% electronic; other packages allow customers to call Schwab or send e-mails, or both. Schwab continues to support all of its products through 230 walk-in branch offices around the U.S.

Schwab's total active accounts surged to 3.4 million last year, a 36% increase in two years. Last year alone Schwab took in $59 billion in new assets, with more than 36% of trades handled automatically through telephone and PC systems-cutting operational costs.

Schwab spreads the word about its PC products through print and TV ads created in-house and with the help of CRS Advertising, San Francisco, and Rubin Postaer & Associates, Santa Monica, Calif.

"We concentrate on making our message very clear, very simple and directed precisely to what customers say they want," Ms. Sawi says.

Next on the list of demands: real-time trading through the Internet on its Web site [], set to start next month.

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