Investment Clubs in Cyberspace
by Douglas Gerlach

My investment club members never talk. It's not that we can't get along, though. We only meet in cyberspace, and our preferred mode of communication is sending messages to each other in a forum on CompuServe. Our online investment club is the Pioneer OnLine Investment Club (POLIC), and we're regarded as the world's first online investment club, now approaching our eighth year.

In most ways, our club is no different from living room-based clubs. We have officers, partnership agreement, bylaws, bank and brokerage accounts, and a successful portfolio of stocks. From our perspective, online clubs have all the advantages of traditional clubs -- the ability for individuals to each contribute small amounts and still build a sizeable, balanced portfolio, while learning about investing as part of a group.

But instead of meeting at a set time each month, we meet 24 hours a day in cyberspace. POLIC is always open for business. Members post messages at any time of the day or night -- convenient for us since we have members who live in California, Oklahoma, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Japan! A ballot is posted once a month, and we vote by sending our ballots to the club's secretary. We send our checks (minimum monthly contribution is just $20) to the treasurer each month, and he uses our online broker to buy and sell shares in our portfolio.

The ongoing discussions among club members are really no different than you'd expect from a "face-to-face" club meeting. Members talk about stocks under consideration, the status of the portfolio, and new ideas for stocks to analyze. Members also have been known to argue about whether or not a particular stock is right for the club's portfolio, and usually (but not always) reach a consensus. On occasion, tempers flare -- members sometimes still find a way to get in each other's faces.

But in the end, the most important factors in evaluating the success of our club is the education it provides, and a profitable portfolio. In my case, I could write a book called "Everthing I Know About Investing I Learned Online!" Back in 1993, I had no experience investing, except for a single mutual fund that I owned in a retirement account. When I first found the forum of the National Association of Investors Corporation (NAIC) on CompuServe, I was hooked by the friendly and helpful people I met online. I was also intrigued by the small group of investors who were operating an online investment club called POLIC in one corner of the forum. Eventually, I applied to become a member, and served as President of the club for a term.

For many investors, it's impossible to commit to becoming a member of an offline investment club because of time constraints or geographic hurdles. An online club can be a great way to share information and learn about investing -- and to get started on the path to long-term financial freedom, as well!

Create an online meeting place for your club -- build a private group area on

Don't have a club yet? Learn all the steps to building a successful investment club in our checklist.