Logging On To the Club
by Douglas Gerlach
by Paul Thomasson Paul Thomasson's online investment club has turned virtual strangers into real life friends.

A few years ago, I started looking around the Web for new places to learn about investing. I came across a message on an investment club list that asked for replies from people interested in forming an online investment club. It sounded interesting, so I replied, as did about ten other people.

As we would soon learn, the founder of this club was intent on having total control over everything – he basically wanted people to give him money to invest as he wished. This was not at all what the rest of us had in mind. We started emailing each other to complain, and – to make a long story short – ended up deciding to form our own club. What could have been a bad experience turned out very positively – it brought us together and helped us start to trust each other. Thus was born the Coast to Coast Online Investing Club.

Our first step was creating a Partners’ Agreement. This took quite a while, mainly because we wanted to avoid what had happened before. We had all developed a certain amount of trust towards one another, but were still a little skittish about sending money to someone and letting them have all control. To help overcome some anxieties, we opened an account at Waterhouse (an online brokerage house) and were able to have our checks made payable to directly to the broker. We also arranged it that three people can oversee the account and the money.

Because we live in different time zones and have different schedules, we rely heavily on email for communication, often zapping back and forth dozens of messages a day. One member can send email from New York when they get home from work, and it will be waiting for a member in California to get home from work to read it. Some of us are night owls, and that allows for communication at all hours of the day. We get together one night a month for a meeting, using Internet Relay Chat (IRC). We also maintain a Web site on which we post stock studies, archives of meetings, profiles of each member, investor education material and links, and all our club documents.

My main reason for joining an investment club was to learn, and I haven’t been disappointed. The club is privileged to have a knowledge base that spans the spectrum, with some members who are just beginning to invest, to others who’ve been investing for many years. Some of our members even teach investing classes.

An online club brings me more than a regular investment club might, primarily the opportunity to connect with people from all over the country. Our club has members from 12 different states, and each person brings a different and valuable perspective to the club.

Even though many of us have never met face to face, our club has grown from a group of online strangers to a group of genuine friends. And in the two years since we started our club, we’ve bought five stocks and our portfolio is worth over $12,000.

Paul Thomasson participates in his online investment club from his home in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.