Kee Kit Ng and Michael Tsang were guest speakers at the same conference and sitting at the same table, yet they refused to speak to each other. Mr Ng is managing director for Netlife Hong Kong, while Mr Tsang is sales and marketing director of the Greater China division for Brokat. Netlife and Brokat, both German-based companies selling networking software to brokerages, are among competitors taking part in a securities industry marketing alliance put together by computer server giant Sun Microsystems. The Securities.com alliance of 21 companies, announced by Sun in April, aims to take advantage of imminent changes in Hong Kong's stock brokerage industry, from the merger of the stock and futures exchanges to increased reliance on electronic links and trading. The tension in this tenuous alliance arises from the fact that participating firms, including big names such as TopSoft, Excel, Netscape Communications, Oracle Systems, Sybase and Broadvision, often offer overlapping services and compete for the same business. 'Right now we want to open up the market, and promote the dot-com culture,' said Danny Tam, general manager for Sun's Hong Kong operations. 'It is more of a philosophical and ideological alliance. [Mr Ng and Mr Tsang] were not talking to each other, but they were both at the conference, right?' Though few people know exactly how things will turn out as Hong Kong introduces more electronic sophistication to its financial markets, the firms in Securities.com want to be there to provide services such as Web site design or systems integration when brokerages turn to Sun for hardware. Sun provides 59 per cent of application servers used by the world's securities industry, Mr Tam said. The Sun alliance has so much marketing muscle that small start-ups such as Finet.com are considering signing pacts of their own with other companies, according to Finet.com founder Ada Leung. 'This puts a lot of pressure on small companies like us,' said Ms Leung, whose company provides on-line brokerage information and designs Web pages for brokerage firms. Finet is in alliance talks with computer-maker Compaq and software company Microsoft, she said. The firms within the Securities.com alliance are independent and can go their separate ways after the market has matured, Mr Tam said. The number of service offerings would give clients more choice. Netlife and Brokat, for instance, both offer software that links brokerage intranets to each other and possibly to outside channels such as palm pilots and mobile phones. 'Securities firms are very diverse,' he said. 'So they may want to do [electronic trading] differently. Some may prefer linking intranets with other intranets to form an extranet. Some may want to be more Web-based.' Because brokerages will remain the only gateways to the stock and futures exchanges for at least another year, these firms will be the target market for service providers Tai Fook Securities Company Ltd deputy managing director Lennon W. L. Chan said. Membership in the Securities.com alliance does not include any financial or technical obligations. 'This alliance doesn't benefit us in business terms,' Mr Tam said. It does, however, help Sun get its servers and Java programming language into a rapidly changing industry. 'Unlike IBM's business, we don't provide a total network solution. We will work with others,' Mr Tam said.