Sun Hung Kai Financial Group has joined the online brokerage wars with the official launch of its Internet stock-trading product SHK Online. Sun Hung Kai Financial is one of Hong Kong's largest home-grown brokerage houses and has steadily diversified to cover a range of financial products over the years. It soft-launched its stock-trading Web site before Christmas. Its product enters a market already fiercely contested by more than a half dozen strong combatants, including Cash Online, an offshoot of Celestial Asia Securities Holdings, and CSFB Direct, a joint venture between Cheung Kong (Holdings) and Credit Suisse First Boston, plus many small operators. SHK Online chief executive Douglas Chen Wai-huen said he was not worried by the state of competition in the market. 'If we are in a game that will be won over 10 years, what's a few months?' he said. 'I would rather take the time to make sure that the product we launch with is robust and what customers want.' While every brokerage house wants to capitalise on the stock exchange's new electronic trading platform to offer online services, the trend in stock broking towards increasingly slimmer margins will render the business difficult for all but the largest players who can aggregate large client numbers. 'The brokerage industry is being commoditised and margins are getting squeezed. It is not going to be a profitable business any more,' Mr Chen said. What would be profitable, he said, was for brokerage houses to become umbrella financial-services organisations that could offer clients a range of value-added products beyond simply buying and selling stock. The Internet platform would then become an efficient way to complete transactions and distribute products to customers. In the United States, the average household uses between 10 and 15 financial products, such as mortgages, personal loans, investment funds, stock broking, insurance and credit cards. However, Mr Chen contended that even the most aggressive institutions could cater to no more than three of these products under one roof.