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Two of the biggest name's in the global financial sector, Merrill Lynch and HSBC, are to spend $1 billion (that's more than £600 million) on an online banking division. The new venture, as yet unnamed, will be aimed at providing a range of banking and investment services to anyone with a spare $100,000 to invest – described by Peter Toeman of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter in today's FT as "private banking for the mass market". Based in London and owned 50:50 by the two financial heavyweights, the new venture will allow HSBC and Merrill Lynch to lean on each other's strengths. HSBC chairman Sir John Bond said: "By combining resource, our two companies are able to serve customers in more markets, quicker and more effectively than either one could on its own." The services will all be accessed via the Net boosted by a series of kiosk-style branch facilities. Elsewhere in online banking land, Smile – the Co-op's Net bank – announced it had netted 120,000 customers in its first five months. The Pru's Egg also announced some customer stats – another 42,000 people joined it during the first three months of the year. ® For more Net finance news, check out our Cash Register section

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