Internet Investor

I HAVE never been one to be easily seduced by so-called special offers and last chances to buy, but we really have seen the last chance to buy PEPs and Tessas. One small question springs to mind on the subject of PEPs. If someone has a couple of thousand pounds sitting around doing nothing, and not sheltered in a tax-efficient haven, why haven't they got around to putting it in a PEP before now?

Let us be honest, the last minute rush for PEPs is not of those people opening up monthly saving schemes - if it is then the financial service providers who sold them are sailing perilously close to the rocks of mis- selling. However, if you do have funds sitting in a bank or building society account earning taxed interest, it is still not too late to do something about it.

If this weekend's focus on Easter eggs has helped turn your thoughts to nest eggs, you are still in with a chance of organising your last-ever PEP, thanks to the latest marketing wheeze from Virgin Direct.

On the Virgin Direct website you can call up an online application form which takes you through the following steps: reading the Key Features document, reading the conditions and then filling out the actual form. Once you have filled the form out on-screen you need to print it out. However, it will not have escaped your notice that you have only until midnight Monday before the current tax year and thus PEPs and Tessas come to an end.

Virgin Direct is not offering the facility of online PEP purchases but has organised the next best thing for the last few days of the tax year. PEP applications may be handed in at one of 10 Virgin Megastores dotted around the UK. Staff will be on hand to check your application forms until 7pm on Monday 5 April at the music and video stores in London's Oxford Street, Birmingham, Brighton, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Kingston, Manchester, Oxford and Southampton.

If you cannot get along to one of these Virgin Megastores with your form, then you may call Speed Couriers - the number is on the Virgin Direct website - and they will collect the form from you free of charge. The courier service is available up until 8pm on Sunday. Of course, if you really want to cut it fine and get into the record books,Virgin Direct's office in Norwich will be taking hand-delivered applications right up until midnight on April 5.

ONCE IN to the new tax year it will be back to business as usual - but the meaning of "business as usual" continues to evolve. Analysis by market research group Datamonitor for Reuters Business Insight suggests that almost a third of us are already prepared to use the Internet in dealing with a financial services provider, with one in 10 now willing to buy life insurance, mortgages or endowments online. Datamonitor forecasts 21 per cent of households will have a PC and a modem by next year, rising to 30 per cent in 2002.

Datamonitor's findings are pitched at the service provider rather than the consumer. The report "UK Financial Services on the Internet" highlights the expectation we now have for the provision of quality financial services online. It warns product providers that they will "compromise their reputation for consumer service" if they do not offer Internet facilities.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that regulation is lagging behind Internet developments. This month HM Treasury issued a consultation document reviewing the legislation covering financial promotion and proposed changes in the Financial Services & Markets Bill. You can view the document on the Treasury website and you can read my comments on it here next time.

Virgin Direct: www.virgin-direct.co.uk; Datamonitor: www.datamonitor.com; HM Treasury: www.hm-treasury.gov.uk

Robin can be reached at RobinAmlot@aol.com

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