A COUPLE of weeks ago I commented on the speed of progress in the virtual world. The business models and methods being used now are almost certain to be overtaken by events in the near future. I can confidently say that after a punishing week of investigative journalism.

My diet and waistline are gradually recovering from lunches on successive days with Interactive Investor, Moneyworld and relative newcomer to the consumer, MoneyeXtra. All three have exciting developments in the pipeline which we will be reviewing for you as they become available in the coming months.

These sites each attempt to cover the full range of personal finance, and may best be described as a cross between a web-based magazine and a financial supermarket. Other sites offer a narrower focus on products, such as the newly launched DiscountPensions website giving comparative quotations, from just three providers at present.

The DiscountPensions service promises to take just 1 per cent commission, with the rest recycled into the policy, to improve the payout on maturity as well as surrender values.

Typical commissions normally payable to intermediaries for single premium personal pension plans are 5 per cent to 6 per cent of the premium. For regular premium plans, the typical commission is 30 to 35 per cent of the premiums for an initial period of up to 27 months. There is also a pounds 25 handling fee. However, as an introductory offer, policies set up before the end of the tax year will be free of commission, with investors paying just the pounds 25 handling fee.

If you like what you see on the site, you can arrange for a full pack of information to be dispatched to you by post, normally the next working day. The pack includes guidance notes on completing an insurance company's application form, and there is a telephone number and an e-mail address for help and advice if required.

DiscountPensions is run by independent consulting actuaries, Geoffrey Bernstein & Co. The website provides no advice. It offers an execution- only service, processing investors' orders. This means that it is not a site for absolute beginners!

The site's main weakness is the limited choice of pensions, from just three companies: Axa Sun Life, Norwich Union and Standard Life. DiscountPensions says it will add more companies in the future. Nevertheless, despite the current limited choice, the much-reduced commission makes the potential return and the pension fund accumulated, substantially more attractive than purchase through the usual channels.

To return to the financial supermarket concept, a major new player is set to enter the Internet arena. A new holding company has been established, based in Dublin, with initial capital investment of pounds 10.4 million.

The company, enba, intends to offer a variety of Internet-based financial services ventures aimed at investors across Europe, and wants to establish its own electronic banking and brokerage services. Among enba's backers are the venture capital group Apax Partners, and US microchip maker Intel. The group's chairman is Sir Nicholas Redmayne, previously CEO of city brokers Kleinwort Benson. The website is already in place, but enba has not yet launched any of its planned services and is currently recruiting staff.

DiscountPensions: www. discountpensions.co.uk;

enba: www.enba.com

Robin can be reached at RobinAmlot@aol.com