Mutual advice on site for you

Internet Investor

THE NARROWNESS of the vote for mutuality may leave a question mark still hanging over the future of the Nationwide Building Society, but mutual institutions remain a major force in personal finance. The remaining building societies have really begun to compete fiercely with the banks in the last couple of years and, among insurers, the mutuals and friendly societies have always been top performers.

One name which has stood out has been that of the Wesleyan, originally founded as Wesleyan Provident Assurance Society over 150 years ago, in 1841, by members of the Wesleyan Methodist church in Birmingham. In fact, the Wesleyan has been among the top 10 performers for with-profits payouts 19 out of a possible 20 times over the last five years for 10, 15, 20 and 25-year terms. Demonstrating further commitment to its status, last year the Wesleyan instituted its own Mutual Rewards Scheme.

Technologically, the Wesleyan claims it was often ahead of its competitors in adopting mechanical aids, from the first typewriters to power-punch card accounting machinery. It has now taken the leap onto the World Wide Web. Its site does not directly offer you financial advice. The Wesleyan prefers to rely on what it calls "faith". Do not worry. This is an acronym. It stands for Financial Advice In The Home.

What you can do on the site, if you so wish, is e-mail the Wesleyan to arrange for some "faith"! The site offers a range of product/service information and allows you to request a telephone call from Wesleyan's Call Centre or a visit from a Financial Adviser. Information on the site includes details about the society's pensions, savings, mortgages, protection, growth bond, income bond and savings bank products.

The site has three on-line calculators. A Wesleyan Mortgage Payment Calculator is available and you can also work out how much an initial investment would be worth after five years if invested with the society's Guaranteed Growth Bond or Income Bond.

You cannot buy one of these bonds directly off the site but, after you have reviewed how they compare with other investments, their past performance and key details, you can arrange a purchase. The site leads you on to an official "key features" page and an application form. You fill in the form, print it out and post it to the Wesleyan with your cheque.

As an added incentive to new and existing customers to take a look at the Website, the Wesleyan is also offering users the chance to win a three- day break in New York. The competition is open until 31 August.

Elsewhere among mutuals with Websites, Bradford & Bingley, the first building society to launch a Website in 1995, has redesigned its Web pages, aiming to make them quicker and easier to use. The site also includes a statement outlining the society's commitment to mutuality. It has a branch locator to allow you to find your nearest Bradford & Bingley branch and full details of all the society's available products and services.

However, despite having an established direct telephone-based mortgages and savings operation, Bradford & Bingley is not offering any products directly over the Internet. If you decide, for example, that you wish to purchase travel insurance from the society after reviewing policy details on the Web, you are directed either to a phone number or to an application form which you must print out and post.

In addition to product details, as befits its claimed status as the largest high street provider of independent financial advice, the society's Website offers personal guides to financial planning and house buying.

Wesleyan Assurance Society: www.wesleyan.co.uk

Bradford & Bingley Building Society:

www.bradford-bingley.co.uk

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