WE ARE fast approaching our last chance to buy a personal equity plan (PEP). There will, no doubt, be a rash of advertisements from the financial services sector over the next few months making sure that we do not forget this. But just how well does the PEP you may be considering investing in measure up? A new website developed by the Allenbridge Group provides both potential purchasers and existing owners of PEPs with a number of useful tools to help make investment decisions.

The Allenbridge Group is a firm of performance analysts that includes actuaries, analysts and former stockbrokers. It offers PEPs to the public on an execution-only basis. This means in practice that it can offer what may sometimes be substantial discounts on the initial investment charges PEP managers make.

For a further fee Allenbridge also offers a "PEP care" service. This is not a management service as such but a facility that will help you monitor your investment's performance and includes a Red Alert which makes PEP holders aware of erratic performance by fund managers. PEP care includes a free helpline allowing professional help to be sought on the telephone.

What makes the group's website particularly useful to investors are the search and analysis facilities. You may browse through Allenbridge's PEP ranking tables, searching the database in a number of ways, via fund type, investment sector, performance or just key word. All PEPs with a three- year history are listed.

For each PEP the table shows how well it has performed and compares the performance with others in the same sector. The table also has a measure of the consistency and volatility of the performance and compares the return received with the risk undertaken. Each individual fund is represented with a number of graphs and a simple guide to their interpretation.

Next April PEPs become history. Well, almost. There will still be an awful lot of us with quite a large sum of money tucked away in PEPs. In the future, the facilities offered by Allenbridge's website will allow you to continue to manage a PEP portfolio by monitoring its performance. Allenbridge is obviously hoping that you will do more than just browse its site and is offering the ability to effect transfers of funds between fund managers quickly and easily in addition to its PEP care programme.

Time may be running out for PEPs but it is also running out for anybody hoping to avoid Christmas. The decorations are already in the shops and now it seems you cannot even get away from them on your personal computer! The Co-operative Bank is offering a downloadable interactive advent calendar. Designed as a screensaver, it features 24 Christmas crackers which may only be pulled one per day in December in the run-up to Christmas. Each cracker explodes when it's pulled and will reveal an animated toy which can be played with around the screen.

This may strike the more cynical as twee and sad in equal measure, but the bank will be donating 1p to charity for every copy of the screensaver downloaded. And if avarice moves you more than charity, in addition to the standard screen saver, 24 versions have been specially created to give a prize a day to those lucky enough to download one at the right time.

When the winner clicks on their cracker, it will reveal a party hat which dances around the screen and then reveals that day's prize. These include a Christmas Hamper, vintage champagne, travel vouchers worth pounds 500 and, remembering this is meant to be the season of goodwill, the chance to donate pounds 100 to charity. You will be able to download the calendar from the Co-operative Bank's website later this month but it will only become active from 1 December.

The Allenbridge Group: www.allendirect.co.uk

Co-operative Bank: www.co-operativebank.co.uk

Robin can be reached at RobinAmlot@aol.com