Just why does a sober company like Barclaycall and even the Abbey National (which last year published a survey on pension horoscopes as well as a booklet for its customers entitled Your Astrological Guide to a Secure Future) consult the stars? "Markets are segmented in many ways," said Gordon Heald, Managing Director of Opinion Research Business, which conducted the survey for Barclaycall. "We've had sex, age, income, religion... The old class divisions are wearing out. Star profiling could be a new way of understanding people's motivations. For example, we found that 36 per cent of Virgos worry about money. Among Sagittarians, it's 53 per cent. That's a significant difference."
This doesn't mean, Mr Heald explained, that Sagittarians will be targetted by tranquilliser companies; or that banks will discriminate against reckless Leos in favour of prudent Aquarians, but from a marketing point of view the possibilities are endless.
Yet hang on a minute - what about the fact that astrological profiles have little to do with the way people actually are? Gloria, an administrator at the Abbey National, may consider herself a typical Aries: "I love to spend my money and everyone else's"; Tina Bennett, the Abbey National's press officer may feel her department is full of typical Leos, "All tough negotiators with expensive tastes", and the Abbey National survey may hope that "Virgos are good pension planners", but the evidence to support astrology is hardly conclusive.
All that Barclaycall could establish was that the spending habits of their respondents totally contradicted astrological predictions. Reckless Leos turned out to be sound financial managers; meticulous Virgos liked to splurge on extravagances, and so on.
"Traditional astrological profiles" states Barclaycall "have little correlation to the way people actually manage their finances". But does this trouble Gordon Rankin, Director of Personal Banking, Barclaycall? "Not at all. The horoscope angle was just a bit of fun. A way of getting people to answer questions and to present information."
Dipping into the world of glossy astrology, there's a stiff reaction to all this. "There's a lot of dodgyness around," said Elle magazine's astrologer, Bernard Fitzwalter, darkly, when asked if he thought such stunts cheapened his profession. "Astrology has become so entrenched in the lower end of the social pyramid, high astrology has suffered." He took the Barclaycall survey as a case in point. "Of course it was inconclusive, they just used the date of birth", he said, irritation mounting. "They thought that if they took 6,000 Arian shoppers, they would all be busy buying sports equipment. Any fool could see that wouldn't be true. Now, if they had taken 6,000 people all of whom had Mars rising at the time they were born, that really would mean something."