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Indy Lifestyle Online
THIS column begins in a most unusual style - with an apology. The growing success (literally) of the Your Money section, in advertising terms, coupled with technical problems at our end, have meant that it has not been possible to contain all our regular constituent parts in one part of the newspaper.

You will therefore find our motoring page in the Time Off section of today's paper. Property is at the back of the main section. At the same time, a temporary lack of space means we have held over for one week the Internet Investor column from Robin Amlot. We have also given a one-week break to John Andrew, our Stockmarket Made Simple writer, although he resurfaces today as our Valentine's Day columnist. See what you think.

Apologies over, now to the meaty stuff. Among the many hundreds of letters and faxes that crossed my desk this week was one from Virgin Direct. The company mirrors its boss, Richard Branson, in its endless quest for publicity. But not all Virgin's attempts at headline-grabbing are pointless stunts.

This week's PR effort involves a proposal from Mr Branson, which he hopes will be backed by a number of other institutions, for a "kitemark" system for financial products.

Included in Virgin's sights are the hopelessly complicated charging structures used by many companies on their products, including pensions.

This is a difficult area for me. On the one hand, having sat in this chair for a year or two, I can generally understand the way charges work, even the more complex ones.

It is also true that complexity need not necessarily mean poor value - I find Equitable Life's pensions are not, for example, as understandable as some, but there is no denying they are among the most competitive.

Yet one of the common bugbears of many readers, as our postbag attests, is that they simply can't work out what companies are taking out of their pensions in fees and charges. So, yes, simplification is necessary - and the idea of an independent assessment panel to award the kitemark also appeals.

But I still have a problem. What if a company decides that it will charge people who pay pounds 100 a month into a personal pension less than those who pay in pounds 50? What if the charging structures were tiered even further - as some are? Would Mr "kitemark" Branson see this as "good value" or "unnecessary complication"?

And would some companies be denied a kitemark if, despite their excellent value, the nature of the market they address (self-invested pensions) meant their products were more complex than normal?

The verdict on this Virgin stunt must be - not bad, Richard. But you've still got some way to go to make it workable.

Finally, a plug. My colleague Steve Lodge, editor of The Independent on Sunday personal finance section, has written an excellent "Guide to Making Your Investments Work for You". It is sponsored by Wesleyan Financial Services and is available by calling 0800 1379749. Or fill in the coupon on page 12.

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