FEAR OF FINANCE

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The Independent Online
Next week, I will be attending another of those august financial award dinners where everyone wears funny black suits and ties, eats indifferent food and listens to speeches. My host for the evening is Cornhill, the insurer well known for its cricket sponsorship.

Always being one to bite the hand that feeds me, I will be asking my hosts why it is that Cornhill declined to take part in the Money Marketing financial survey we write about elsewhere in this section.

Not just Cornhill. A number of other companies also refused to supply information to John Jenkins, the actuary at KPMG who helped bring out the survey. The refuseniks include Barclays Life, Hill Samuel, Irish Life, London & Manchester, Mercury Asset Management, Pearl, Refuge, Black Horse Financial Services, Sun Life of Canada, Royal Liverpool and National & Provincial Life, the building society's insurance arm now owned by Abbey National.

Between them, these companies have sold millions of policies to their customers. Yet they refused to let their names appear in these performance tables. According to John Jenkins, the argument tended to be that they no longer sold the specific policies for which details were being requested, so the information was not relevant.

Of course, that's true. But equally, so is the fact that many clients with the companies named above would like to know how their policies have fared compared with others - if only because, if they must increase their contributions into, say, a pension, it would help them to know whether there are better alternatives to channel their money.

One cannot avoid the conclusion that the companies have something to hide. It is interesting to note that the refuseniks do virtually no business with independent financial advisers, selling policies through their own armies of salespeople. This way they never face comparisons about the value for money of their products.

Readers of this column must make up their own mind as to whether the companies concerned are ones to do business with. I think what they are doing is just not cricket.

It is not often that I plug a new idea. But this one, by Torquil Clark, a firm of financial advisers in Wolverhampton, sounds good. The firm is launching Protect Direct, a telephone service selling term assurance, a no-frills form of life cover increasingly popular as an adjunct to mortgages.

Term assurance is simple: you pay a premium each month. If you die within a certain period your estate gets an agreed sum. Because it is so simple, competition in this market is mainly based on price. Protect Direct adds value by rebating about 65 per cent of the commission normally paid to an adviser. In many cases, this is equal to a whole year's premiums. If you ever need this type of insurance, it makes sense to call 0800 413186.

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