Log on for the Big Bang... it's a site for sore eyes

Our guide to the rapid growth of personal finance websites
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The Independent Online

The number of personal finance web sites is growing faster than the price of the average internet stock. Not a day seems to go by without another one springing up. Log on and you will soon be bombarded with services inviting you to do anything from dabbling in the stock market to buying your dream home.

The number of personal finance web sites is growing faster than the price of the average internet stock. Not a day seems to go by without another one springing up. Log on and you will soon be bombarded with services inviting you to do anything from dabbling in the stock market to buying your dream home.

The sheer number and variety of sites available is daunting. But this promises to be just the beginning as the online personal finance market is set to explode in the coming months.

Take the major banks as a good example. They are falling over themselves to spend hundreds of millions of pounds to entice internet customers. In the last week alone, Lloyds TSB, Barclays, Virgin Direct, Alliance & Leicester, Woolwich and Abbey National unveiled ambitious internet plans. Halifax's new service - currently dubbed Greenfield.co - is also eagerly anticipated.

So with the online personal finance sector seemingly moving at the speed of thought it is nigh impossible to keep track of the best new sites.

To give you some sort of guidance, I have compiled the table below, by no means exhaustive, which outlines some of the new sites that have made a big impression in the last six months.

Among the 25 highlighted web sites I have included DigitalLook.com, a company research and news-alert web site that I help run. I make no comment on this and will leave the final judgement to you.

Home page

The potential benefits of buying a house online are enticing. Why hand over thousands of pounds to estate agents when you can pay a few pounds to off-load your house or find the perfect property? Indeed a recent survey claimed that buyers might have saved up to £100m last year by going online - with 70,000 transactions conducted on the net. HomeWeb, HomeFreeHome and Easier are three of the plethora of web sites that will help you get a foot on or jump off the property ladder. And if you are buying a house on the internet why not arrange a mortgage online while you are at it? Established mortgage broker John Charcol has set up CharcolOnline, while E-Loan is a US import. With Deutsche Bank predicting that one in four mortgages will be sold online by 2003 there is all to play for.

Deal maker

Online share dealing has shaken up the parochial world of the traditional stockbroker. The most recent brokers into the market include Share People, offering a flat rate commission fee for international trades. E-Cortal and DLJ Direct are offering commission-free trading periods. NothingVentured.com - the new service from investment bank Durlacher - is offering the added attraction of participating in some of the flotations it handles.

Supermarket sweep

The other great benefit of the Internet is the way you can compare and contrast financial products within minutes. MoneyExtra, Em-Finance, Money Supermarket, Interactive Investor International, Screen Trade and ins-site aim to allow you to do just that.

Banking on success

The traditional banks may be waking up to the power of the internet - but not before some young upstarts threatened to rock the old order. Prudential's Egg started the trend, and Smile, the Co-operative Bank's internet arm and First-E have followed its lead.

Read all about it

As well as personal finance products, there are a growing number of web sites which offer you advice and analysis on your investments. On the shares side, another US import - TheStreet.co.uk - started this week. FT Your Money is the product of the Financial Times plans to boost its internet presence. Freeserve's financial channel UK iNvest is another useful service.

Broker research specialists Multex.com plan a European service soon in conjunction with Reuters and ITSonline's site trying to freshen up the image of the investment trust industry.

All in all, exciting times. The personal finance sector will never be the same again - and the existing players will have to adapt quickly or perish.

Andrew Yates is head of operations at (DigitalLook.com) which provides company research, news alerts, brokers forecasts, directors dealings, new issues information and a stock selection service.

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