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Personal Finance: Let your screen help you take cover

SCREENTRADE is an online insurance broker offering motor and home contents insurance. You can search, book and pay for your policy on line.

And because Screentrade operates a panel of insurers, the system displays several quotes. When you shop for insurance over the phone or even directly via companies' websites, you have to give out the same information several times. Finding half a dozen quotes could take an entire afternoon. Here you have them all in one place.

Screentrade offers policies from well-known names including Eagle Star, Zurich and AXA. According to the company, the panel has been set up so that clients across the country can find a better deal.

Its web pages display the best five quotes from its selection of insurers, and the client can decide which, if any, to accept. This is a slightly different approach from that of a conventional broker, which will usually make a single recommendation. Screentrade gives you more control because it shows the different features for each policy.

But while a broker can give advice based on an individual's circumstances, a computer cannot advise; nor can it use its own initiative to solve a problem. This means that any internet-based broking system is not going to compete with a human being where a standard policy falls short of your needs.

However, Screentrade is linked to Shaws, an insurance broker, which operates its helpline. Web users with more complex requirements can go through to Shaws for advice.

This back-up is important as not everyone will fit a computer's idea of a good risk. I tried it out and found that Screentrade was pounds 50 more expensive for contents cover for a flat in north London than both a conventional broker and a direct insurer, although it was substantially cheaper than a quote from a high-street bank.

Sarah Moores, marketing manager for Screentrade, says the company plans to add more insurers to its panel. This should give us a better chance of finding a good price.

It's worth looking at the site before you buy insurance. It is easy to use and is an excellent way to see if your current policy is value for money. But phone a couple of insurers and a broker before you make a final decision.

Links: Screentrade's web pages are at www.insurance.co.uk, and www.screentrade.co.uk

The author can be contacted by e-mail at: hi-tech- investor@dial.pipex.com