The City lays its bait in the Net

Ken Welsby looks at institutions selling down the line
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The Independent Online
Big City institutions are moving fast to exploit the power of the Internet as a way to reach customers, and the intermediaries such as brokers and independent financial advisers are hard on their heels.

If you want to insure a car, you can shop around for quotes from half a dozen names, either directly or through brokers. Likewise with life assurance: fill in a form on screen and in a minute back will come your personal illustration of the premiums required for cover.

For those planning to move house, or considering re-mortgaging an existing property, a number of building societies provide online calculators, enabling you to work out what the repayments will be for any capital sum and term.

Whether you want information to make your own decisions, or help from an independent financial adviser, the Net is the place to start.

One of the biggest growth areas in Net finance is fund management, with information on literally hundreds of funds no more than a few mouse clicks away.

Send for information on almost any UK fund and you can expect to find a summary of its recent performance: if you had invested pounds 100 in the fund three or five years ago, what would it be worth today? The source is usually attributed to Micropal, a specialist company that has been tracking funds for almost a decade.

Consult Micropal on the Web and you can check the performance over the past three years of entire market sectors. The Micropal Web pages also provide the company's star ratings, which can help you to evaluate the trade-off between risk and return for an individual fund compared with others in the same sector.

All this is information that can help you to make an informed decision on which fund is right for you. The pages form a key part of a large-scale Net site operated by a company called Interactive Investor International - iii for short.

This provides information from some of the largest fund managers plus other regulated organisations such as IFA Promotion, the umbrella body for independent financial advisers. You can also search for information on investment topics from the FT's professional investment magazines.

Richard Ingleton, a director of Interactive Investor, says the goal is to make online investment easy for individuals: "It's all about giving people information they need to make decisions. We are very encouraged by the response. Over the past 12 months the site has been visited by more than 250,000 people, and our pages are consulted at the rate of half a million hits per month."

To those who doubt that the Net has a key role to play in the investment world, Mr Ingleton points to the United States, where the giant Fidelity group attracts more than one in 20 of all inquiries through its presence on the Web.

Similarly, in the UK, FirstMortgage, a phone-based lender, has issued hundreds of quotes to those who have accessed its site on the Web. About 200 people browse the site, which includes Property Search, an Net listings service for residential properties.

It's not just big names that are going online. Next week, Alton Financial Services, a Hampshire IFA, launches its Financial Discounts Direct site, offering discounts on a range of PEPs and other products. The discount is offered on an execution-only basis, for investment without advice.

ON THE LINE

- USEFUL CONTACTS

Infotrade 0800 226600

CitiService 0171 591 9008

Reuters 1000 0171-916 8051

Market Eye 0171 329 8282

Tenfore 0171 404 4541

Interactive Investor http://www.iii.co.uk

ShareLink 0121-200 2242

http://www.esi.co.uk/sharelink/home.htm

ESI 01223 566926

http://www.esi.co.uk

Allied Dunbar http://www.allieddunbar.co.uk

Royal SunAlliance http://www.sunalliance.co.uk/sunalliance

MoneyWeb http://www.demon.co.uk/moneyweb

Alliance & Leicester http://www.alliance-leicester.co.uk

Bradford & Bingley http://www.bradford-bingley.co.uk

FirstMortgage http://www.first-mortgage.co.uk/fms/

National Savings http://roof.ccta.gov.uk/ns/prindex.htm

Fin'cial Disc. Direct http://www.financial-discounts.co.uk

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