Ariens suffer road rage, Scorpios stay sane

The money men are seeing stars, says Michael Drewett (Sagittarius)

What Does your star sign say about your financial future? Are you a wild, live-for-the-moment Gemini who never has any savings, or a home-making Cancer who dreams of little else than paying off your mortgage?

All a load of nonsense. Maybe. But just as reading horoscopes remains popular, a surprising number of financial companies have taken a look at which star signs are most likely to be their best or worst customers. Without exception, they insist it is simply a "bit of fun" - we are not about to have to pay different insurance premiums depending on our star sign, for example.

But at least one company, Colonial Finance, having found that the most common signs among its personal loan customers were Pisces and Leo, is taking this research sufficiently seriously to target a mailshot at people born under these signs.

Customer research at car insurer Zurich Municipal has found that Ariens - the rams - have, appropriately enough, the worst record for making claims on motor insurance policies. Sagittarians and Capricorns were least likely, it found. Elsewhere, a yet-to-be published study by Black Horse Life, an insurance arm of Lloyds Bank, among claimants on its sickness policies (called permanent health insurance) could claim to have found some support for the view that Taureans live up to their image of being "fun-loving bulls". Taureans are said to enjoy fine food and wine - but they also comprise 60 per cent of all the claims for heart attacks Black Horse has paid out on.

Geminis, who are said to live off nervous energy and suffer if it cannot be put to good use, are easily the leading claimants overall at Black Horse - malignant cancers and mental illness being particularly prevalent.

Sensitive, forgiving Cancerians find it difficult to concentrate, which might explain why they hold the accolade of the greatest number of claims as a result of accidents. One of the healthiest signs to be born under appears to be Scorpio. With the lowest number of mental illness claims, Scorpios reach an average age of 49 before claiming at all. Stargazing experts describe a typical Scorpio as having a high sex drive which is often channelled into sport and general fitness. It seems to pay off.

Of course for every star sign that appears to live up to its image there are counter-examples. Virgos supposedly have the reputation of being the "hypochondriacs of the zodiac" - practical people who also worry too much, suffer from resultant headaches and beat a path to the doctor's surgery at the first sign of trouble. Black Horse, however, says Virgos have made the fewest claims on its ill-health policies.

But even discounting the astrological aspect, Black Horse also found among its 300 claimants that those claiming for respiratory problems and arthritis had all been born in the autumn or winter, and all those with circulatory conditions had been born in the winter months.

Nevertheless, Black Horse marketing director Debbie Gorski is at pains to downplay the research as offering any serious pointers: "We wouldn't want anyone to get the astrological aspect out of proportion, but there are some noticeable and interesting differences between some signs. However, neither we nor anyone else that I know of would actually allow star sign statistics to interfere with medical underwriting."

Similarly, Zurich Municipal is not about to turn Ariens away for motor insurance or even charge them more because of their star sign - although they may still end up paying more if their claims record is that of a "typical" Aries.

Colonial Finance, by contrast, having found the disproportionate number of Pisceans and Leos among its personal loan customers, is hoping to get a better-than-average take-up rate by running a mailshot to people born under just those signs. But it also emphasises that it is not abandoning mailshotting people with other star signs.

The City, too, appears not to wholly disregard astrology and similar superstitions. A number of banks have retained the services of astrologers, according to the Astrological Association. Stockbroker Credit Lyonnais Securities says its annual publishing of Chinese "Feng Shui" economic, financial and political predictions has proved surprisingly popular. The bank makes clear the predictions are not its own but compiled by various Asian sages, but it claims some have proved uncannily accurate. These have included the re-election of Boris Yeltsin and the prediction of "significant army manoeuvres in southern China" which directly preceded the recent threats to Taiwan by China. The next significant prediction is a major problem in world stock markets in September or October making it a sell period, according to the witch doctors. The London office of Credit Lyonnais Securities (Asia) makes the words of wisdom available to any clients who want to read them - they are published in February each year - but gives a strictly "no comment" view on their validity.

Additional reporting by Steve Lodge

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