Money - The Hi-Tech Investor: Direct Line offers high-speed insurance on the net

Direct Line, the phone-based insurance company, has re-launched its internet site. It now sells motor insurance, car breakdown cover and home insurance directly via its web pages. The company claims it will offer the fastest "quote and buy" service in the business, and that web users will be able to take out a policy in two minutes. The website is also linked to a call centre, so you can speak to an operator if anything is unclear.

Direct Line has high hopes for selling insurance online. The company expects 15 per cent of its motor business to come over the internet by the year 2003.

The new site has added an area called Quote and Buy, which gives online quotes. If visitors like the quotes, cover can be taken out directly with a credit or debit card.

Whether they will depends largely on how old they are, and where they live. Direct Line, like several other direct insurance companies, tends to be more expensive for younger people and for people living in cities.

For example, for pounds 15,000 of contents cover for a two-bedroom flat in Camden, north London, Direct Line's premium is pounds 183.75. A quote from telephone insurance broker, Berry Birch and Noble, comes to pounds 99.52 for the same cover with General Accident. Increasing the cover to pounds 30,000 costs pounds 322.35 with Direct Line against pounds 112.46 with GA through Berry Birch and Noble.

Move to the suburbs, and Direct Line becomes more attractive. Its quote to cover a four-bedroom, detached house in Middlesex is pounds 541.80, including contents cover of pounds 38,000. The same house would cost around pounds 1,000 to insure with several other companies.

Direct Line's web-based quote system is easy enough to use, and it lets visitors save their quotes and come back to them later. However, it is not as quick as the publicity suggests. Checking one quote and adjusting different options such as the sums insured, personal possessions or the type of security at a property can take closer to 20 minutes than two.

The company doesn't offer any extra discounts for taking out policies online, even though this saves it a fair amount of administration. Several general insurance companies do give reductions to internet users. They might only amount to a few pounds, but it does makes the process feel more rewarding.

Direct Line, www.direct-line.com

Stephen Pritchard can be contacted at: Hi-tech-investor@dial.pipex.com

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