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Money: 'Any time, any place, anywhere'

TELEPHONE AND ON-LINE FINANCE: whatever the time of day, whatever the day of the week, you can now buy cut-price insurance
Operating a bank account or buying financial products over the telephone is now commonplace. Yet just 12 years ago it was almost unheard of.

Prior to the launch of Direct Line - which began by specialising in car insurance - and First Direct - the telephone bank - buying and selling shares was about the only financial deal that could be cut and dried from the comfort of your own home.

Today, there is hardly any financial service that cannot be arranged from your armchair. Indeed, if you have a home computer and a modem, it is also now possible to arrange a mortgage, buy and sell shares or buy home and car insurance over the Internet. In the coming months, it may even be possible to buy a personal pension on the Internet.

Buying direct has benefited the consumer in many ways.

Instead of having large sales forces or paying large commission fees to brokers and advisers, the direct providers use centralised offices, usually in low-cost areas, employing telephone sales staff. This has fed through into lower charges.

Also, we the customers now have a more flexible service. While not all the "direct" companies offer 24 hours a day, 365 days a year operations, they do open during times that suit us. If you want to know your bank balance at 7 o'clock in the evening, no problem. If you want to buy a pension, renew your house insurance, buy a PEP, all you have to do is pick up the telephone and dial the company. There is no intimidating meeting with a bank manager, broker or sales person.

And if you do not like the manner of the person at the other end of the line, just put the phone down.

There is always another company you can call.