Money: Egg's future is in the net

Egg, the branchless bank owned by the Prudential, has announced that it is going to concentrate its future developments on the internet.

Anyone who now wants to open a savings account with Egg must do so online. However, the company will still be offering loans and mortgages to customers over the phone, and existing Egg savers will still be able to manage their accounts without using a computer.

Egg is not the first company to have internet-only savings accounts - Norwich and Peterborough BS has several. But it is almost certainly the first financial services company to make an existing account online only.

According to Mike Harris, chief executive of Egg, the company has already reached a critical mass for its savings accounts. For Egg to continue to grow, the company would have to build additional call centres to meet demand. The internet is a cheaper and more flexible alternative which, Mr Harris believes, will allow Egg to continue to offer some of the highest savings rates around.

Restricting new accounts to the net may well cost Egg customers in the short term, but the company believes the internet's growth rate means there is no shortage of potential customers. Egg is taking some steps of its own to encourage this: it provides free internet access, and customers can buy a Fujitsu PC on the Egg website.

More immediately, Egg has redesigned its web pages. Egg customers will have more control over their accounts through features such as online mini statements and transfers to other Egg accounts or to nominated bank accounts. There is also an "Egg-free zone" for independent commentary on financial matters.

Egg's move is bold, and not without risks. The next few months will see whether investors are ready for internet-only accounts.

n www.egg.co.uk

Legal aid

Desktop Lawyer is a legal advice service for consumers and businesses available over the net. The service is a collaboration between Freeserve, the internet arm of Dixons, Epoch Software, LawNet and 11 Stone Chambers, a group of London barristers.

Customers order and download legal documents such as wills, tenancy agreements and letters of complaint to their PCs. They then customise the documents using software supplied free on the website. The result is a tailored document that fits the user's exact circumstances.

Document prices range from pounds 2 for a letter to pounds 30 or more for more complicated papers such as wills. All the documents have been drafted for the service by practising barristers, and there will be more than 300 documents on the site by the end of the year.

Users can also order and pay for legal phone help on line. If the circumstances are very complicated, clients can ask for a referral to a LawNet solicitor.

The quality of the documents is good, and prices seem reasonable. Some users may find the need to download the Rapidocs software cumbersome, and currently the service only works with Windows PCs. However, it is open to anyone with access to the net, not just Freeserve users.

n www.freeserve.net

n Stephen Pritchard can be contacted at hi-tech.investor@dial.pipex.com

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