Personal Finance: We need single, one-stop Internet sites to soothe our sore eyes

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The Independent Online
THE INTERNET is the way of the future. Who says so? Well, just about everyone you meet. Most of them have no idea why they are saying it. But it's something to do with computers - even if we don't quite understand what it is all about - so it must be, mustn't it?

Yes, is the easy answer. The Internet does offer tremendous potential to buy good-value products, including financial ones. The process is not yet complete.

For example, most financial companies prepared to deal on the Internet as well as by phone or post don't operate a "dual pricing" strategy. They don't pass on to customers the benefits of far lower administration costs of deals on the Web.

One interesting exception is Egg, the Prudential's phone and Internet company, which maintains a higher savings rate of 0.25 per cent on its instant access account if you run it on the Web. On the mortgage front, cheeky old Egg has decided to distinguish its Internet-based service from the phone-based one by charging new phone applicants a pounds 199 fee. The day will come,when it becomes untenable to charge the same for something which requires infinitely less "human" time to order.

Even so, there is another problem: today's users are often subjected a bewildering and time-wasting search to find just that right deal. The process of finding home or car insurance is a case in point. With one exception, getting a quote takes almost as long on the Net as it does over the phone. You are forced to go from site to site, filling in the same details again and again to get a quote.

Now Direct Line is offering its insurance services over the Net. It consistently offers good value and is well worth getting a quote from. And it promises online application will take only two minutes.

There is a company called Screentrade which has contacts with a dozen insurers and can get quotes from allusing one application form. The trouble is, say friends who tried, Screentrade quotes are often higher than they can get over the phone or from other Internet providers.

There is a crying need for one site to provide a platform to all providers, allowing individuals the chance to post their details and getting a quote from all of them.

We also need a mechanism to show different fund managers' performance, plus a way to buy their products immediately. The same with mortgages - and almost any product you care to name. I suspect that's not far away. But until then, getting a quote for anything is a painful experience barely worth going through. It's a shame.

Finally, more readers have called to ask for a free copy of The Independent's Guide on Independent Financial Advice, which tells you exactly what steps to take to find an IFA. It comes with a list of names and telephone numbers to whom you can go for help. Call 0117 9712932 for your copy