Security with a smile

Stephen Pritchard on the pleasures of the National Savings website
YOU MAY remember the cheesy National Savings slogan: "Security has never been so interesting." Government-backed National Savings products cannot reflect the thrills of investing in the Footsie but, to compensate, National Savings does have a flashy website.

The site makes use of some of the latest technologies. The first page is conventional enough: the National Savings logo, and some facts and figures about the organisation. A mammoth 30 million of us save there, with holdings of pounds 63bn.

Click to the next page, and things liven up. The screen opens with a series of coloured balls, one for each sub-section of the site. The balls metamorphose into different shapes as you watch, accompanied by some upbeat music.

All of this is clearly presented and well designed, and is much easier to navigate than many banks' offerings. National Savings still has a penchant for carefully posed pictures of smiling children, happy families and loving couples, but these are mercifully small and shown in black and white.

The real strength of the site is the detailed product information. National Savings provides interest-rate calculators to show the returns on different products. It also tots up how much tax you would have to pay (where relevant). One of the great advantages of National Savings is that some of its accounts and bonds are tax free.

To help you sort out which product will suit you, the site designers have included a savings selector. This is in a question-and-answer format. When you click on the appropriate responses, the computer produces a shortlist of choices. For a taxpayer saving for one to five years, the system recommends First Option Bonds, an Investment Account, or an Ordinary Account.

It is also possible to search the site by product, and National Savings lists interest rates for each of its accounts. At the moment, there is no facility to open accounts over the internet, but the application forms are on the web site. These can be filled in on screen, printed out and posted.

National Savings goes to some lengths to show that its products can be part of a sophisticated investor's strategy. The web pages include some case studies, showing the sort of people who invest, the products they choose and why. This is much more interesting than the usual table of benefits most banks and building societies rely on.

As well as accounts and bonds, National Savings has a section on the new Individual Savings Account, and one on Premium Bonds, including details on how to buy bonds and how Ernie draws the winning numbers.

The best bit about the site is the unclaimed Premium Bond prize-finder. As long as you know your bond holder's number, you can key it in and the computer will check its records.

If you have Premium Bonds that are gathering dust somewhere, and have moved house without telling National Savings, it is well worth visiting the site and checking the numbers. It could be your lucky day.

Contact: National Savings, www.nationalsavings.co.uk

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

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