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THE HI-TECH INVESTOR: Life cover made easy on the net

EVERY YEAR, thousands of people buy life assurance policies from their mortgage lenders. Usually, this is a rather expensive way to arrange cover. A lender's cover can easily cost pounds 10 a month more than the most competitive policy. Life assurance is a simple product, unlike a pension or private medical cover, and there are few reasons not to buy the cheapest policy on the market.

Direct Life and Pension Services and Life Search are two companies specialising in low-cost life cover; both now offer quotes over the internet.

Direct Life and Pension Services is a firm of independent financial advisers, and offers a range of policies, including standard life assurance or term assurance, endowments and critical illness cover.

The site is simple, with no elaborate graphics. Obtaining a quote means filling in two forms, one with relevant details such as age and the policy term, the other with personal information such as the applicant's name and address. The system promises "indicative" quotes in less than a minute, although these are not binding without filling in the conventional paperwork.

Direct Life and Pension Services says that it is an execution-only service, and it offers no advice. There is, however, a free phone line for people who prefer to ask a human operator for quotes, rather than use the net.

Life Search has a different approach. The company specialises in life policies and closely related products such as critical illness cover. It also gives advice, even to customers who approach it on the internet.

Life Search does this by eschewing the automatic quote engine in favour of an e-mail based system. This takes longer, but the company claims it can normally send quotes back within a day.

Applicants still fill in a form on the website, but this goes to the screen of a human expert who replies with a quote, and some advice notes. The company says that clients often ring to take out their policies rather than use the net.

Life Search promises to beat cheaper quotes, including prices from insurers that sell policies directly. It has also designed a site that is simpler and more attractive than those run by most insurance companies. The layout and graphics are reminiscent of a 1950s airline brochure, but the effect is pleasant enough and, importantly, quick to load.

Both sites are well worth a visit: shopping around for life assurance is an easy way to save money.

n Life Search: www.life-search.co.uk; Direct Life and Pension Service: www.lifequote.co.uk

Travel cover

A RATHER more upbeat form of cover is on offer on the net from Preferential Insurance. The travel cover specialist now offers online quotes for its annual insurance over the internet.

It offers online purchasing, with immediate cover for people who pay online. The company has a number of specialist policies, such as World Trekker insurance for young travellers who are away for extended periods, and cover for weddings.

n Preferential: www.preferential.co.uk

More net freebies

INTERACTIVE INVESTOR, the financial website, is the latest company to offer free internet access. The service, iii-world, comes with local-rate internet access calls, 10mb of personal webspace, an e-mail to fax gateway and member-only investor information.

The new service uses two telecoms companies, MCI WorldCom and Cable and Wireless, which Interactive Investor hopes will make the service highly reliable.

Unlike some other free internet services, iii-world's telephone support calls are charged at local rates.

n Interactive Investor: www.iii.co.uk; iii-world: http://register.iii- world.com/

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