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A whirl wide web

Wouldn&#39t it be a good idea if someone put together a comprehensive

directory of all the financial services websites relevant to

IFAs? And wouldn&#39t it be great if this directory listed all the features

and functionality of each site so wasted and frustrated visits became a

thing of the past?

One site, which gets close, is the aptly named www.find.co.uk. The

Financial Information Net Directory has content galore. It is a great

starting place for IFAs looking for anything financial services-related. It

is simple to use and provides numerous lists of sites to click on to visit.

Content is neatly organised into a series of centres.

Visit the IFA centre first and choose from a list of product providers.

The directory entries are fairly basic and some inconsistent. Those who

have taken time to differentiate their offerings for IFAs score more

points. If it is your first visit to your chosen site, you may not know

what is in store, so be prepared. Find could make the whole offering even

more valuable by standardising the way that directory entries are

displayed.

The IFA centre is complemented with other, very useful, content. Click on

information providers for access to the corporate reports of UK quoted

companies, which can be downloaded online. The IFA centre also has a fairly

decent list of insurance and fund management companies as well as mortgage

lenders. You will be spoilt for choice in the investment performance

section, with strong representation from Hindsight, Micropal and Lipper

among others. Find&#39s other centres are for consumers but IFAs should find

them a useful resource. The investment centre, for instance, allows you to

check out Isas, Peps, unit trusts, Oeics, investment trusts, offshore

funds, derivatives and foreign exchange suppliers. The handy calculator

section makes short work of difficult calculations.

The insurance centre more or less offers the same list of providers

accessed via the IFA centre. Content is categorised across life protection

and savings, personal and company pensions, motor, health, travel and pet

insurance. Again, calculators can be accessed such as the one in the

Tunbridge Wells Equitable Friendly Society&#39s baby bond site, which is

simple and effective.

Make sure you visit the information centre, which is crammed full of

excellent content, from sites offering market prices and savings rates to

newsletters and financial publications. A great site worth a look at is the

source from the Government Statistics Office and epo.com, which gives you

the lowdown on forthcoming IPOs.

There is also a list of financial publications, ranging from the

Electronic Telegraph and the FT, to obscure sites such as IslamiQ Daily for

financial news from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia plus a list of institutions

and exchanges while the Government&#39s GoGet Pensions site gives a wealth of

content on pension matters and allows downloading of leaflets. Here you can

also visit the FSA, SIB, Sofa, Aifa, the CML, Imro and the Inland Revenue.

If that&#39s not enough, the compliance exchange is great for compliance

matters.

If you are into share dealing, then check out advice and dealing for

online share sites. It also covers stockbrokers, portfolio managers, IFAs,

accountant and tax services. If you want to know who is offering what at

the bank then step into the banking and savings centre for personal and

business banking, building societies, merchant and offshore banking.

Mortgages and loans, meanwhile, are well covered by the mortgages and

loans centre, including handy sites offering rate and product comparisons

and more calculators. You can also request brochures from a list of

suppliers and check out the websites of the week to see what&#39s new.

As far as appearances go, screen design is functional and not flashy,

although, on the downside, banner ads can get in the way. But full marks

for the company quick-search facility. To sum up, in my view, the

find.co.uk site is a must to be added to your favourites and is the closest

so far to a working financial services directory.

From our visit to find.co.uk, we accessed two other financial services

websites, which demonstrate good and not so good uses of the internet.

www.johncharcol.co.uk

This is a customer site specialising in providing mortgage and insurance

product information online. There is no content specific to IFAs, nor are

there any help facilities geared to increase an IFA&#39s ability to transact

business offline and online.

There are definitions of products but links to product providers are

buried in text. The calculators are clumsy and it is not clear which bits

are for the customers to fill out and which bits supply the reply.

For IFAs trying to organise mortgages, the mortgage wizard is potentially

useful but suffers from the same faults as the calculator. For IFAs, the

inability to bypass the front end of the site and get to the core product

information makes this site tedious and time-consuming. The best buys

section offers a list of mortgage lenders and the deals currently on offer

but the flat pages, which offer no links to the lenders&#39 sites, are

disappointing as further details are not readily available.

On consulting the helpline, a very courteous operator advised the help was

for navigating the website, not helping with understanding the products

offered. And yes, she gets a lot of calls from disappointed users. She then

offered me the phone numbers of the lenders or their URLs so I could look

them up one by one. Not, in my view, good use of the web.

www.norwich-union.co.uk

While the news bulletins on the first page are timely and interesting, the

real value lies in the content. This is easily set out, downloads quickly

and is a cinch to navigate. Online key features, documents, product and

fund information can be printed. The sales tools and list of links are

excellent.

This is a genuine business aid and well worth the time to read online or

download. The technology section makes the medium very accessible with

helpful “hand-holding” guides for even confirmed technophobes.

The online guide to digital TV is clear and informative and a real star is

the build your own site feature which is easy to understand and offers

invaluable guidance to anyone wanting to use the internet as a business

tool.

On the downside, IFAs cannot transact business online at present. To

access the online comparison and modelling tools, as additional offline

registration process is required which may put some people off initially.

Other than that, one for the favourites&#39 list.

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