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Emmerdale and email don&#39t mix

Pearl Assurance is holding focus groups to find out if the average punter is ready to buy financial products on the internet. Money Marketing went along to a session in central London.

It felt a bit like daytime television meets a police identification parade. On one side of the one-way glass partition, there were eight working-class men who fell into the 50-65 age bracket, all seated on daytime TV-style sofas.

Observing them were representatives from Pearl, Government researchers, the Department of Trade and Industry and other interested parties.

On “the suits” side of the window, we were given glasses of wine and pastries. We settled down to watch Heineken cans and packets of crisps opening on the other side.

The researcher kicked off the session with the focus group by explaining she was independent and not trying to sell them any products.

They were then quizzed on banking, insurance and pensions but they seemingly became bored with this quite quickly and the most rousing discussion centred around the sports pages on Teletext.

The warm-up questions had concerned ways to buy cars and where to look for the best holiday deals.

Teletext was the main way the group searched for the best deals. With no prompts from the researcher, the discussion about Teletext really took hold.

The group&#39s major gripe was that Teletext pages took too long to turn over when they were looking for results of their favourite football team.

The researcher tried to bring the discussion back to financial services and the men were asked why they banked where they did.

There were sighs and shakes of the head from the suits when one man said he stayed with his bank as it had kept him afloat in his early days.

He felt he owed the bank his loyalty as it had hel-ped him.

When it came to insurance policies, a few members of the group saidthey bought cover through brokers.

Cheques were the favoured form of payment. The men said they distrusted even giving their credit details over the phone.

It was no surprise then to learn the group did not feel inclined towards purchasing financial products over the net. Only two owned a computer and they had bought them mainly for their children.

The internet was described by one man as the Wild West, which prompted laughter from the suits. The group felt the net was a place where crime could thrive and they did not feel safe using it to buy products.

Although the men admitted that they were teased by their children for being old-fashioned, they could not see their views changing.

The quietest participant said it would be through television and not computers that access to elect-ronic systems would really take off. Other participants said they would be put off by the intrusion of email on their TV. One man commented that it would distract his viewing to have email popping up in the middle of Emmerdale.

Access to the net was a problem. The group decided the pub would be the perfect place to surf the net as long as beer was not spilt on the keyboards too often.

Given that this was their one of main social centres, it was not a bad idea.

Once the group had left the building, the researcher rejoined the suits. The observers agreed that it had been enlightening and the men had given a good representation of Joe Public.

Pearl is holding further focus groups with people of different ages and financial status. It will be interesting to see its findings.

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