Thursday, 26 November 2009

Five ways the internet has transformed our personal finances

Five ways the internet has transformed our personal finances
As The Telegraph marks 15 years of its online presence, we look at how the internet has transformed the way we deal with money matters.

By Richard Evans
Published: 3:40PM GMT 25 Nov 2009

1. Internet banking
Millions of people now take for granted that they can pay bills and transfer money at any time of day and without having to worry about queues – whether in branches or on telephone lines. These days, you never even have to speak to a human being when it comes to personal banking. You can also use the internet to find the best deals on savings accounts and then set up and run accounts online. Sixty per cent of people with instant-access accounts have registered for online banking, according to the British Bankers' Association.

Many people also research the mortgage market online, and some even apply for home loans over the internet.

2. Price-comparison websites
If you want to find the best interest rates for your savings or the best price for your home insurance, you can save time by using a price-comparison website. These provide up-to-date lists of the top accounts, as well as data on the best deals on credit cards and other financial products.

In the old days, we had to phone around brokers or insurers to compare prices for car or home insurance, giving out the same long-winded information every time. Most of us would have given up after a handful of calls.

Comparison sites do all the work, showing the cheapest providers, policy details and links to application forms.

Other sites, such as Kelkoo and Pricerunner, find the lowest prices for goods such as cameras, fridges and PCs.

Comparison sites are also much in demand for finding the best deals on energy, although recent research by The Daily Telegraph found that energy-comparison sites did not always agree about which supplier offered the best deal.

Consumers are becoming more savvy about these discrepancies. While a recent survey by Mintel, the analyst, found that six out of 10 people had used a price-comparison site, the consumer group Which? found that consumers lacked trust in them, with one in four finding better value financial products elsewhere.

3. Voucher codes
The recession has sharpened shoppers' appetite for a bargain – and many cost-conscious consumers have turned to the internet to track down special offers. If you want to save money at Tesco you can just type "Tesco voucher codes" into a search engine and find dozens of sites offering the discount codes – short combinations of numbers and letters that you enter into the online checkout. Hundreds of retailers operate these schemes; some also allow you to print off vouchers from the website to claim discounts in shops and restaurants.

According to research from, more than 2.2 million discount vouchers are redeemed every day, while an internet traffic analyst found that the number of web searches in Britain for discount vouchers had increased by 48 per cent over the past year.

4. Dealing and investing
Ten years ago, small investors who wanted to trade shares had to phone a broker. Now they can buy and sell online. Nine out of 10 share deals are made online, according to Barclays Stockbrokers.

Access to information online has helped level the playing field between small shareholders and professional investors with the resources of large banks behind them. "The role of the internet is key, giving the individual at home with a laptop access to the kind of tools, research and up-to-the-minute data previously the preserve of City traders," said Des Byrne, head of Barclays Stockbrokers. "The internet brought financial democracy to newly empowered investors."

People can buy investment funds, such as unit trusts from "fund supermarkets" – online shops that usually offer discounts on charges. These funds are often held in tax-free wrappers, such as individual savings accounts or personal pensions.

5. Buying and selling
Auction websites, such as eBay, have made it far easier to buy and sell second-hand goods, which in the pre-internet age would have meant a trip to the car boot sale. The average British home is estimated to have at least £450 worth of saleable items, typically clothes, CDs, DVDs, books and toys. Online auctions offer a quick way to turn them into cash. About one billion items have been sold on in the past 10 years, and 17 million people use the site each month.

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