Scottish Widows axes e-mail tie-up

Scottish Widows, Britain’s fifth largest pensions and life assurance provider, has pulled the plug on a free e-mail venture which launched with 4m backing in January this year.

The FreeMail service, which was operated by joint venture company The Electronic Market, offered users a freephone service for the sending and collection of e-mail messages, making the service entirely free of charge.

In exchange, users were required to fill out a detailed financial questionnaire to gain initial access to the service. Scottish Widows banner ads appear on users’ computer screens while using FreeMail.

Scottish Widows and software development company PhoneLink originally announced plans for the FreeMail service last November. They both publicly committed 2m to “create a significant point of presence” for exploiting electronic commerce over the Net.

But despite early optimism and a multimillion pound funding surrounding the joint venture, the FreeMail service attracted just 4,500 enquiries for details about its service. Only 1,000 people have been regularly using the system, which has attracted another 1,000 occasional users, according to Scottish Widows.

In an agreed statement, Scottish Widows says: “Scottish Widows and PhoneLink have mutually agreed to end their joint venture. Scottish Widows is now concentrating on establishing a new development team to concentrate on Internet strategies for all the companies within the group.”

According to one user, who was informed last month that his free e-mail facility was to be suspended in September, the FreeMail format may have floundered because it appeared too good to be true.

“It didn’t provide full Web access, but was still very useful and entirely free,” he says. “The reaction I had from other people I told about it was: ‘Where’s the catch?’ But I didn’t mind filling in the questionnaire to get a totally free service.”

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