NU Online News Service, Feb. 12, 3:40 p.m. – U.S. consumers seeking personal finance products and services flocked to the Internet in record numbers last year to discover what is available, compare rates and make brand decisions, according to the Dieringer Research Group, a Milwaukee marketing information and consulting company.

However, most of these financial service shoppers applied for services offline rather than online, the company says.

The company drew its conclusions from a survey comparing the online and offline behaviors of 4,000 U.S. adults.

The 2002 version of the American Interactive Consumer Survey found that some 58.7 million Americans relied on the Internet to learn about personal finance products and services last year. Of this total, 63%, or 36.8 million, followed up by applying offline for loans, credit cards, and insurance or investment products, compared to only 21.8 million who applied for similar products online.

“Financial service consumers who use the Internet as a shopping tool are about 70% more likely to apply for services offline than online,” said Thomas E. Miller, senior consultant at Dieringer. “Moreover, the offline applicants appear to be significantly more brand loyal.”

Particularly noteworthy in 2002 was an increase in use of the Internet for seeking information about loans, mortgages and insurance products, the survey indicates. Nearly 20 million Americans sought product information in each of these categories, trailing only modestly the 24 million consumers who sought product information in credit cards and for investment purposes.

Although the demographic and life stage characteristics of online financial service shoppers varied significantly by the types of products sought, the survey found surprisingly little difference between shoppers who applied online and those who applied offline.

One exception is in loans, where applicants who applied online were significantly more likely to be an ethnic minority or to have lost a job recently than applicants who applied offline. Another exception was found among mortgage seekers, where offline applicants had significantly higher education and income than online applicants.