UK-based life insurance company Norwich Union has reported an increase in customers buying annuities direct, indicating that people have started using the open market option on their retirement fund.

The insurer revealed that the number of customers buying annuities direct from Norwich Union advisers has risen almost 40% over 2007, and enhanced annuity sales have also improved. Customers bought almost as many enhanced annuities in the first quarter of 2008 than they did in the whole of 2006 and 2007 combined.

Scott Brown, head of annuities at Norwich Union, said: People who are coming up to retirement are getting more savvy about finding a good annuity and the trend we have seen for buying annuities direct underlines that people are starting to shop around for the best deal.