Banking online in the UK is now massive. It wasn’t all that long ago that it was the preserve of geeks, early adopters and those afraid of walking into banks to talk to people. Now however every one from your Mum to your technophobe mate does a lot of their banking online. It is just so simple, so convenient and saves time in our busy twenty first century lives.
One of the first banks that spearheaded Internet Banking UK was First Direct. I joined them back in 1998 having been messed around by Barclays too much, and was delighted to find their pure internet only based banking was both a pleasure to use, and was supported by a 24×7 phone banking service that got you straight through to a person, rather than a series of options pressing 1 for this 2 for that and then hold for an age. To this day, I am still with First Direct and value the personal service provided with direct line to UK based call centre staff. Anyway, I’m getting slightly off topic. The main reason I am writing this article is to express my thoughts and passion for online banking.
Over the years that major high street banks started introducing Internet Banking as a service to their customers. Some got it spot on, some came up with appalling bad sites that were not intuitive and made the experience frustrating rather than simple and easy. The online offerings of the major UK banks were also joined by other internet only off-shoots, such as Smile, Intelligent Finance (IF) and Cahoot. Of these, I did temporarily defect to Cahoot and use it for a couple of years, and whilst the basics of the site are ok, the overall service is really poor. I’m surprised they are still around, and hopefully Santander will sort them out sooner rather than later – some of the key issues being frequent outages, poor performance, lack of functionality. You can’t even download statements! They provide a part time phone banking service to back up the internet banking, so if you are having problems on a Sunday, then forget what you’re doing and call back on Monday in office hours (when most people are busy working!).
Another service becoming more common and is a great addition is mobile banking. This started with SMS alerts, which I have benefited from through First Direct for as long as I can remember, and it costs nothing (as long as you pay in at least £1500 per month the whole banking service is free). You can set up mini statements, but best of all you can have alerts with different thresholds, for example set an amount that you want to get alerted about when either a debit of credit exceeding that amount takes place. Even better, and alert that your balance is above, or below a preset amount – great to warn you early that you are either approaching a zero, or approaching your overdraft limit. These alerts can set on your First Direct Credit card too, meaning you can be alerted to any fraudulent activity on your account within 24 hours. Cahoot also provide this service but they huge miss in their offering is there are never any monetary amounts mentioned in the texts, so hey are next to useless. “Payment Alerts your account ending 1010” or “A balance alert for current account ending 5342” – Pointless.
The evolution of the SMS alert banking is of course Mobile Banking, where you can access your account details, and perform transactions on a mobile device. With the massive popularity of smart phones these days, the capability of the mobile web browser is almost the same as that of a PC based browser, so moving money and checking balances on the move has become a reality. Some of the banks provide dedicated apps, or cut down versions of their full blown internet bank sites when you visit them from an iPhone of a Symbain smart phone for example. So anywhere you have a mobile signal (i.e. 98% of the UK) and some juice in your mobile, you can do most things with your money that 15 years ago required you to walk into a high street bank during working hours. This, in my opinion is a revolution, and really puts us in control of our money.