Advantages Excellent first class service, fast response, high security, can bank via PC, internet, mobile phone & telephone 24 hours a day
Disadvantages none really (interest rates for internet could be higher..though they aren’t bad)
In recent years as more and more households get online in the UK, internet banking has certainly become more accessible and convenient to a larger cross section of the population. Long before First direct they launched their internet/PC banking service they had been extensively testing their own java backed software program allowing customers to control their banking transactions from their home PC’s. First Direct has come a long way since those early days and is currently able to provide secure and highly functional banking via the internet or PC.
On first impressions of First Direct’s website it looks clear and professional. The site is presented in monochrome; just black and white. You will not find any fancy colourful flash graphics here! It is uncluttered, simple, and easy to see the vital information. There are not many flashing adverts or other gimmicks to distract you from your serious logged -in banking session.
There are two ways you can access and use First Direct’s banking which makes it rather unique from many other online banks that offer internet banking only.
Firstly, you can opt to chose PC banking, which means you will receive a set up disc (CD) and you can ONLY access your account with whatever PC has that set up disk loaded i.e. home, work etc, not from any PC in the world unless you take your CD with you making this a very “secure” method of internet banking.Method 2: Internet banking
If you travel around a lot you may wish to access your bank account from anywhere on the world wide web, if that is the case you need to register for ‘internet banking’. You will be given 2 identity log-in ID’s to enter and then you can access the service on the net. Both methods of access allow exactly the same functions.You can now also opt for ‘mobile banking’ which will allow you to check balances, make payments via your WAP mobile phone. I have not used this part of the service as I am always concerned about security with mobile gadgets and I’m sure soon you will be able to check your bank balance on your digital camcorder which has the wireless technology and inter-connectivity!
With internet banking it is vital to ensure the utmost in security. First direct’s site uses a high level (128 bit) data encryption. The encryption ensures the information transferred between your PC and the bank is in code and scrambled so if intercepted they would make no sense to anyone as they are unreadable. The site also uses its own firewall and checks authenticity of servers etc I would also recommend you install a Firewall such as Zonealarm (which is free) which will also protect your other online transactions such as online shopping.
Registration :Although I was asked whether I wanted to transfer my First Direct telephone banking account over to First Direct internet banking, you can still apply directly online to become a customer. Due to a series of blunders by my previous bank Natwest I decided to change to First Direct in 1995, and I am glad to report they have never made a single mistake in my entire banking history with them! I had no problems transferring to First Direct from Natwest, all my direct debits, standing orders, etc were all set up on time. Though my advice to ensure no missing payment dates would be to leave your old bank account open and let most of the payments, transfers go through and start a fresh at the next month. It’s also advisable to keep your old account open with your bank..you never know what good news may come your way and its will be a lot more difficult to re-open a closed account if you ever need to get back to your old bank.
The registration process to become a First Direct customer is clear and straightforward, you will need to be a resident of UK and have a landline telephone account. You will also need to send in proof of your identity and phone bill if possible if you are new to First Direct.Although at the time I joined First Direct, there were no minima balances to be maintained, though in recent times they have introduced minimum balances on some accounts. I would advise you check current terms and conditions if you are considering joining First Direct.
After you have successfully registered you will be sent a PC disk containing all the software, not a large program, its quite easy to load or if you are simply operating your account from the website there is no need to install this disc. You will also be asked to choose a password to use to log in to your internet account. Unlike other internet banking sites you will not be asked to enter the whole password, instead it will ask you at random to enter say for example ‘3rd, 6th and last letter’ of your password. Each time you log on you will be asked for a random sequence. Also once in a while, they ask you to change your password, though this doesn’t happen too often, maybe once in a year. So, chances of anyone guessing your password is remote. On other sites I use e.g. Nationwide’s E –banking and Egg, etc they always ask you to enter the full password, not very secure.
As my first impressions of the site were so clear, this is reflected in the site’s ease of use and navigation. After logging in, you are greeted with a message “Hello John” or “ Hello Mr. J. Watkins”, for example and if there any messages waiting for you these will be displayed so you have the choice of checking these first or carrying on with your banking transactions.
All your banking options are clearly displayed on a left hand panel, so you can check your balances of your main account, savings account, or First Direct Visa card. I only have the current account and savings accounts with First direct that I use actively. To see detailed views of your finances you can select to view statements, again this will list statements going back up to 6 months only. You can download statements easily to your PC to keep a permanent file and also print them off to keep records. The best part of internet banking as many of you who bank via the internet will know it gives you maximum flexibility and allows you to pay bills, move monies at anytime of the day or night. The section called ‘money movements’ allows one to pay bills, transfer money between First Direct accounts; it also allows you to set up new payment destinations etc. Most of the regular payment destinations are listed anyway such as BT, Electricity companies, Gas companies, Store cards, major credit cards, etc. If there is a payment destination not listed you can create your own. Remember these payment destinations act as standing orders, which allows you the customer ultimate control in when you want to pay the bill. I have many times paid my Electricity bill at 2.00am in the morning! Direct debits are of course separate and once set up by the bank are debited automatically and you need not worry about these.You can also monitor your regular pay-outs under the ‘regular payment’ section; this usually lists all the direct debit mandates set up with originator references showing date of first payment, last payment and also when next payment is due to be collected.
There are many other facilities offered by First Direct such as Smart mortgages and a new investment banking service called ‘SmartInvest’ that is currently offering attractive initial rates on lump sum investments or monthly payments. Again, I have not taken up this aspect of the banking service to be able to comment further. But what I will say is First Direct internet banking site offers a whole lot more that just access to your current and savings account.
As I have mentioned in my banking experience of First Direct they have never made a single mistake, so I haven’t had any reason to complain. Whenever I need to ask a question I send them a message through the website and I always get a response within 24 hours. This is unlike my banking experience with other internet banking sites such as Nationwide who on average were taking 3- 8 days to reply to my messages sent via the website, though this may have improved now as I was an active customer of theirs when they had introduced their 7.0% e-banking savings account (that was in the days when interest rates were high!)
1. The only other thing I could say against them is the log-in procedure especially for PC banking customers is a little slow, but I think this is to do with the security and whole login procedure.2. The other suggestion I have is that at present at time of writing there is no facility to keep your messages saved on the website, so if you don’t download your messages regularly onto your PC you have lost them.
I will point out that First Direct do not offer the best interest rates for internet banking. Although at the time of writing this all interest rates for savers are low anywhere (though great for mortgages!), the interest rates for anyone banking on the internet as opposed to High Street banking are significantly higher. To give you an example of current interest rates for a current bank account with First Direct they pay 2.02% (AER), whereas someone like Smile (part of Co-op) will offer 3.04% (AER).However, one of the bonus points of First Direct is that they also allow you to operate your account via telephone (local call rate) at no extra cost, this is a HUGE bonus ensuring that you have access to your bank account at all times and you know you don’t have to rely on a net connection 365 days a year! The peace of mind that comes with this is invaluable e.g. on occasions when you may have a problem with your ISP or simply don’t have net access at the time it’s comforting to know that with one phone your needs are looked after. Unlike some telephone banking that maybe only 8a.m –8pm, First Direct’s telephone banking is open 24 hours..and yes I have called them many time sat 4.00 in the morning just before going on holiday or even from the airport to pay a bill, and they have always paid it accurately and on time!
Overall, I can say First Direct’s internet banking facility offers a first class service allowing the customer maximum control by access via the internet and telephone banking 365 days of the year and 24 hours a day. It is a bank that comes highly recommended by its Customers, and one for which I can highly award a 5-star rating.For details:
www.firstdirect.com or Tel. 08 456 100 100-The Ultimate control with First class banking –
connoisseur_haggler© ciao 2002
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