First Direct Launches New Online Bank
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First Direct, a division of HSBC Bank plc, announced that customers for its new e-bank, will be able to register from Thursday morning onwards.
The e-bank is due to go live in June. Already, 200,000 customers of First Direct, the world's largest virtual bank and a pioneer of telephone banking, transact their banking online.
Alan Hughes, First Direct's chief executive, said that the launch of firstdirect.com is as big for HSBC as the launch of the U.K's first telephone bank 10 years ago.
"We are the first bank in the world to re-engineer our entire business for the e-age," said Hughes.
The U.K's banks came under severe criticism from analysts earlier this week for being poorly placed to seize the opportunities of the Internet. A new book-length report from Fletcher Research says the banks are hamstrung by outdated and inflexible legacy systems, while incurring high costs from their high street branches.
First Direct says it has no such worries. It plans to offer the full range of services, including current accounts, credit cards, overdrafts, loans, and savings, together with investment and insurance products, while embracing mobile phone, interactive TV, and WAP technologies.
The future looks promising for First Direct and similar ventures, as more than 21 million people in Europe will be using Internet banking by 2004, according to U.K.-based market analyst Datamonitor.
First Direct is planning to offer a wealth management section where customers will have online access to personal portfolios. It will also host a recreational area where customers can find information on travel, gifts and leisure pursuits, with links to other Web sites.
The HSBC Group is one of the world's largest banking groups with assets of $569 billion at the end of last year.