First Direct Launches New Online Bank

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 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 scale of the initiative creates a new category of e-banking and
sets a benchmark for the industry around the globe. More than a bank, will be the first internet banking store,” claimed 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the banks are hamstrung by outdated and inflexible legacy systems,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.

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