Banks upgrade their websites

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The web is not immutable. The number of households in Britain with access to the internet more than doubled from 1996 to 960,000 by June 1997. By June this year it is likely to have more than doubled again, and over 2.5 million people have access to the internet at work. Over a quarter of a million people are shopping online each month and one in 10 has already used their credit card to make a purchase on the internet.

Barclays, Halifax and Woolwich have all recently upgraded their websites, increasing the interactive nature of what is available. Three or four years ago, too many financial services providers seemed to feel it was enough merely to provide a home page with links to a glorified version of their printed sales brochure. However, things are changing and content has improved substantially.

Woolwich Insurance Services now has an online market search, select and buying system. The service offers the UK's first online household insurance, with real-time comparative quotations as well as enabling you to purchase a policy online by paying for the initial premium through an online credit card transaction. The Woolwich site also offers the option to be connected to an adviser during the search and transaction process.

The added extra magic ingredient "human being" is also on offer at Barclays' relaunched personal banking internet site. It offers an interactive "call me'' facility on Barclays Mortgages pages and new pages for Barclays Premier Banking and Barclays Life - the bank's life assurance and pensions arm. Through the "call me'' button on the Barclays Mortgages pages, you can request a mortgage specialist call you immediately or - if more convenient - in five minutes.

However, the "call me'' service is still not quite the "Martini banking" which the internet should offer. It is only open 8am to 8pm, Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm on Saturday and 11am to 3pm on Sunday. Barclays claims it can complete the application process over the phone in around 20 minutes.

For the very sad anoraks among us, the Barclays Life pages, as well as providing information on products and services, allow you to download a "Harry and Doris'' screensaver based on characters from a recent ad campaign. Barclays Premier pages introduce the bank's relationship banking service (you know, the kind of relationship we all used to have with bank managers when banks actually had bank managers) and offers information on products, such as the Barclays Premier Mortgage, that are available exclusively to Barclays Premier customers.

Halifax has completely redesigned its website, giving it its second new look since first being established in May 1995. It now offers you the facility of applying online to Halifax Direct for various banking products; both current accounts and unsecured personal loans. Online Halifax Visa Card applications will follow shortly. You can also get quotes for and purchase travel insurance online.

Halifax shareholders may also check up on the value of their investment by entering the number of shares they hold. A branch locator also allows you to find the address of your nearest Halifax branch.

A separate internet site is being developed for offshore savings customers with Halifax International (Jersey) and Halifax International (Isle of Man). The new site will concentrate on offering products to expatriate and UK customers who wish to manage their tax affairs by investing savings offshore.

Barclays: www.barclays.co.uk

Halifax: www.halifax.co.uk

Woolwich Insurance Services: www.woolwich-insurance.co.uk

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