Personal Finance:Lloyds goes online

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LLOYDS BANK launched its Internet banking service, Lloyds On-Line, just over a month ago at the beginning of November.

You may register for the service online but it will take around 10 working days for your registration to be activated. Obviously, it is limited to Lloyds' customers. However, the bank has already signed up around 27,000 users.

Lloyds On-Line sets out new territory in web-based banking. There is no software to download, although it claims compatibility with both Microsoft Money and Intuit's Quicken financial software packages. It is also the first UK online banking service to be Apple Mac-compatible.

The service is guaranteed to be free for the first 12 months, until November 1999, but the bank reserves the right to make a small charge thereafter. At present, your only costs in using Lloyds On-Line will be phone bills and ISP charges.

So what can you do with the Lloyds service? Pay bills; transfer money between accounts; look at current and previous statements; and check and change the dates and amounts of standing orders. You may also view direct debits, but you may not alter them. The reason you may not be able to do other things that you might wish to do is security.

Payments may only be made to what the site calls "pre-arranged beneficiaries". So if you want to pay a bill from somebody you have not dealt with before, or set up a new standing order, you have to ring Lloyds' telephone banking service. Once you have set up such a "pre-arranged beneficiary", their details will remain accessible to allow future bill payments to be made.

One little niggle brought to my attention by a reader is that it appears to be impossible to pre-arrange a transfer between accounts, which may only be done on the day in question.

You will need to be using either Internet Explorer 4.0 or Netscape Communicator/Navigator 4.0 to access the service. Lloyds also recommends that you have a virus checker programme.

It may not be too long before the PC is turned completely into a commodity by becoming a give-away special offer on its own. In a recent interview, Ben Halla, chief executive of microchip maker National Semiconductor, envisaged a point in the future when banks will offer customers a free PC when opening a new account.

Lloyds On-Line: www.lloydsbank.co.uk

Robin can be reached at RobinAmlot@aol.com

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