You don't have to be a playboy to have a smile

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The Independent Online

WHAT IS it about the Internet which makes business people think we need sappy names for financial products? First Prudential laid Egg, now the Co-operative Bank offers Smile, claiming it to be the UK's first full service Internet bank.

WHAT IS it about the Internet which makes business people think we need sappy names for financial products? First Prudential laid Egg, now the Co-operative Bank offers Smile, claiming it to be the UK's first full service Internet bank.

The Co-op already offers existing current account customers Internet access and around 30,000 of the bank's customers regularly review their accounts via the net. But the launch of Smile is, according to the Co- op, more than just a re-branding exercise, it is a discreet bank in its own right. As a separate entity based on the Internet, Smile will have a substantially lower cost structure and the Co-op says savings will be passed on to customers. It expects Smile's customer base, initially, to come from those already banking on the Internet rather than newcomers. Indeed, it believes most of its own customers who bank online will migrate to Smile.

Unlike some of the recent additions to the Internet banking sector, Smile benefits from being linked directly to a full status UK-regulated clearing bank. It will also maintain the ethical stance which the Co-operative Bank has set for itself.

Smile's current account has some of the most attractive features available to general customers. The account will pay 4 per cent gross (4.07 per cent gross EAR) on credit balances; it has an automatic, no-fee £500 overdraft and a low authorised overdraft rate of just 9.9 per cent. There will also be a special account for students, with a totally free overdraft of up to £2,000.

It also aims to offer a full range of savings vehicles, credit cards and loans and will give current account holders preferential interest rates on credit cards and instant access savings accounts.

Smile customers will be able to use Link cash machines and may cash cheques and pay in deposits at Post Offices. Deposits may also be made by post. Account applications will be available online and a decision will usually be made within minutes. The bank has a 24-hour service centre available at standard rate telephone call costs.

But you can't Smile yet. The service goes live on 28 October but, in the way of website launches, you may already register a request for account information. The come-on is a competition offering the chance to win a trip to see the total eclipse of the Sun in Zimbabwe in 2001.

If you are thinking of moving your account but you are concerned about keeping track of all your standing orders etc, don't worry. The industry recently settled on a new transfer system which allows such instructions to be switched automatically.

Finally, there was news this week that Playboy Enterprises plans to spin off its Playboy.com business as a separately quoted company early next year. This could be your first opportunity to invest in what is still the most profitable sector of the web - the sex industry - though, perhaps, not one for ethical investors who have their bank accounts with Smile.

Smile: www.smile.co.uk

Robin can be reached at RobinAmlot@aol.com

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