Money: A bank at your fingertips

Internet Insider: Checking your balance or paying a bill will soon be p art of your daily Web activity, says Stephen Pritchard

ELECTRONIC banking has an immediate synergy with the Internet. Most people find managing their bank accounts - whether checking balances, ordering statements, or paying bills - a bit of a drudge. Computers are supposed to make light work of repetitive tasks, and the Internet, because it connects computers across the planet, should let account holders carry out those tasks with ease.

So far, only a handful of banks have true Internet banking. The Nationwide and the Royal Bank of Scotland have Internet sites where anyone with a standard Web browser, such as Netscape Navigator, can access their current account details by putting in a password.

Last year, there was talk of the larger banks and converted building societies, and certainly the high street clearers, launching electronic banking. The banks won't say why this has not happened, but it is reasonable to assume the reasons are as much commercial as technical. At least four banks - NatWest, Alliance and Leicester/Girobank, Lloyds and First Direct - are running on-line banking trials. Some or all of them should launch a full commercial service this year, but in the meantime Nationwide and RBS are ahead of the game.However, they are not the only organisations to offer electronic or PC banking.

The first true electronic banking system in the UK was Hobs, the Home and Office Banking System from Bank of Scotland. Hobs launched in the pre-Internet Eighties. Unlike Web-based banking, Hobs subscribers use a computer modem to connect directly to the bank's computers. Hobs still operates, and the direct-dial route is being followed by other banks. Last year, Barclays launched PC banking. The software is prettier, but the principle remains the same: Barclays customers dial a Barclays computer. It has nothing to do with the Internet.

The advantages, according to Barclays computer banking specialist, Graeme Hosking, are security and speed. There are certainly plenty of Internet users who experience delays from time to time. It is not for nothing that Internet aficionados refer not to the World Wide Web but the World Wide Wait.

Security, though, is no longer the issue it was. The US government has eased restrictions on exporting encryption software, which protects sensitive information, including PIN numbers and credit card details, from prying eyes. The real risks, security specialists point out, are slim. Professional criminals are more likely to try to crack banks' internal systems, and listen in to millions of transactions. Casual thieves are more likely just to steal your credit card.

Newcomers to the computer banking business, such as Lloyds, which plans an electronic launch this year, see the Internet as the way forward. This stance is supported by research published last week by Datamonitor. The analysts predict that by 2001, 9.1 million Europeans will use on-line banking. The Internet will be the route of choice. It is flexible as it lets customers use any computer, while PC banking normally works on just one PC. Banks also point out that Internet technologies are cheaper to install and cheaper to expand than bespoke systems. Datamonitor predicts that 60 per cent of electronic banking customers in the UK will use the Net in 2001. Last year, it was just 2 per cent.

For that to happen, there are other issues the banks need to address. One is the software customers use to access their accounts. Even banks that claim to use standard Internet software only do so up to a point. To guarantee being able to use on-line banking, customers currently need Microsoft's Windows 95 operating system, or its big brother Windows NT. This is fine for owners of fairly new PCs but it does little for people still running the older Windows 3.1, an Apple Macintosh, or any other "minority" system.

Predicting anything in the computer business is dangerous, but there is no guarantee that Windows will remain dominant, especially for Internet access. Already there are other devices, from TV set-top boxes, to kiosks, to hand-held computers, that can browse the Web. They use their own operating systems. Banks need to look at these now to make sure they, and their customers, are not left behind.

q Contacts: RBS,; Bank of Scotland,; Nationwide,; Barclays,; Lloyds,; TSB,

The author can be contacted at:

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager / Development Manager - NW London - £58k + 15% bonus

£50000 - £667000 per annum + excellent benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Manager / ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant / Telemarketer - OTE £20,000

£13000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manager - City, London

£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...