Halifax joins BT in WAP banking deal

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The Independent Online

Halifax attempted to steal the march on its rivals in WAP-phone banking yesterday with the announcement that it would give away 150,000 of the cutting-edge devices to people signing up to its Intelligence Finance internet bank.

The promotion will be offered to the first 150,000 people who take out credit card and salary-linked accounts, and will nearly double the number of WAP phones in circulation from 200,000 to 350,000.

The £100-a-time phones incorporate online access and allow customers to check their balances, transfer funds and pay bills.

IF.com, the internet arm of UK's largest mortgage lender, is launching the deal with BT Cellnet to challenge the current-account market leaders, Lloyds TSB, Barclays and HSBC.

The telecoms company is thought to be bearing most of the £15m cost and is keen.

BT Cellnet is also working with Egg, the internet bank, to develop a WAP service which will be launched this summer.

Jim Spowart, IF chief executive, said that yesterday's offer was not a gimmick. "Giving customers multiple ways - including the internet, WAP technology and interactive TV - to access their accounts is a core part of our strategy."

IF launches in July and has projected customer numbers of 500,000 in the first year. People can already register for an account on the internet. Halifax said further customers may also be offered the deal, which includes a special tariff.

Mr Spowart said the WAP offer will be a "real incentive" for customers to desert the traditional high street banks for IF. The promise comes on the back of increasing hype about IF, which launched as a concept in February with promises that it will be "totally different from traditional banking services". Halifax says IF customers will receive more competitive credit card and current account rates than those offered by the clearing banks.

Rob Down, banking analyst at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, said: "This is positive news in that it will provide more distribution channels, but we do not have enough detail yet. When did anyone ever pay for a mobile phone? How good this deal will be is all tied up in what the monthly subscriptions will be."

Halifax shares rose 31p to 597p.