The overdraft's in the oven, dear...

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IN THE past it could only be done over a counter on the high street. Then it could be done over the phone, and later at the supermarket. Now, that popular activity - banking - is set to take place in thousands of kitchens nationwide.

Not content with letting customers conduct bank transactions on a personal computer or mobile phone, the country's biggest banks are now proposing to bring banking to that most logical of places, the microwave oven.

Yesterday the launch of Britain's first Microwave Bank went ahead with the blessing of no less an institution than Barclays.

Developed by NCR, a technology company specialising in "automation solutions", the new microwave oven will include a touch-screen allowing to pay bills and transfer money from their kitchen.

For customers who find it tiresome pressing "cook" buttons, the Microwave Bank has the solution: it is voice activated. And there is no need to check your balance before you buy it. NCR insists it will cost no more than today's top-of-the-range microwave.

Barclays even has an answer for those who would rarely fuss about their bank balance while they re-heat their spaghetti. "This is the tip of the iceberg in looking for other devices around the home that can be used for banking," said Roger Alexander, managing director of Barclays Emerging Markets Group.

"One of the issues we have with electronic commerce is that relatively few people want to access it with a PC so something has to take over from it as the preferred access device. And we don't think TV will be the answer to that maiden's prayer. We think people will be looking for more simple devices around the home."

NCR's research apparently shows that more than 70 per cent of consumers do not own PCs and regard the TV room as somewhere to relax, not to work.

But is the kitchen the answer? "Think about what your grandparents would have thought about ATMs," Mr Alexander said.

"If you'd told them 30 years ago they would be able to get money out of a hole in the wall, what would they have thought of us? It's all about possibilities."