Site for sore eyes
Wednesday September 20th 2006Tim Cooper
If you live abroad, the internet can be a lifeline attaching you to the motherland ? to your friends, your family and, like it or not, your bank.
HSBC has been at the leading edge of online banking for years, being the first among the banks to harness the internet?s potential for expatriates.
The attractive website has an impressive array of features. It offers six ways of making the first contact with the bank. Best of all, you can have a web chat with someone from the bank ? a feature unique to HSBC.
Other highlights of the site:
- A full range of internet banking facilities (viewing accounts and balances, and making payments), plus eight financial tools and calculators
- The opportunity to get a valid, automated mortgage offer in principle
- Financial statements that can be downloaded directly into specialist financial software such as Quicken
- 80 detailed country guides
- Online share dealing (British and US equities only)
- A tax information service.
The site has introduced special offers to new and existing customers opening accounts online. It has simplified some graphics to improve ease of use and navigation, and it is trying to provide more seamless links between local HSBC sites and the inter-national site. Perhaps the only thing I could fault was that some of the downloads and links were slow.
Richard Hicks, head of e-business at HSBC Bank International, says: ?I won?t deny that. We spent a large part of the past 12 months just getting on to a common platform. Next we will move on to this. Frankly, we don?t want people downloading application forms. There is no reason for it, given the technology base that we are now on. You should be able to complete information directly online.?
Lloyds has improved hugely after a revamp. It is a bright, busy site with a long list of links to the bank?s services, from private banking to Hill Samuel, Lloyds TSB Asia and offshore funds.
It is possible to download your statement of financial affairs into financial programs such as Quicken. All the links and downloads seem to be incredibly fast. Even the graphics-laden pdf magazine, Shoreline, downloaded in seconds. The online investment services have also improved. The Lloyds TSB offshore funds section offers an online portfolio service with fund valuations, prices sent by email, and monthly investment commentaries.
Navigation can get confusing (I got lost more than once), and when you get down to the third level of navigation, the text is hard to read.
Royal Bank of Scotland
RBS International underwent a less dramatic redesign in October. This focused on cosmetic changes and improvements to the ease of use. The impressive website includes comprehensive information on security. RBS International says it was the first high-street bank to launch internet banking in the UK, ?so our experience of secure online banking is second to none.?
Customers can see all their sterling and current savings accounts online and the site offers all the normal internet banking functions. They can export data from their account information to Microsoft Money, Quicken or any packages that accept .csv format. The bank says another overhaul this year will focus on functionality.
This is a neat site with an uncluttered homepage. It has:
- An option to order free country guides, and guides to moving abroad
- Information on centres around the world, with help in setting up a local bank account
The ?my accounts? screen can show balances in different currencies. All data can be exported to Microsoft Excel or Quicken. A great innovation is the secure message centre so that messages can be exchanged with the bank without the need for an -external email account. But the strict use of Barclays? corporate blues soon gets monotonous.
Bank of Scotland
By contrast this is a confusing mishmash of colours and styles. However, it does have a fair amount of useful information, including guides to living overseas and useful tax advice including a dedicated expatriate tax guide from KPMG.
It offers a simple description of each of the company?s products and downloadable application forms. Internet banking is available for day-to-day banking needs; a simple demonstration shows you how. The site shows all of your accounts on one page with interest rates and balances.
Derbyshire Isle of Man
This is simple and easy on the eye, though the text can be a little small. Its most interesting aspect is the approach it takes to security: it uses a secure email account management procedure, which is an encrypted process to combat scams and frauds such as phishing (for more information, see www.antiphishing.org).
Finally, remember that it?s a virtual jungle out there, so please read the online security sections that many of these companies have painstakingly put together. Happy surfing!
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