Newest Review: ... and the training that they must receive. If they are not already doing it, First Direct need to set up their own customer service trai... more
A GROWN UP BANK
Member Name: Cat19
Advantages: Excellent telephone banking, easy to use internet banking, efficient
Disadvantages: No branches, financial products not always competitive
HSBC – the Global Bank?
First Direct is wholly owned by HSBC, however they operate quite separately and indeed are not on the same banking infrastructure. On a couple of rare occasions during my 11 years as a customer this has provided me with a slight frustration when I have needed to go into an HSBC branch but discovered that the staff could not help me as much as I had hoped, as they could not access my banking details from their systems. This was more an inconvenience than a huge issue but I mention it as if you are somebody that wants to go into a bank regularly then First Direct is probably not the bank for you as you will not be able to usefully rely on HSBC branches. I daresay I visit a branch less often than once a year so a telephone and internet bank made sense for me.
In July, I moved to Bermuda and decided to bank with HSBC (one of two banks on Bermuda) and I was slightly disappointed to find that my years of history with First Direct did not assist me at all in opening my accounts, obtaining a Bermuda credit card and obtaining a car loan for my first vehicle here. The explanation being that “we don’t talk to each other”. Perhaps one day it truly will be a global bank but not just yet despite the advertising.
Operating your accounts
During my first few years as a customer I ran my account entirely by telephone and I still use this service a lot. The call centre remains UK based and as I generally find myself speaking to a Scot I would hazard a guess at it being north of the border but I always dial an 08456 number which is charged at local rates and is manned 24 hours a day. In probably about 80% of the hundreds of occasions I have called, I have got straight through to an operator but occasionally listen to a spot of music first.
Unlike most of the other financial institutions I deal with, there are no automated option lists to work through upon calling and no need to enter any account or other personal details into the telephone keypad. I find it very annoying to have to do this with one or two of my credit card companies, particularly when I am asked for same details again when I do eventually get through to a person.
The First Direct agents will access your details very quickly when you call by taking your postcode, surname and initial. Then they run through the security questions, the first two questions will be asking you for certain letters of the telephone password that you will have set up on account opening. The final question could be mothers maiden name, date of birth, place of birth or memorable date or memorable place, again things which you will have specified at account opening.
Once past the security checks it is possible to administer your account in whatever way you wish. My phone calls are generally balance queries, transferring money between accounts or paying bills. To set up a bill payee for the first time is very easy as they have the sort code and bank account numbers of hundreds of potential payees (i.e. all the electricity boards, credit card companies etc) and all you need to provide is your own reference number. These details will be maintained with your records thereafter so it is even quicker to organise payments in the future.
The same types of functions can be carried out on-line, including setting up new payees. To register for internet banking you are provided with two alpha numeric codes which you use to register and only need input once if you save the details on the computer you are using. After entering said codes you will be asked for a few letters of a password you will have previously set up and I believe it is obligatory for this to be different to your telephone banking password. Mine is anyway. I tend to use internet banking if I have just one or two things to do and I will use telephone banking if I have half a dozen things to do and am feeling lazy. I don’t have a preference as to which is better, I think they are the same.
First Direct offers the usual range of products as any bank, mortgages, savings, loans etc, as I mentioned earlier I am only going to focus on the ones I personally use, namely savings and I have previously taken a car loan with them. The reason I have not made more use of their product offering is that I tend to shop around a little and whilst First Direct are not bad by any means, generally I have been able to find a better deal elsewhere. I keep a savings account with First Direct for convenience of moving some surplus funds over to accrue a bit more interest than in my current account but being able to quickly move it back when required without a lag period. When I have had more than a buffer of savings I would move it elsewhere for a better rate.
In the past I have taken a car loan out with First Direct, the rate was not the most competitive at the time but it was not too bad and it was more convenient and quicker at the time to take out the loan with my existing bank. Last year, I needed another loan for a new car but unfortunately First Direct were hopelessly out of touch with competitors, by about 2% in fact. I had long conversations with them demonstrated the rates I had been offered but to no avail as they would not budge. I went elsewhere but as I know I am a good customer, I was more disappointed at their poor business and financial sense than anything else.
Like the best of us, I too have slipped into the red or rather further into the red than previously agreed and I am afraid that First Direct, like most of the others on the High Street, will punish you excessively for this. It is £30 for the initial exceeding the limit and then an additional £30 for every single item that goes through afterwards. This does make my blood boil, especially when I have sufficient funds in my connected savings account however it seems to be par for the course in UK banking at the moment. I have enquired as to what type of “administration” is involved that justifies this cost, particularly as a quick telephone call to me to tell me that my account is overdrawn does not appear to be in scope. I have not so far extracted a satisfactory response.
On the occasions when this has happened to me though I have been able to argue and get the money back, a threat to close my account usually works although I’m not sure why they continue to fall for that old chestnut but they do. This year I “slipped” £3,000 into the red (whoops!) due to some wedding expenses and was charged almost £200 but I easily got this reduced to the initial £30. Being a long standing customer with good history is probably the only thing that helps in these situations.
On the whole I am very happy with the customer service I receive from First Direct. I like the UK based call centre and the staff are always pleasant, efficient and generally knowledgeable. One example of their helpfulness is when I decided to take four months travelling around Asia but unfortunately lost my bank card in the first week in China. They were extremely helpful and worked out a solution of sending a replacement to a friend in Hong Kong for me to collect when I arrived there as I was not in the same place for long enough for it to be sent to me.
Occasionally at the end of a telephone call the representative will try to market another product to me but not in a pushy annoying way and I accept it as them doing as they have been instructed. The odd time it has been something I have been interested in but it isn’t generally.
I shall also mention that on several occasions the First Direct fraud squad have contacted me because of unusual spending patterns. Thankfully these have all been genuine but it is very good to know that somebody else is keeping an eye on things as well.
I would have no hesitation in recommending First Direct, not for a one stop shop but for your basic everyday banking needs they are an excellent choice. I have had few issues in the last eleven years, except for those pesky charges but I am not sure these are avoidable and have managed to talk my way out of most of them as well!
Summary: Efficient bank, excellent for your day to day needs
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