“ Developer: First Direct „
===In a rich man's world===
Money is a terrible and fantastic thing. People who say it doesn't bring happiness aren't spending it in the right places. Those who don't have it to spend shouldn't care as much as we all do. Life goes on when you're skint. In fact most times it goes just fine and yet we are all in a constant struggle to climb that money ladder. The latest rung in my climb came in the form of a well timed email from royal bank of Scotland telling me they were going to start charging me ridiculous amounts for my tiny overdraft. As such I had a look around and noticed First Direct were offering £100 to switch over which I grabbed like a hungry dog. As with any bank these days, First Direct has a mobile app to help you keep on top of your finances so I downloaded it pretty much straight away. I added it to my collection of three other banking apps (RBS, Halifax and Santander) so it has plenty of competition to compare it to.
As with most apps this one is a doddle to get hold of. Go to the Google Play app store and search for "First Direct Banking on the Go" and you'll find it straight away. It currently has a rating of 3.3/5 on the Play store meaning that it's "average" but already falling slightly short of RBS's score of 3.7/5. Notably a lot less people have actually voted on it with only 465 people's views being taken into account as opposed to RBS 1000+ rates (500 odd which are 5 out of 5).
The first thing that bugs me a little about this app is the design of the logo. It's a black square with a white "first direct" down the middle of it, almost like they designed it to be read horizontally and then decided to turn the logo 90 degrees anti-clockwise. It looks a bit disjointed to me, especially when against a dark background on my phone; it looks like there is just text floating aimlessly around my home screen rather than a neatly designed app icon.
Pressing the app button opens up the log on screen which is in keeping with First Direct's internet banking scheme: Black and White. It looks almost sexy. The screen is black with only a few small bits of text showing in white. The main text is the on-its-side First Direct that matches the irritating logo. To the left there are two simple piece of text: "Log on>" and "Help>". Alas, the sexy screen is as far as it goes. Everything else just looks bland and unappealing in the black and white theme.
Tapping on the help button (or text as the case may be, it doesn't really look like a button) takes you to a help menu as you would expect. This deals with help logging on, the app, accounts, payments, messages, contacting First Direct and additional information such as terms and conditions, privacy statements, cookies and info about First Direct and HSBC.
Tapping the log on link will take you to the password screens. This was my first stumbling block with the app. I spent ages trying to log on the first few times and constantly getting my password wrong and it was all due to a misunderstanding of the layout.
The top section will ask you to enter certain characters from your password. Underneath will be a few boxes, most of them greyed out. The box that corresponds to the digit/letter of the password that it wants will allow you to type in it. What caused the misunderstanding is that they don't include all the boxes to match the length of your password. They have a few boxes, then a few dots (presumably to symbolise something is missing) then a few more boxes. As my password was only one digit longer than the amount of boxes displayed I didn't notice, so I thought it was just some weird security thing to make people watching think your password was longer than it was or something. Wrong. So wrong. The key is to read the text above the boxes which will tell you in plain English. Curses to me trying to log in quickly said First Direct.
Once you've done that, there is another section just beneath it that you need to give an answer to. This time it is a question or a statement that will prompt you to enter a word or phrase, something along the lines of "what do I like to eat". You choose the statement or question yourself so it can be as personal or crazy as you like. After entering that, you hit the big black log on button and you will be taken to a "Balances" screen.
Overall, logging on takes longer on this app than my favourite RBS app, however, I can forgive that (only just) for the fact it seems a lot more secure.
The "balances" screen lists your accounts with First direct. Each account is given a 1.5cm (ish) strip where it displays the name of the account, the balance and limits along with a few of the account details like sort codes and parts of account numbers. To access a statement for each account you simply tap on the bar that deals with the account you want.
When you have selected that, a new "Transactions" screen appears which is basically a statement screen. The top Grey-bluish bar shows the same details you've just selected and has a tiny little arrow on the right hand side. If you tap that arrow, the screen will sweep everything to the left and present you with an "Account Detail" screen. The only thing this screen shows you that differs from the details already shown in the bar is the available balance on the account and your overdraft limit. Hitting your back button will take you back to the "Transactions" screen. There is also a back button in the top left hand corner that you can use to do the same thing.
On the statement screen you'll see lots of black and white lines. The black lines contain the date and the end balance of your account for that date, the white lines below it contain details of the transactions that have occurred, giving you the account names and amounts that were going in and out. Each white line comes with a little downward pointing arrow to expand the transaction for a little more info, generally payment reference details. Currently my statements only go back to the beginning of May as that's when I opened the account so I'm not sure how far back they would stretch if your account has been open for longer.
I prefer this statement screen to the one on my RBS app as it at least gives you an idea as to what your balance on specific days was or is whereas the RBS app only shows you that something has went in or out leaving you a little clueless as to how it effected your balance at the time.
One thing that bugs me about this app is the navigation. Hitting your phone's menu button does not bring up the app menu for a start. To access that you need to drag your finger horizontally from the left side of the screen to effectively pull the menu onto your screen. If you are on your main balance screen the top left button also accesses the menu.
Some screens will allow you to hit your phone's back button, others will not. Rather frustratingly, if you want to navigate back to the list of your accounts (the balance screen) from the "Transactions" screen you cannot use your phones back button. You have to either use the back button set into the app in the top left corner or access your menu (again, by dragging your finger horizontally from the left side of your screen.) It's just not smooth when every other app I know allows you to use your phone's default buttons at all times. Very clunky indeed.
Once you have accessed the menu, it looks quite messy. It effectively pushes the other screen you were viewing to the side meaning that part of the screen is what you were looking at prior to accessing the menu and part of the screen is the menu. I don't like the look of it and it really just makes the whole app feel counter intuitive for me. Not only that but when you access the menu, the button at the top left turns to a "Log out" button. Sometimes the buttons aren't quite as responsive as they should be which makes me tap and tap and tap. If you are pushing back frantically, sometimes your menu will pop out and change the button at which point you'll be prompted to confirm that you want to log out by accident. Grr.
The options you will be presented are split into two sections, "Banking" and "About".
The first option under the Banking section is "Balances" which simply takes you directly to the main Balances screen. The other options are as follows:
Selecting this option presents you with a payments screen. This is what you use when you want to send money to an account other than your First Direct accounts. The screen presents you with a very simplified list that you have to work your way through from top to bottom. Each section only becomes changeable when everything before it has been filled out so you really do have to do it from top to bottom.
There is an option at the bottom of this screen that shows you Payment Limit information (situated just above the Make Payment button) that takes you to a separate screen. If you access that, it wipes everything you have entered and you need to navigate back to the payment screen through the menu. Not sure why you would put anything that does this on the screen but it's frustrating as hell for even more reasons that I'll go into in a minute.
Tapping on the "pay from" section takes you to a list of your accounts that you are allowed to transfer from. I only have one so it's a very short list. Once you have selected one it instantly flips you back to the payments screen.
Next in line is "Pay To" which takes you to a list of recent Payee's. If you have not sent anything before it will be blank and you'll need to access your internet banking to set a Payee up (much the same as RBS). If you have made a payment then your list will include every incidence that you paid the person. For example, through changing banks I've been sending money back and forth to my old account while things get swapped over. The same details of my old account appear five times in the list that I have, once for each payment. This could become frustrating if you have a few different bank accounts and you are trying to figure out which is which as all you'll have to go on are the account numbers and references and having multiples just makes things confusing.
Once you've selected the Payee, you'll need to enter the amount you wish to transfer, followed by the payment date. When you select the Amount section you'll have a number pad pop up to type into. This causes a bit of an issue as it doesn't have a "done" or "enter" button so you need to tap the screen behind it to get back to the payment screen. That can cause you to accidentally hit one of the other options behind it. Like the Payment Limit button... that wipes everything and causes you to have to navigate back through the clunky menu. Annoying much?
The payment date is automatically set at "Pay now" but if you wish to schedule it for later in the month, simply tap it and you'll be taken to a calendar to select the date you want the payment to be made.
Lastly you'll have the option to include a Reference. This is what will show up on the account you are paying the money into. It automatically sets to the last reference you used for paying the money to the account you've selected but you can change it for every payment if you want.
Once everything has been filled out, hit the Make Payment button and you'll be taken to a confirmation screen that shows you what you've just done. Easy. Ish.
Personally I much prefer the RBS app for making payments. Not only is it smoother and quicker, it shows you exactly how much is in the account you have selected before the payment is made which First Direct doesn't. It seems to have been simplified to the point of no longer being user friendly and giving enough information. Boo.
The transfer section deals with swapping money between your own accounts with first direct. Currently I have two accounts, one of which already has the maximum amount allowed in it so I cannot use this function. From what I can see, however, it's the exact same as the Payments, only dealing with the accounts that are yours. In my case when I select "Pay To" it tells me I do not have any accounts that can accept transfers, saving me the hassle of filling out the whole thing before finding out. Still, as everything else is the same as the Payments screen, I think that it's not as good as the RBS app as it doesn't show you balance info on the accounts you are transferring out of and it has the same issue with the number pad for entering the amounts and the payment limits button wiping your information. Not cool.
This is a little inbox so that First Direct can give you notifications through the app. So far I have only had one message to thank me for joining and give me a bit of information on what happens when I'm transferring accounts and a little plug for their credit card. I assume this could be a useful means for them to advertise things to you, but could open you up to a bit of spam. Hopefully it will only be used for important messages about my account information.
This section could really be reduced. The "information" tab is the same screen that shows when you select "additional information" in the Help option. The "Help" option is listed here under "About". So basically that whole section could be whittled down to "Help" and shoved into the "Banking" section of the menu. Talk about being all over the place First Direct!!
===Niggles? Time Out!===
So, there have been a few issues so far. Navigation is pants, default phone buttons don't always work, certain screens wipe stuff, some are messy and some don't give enough info. Sometimes they just plain don't respond. Is there anything else? Yes. With my RBS app, it times out any time my phone locks for security reasons. When it does this, it closes the app and returns you to the Log In screen ready to begin again. With the First Direct app, however, it doesn't do anything. It stays at the screen you were on for as long as you don't touch it. Soon as you touch it though, it takes you to another screen to tell you the session has timed out and that you need to log on again. At that point it's up to you to navigate to the log in screen. What a faff.
Talking of being logged out, even that is a bit of a hassle. First you need to navigate into your menu screen and push the log off button. Once you've hit that you'll get a pop up asking if you are sure you want to log off. Hit ok and this will take you back to the initial log on screen. To exit the app you'll need to push your phones back button at which point you'll get another pop up asking if you are sure you want to close the app. Hit ok again and you'll have closed it down. Too. Many. Buttons!! I don't see the point in confirming you want to close the app at all.
It's a fairly boring looking app with clunky menus, unresponsive buttons and more than a few counter intuitive screens and ideas. Having come from the RBS mobile app to this, it feels like a horribly bumpy downgrade which is a real shame. The bank and their rates are a lot better and the customer service rocks the socks off of anything RBS offer but the app just doesn't quite respond in a user-friendly way. I'd not be recommending First Direct solely from this app. Thankfully in general the bank is better than this app makes them look. I still rate this app higher than the Halifax and Santander app but it's getting a rate of three stars out of five for now. I would have expected better.