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Internet banking: getting started as a new user

Last Edit: 01/10/18

Since the turn of the century Internet usage has grown massively, and business and finance has slowly migrated from the high street to the information superhighway (1990s terminology for the Internet). Out of all the ecommerce activities available, Internet banking is one of the most convenient -- make payments and transfers, check account balance, update your contact information, transfer money between accounts, view statements, setup direct debits and standing orders -- but probably has the highest level of apprehension from new users. Which is understandable, given the amount of scare stories reported in the main stream media of money being stolen/swindled from unsuspecting bank account holders.

The banks websites themselves are rated as the most secure of any commercial websites -- understandable so, given the nature of the business -- and use a very high level of data encryption when transporting data between the bank and the customer. The problems that occur are usually on the users end: using an unsecure network (internet cafe, hotel, airport); using an unsecure computer (old operating system like windows xp/vista); a lack of security software and scanning of their computer for malware and key loggers; and falling for scams such as emails, telephone calls or text messages asking for personal details or to transfer money to the scammer. With a secure home network, an up-to-date computer and security software, and using common sense when interacting with requests for information, the vast majority of users should run into no issues when Internet banking.

So, if you are ready to take the plunge and begin banking online, how do you get started? It differs from bank to bank, but the process is fairly similar for every UK bank. The registration process can usually be conducted online, via telephone or by visiting your local branch. To begin with, you will need your bank account sort code and account number, and maybe your debit card or credit card number -- HSBC also require a InvestDirect account number. You will then need to verify your identity -- the time this takes will vary, and depend upon whether you are registering online or at your branch, you will need ID such as a passport, drivers license and recent utility bills to verify your address. After verifying your identity, you will need to create your login details (username, password), security questions, and probably a two-step authentication secure key/code. It is vitally important to create strong security details (password over 10 digits, use numbers, letters, and capital letter) and to store your login details in a location only you have access too.

Once the registration procedure has been completed, its usually a matter of waiting a week, while the bank verifies your ID/registration, and sends additional security items via the post. HSBC and Barclays, for example, provide users with a Digital Secure Key device, which generates a unique code for logins and new payees, and has ensured that these two banks are often rated the highest, amongst UK banks, for their user security. Banks are also using smartphones to provide a two-step authentication for payments, and for providing users with warnings when large payments are made from their account/cards. It should be noted that smishing (text message fraud) -- when fraudsters ask for financial details via sms -- is on the rise, and even the CEO's of UK banks have stated they have had difficulty distinguishing fake bank text messages from genuine ones.

In conclusion, the process of registering for Internet banking is straight forward -- assuming you have your ID documents -- and should be completed within the week. Most banks have advice on their websites for how to bank as securely as possible, and it is advisable to check your banks own documentation before your first login.