The home page, although quite attractive, is very ‘busy’ with the range of financial products available and the services that Natwest provide, which applies to almost all bank homepage websites I have visited. The online account log in is discreetly situated at the top right hand corner.
Once you have clicked on the log in button on the home page you are instantly directed to the first log in screen. This screen requires the user to input their unique 10 digit number to proceed to the next screen. The 10 digit number consists of the user’s birthday plus 4 numbers selected at random. A 10 digit number provides thousands of permutations therefore it is highly unlikely that an un-authorized user will be able to guess this stage of the logging in process.
From the first screen the user is taken to a second login screen where the user is required to input 3 digits of the 4 digit pin. Unlike the last 4 digits of the previous screen which are provided by the bank when the online account is set up, the user can choose its own pin number. After the pin number is entered the user then has to input 3 characters of their password. These three characters are selected at random. The bank will NEVER request the user to input the whole of their password.
If the user wants maximum security then it is here that the user can ‘go to town’ by selecting a password of up to 12 characters with both alpha (a combination of upper and lower case) and numeric characters.
After the second login screen the user is directed to a third screen which gives general information. This screen details the date and time of the last time the user logged in, hence providing another security measure as the user is advised to check the date and time and ensure that it is correct. If there are any suspicions of fraud then the user is to call the 24 hour helpline number stated.
-The user’s home page-
Once in their own home page the user can select from 7 options as follows:
1) Accounts summary
This is a snap shot of all account details and balances as at the date of login.
This section allows the user to view a range of statements. These can cover the last week, the last two weeks, the last month, last 2 months, last 3 months, last 4 months or historical. Alternatively, the user can look at statements between 2 date ranges. As well as viewing the statements on screen the user can also export them in to other program such as Microsoft Money or Excel allowing for them to be formatted, manipulated, used for reconciliations or any other use that the user can think of. This is an excellent feature and one I use to reconcile my personal cashbook. A bit sad I know, but that’s what accountants do! Whilst it is not environmentally friendly and now frowned upon the user may request hard copy statements from the bank in this section.
In this section the user can view, amend or cancel scheduled transactions. Scheduled transactions are those that have been set up to occur on a pre-determined day.
In this section the user can make single payments to third parties, set up standing orders and direct debits, cancel standing orders and direct debits, pay utility bills, pay credit cards etc. In fact all things payment related are carried out in this section.
5) Account admin
In this section the user can activate debit cards, add credit cards, order cheque books (does anyone still use these?), order paying in books and amend personal details including a change in email address or a change in mobile number. It should be noted that all other personal information is changed by calling Natwest direct since this is considered to be a bigger fraud risk.
6) Extra services
In this section the user can register for mobile phone banking, register for the bill management service and get a list of all branch and ATM locations.
7) Change settings
In this section the user can change account names, change its pin number, change its passwords and enable its Natwest card reader (which is used for online debit card payments in order to try and eliminate card fraud).
It is possible to carry out nearly all basic functions, excluding paying in cash, online. This eliminates the requirement to visit local branches or use the telephone banking service.
In addition to the functions above the users online homepage also contains quick links to other services that the bank provides such as loans, insurances etc.
-Using the online account-
Whilst it may seem a bit daunting at first the Natwest online account is a doddle to use. It is very user friendly and not overly complicated. Everything is in a logical place and most users will become familiar with how it all works very quickly.
The speed of the site is very impressive and it works very quickly. There are no delays or time lags and the user will not be sat around waiting for pages to load up .
Security is one of the biggest fears, and I must admit that I was apprehensive at first. It is quite understandable that the general public do not want to lose their hard earned cash to some scum through online fraud. Online security is big business and there have been great advancements in technology in this area. Through encryption and passwords and the like security has really tightened up.
Natwest have done a great job with security. The process of logging on requires 2 pages of entries, being the 10 digit unique number followed by some of the PIN followed by some of the password, the latter two of which are randomly generated. There are thousands of different permutations so the chance of anyone being able to hack in to it is remote.
Some sites allow the user to auto save usernames and passwords allowing the user to automatically log on as soon as the site is entered. The Natwest online site does not allow this for security reasons. Natwest have also incorporated a time out feature to enhance security. If you do not do anything on the site for 10 minutes then when you do try and perform an action of any kind the system requires the user to re-enter their login details.
Emailing non urgent queries generally take a few days to get an answer, which is more than acceptable. Urgent queries are dealt with much quicker and the staff are very helpful.
-Advantages of Natwest online banking-
Online banking provides 24 hour access to your account enabling you to carry out nearly all of the banking actions you are likely to need to do. This gives you complete flexibility and the freedom to choose when you want to carry out your mundane banking requirements as opposed to being forced through external constraints, such as branch opening times and other commitments you may have.
Online banking allows you to schedule payments so that you can ensure that all utility bills, credit card payments etc are paid before the due date. I find that this is particularly useful when working away or going on holiday with payments becoming due whilst I cannot get to my local (or another) branch.
Online banking allows you to access your account and deal with your banking requirements from the comfort of your own home. Whilst this may appear lazy I, like many, do not have the opportunity to get to a branch in normal working hours during the week so the only option I have is Saturday mornings, which is my time to spend with family and friends. Besides, my “local” branch is a half an hour drive through the centre of a “car un-friendly” city where you have to fight for a parking space, do battle with the weekend shoppers, deal with the young (and usually in-experienced) Saturday staff, pay the extortionate parking charges and then sit in queues of traffic to get home. The whole process can take a couple of hours and it is actually quite stressful. Thanks to online banking I no longer have to go through this process.
Online banking is perfect for the disabled, or those who find it difficult to get to a local branch.
Online banking enables you to keep right up to date with movements on your bank account, however, it is only withdrawals and payments that will be 100% accurate since the cash will leave your account as soon as you confirm the payment. Receipts may not be fully up to date since it typically takes 3 days for receipts to clear. If transferring money between two accounts with the same branch then both the payment and the corresponding receipt will be shown immediately. I was recently the subject of fraud (my card was skimmed) and if it were not for online banking then I would not have known about it until my monthly statement had arrived, by which time I could have had my account stripped! Luckily, I was only out of pocket by £56 which was subsequently refunded by Natwest very promptly.
Online banking avoids the ‘hard sell’ of other financial products. In the times when I have to go to my local branch the counter staff seem intent on selling buildings insurance, contents insurance, travel insurance or any other financial product they can, despite the length of the queue and the fact that I am not interested. With online banking I don’t have to put up with this and can get my banking requirements dealt with quickly.
-Disadvantages of Natwest online banking-
The only disadvantage I can think of with online banking is the messing around in getting it set up in the first place. This involves calls to the bank, obtaining an initial logging in number (which is sent by “snail mail”) and then a series of following links etc. This is for security reasons and I would much prefer to go through this knowing that my details are safe than compromising my account for the sake of saving a few days.
In my opinion online banking has revolutionized the banking function. It is a great concept and I think that it works very, very well. It saves time, it saves money (I don’t have to travel to my local branch, pay for parking etc.), it contributes to saving the environment (Less travel, statements available electronically saving paper etc) and it is safe.
In my experience there are more issues with credit card/debit card fraud than that online. I do, however, ensure that I only access my account on my computer (public computers are a big no no and I won’t access it on my office computer either) to mitigate any risks as far as possible. I also ensure that no-one knows my unique 10 digit number, my PIN or my password.
I appreciate that there is a security risk but Natwest are on top of this and their online system incorporates some highly advanced features to combat this. I understand that other banks do the same.
If the proverbial does hit the fan, then Natwest are available 24 hours a day (and you get to speak to a real life person) to ensure that any issues are mitigated and you get your money back.