How to Bank Online

No more standing in line at the bank, for one thing! You'll have access to your finances 24 hours a day, and you can transfer money and pay bills in a matter of seconds, without leaving the house. Also, while your bank might charge you for some transactions over the phone or in a branch, the same few clicks of the mouse will be free if you do it for yourself, on your own computer. But banking online doesn't mean you're left without a branch to visit; it's just an extra option. You can still go to your nearest bank branch whenever you want to.

how do I bank online?

Contact your bank to find out what online services they offer, and they'll give you instructions on how to sign up. Your bank will have a secure website that you visit when you want to access your account; it may also have an app you can download to your smartphone, so that you can use that device too. If your bank does not offer online banking, you should consider switching to a bank that does. Many banks have incentives for switching to them, so shop around a little. Switching is easy since your new bank will take care of everything for you.

Once I've set up an account, how do I pay bills and transfer money?

When you log into your bank account, you'll see a menu with different options. Look for an option that says Make payment or Pay bills and follow the instructions on screen. Make absolutely sure that you enter the account number and sort code of the recipient correctly as well as the amount of money that you are transferring – you usually get a second chance to check it before the payment goes through. You can also set up standing orders or direct debits.

That doesn't sound hugely secure.

The process is very safe, actually, because of the security measures your bank puts in place. When you go to the internet banking page, or make a payment to a new person, your bank will ask you to go through some checks to make sure that the person accessing your account is indeed you. Each bank has its own way of doing this.

  • Some provide you with a 'reader' when you open an account. This is a little gadget that looks like a calculator but has a slot into which you insert your bank card; you also have to enter a PIN (personal identification number, like the one you use for a cashpoint) and sometimes a number that appears on your bank's web page. The reader will generate a number that you then type into the bank's website to gain access to your account.
     
  • Other banks supply you with a 'secure key'. This too looks like a calculator, a very tiny one. You type in a PIN and the key generates a second number, which you then type in at the website.
     
  • Or your bank may send a text to a registered mobile number consisting of a string of numbers that you must type in online. After this check, you may also be asked for certain characters from your password.
Can I set up a direct debit or standing order on my own computer?

Of course. If there's a regular bill to be paid, you can set this up via your online banking account by entering all the details using their online form. Following this, you'll go through the same security measures as with making an ad hoc bill payment, before the direct debit or standing order is confirmed. It's a good idea to set an end date for the standing order, or to review your direct debits and standing orders regularly, so as to avoid paying for any services you stop using.

Your bank will ask you to go through some checks to make sure that the person accessing your account is indeed you.

What other services do you get with online banking?

Pretty much anything you get from a branch, short of giving you cash. You can check your balance, view your statements or download them to your computer, order a cheque-book, transfer money from one account to another, email your bank, update your details and so on.

And it is definitely safe?

Absolutely, yes. Online banking is made safe by the measures that banks take, such as encrypting (scrambling) their websites, logging you out if there is no activity after a short time and locking your account if several incorrect log-in attempts are made. When you open your bank's website, you'll see a locked padlock symbol or sometimes a solid (rather than broken) key symbol at the bottom, and the web address will change from http to https to show it's a secure site.

My bank called and asked for my security details. Is this okay?

Never, ever give out your password or PIN via email or an unsolicited phone call – nobody from your bank will ever ask you for your entire password or PIN. If you're unsure as to whether it's really your bank calling, hang up and ring them back on an advertised number. Either use a different phone to call the bank, or call someone else first to check that the line has indeed been disconnected. Why? Because sometimes a scammer may stay on the phone line and use a recording of a dialling tone to make you think the call has been disconnected. Then, when you think that you are dialling the bank, you are actually still connected to the scammer.

How would I know I'm on a fraudulent site and not the real banking website?

It's rare that this would happen, but it's important to know how to avoid it. As well as checking for the locked padlock/solid key symbol and the https in the web address, which indicate a secure website, be on the lookout for suspicious pop-up windows, and pay attention to the processes for logging in, making payments and so on – are they different from what you usually do? If so, ring your bank – don't log on as normal.

What if I think my details have been compromised or stolen?

Online banks are subject to legal regulations, so you have strong legal protection if something does go wrong. Always contact your bank straight away if you think you are a victim of fraud – a delay may count against you.