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Cyber service from first direct

06 Jan 2003

first direct , the telephone and internet bank, has become the first UK bank to launch an interactive online help agent.

The agent, named Cara, begins a 4-month trial this month and will appear on the first direct website (

Cara is a 3D interactive animation who moves, talks and gestures as she responds to users, answering any questions that they may have. Her role is to help customers with complex product information, and to give verbal responses where long bodies of text are not helpful.

For the trial, Cara will appear in the smartmortgage* section of the website and will be able to answer questions about the product. She will be available to anyone who visits the first direct website - customers and non-customers alike.

Jonathan Etheridge, Head of E-Futures at first direct , said: "Cara is a very exciting innovation for first direct . For many years we have been leaders in customer service on the telephone, now Cara gives us the opportunity to learn how to bring some of the first direct personality to the web.

Cara is the first step on a road which I ultimately see will bridge the gap between the relatively impersonal world of the internet and the much richer experience of a real person on the phone."


Notes to editors:

  • first direct was launched in October 1989, creating a revolutionary financial service - offering branchless telephone banking for the first time in the UK.
  • first direct offers a choice of communication channels (eg. telephone, internet, mobile phone, paying-in at branches) designed around the customer's individual needs and focused on delivering exceptional customer service.
  • first direct has over one million customers and handles over 300,000 calls per week, with over 50% of these calls outside normal office hours (including weekends)
  • Customers use electronic channels such as the internet, mobile phone and WAP services for 55% of their communication with first direct .
  • first direct currently employs over 3,600 people at three sites (two in Leeds and one in Hamilton, near Glasgow).

* Key features of first direct 's smartmortgage:

  • smartmortgage currently has a 4.75% (4.9% APR) variable interest rate. first direct guarantees that the smartmortgage rate will not be more than 1% above Bank of England base rate, guaranteed for the life of the loan. This applies to all smartmortgages opened before 1st January 2004.
  • Launched in July 2001, smartmortgage applications have now reached a total of £2.1 billion.
  • first direct is an award-winning mortgage lender:
    • What Mortgage - Best National Lender over 10 years for three years running, in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
  • There are no redemption penalties or Mortgage Indemnity Guarantee (MIG) charges on smartmortgage.
  • Interest is calculated daily.
  • Facility to make overpayments (free of charge).
  • Facility to release equity in the property through 'borrow back' option (free of charge).
  • Capital repayment breaks and/or underpayments permitted (free of charge).
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