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first direct celebrates 21 years of innovation with launch of Beta Lab scheme

06 Oct 2010

first direct today announces a unique banking initiative that will give customers and members of the public a chance to have their say on how new products and services are developed, and the opportunity to give feedback prior to launch. Beta Lab, announced as first direct celebrates its 21st birthday, will be the only project of its kind to be trialled by a bank in the UK. The scheme will give members of the public the opportunity to shape products and services before they are officially released, with a forum for feedback and opinions.

The scheme, which will go live later this year, will be carried out primarily online. It will ensure that products are changed and developed dependent on customer reaction, in order that first direct customers are offered the services and solutions that they really need. The launch of Beta Lab continues the tradition of technology and customer service that has been central to first direct 's development over the past 21 years. These include last year's launch of Talking Point, the first direct forum for customer feedback.

Paul Say, Head of Marketing at first direct , commented on the launch: "For 21 years, first direct has pioneered innovative communication with its customers.  The launch of Beta Lab is the next step on our customer relationship journey following the successful launch of Talking Point last year.  

"This new two-way communication tool highlights that not only is first direct at the cutting edge of technology, but that customer opinion is at the heart of everything that we do. Our aim is to always encourage real feedback from real customers - the people that matter the most."



About first direct


  • first direct has 1.2 million customers - all of whom have current accounts
  • first direct has been in profit every year since 1995  
  • first direct employs 3,200 people at two sites, in Leeds and Hamilton (near Glasgow)
  • More than 1 in 4 of first direct 's customers join because of personal recommendation
  • first direct was the first bank to achieve the Carbon Trust Standard
  • first direct is currently training 21 counsellors for their partner charity NSPCC and is well on track to reach its 2010 fundraising target for them of £2.1m
  • So far in 2010 firstdirect has won 24 awards for its products and customer service



  • first direct was originally owned by Midland Bank, who first came up with the potential concept of a 'windowless branch' in the summer of 1987
  • first direct 's pre-launch planning budget was fixed at £427,000, with £15k ear-marked for two IBM AT computers and an unspecified 'portable computer. A further £2k was budgeted solely for 'computer ribbons and floppy disks'.
  • The original marketing slogans included "first direct - the first name in direct banking" and "It's time for something better. It's time for first direct "
  • HSBC took over Midland Bank in 1992, securing first direct 's future


Technology and innovation 

  • In 1989 first direct planned that future services could include "a link with Home Banking using a PC in the customer's home office". This was a timely observation given that the World Wide Web was unveiled the very next year.
  • 890,000 of first direct 's customers now use Internet Banking
  • 44% of first direct 's sales are via e-channels
  • 15. Over 85% of customer contact with first direct is electronic
  • One first direct customer logs onto the website every second
  • SMS message banking was launched in 1999, and is now used by 370,000 customers. first direct sends around 2.6 million text messages to customers every month


Telephone banking  

  • The first direct telephone number has been pretty much unchanged in 21 years - 08456 100 100 the only necessary change was when 0345 style numbers were scrapped by Oftel and replaced by 0845 numbers
  • first direct handles 158,000 telephone calls every week
  • first direct takes over 29,000 calls a day outside traditional high street bank working hours, and over 1,700 calls a day from abroad
  • As of 1st October 2010, the first direct call centre will have been open non-stop for 184,056 hours

For further information on this press release please contact:

first direct press office:

Amanda Brown on 01132 766700 or

Rebecca Hirst on 01132 766899 or  


Lansons Communications:


Beth Murray, on 0207 566 9728 or 

Katie Hayward on 0207 294 3631 or.

Notes to editors 

About first direct

So far in 2010 first direct has won 24 awards for its products and customer service including the coveted 2010 Which? Award for Best Financial Services Provider and 8 Moneywise Awards, both voted for by consumers.

first direct is a division of HSBC Holdings plc. HSBC Holdings plc, the parent company of the HSBC Group, is headquartered in London. The Group serves customers worldwide from around 9,500 offices in 86 countries and territories in Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, the Americas, the Middle East and Africa. With assets of US$2,527 billion at 31 December 2008, HSBC is one of the world's largest banking and financial services organisations. 

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