First Direct to break mould with BT deal

Midland Bank’s telephone banking operation, First Direct, is understood to be close to signing a deal with BT to launch a branded mobile phone handset for its customers.

The deal between First Direct and BT Mobile will be the first for a UK bank.

Sources say that the new handset will launch at the start of the year as part of the next phase of First Direct’s branding initiative. The black digital phone will include smart card technology with a First Direct button allowing customers to gain account details and transfer money.

“The handset will help reinforce First Direct’s brand image as quick and easy to use and highlight the salient message that phone banking is where the future lies,” says a source close to negotiations.

Since First Direct launched in 1989 almost all the major high street banks have moved into the direct market including Barclays with Barclaycall and TSB. NatWest launched its Primeline in January this year.

First Direct launched an aggressive new advertising campaign in December 1995 to build awareness. A major brand-building campaign is expected in the new year.

The first financial services organisation to launch its own branded handset was Barclaycard which launched one with Cellnet in April, with a 5m ad campaign through BMP DDB.

Lloyds TSB is understood to be in talks with Vodafone over launching its own handsets, and NatWest is believed to be talking to Orange.

A First Direct spokeswoman says she is unaware of any plan to launch a mobile phone.

See story, page 8

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