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NatWest, RBS and Ulster Bank for iPhone: Cash machinery

Natwest, RBS and Ulster Bank have launched the first mobile app that lets you log into your bank account. What a great idea! Shame it's a bit rubbish

Sometimes an app comes along that makes you think, "Yes! This is why I bought an iPhone!" That's what we thought as we downloaded the app that lets you log into your bank account from your phone. There are dedicated apps for NatWest, RBS and Ulster Bank customers. Accounts can also be added for Alliance & Leicester, HSBC, first direct and Lloyds TSB. Early teething troubles as customers rushed to get the app have now been resolved, so we took it for a spin.

What does it do?

The app allows you to check your balance and view mini statements. There's a lengthy but straightforward sign-up, in principle to ensure security, culminating in you receiving a confirmation text up to 24 hours later. Once setup, you need to enter a PIN each time you open the app, and that's it. The app will time out after a short while, but the features are so basic you're unlikely to be spending a long time in the app anyway.

You can top up your phone's PAYG balance, and setup text alerts when the balance reaches a level you specify, or a weekly text telling you your bottom line. All these options are available across multiple accounts.

Every time you log into the app, you're faced with Mobile Money options or the option to log into NatWest. It's an extra unwanted button press every single time, imposed by the third-party developer -- obviously you want to log into your bank, that's what the app is for! An option to log out on the odd occasion you want to would be more useful.

What's missing?

Actual banking. You can't move money around, or setup standing orders or the like. But that's understandable at this early stage, for security reasons.

We're less keen on the mini-statements, which are very light on information. They show only the type of transaction: such as ATM, card purchase or bank automated clearing (BAC) transactions, which could be payments into your account or direct debits going out. You get a date and amount, but no indication of who the payment was made to or by. Once again though, we'll let this off for security reasons.

The real dropped ball is that the app doesn't give you enough non-sensitive, bank-specific information. Inside the NatWest acount there isn't any information such as contact details or links to NatWest on the Web. At one point in the app, if you tap on the option for lost or stolen card, it actually says, "Please report a lost or stolen card to your bank" -- with no contact details. An option to report your lost card from within the app would be a great feature.

App Attack verdict

The idea of mobile banking is seductive but a bit scary, like Angelina Jolie. We love the concept, but this is a lazy implementation. The fact that it's a third-party developer means options are limited for security reasons, and more annoyingly, non-sensitive information has been left out. Handy if you can't be bothered to nip across the road to the cash point, but we'll wait for an in-house app before we get excited.

Download (iTunes links):
Ulster Bank
Cost: Free

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