26 May 2017

Celebrating 20 years of Britain's first-ever internet bank

Today, using the internet to manage your money is so routine it feels like we've always done it that way. But it was just 20 years ago that the UK got its first internet bank, on 27 May 1997 – launched by Nationwide.

A lot has changed in 20 years. Back in 1997 the internet was only seven years old. Only 7.4% of Britons were online (compared to 92% in 2015), broadband hadn’t yet been introduced, and the BBC had just launched its online news service. In its first year, our Internet Bank was used by just 13,000 pioneering members who registered to use the service as FlexAccount holders. For the first time ever in the UK, people were able to go online to check real-time balances, pay bills, order statements and transfer money to other Nationwide accounts.

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In May 1997, we all lived in a different world. Labour had just won by a landslide. Katrina and the Waves' Love Shine a Light had just won Eurovision.  

That year, the world would be wowed by the first Harry Potter book and Dolly the Cloned Sheep, and shocked by the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

"It wasn't designed to be pretty"

To celebrate our Internet Bank's 20th birthday, we asked some of the team who helped create it to tell us their memories of making it happen and how it's changed since then. “Developers did all the designing back then without any business or marketing input," remembers Dominic Thacker, Senior Mobile and Digital Change Manager. "It wasn't designed to be pretty or very customer friendly."

Like everyone else, the Nationwide development team were just starting to understand the potential of the internet. They had to figure out how to turn banking services that could only be done face-to-face or by post into actions you could safely do online. At the time, the key element was just getting it all to work. That meant learning new skills and understanding the vital importance of online security.

"Secure messaging was really innovative". When our Internet Bank was just two years old, Nationwide's Niki Ridge became leader of the Internet Banking support team, and was at the heart of the relaunch in 1999.

“My team were responsible for actually keying a lot of the requests from customers submitted via the Internet Bank, including opening new accounts, and keying transfers between accounts," she says. It soon became clear to Niki just how popular the Internet Bank had become. Within two weeks of starting, she doubled her small team to around 20 people.

The 1999 relaunch of our Internet Bank offered brand new services you couldn't find anywhere else, allowing members to open new accounts online and talk with us directly online through secure messaging. By the time Niki left the support team in 2001, it had grown to fill a whole new building – the Internet Bank had by now become a key part of how we helped our members.

And we've been innovating ever since

The last 15 years have seen a huge range of innovations in our Internet Banking, including:

  • Apple Pay – we were one of the first financial providers to offer Apple Pay, right from the day it launched
  • Nationwide Now – launched in 2015, Nationwide Now uses real-time video technology to let members talk to mortgage, personal banking and financial consultants
  • The Banking App – designed for your phone and tablet, with features like Quick Balance and Savings Goals, our banking app makes banking online even simpler and hassle-free

Read our history of innovation timeline to find out more about the developments we've made over the last 20 years.

A digital future - with human touch

Meanwhile, technological advances are quickly growing and we'll stay at the forefront of providing online services that help make members' lives easier. “Based on the new developments we've seen over the last 20 years, the next 20 years are going to be fascinating," says James Smith, Nationwide Building Society's Head of Mobile and Digital. “The next five years is going to see significant further innovation in mobile, including the use of biometrics to make it easier for members to use our services."

Using biometrics will also help improve security. Our Innovation Lab developed a prototype in partnership with BehavioSec and Unisys that learns a member’s natural interaction with their smartphone or tablet – how they hold it, tap it, swipe it and tilt it. It's almost like a fingerprint. With this system, even if a thief were to get hold of someone's bank details they would be stopped from accessing a member's account because they wouldn't be able to replicate exactly how they use their device.

Meanwhile, we're working hard to develop Open Banking, an industry-wide project dedicated to fairer, more transparent banking services. Open Banking will let you have more control over your money and see easily how different accounts and financial services compare.

We've come a long way over the last 20 years from being the first financial provider to launch an internet bank, but we won't stop investing in branches. We know the importance of excellent customer service with a real person to our members, which is why we continue to invest in our branch network.

Bank on the move with our Banking app

If you're a Nationwide member and registered for Internet Banking, download our Banking App for lots of great features to help you save time and money.

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