HSBC's direct banking subsidiary first direct has launched an online chat facility that allows prospective customers to communicate with bank staff in real time over the Internet.
The service allows customers who are considerinng opening an account to send a message to customer services staff by clicking the 'Webchat' button on its Web site. A first direct representative will reply immediately and continue the online conversation for as long as the consumer wishes.
First direct says its new service will let people get immediate answers to their questions with the convenience of e-mail.
Richard Kimber, first direct's chief executive, says the service gives "consumers the chance to talk to our representatives through their keyboard and mouse rather than a handset".
The bank says Webchat may be extended to Internet banking service in the future.