British consumers will from today be able to use their mobile phone to check their bank balance or help their friends or family pay for calls.
HSBC will today become the first British bank to roll out the service, which has been developed by the banking network Link and IT firm Morse. After downloading a simple piece of software to their phone, the bank's customers will be able to check their balance or find out if they have been paid, wherever they are.
The service, called Monilink, connects directly with Link's secure cash machine network, and also enables HSBC customers to top up any pre-paid mobile phone on any network instantly regardless of the network they use.
"Any mum or dad who banks with HSBC whose kids are shouting 'I'm running out of talk time' will be able to top up that phone instantly across any network," according to Monilink's chief executive Alastair Lukies.
The top-up service is free so an HSBC customer stuck with no talk time and unable to get to a shop to buy a new card will be able to top up their credit directly from their bank account. Other banks including Alliance & Leicester, Barclays, Lloyds TSB and Royal Bank of Scotland are all expected to launch the service soon.
"We've developed Monilink entirely around the needs of the consumer, who we know craves the ability to check their account when on the move," added Mr Lukies. "This platform ultimately provides consumers with a remote control for their finances."
HSBC, owner of First Direct, will provide the Monilink service free of charge for customers who want weekly or monthly mini-statements on up to three accounts. For £2.50 a month customers can also receive personalised text alerts telling them when their salary has been paid or warning of an impending overdraft. Although HSBC is not charging, the actual alerts will cost customers money as the mobile phone operators charge for texts. Each balance inquiry will cost 20p with a mini-statement costing 25p.
Linking mobile devices with a payment platform has been talked about by the mobile phone industry since the dot.com boom. But though consumers in countries such as Japan can already use their phones to pay for small items like cups of coffee, British users have been restricted to using text messaging to buy items such as ringtones or pay the congestion charge. In the meantime cashless technologies such as London Transport's Oyster card, which enables passengers to pre-pay for journeys on tubes and buses, have stolen a march on the market.
Monilink technology may soon be licensed to financial networks overseas. The company counts the former head of the CBI Sir Digby Jones among its directors and he is believed to have been acting as an ambassador for the service.
The fact that Monilink connects directly with the Link network also gives it a level of security unmatched by other card-based payments systems.