Millions of people will be able to send payments to family and friends as easily as texting due to a new service from NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).
From today, customers using the RBS/NatWest mobile phone app will be able to send a payment of up to £100 to anyone with a Visa card by entering their mobile phone number. The new service is initially being tested out by some groups from today, with a full launch planned after Easter.
The announcement comes just days after the banking group apologised to customers for its second computer hitch in a year. A hardware fault left RBS Group customers blocked from using cashpoints for several hours last week, while online and telephone banking services were also disrupted.
As well as currently having more than two million active users, the RBS/NatWest mobile banking app has 13 million logins per week.
The UK payments body the Payments Council is currently developing a similar industry-wide initiative which will be up and running from spring next year as mobile payments become increasingly popular. The Barclays Pingit app, which also allows people to transfer small amounts of cash and has been downloaded more than 1.4 million times, can be used by any adult who has a UK current account, not just a Barclays one.
But RBS/NatWest claim their new Pay Your Contacts initiative is the "UK's easiest payment service on mobile", with no need for people to register to receive their money and 115 million Visa cards currently in use in the UK.
The service is being made available to RBS customers in Scotland and NatWest customers in England and Wales. There are currently no plans to extend it to customers of Ulster Bank, which is part of the same group, or to people who are not RBS/NatWest customers.
It is available for customers to download as an upgrade to the existing mobile banking app for Android, iPhone and BlackBerry, with an enhanced version of the Windows phone app due to be released soon.
RBS Group said last week's computer fault, which affected RBS, NatWest and Ulster Bank customers, was unrelated to a huge IT meltdown it had last summer which left customers unable to use their accounts properly and cost the group £175 million to put right. Last October, NatWest also had to suspend a feature on its mobile phone app called GetCash, after the service was subject to a spate of "phishing" attacks by fraudsters. The GetCash service, which allows customers to withdraw cash without using a debit card, was later reinstated after security was beefed up.
The partnership with Visa Europe is currently UK-only, but those behind the scheme said there is scope for this activity to be extended into cross-border payments in the future. Sandra Alzetta, senior vice president and head of mobile at Visa Europe, said: "Mobile technology has the ability to fundamentally change the way that people manage their money and make payments - not only in this country but around the world."