First Direct review: 3.5/5

Should you get the First Direct 1st current account?

First Direct was technically one of the first banks to be considered a challenger bank, with no branches available to visit. 

It prides itself on customer service, boasting several awards and being available 24/7, 365 days of the year. However, despite being a “digital only” bank, it’s not got a particularly innovative or attractive app — but it does what you need it to do. Here’s our take on The First Direct 1st Account.

Our score: 3.5/5

First Direct has a great current account, but it’s missing an innovative app.

Our ratings

App rating1.5/5
Current account rating4.5/5
Rewards rating3.5/5

Customer score: 4.69/5

Average customer score from reviews left on Smart Money People

What is First Direct?

First Direct is a digital-only challenger bank which you can open via the app, then manage online, in its app or over the phone.  

First Direct offers current accounts, savings, credit cards, mortgages, personal loans and insurance, so it’s a pretty comprehensive bank, just without branches. 

Types of First Direct account

First Direct only offers two accounts:

  • First Direct 1st Account (Personal Account)
  • First Direct Joint Account

First Direct 1st Account: 4.5/5

As a current account, First Direct is pretty decent, scoring 4.5/5 in our analysis. It has a reputation for great customer service, which is why people tend to like it. 

 It’s a pretty good choice for use abroad and has a free overdraft buffer. Here are all the details. 

First Direct customer service

Customer service is one of the main reasons people like First Direct, and the bank focuses a lot of its marketing on this. It scores 4.76/5 for its customer service from customers over at Smart Money People.  

However, remember that there aren’t any branches. Support is available 24/7 using its in-app chat function and over the phone. The phone number is on the back of your card. 

You mainly need the app to manage the account, though.

Can I use First Direct abroad?

First Direct recently announced fee-free spending abroad, making it a contender when you’re off on holiday. There are no fees for a debit card payment in a foreign currency, no fees for a cash withdrawal in a foreign currency (or from a cashpoint outside of the UK), and you have the same £500 ATM withdrawal limit as at home. 

As always, if you’re given the option to pay in pounds or in the local currency, local currency is likely to get you the better exchange rate and avoid additional conversion fees. 

Despite being a good card for using abroad, this isn’t the best account on the market — digital competitor Chase offers fee-free spending and withdrawals as well as 1% cashback on your spending. Check out our roundup of the best debit and credit cards to use abroad for more. 

First Direct overdraft

First Direct is one of the only banks to offer a free overdraft. It’s only free up to £250 but it can be a helpful buffer. If you get an arranged overdraft above £250, then it’ll be free up to £250 and 39.9% EAR variable on anything above. 

You can sign up to get a text message when you’re going into your arranged overdraft or for exceeding your limit.

First Direct account fees

The First Direct 1st Account is a free account, so you shouldn’t encounter any charges for day to day banking. You may have to pay fees for receiving international payments or using an overdraft (over the £250 buffer, if you have it).

Account basics

The main way to manage your First Direct account is using the mobile app, in your browser or over the phone. You sign up for the account online and will be sent one of its sleek black debit cards right away. 

This can be set up with Google Pay and Apple Pay but sadly not on watches.

You’re also able to set up or amend standing orders or direct debits directly from the app, over the phone or online in your browser.  

Payment and withdrawal limits

There’s a £10,000 daily transfer limit to UK bank accounts. This is about the same as what most banks typically offer — to compare,  Chase lets you transfer £25,000 while Revolut lets you transfer £50,000 per day. Starling is higher than this, at £1m. 

You can withdraw up to £500 per day.

Paying in cash and cheques

You can pay in cash, check your balance and withdraw cash at the Post Office or HSBC branches.

You can also pay in cheques with the app or by post.  

First Direct rewards: 3.5/5 

While First Direct isn’t much of a reward account, it has an excellent Regular Saver account, as well as good (and frequent) switching offers. 

Savings rates with First Direct

There are lots of different options for saving with First Direct. Most of them can be beaten with other savings accounts, but its Regular Saver is regularly one of the highest on the market. 

This offers 7%, which is fixed for 12 months and is exclusive to current account holders. You can save between £25 and £300 every month. You can read our full analysis of the account here.

First Direct switch and referral offers

First Direct offers regular switching offers, the latest one offering £175 for switching over your current account. Deals come and go, and it never allows existing customers to get the offer, so it’s worth holding off until a deal is available. 

We have a round-up of the best bank switching deals which will tell you which providers are offering top-paying welcome bonuses, cashback and rewards if you switch to them.  

First Direct app: 1.5/5

The app is what lets First Direct down, in my opinion. Effectively, it’s just a bit boring. You can manage the account with it (mostly), however it’s missing some innovative features. 

Design and customisation

The design of the First Direct app is my least favourite thing about the app, however I can’t deny that it is clearly laid out and fairly easy to find what you need.  

You can’t customise any part of it – so you have to take it as it comes. 

Categorisation and notifications

Unlike with most other banks, including its friends over at HSBC, First Direct doesn’t notify you when you make a transaction. 

Every payment is categorised into a number of pre-set categories. You can change the category that a transaction is assigned to later if you want to. You can also add tags to your categories, which can help you sort out your transactions and get insights. 

Budgeting features

First Direct isn’t really the best account for budgeting features – it offers some insight into your spending, based on your categories and tags, however there’s no way to set budgets. If you want to become better at budgeting, you might want to look into a third-party budgeting app.

Compared with other apps, it’s simply not intuitive, especially because you can’t set budgets or see month-on-month stats. 

Integrations and security

The First Direct app is secured with biometrics or a passcode. It’s perhaps a little too secure — you have to remember a username, password, a Digital Secure Key PIN, a telephone password and several security questions. It’s simply not practical. 

You can use First Direct with apps that let you connect your account via Open Banking, such as Cheddar, Emma, Plum and Airtime Rewards.

Card controls and virtual cards

You can’t change things like your contactless limit or block certain transactions with your card. First Direct does allow you to check your PIN and debit card details, including the CVC, in the app. You can’t copy and paste them, though. 

If you think you’ve lost your card, you can freeze it in the app to stop payments from going through until you find it. Then it can be unfrozen if you find it.

Sending and receiving money in the First Direct app

If you need to send money, you can only do so with a bank transfer, which you can do from the app, online or over the phone. 

To receive money, you’ll need to share your account number and sort code with your friends, you can get these from your app or your card but you can’t copy them – I hope you’ve got a good memory. 

What happens to my First Direct account if I lose my phone?

If your phone is lost or stolen, you’ll need to call First Direct on 03456 100100 to deactivate your digital secure key and app. If you find it later, you can call back and it can be reinstated. 

How to apply for a First Direct account

You can apply for a First Direct account for free, here’s how:

  1. Download the app: Head to the App Store or Google Play store to download the First Direct app. Check first to see if there’s a bank switching offer available. You sadly can’t do this over the phone anymore. 
  2. Choose to open an account or switch a bank over: If you’re opting for a switching offer, go with the second one. You’ll be asked for the details of the account you’re switching from.
  3. Personal details: You’ll need to enter your personal details to get started, such as your name, home address, employment status and phone number.
  4. ID checks: You’ll need to verify your identity with a form of ID and a selfie. First Direct prompts you through this process. 
  5. Submit your application: You might have to wait for an email from First Direct to let you know you’ve been accepted.

Can you open a First Direct account over the phone?

Until 2021, this account could be opened and fully managed over the phone. However, nowadays you need the app in order to open and manage the account. 

First Direct will still allow some customers to open the account over the phone — this is decided on a case-by-case basis. You can call the regular helpline and you’ll be directed to someone who can help you open an account. 

Will there be a hard credit check when you apply?

Yes, First Direct runs a hard search on your credit report when you apply for an account. So if you apply for credit, lenders will be able to see that you made an application for an account. 

Is First Direct safe?

First Direct is operated under HSBC’s banking licence and is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). This means that it can operate fully as a bank and is required to protect your funds. 

In addition, up to £85,000 of the money held in your First Direct is protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS). This basically means that if First Direct goes bust, you’ll be able to get up to £85,000 of your money back. Be aware that this is shared with any accounts you have open with HSBC, too.

First Direct Smart Money People rating

Customers have rated First Direct 4.69/5 over at Smart Money People

Positive reviewers of First Direct’s 1st Account spoke highly of the bank’s customer service, felt their bank switches ran smoothly and easily found everything they needed in the app. 

Negative reviewers mentioned that they find it difficult to sign in, find online banking frustrating and feel they have to call up for help often.

Smart Money People advert

Pros and cons of First Direct


  • Good telephone customer service
  • Easy to sign up and use
  • Clean app
  • Fee-free spending abroad
  • Free £250 overdraft
  • Regular bank switching offers
  • Access to 7% regular saver


  • No full branch support
  • Can’t open the account or fully manage the account over the phone
  • No rewards or cashback offers
  • Basic app — no innovative budgeting or analysis features
  • No virtual cards

Summary: Is First Direct any good? 

In general, First Direct is an excellent bank account. It’s got great customer service, it’s free to use abroad, has a clean and simple app and the £250 overdraft buffer can be helpful. 

It’s not the bank for you if you want to get lots of analysis from your banking app or have a range of budgeting tools and savings tools. In addition, if you really value in-branch help, this probably isn’t the bank for you either.

A lot of people move to First Direct for a switching offer — these are available often, and we’ll update our switching offers page with more details when these come around. 

First Direct 1st Account

Benefits:Fee-free spending abroad
24/7 telephone banking
Great customer service
Owned by HSBC
Overdraft:Free £250 overdraft
Savings:Access to 7% regular saver. More here.
FSCS protection?Yes
Switching offer?Frequent switching offers. More here.

2 thoughts on “First Direct review: 3.5/5

  1. First Direct is a great bank and are easily worth a lot more than 3.5 rating which makes them look average. I have got 11 current accounts at present (did have more until recently) and had many others in past and this is the best bank by far I have ever had. Their parent bank though, HSBC, is pretty rubbish in comparison. Not many of the big banks have any customer service and you’re waiting forever in call queues only to get a foreign call centre where they don’t know what they are on about or what you are asking. With First Direct you are through to a person within a minute or two and its not a foreign call centre either so they actually sort quickly what you want sorting. They don’t block your larger payments/withdrawals unneccessarily unlike TSB/Virgin/Starling and many others.

    Agree with Andy above, if you are of low intelligence and therefore incapable of knowing what you are spending you’re own money on then go with a silly bank that provides silly childish apps with so called budgeting tools/spending analysis/savings pots etc. like Starling (in other words gimmicks) and watch them block all your larger payments or close your account for no particular good reason. Most of these also have no phone lines or decent customer service. Maybe a solution would be that you should only be allowed out with pocket money from your mother to spend. For Gods sakes what is wrong with the world nowadays – it’s a “snowflake heaven” – get a grip or go back to nursery and start you’re learning again!

  2. I can’t believe “Be Clever With Your Cash” criticises a banking app for being “boring”, despite it being exactly what you want— “clearly laid out and fairly easy to find what you need”. If you want Angry Birds or Candy Crush you know where to go.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.