A dozen Midwestern community banks and credit unions have reached deals with Amazon.com in an attempt to attract more traffic to their budding Web sites.
The banks are asking local schools -- from elementary to college -- to buy books from Amazon through a link on the banks' Web sites. The perk for schools is that they earn a 3% rebate for each purchase made by students and their families from Amazon. Those funds can be used at the discretion of school officials.
The initiative was launched last month. The banks are taking advantage of a free marketing alliance offered to various companies by Amazon. Wells Fargo & Co. of San Francisco and KeyCorp. of Cleveland are the only other banking companies to use the program, an Amazon.com spokeswoman said.
Though the banks do not earn a dime from the partnership, they are encouraged by the potential increase in use of their Web sites.
"This could help our Web page become more interactive with the community," said Barrett J. O'Connor, president of Elgin Financial Savings Bank, a $440 million-asset company that operates three branches in the outlying Chicago suburbs. So far, Elgin has signed seven schools.
Banks say they also hope that increased traffic will enable them to expand their Internet offerings to include such services as bill payments, direct deposits, and fund transfers. Eventually, they aim to generate revenue from advertising.
"This could be the first step to something bigger for these banks," said Janet Easly, senior vice president of Farin & Associates, a Madison, Wis.-based financial consulting firm working with the banks.
Kirk Hoewisch, vice president and controller of State Bank of Howards Grove (Wis.), said his $54 million-asset bank has also signed seven schools and has sent out feelers to 60 others in the area. Mr. Hoewisch said that he hopes the effort will make the bank more popular countywide.
"We have no main street or industrial park in our town," Mr. Hoewisch said of his 2,500-resident community. "We have to do whatever we can to attract customers."