BANC ONE CORP. HAS added video to its long list of retail banking innovations.
We're not talking banking via the television screen, an idea that is old hat at the Ohio-based holding company.
The new wrinkle is dunning by video.
When credit card customers of Bank One Columbus are weeks overdue on payments, and conventional nudges aren't working, they get a videotape. A congenial-looking man strongly suggests that the debtor call an 800 number for help. He says the bank "will do whatever it takes to help you. We don't want to lose you."
The strategy has succeeded. Bank One's collection rate went up 174% after it began sending the tapes.
Yet Mark K. Tonnesen, the executive who gave the go-ahead for the unusual collection program, fully expected it to fail. At Banc One, managers have the freedom to try and fail, but sometimes, the result is pure genius.
"When I came to the card division, I wanted to make sure we had a learning environment," said Mr. Tonnesen, senior vice president and general manager of credit cards at the Banc One flagship bank in Columbus. "I saw the video as some weird and zany idea that would expose the leader of this organization to failure, and I thought that would send a powerful message to the rest of the bank."
The video was not a zany idea when one considers that it costs $4.82 to produce and mail one tape. The industry average for collecting on an account that is 30 days or more overdue is $35.
Mr. Tonnesen, 42, joined Bank One Columbus in 1987 and came to the card group three years later. In the interim, he was an assistant vice president and manager of financial planning and analysis, as well as chief financial officer.
In earlier years, Mr. Tonnesen's affiliations included a brief stint as president of Traffic Control Technologies Inc., Syracuse, N.Y., which produces electronic control systems for street intersections.
He was also a general manager and director of finance and administration at Standard Oil Co., Cleveland, where he worked 10 years.
In setting out to eliminate the fear of failure that stunts innovative thinking, Mr. Tonnesen found a perfect fit with Banc One Corp.'s culture.
The company has long espoused a research-and-development philosophy akin to that of large manufacturing and technology companies. The process was championed from the 1960s through the 1980s by John Fisher, the retired senior vice president of marketing, and it has filtered through the corporation.
Banc One has been first, or nearly first, into credit cards, debit cards, automated teller machines, home banking, extended banking hours, supermarket branches, and financial centers that offer insurance, travel, real estate, and other services in addition to banking.
The Columbus bank now is leading the U.S. credit card industry into smart cards. This month, it is issuing the first MasterCard or Visa cards equipped with computer chips, which are far more powerful than the magnetic stripes that now store customer data on cards.
Smart-card technology "enables Banc One to differentiate itself from its competitors," said Mr. Tonnesen. He said he believes that "putting a brain on a card will be important for the whole industry."
The card is a joint venture with Advanced Promotion Technologies, a Pompano Beach, Fla., developer of electronic marketing systems and frequent-shopper promotions. Mr. Tonnesen said he sees supermarkets as a first step for smart cards, which could later expand into other businesses.
In another recent marketing initiative, Bank One has been mailing credit card solicitations outside its home base without prominently displaying its name. By emphasizing the Visa brand name, Bank One hopes to attract customers who may not be familiar with the bank.
Bank One will soon announce a program to put cardholders' photos on their credit cards. Citibank and Valley National Bank of Arizona are already marketing such cards, which are generally seen more as a marketing gambit than a fraud-prevention tool. A few others have tested the idea.
Banc One Corp. is also rapidly expanding the number of personal investment centers in its 1,320 branches.
"The speed at which they are advancing in this area is quite unusual," said Moshe A. Orenbuch, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., New York.
Currently, Banc One has 30 investment centers, mainly in Ohio and Texas, that sell products such as mutual funds and annuities. The goal, according to a company spokesman, is to have 400 centers by yearend and 800 by the summer of 1996.
Mr. Orenbuch said that the average annual pretax profit per center is $75,000. "The personal investment centers are profitable," he said, "and Banc One simply wants to get a good share of the market by rolling them out so quickly."
As for the inevitable failures, one that Mr. Tonnesen chalks up as a learning experience was Bank One's agreement in the 1980s to provide credit cards and other services to a credit union formed by the American Association of Retired Persons.
The credit union, widely and unnecessarily feared as a nationwide competitive threat to banks, was disbanded. From the ashes, Bank One emerged with an affinity program that Mr. Tonnesen calls "a significant part of our business," with one million AARP cardholders.
Just as Banc One Corp. follows the industrial textbook for finding new markets and niches, it takes to heart the adage from Tom Peters and Robert Waterman's "In Search of Excellence" that successful companies stay close to their customers. Ideas bubble up from the people who know customers best.
"One of the things we abhor is bureaucracy," said Mr. Tonnesen.
Corporate values come across even on the collections video. Mr. Tonnesen appears, saying that, if customers don't call the 800 number, "they won't know how flexible Banc One really is."