WingspanBank.com, Bank One Corp.'s new branchless bank, is expected to add up to $150 million to company expenses in the next 12 months, executives told analysts last week.
But revenue generated from new customers attracted to the on-line venture should offset those costs and add to earnings by July 2000, according to Bank One chief executive officer John B. McCoy.
"We view this business just like we would an acquisition," he said. "The potential reward far exceeds our initial rate of return."
Bank One is the first major banking company to start a branchless bank that does not share a brand with the parent or its subsidiaries. First USA, Bank One's credit card subsidiary, is overseeing WingspanBank.com.
Bank One, which is based in Chicago, said it expects its new on-line bank to appeal to savvy, price-sensitive Internet users who shun established "off-Web" brands.
"Banks are viewed as not 'getting' the Web," said Christopher Musto, director of financial services at Concord, Mass.-based Gomez Advisors. "Web brands are viewed as progressive and innovative."
Mr. McCoy said only time will tell whether WingspanBank.com strikes a chord with consumers.
"I think the importance of this announcement won't be known for a year or two years," he added.
In the meantime, Bank One plans to fine-tune Wingspan's products and pricing to please Internet users.
Kenneth T. Stevens, Bank One's top retail executive, said the company is also considering opening traditional branches to support WingspanBank.com and its other Internet bank, bankone.com.
"We have new and different formats on the drawing board," he said. "You will see some experimentation from us in that regard."
WingspanBank.com customers can use the Internet bank for traditional banking transactions as well as for buying securities, insurance or theater tickets. (This last is a service offered through the Web site's so-called "concierge.")
Loans on the Wingspan site generally are priced lower than those in Bank One branches or at bankone.com, while rates on certificates of deposit are higher.
Wingspan customers have free access to Bank One's automated teller machine network, but otherwise are not recognized as Bank One customers.
Eventually, Wingspan customers may be able to customize their own loans or checking accounts, said Richard W. Vague, the chairman of First USA and WingspanBank.com.
"Our plan is to continually monitor and get feedback and move forward," he said.
Analysts said they viewed Bank One's move as a gamble.
"They're making a bet on the Web," said Michael Ancell, a bank analyst at Edward Jones in St. Louis. "These days that's like playing the lottery."
Diana Yates, an analyst at A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc. in St. Louis, agreed. "It's either going to be wonderful or do nothing but cost a lot of money," she said.
Though Bank One wants to be a leader on the Internet, Mr. McCoy said, it will initially rein in its investment.
"We are not going to make a big bet financially until we have some more confidence in WingspanBank," he said.