Internet, Bank One Corp. is clearly a trailblazer.
The Chicago-based bank introduced Wingspanbank.com, the first Internet-only retail bank and broker, in June. And over the summer, Wingspan has been etched into the public consciousness by a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign.
Wingspan, which falls under Bank One's First USA credit card subsidiary, technically competes with the bank's existing on-line capabilities found at Bankone.com. But that is all part of the plan.
"We want to keep the customer and if somebody finds someone better to go to, they're going to go," said Jeff Unkle, a spokesman for Wingspan. "We are neither targeting nor avoiding the Bank One client base."
Wingspanbank.com, which uses the tagline, "If your bank could start over, this is what it would be,'' has a hot button that allows investors to choose from more than 7,000 mutual funds, including 250 no-load, no-transaction-fee funds. The site accesses the funds through Pershing Trading Corp., a division of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Securities Corp.
The idea, said Stephen Baine, chairman of Wingspan Investments, is to sell funds to individuals who are self-starters. These customers do their own research and tend to be younger or more computer-literate.
The exact demographic makeup of Wingspan's early customers is still unclear, Mr. Baine said.
"We're in the process of determining that,'' he explained. He declined to provide any preliminary sales numbers. "I would say that many if not all of our new clients have not dumped their other suppliers."
When Wingspan opened for business, only about 140,000 retail deposit accounts were at on-line-only banks, said Chris Musto, director of financial research with Gomez Advisors, a Lincoln, Mass., e-commerce consulting firm. Mr. Musto expects Wingspan to magnify that number quickly.
Wingspan got a jump on competitors like Citigroup, which launched its own Internet- retail bank and brokerage last month in the shape of Citi f/i. The Bank One unit now faces a big challenge in making its groundbreaking effort a success.
When the site was launched, Bank One's chief executive, John B. McCoy, said it could take years to assess whether the concept is a winner. But Bank One is making a big bet that it will succeed, devoting what bank executives said would be about $150 million to the effort over its first 12 months.
Mr. Musto likes the strategy.
The site is targeting a broader demographic than the on-line trader group courted by many Internet financial services firms, he said. Wingspan is wooing customers like those already using Bank One Securities -- somewhat more conservative, with a longer-term investment perspective.
"They are not going after the hyperactive investor," Mr. Musto said. "It's targeting one-stop shoppers and life planning customers, and those are good groups to go after.''
But the biggest difference between the two Internet initiatives is Wingspan's bid to go beyond Bank One's geographic footprint and existing product lines.
At a time when companies like American Express are trying to get their customers to think of them for a greater variety of products, Wingspan starts without any customer preconceptions, Mr. Musto said.
Wingspan evokes a broad array of financial services. And though it had no name recognition to start with, the bank is spending millions to build its brand.
The effort is paying off, Mr. Baine said. Bank One research shows that Wingspan is already one of the best-known financial services names on the Internet, he said. Anyone surfing financial sites sees the ubiquitous pop-up ads from the company, part of a broad-ranging advertising campaign spanning print, radio, and television.
The ad campaign has so far been focused largely on the site's banking features, Mr. Baine said. But that is about to change.
Wingspan will bring mutual funds and insurance offerings to center stage shortly, he said.
Mutual fund companies may soon advertise their products directly on the site as well, said Mr. Baine. He declined to discuss further how that will work. But, he said, the site will change constantly as befits an Internet site.
With Pershing's menu of 7,000 funds, Wingspan clearly has something to advertise.
"It's better than the average fund supermarket," said Mr. Musto of Gomez.
But unlike a proprietary fund mart, Bank One has to pay Pershing to provide the clearing capabilities, he said. Pershing also provides access to some 7,000 funds to customers of Bank One Securities' on-line service. However, Bank One Securities does not offer access to no-load, no- transaction-fee funds.
Geoffrey H. Bobroff, a mutual fund consultant in East Greenwich, R.I., questioned how banks that have to pay a third party to provide the architecture for a fund mart can show a profit. "The question is, how many people can you have in the food chain and still make money?"
It is difficult to make money when customers are making one transaction a month, he said. Adding more supermarkets to those already in existence raises the question, "How many gas stations do you need?'' he said.
Consequently, banks that are on the sidelines for now will not be hurt later, Mr. Bobroff said. When the Internet has wider bandwidth and other improvements that allow for the medium to be more personal, then it will be a better place for banks. Offering 7,000 funds is not a good tactic, he said.
But Wingspan's strategy is to offer a wide range of products, including access to the breadth of available mutual funds, Mr. Baine said.
Commenting on the cost, he said Wingspan has a volume pricing deal with Pershing, which makes it less expensive than some believe. He declined to elaborate on fees.