As Bank One Corp. seeks a buyer for Wingspanbank.com, its fledgling Internet bank that has not quite gotten off the ground, it has made one thing clear: Not all suitors are welcome.
Sources close to Bank One told American Banker on Wednesday that at least one bid has come in and been rejected - an offer from Richard W. Vague, former chairman and chief executive officer of Bank One's First USA unit, who had overseen Wingspanbank.com from its inception.
Mr. Vague, who left the company in October, "sent a letter to Bank One expressing interest in buying Wingspan, and they rebuffed him," according to one source. "They said there's no way they're going to do this deal, so then they turned around and hired Morgan Stanley to look for other buyers."
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Bank One has hired Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. to find a company that will take the expensive online venture off its hands. This month American Banker reported that Mr. Vague had considered buying Wingspan as part of his new venture, Dryrock Corp., an Internet payments start-up in Wilmington, Del., that has raised $25 million of venture capital.
Mr. Vague took some of the fall for escalating problems in Bank One's credit card operation. Since the problems came to light, Bank One has had to reduce earnings expectations three times.
"If you're going to blame Dick Vague for all the faults, you don't want to turn around and sell Wingspan Bank to him, which says he can run it and you can't," a source said. "Then blaming Dick won't be an option anymore." Mr. Vague did not return phone calls.
Industry sources said Bank One is going over every asset in its business and weighing the possibility of selling each one. Wingspan is not getting the investment it needs to grow and will "deteriorate over time," one source said.
Wingspan was launched in June with much hoopla and a national advertising campaign, with the hope it would energize Bank One's sagging stock price.
But the online bank did not attract as many customers as Bank One expected.