A branchless bank that Carolina First Corp. started two weeks ago expects to surpass its goal of opening more than 1,000 accounts a month.

Bank Caroline, the Internet and phone bank of Greenville, S.C.-based Carolina First, is emphasizing customer service to make an impression on its target market of Internet "newbies," said Roger Bower, director of retail banking.

To welcome inexperienced computer users, the bank introduced the character Caroline, "a fortyish female computer with legs and eyeglasses." An anticipatory television, radio, and print advertising campaign, begun in August, asked Carolina First customers to "meet Caroline." A Web campaign began in September.

The personification is reminiscent of the early days of automated teller machines when several banks, particularly in the Southeast, gave them names such as Tillie the Teller or Harvey Wallbanker.

Carolina First hopes that "putting a friendly face" on the on-line service will make it more reassuring and accessible to beginning users, said Mack I. Whittle Jr., president and chief operating officer of the $3.1 billion-asset banking company. "Caroline is modeled after our very best customer service representatives, the ones that keep our customers coming back," he said.

Carolina First is intent on sustaining the warm Internet welcome. "We have excess capacity on our servers, we know how to measure traffic, and we know the pitfalls," Mr. Bower said. He said the bank is "ahead of projections" on its goal of opening 1,000 accounts per month.

The company learned the ropes of Internet banking through an investment it made in October 1996 in Atlanta Internet Bank, now Net.Bank, one of the first on-line financial institutions. Carolina First still owns 2,415,000 shares, or 8.4%, of Net.Bank.

Bank Caroline offers basic checking, savings, and money market accounts. "Initially, we want to keep things simple," Mr. Bower said. "We will grow our product complexity as we grow our customers."

The Web site, www.bankcaroline.com, is operated separately from Carolina First Bank's carolinafirst.com. Bank Caroline is offered to a global Internet audience, while the transactional site is viewed as an added channel for existing Carolina First customers. Both are chartered under Carolina First Bank FSB.

Later this year, Carolina First Corp.'s Florida subsidiary, Citrus Bank, also plans to offer Internet banking to its existing customers.

Carolina First uses Internet banking software from Edify Corp., which is slated to be acquired by Security First Technologies Corp. of Atlanta, to support its current Internet efforts.

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