National InterBank, a retail Web-only bank that also sells e-banking technology, has struck a deal to let InfoSpace Inc. corporate customers offer online banking, the latest in a series of affinity agreements the bank says are helping its growth improve markedly.
Along with its yellow-pages lookups, InfoSpace, of Bellevue, Wash., offers private-label Internet infrastructure and content to businesses on wireless, broadband, and narrowband platforms. National InterBank, of Irvine, Calif., is bundling its services with InfoSpace's so that nonbanks in the InfoSpace network can offer banking services under their own name.
National InterBank, an $80 million-asset division of First Bank of Mitchell, in Mitchell, Ind., has three other affinity partnerships: with About.com, Juno Online Services Inc., and PVC.com, a service used by 1.5 million truckers.
Such pairings are "an opportunity to access multiple channels and get our banking products and services out to as many customers as possible," said Ron Hynes, executive vice president of National InterBank, which was launched in 1999.
The InfoSpace alliance was announced Tuesday. National InterBank's services - including FDIC-insured checking, money market, certificate of deposit accounts, credit cards, loans, bill payment, account aggregation, and funds transfer - will be featured starting today at InfoSpace's Silicon Investor Banking Center. Its private-label offering eventually will be resold through InfoSpace's resell partners, which include Nortel and Lucent.
National InterBank's services can also be offered through InfoSpace's interactive television services. Last Thursday InfoSpace announced a deal to let users customize Bloomberg broadcasts.
National InterBank "took as many applications in the fourth quarter as we did in the first three combined," Mr. Hynes said, referring to account applications. "We are growing exponentially, and it's all due to the affinity relationships. It's tough to convince people to jump ship from their standard banking way of life if you are not going to separate yourself, and with partnerships we can lower that hurdle."
It pays these partners about $25 for each customer they direct to the bank, compared with the $200 or so that Internet banks with aggressive advertising campaigns pay on average per new customer.
Mr. Hynes said the bank will also use the low-cost affinity model to avoid charging its low-balance customers nuisance fees. Other Internet banks, such as WingspanBank.com and BankDirect, have recently started charging these fees.
"We are going to resist on the fee front as long as we can," Mr. Hynes said. "To me, fees defeat the purpose of what we are trying to do."
He said his company has learned some lessons from its early affinity partners. One, he said, is that "to make things work well it is important that you are offering an integrated partnership and not an advertising relationship."
Other Internet banks have adopted similar affinity strategies. CompuBank offers cobranded banking through GE Financial Network, Commonwealth Energy, HD Vest Financial Services, and the pFreight online transportation marketplace.
Jonathan Lack, executive vice president of marketing for CompuBank, said, "We have gathered most of our customers through partnerships, and that has been a cornerstone of our strategy."
Paul Jamieson, director of financial services at Gomez Advisors, said, "The Internet banking community is having a difficult time attracting customers to their sites, and gaining mind-share is so expensive that the strategy of borrowing the brand of another company and targeting their customers is sound."