Citibank has become a primary sponsor-"anchor tenant" in the new terminology of Internet marketing-of Netscape Communications Corp.'s Personal Finance Channel.
The multi-year arrangement, announced Tuesday, will expose Citibank's name and services to the six million registered users of the Internet browser company's Netcenter.
"We're convinced that Netcenter is the place to be to get the eyeballs for Citibank," said Josh Grotstein, the Citicorp unit's director of global Internet and electronic commerce programs.
Citibank joins other banks and financial service companies making such advertising-like deals with Internet service providers and consolidators, such as America Online Inc. or Intuit Inc.'s quicken.com site. Netcenter is one of a new breed of "portals" that many electronic commerce experts see as major aggregators of on-line traffic.
The New York bank, which will pay Netscape an undisclosed fee-part up- front and part based on the number of customers attracted-views the arrangement as a cheap way to acquire customers.
Netscape claims to have 70 million users of its browsers. Of the six million Netcenter registrants, 30% are outside the United States, which could help Citibank in its global consumer banking aspirations. Its personal computer program, Direct Access, is available in five countries and will be in 15 by the end of the year.
The alliance is "really a validation for Netscape and its Netcenter as a serious venture into consumer services," said David Baltaxe, an analyst at Current Analysis Inc. "For Citibank it is prime positioning on one of the most trafficked Web sites around."
Bill Doyle, director of money and technology strategy at Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass., said links on a portal site are five times more effective in driving sales than banner advertisements.
"We at Citibank see portals as the TV networks of the future," Mr. Grotstein said. "We're trying to use the Internet not just as a (customer) retention or service channel, but to get that front-screen presence."
The personal finance portion of Netcenter will be added in the fall to the 17 consumer channels now offered. Initially, the finance channel will focus on investing and include interactive tools, financial advice, news, and research. Eventually on-line banking, insurance, and mortgages would be added.
Whether Citibank and Netscape would invite other financial providers on to the portal was unclear. Officials from the two organizations said Citibank's presence would "be extended" to all areas of the personal finance segment.
"This is Citibank locking up the space and blocking out the competition," Mr. Doyle said. "The big store in the mall will be Citibank with its own products, and that's the fly in the ointment here.
"A financial institution that wants to play a primary role in customers' lives will need to burst out of the proprietary product box and acknowledge that it should sell brands from other people."
The Netcenter deal was announced four months after Netscape and Citibank announced a strategic partnership. The bank bought $20 million of Netscape equipment for use in electronic commerce services.