Citicorp has been lobbing grenades in the direction of New York rival Chase Manhattan Corp.
On Wednesday, Citi dispatched 100 employees on bicycles to 14 Chase branches throughout Manhattan. Their mission: to distribute 40,000 copies of Citi's updated Internet banking software to Chase customers.
Wearing blue jumpsuits and white helmets, Citi's bicycle brigade rolled down Park Avenue under police escort, passing Chase's headquarters before separating into groups and fanning out across the city.
Stephen Liguori, senior vice president and head of U.S. branch operations at Citi, said scaled-down attacks were staged the same day on rival banks in California, Florida, Illinois, and Washington, D.C.
"We want to show that we have real Internet banking," Mr. Liguori told his troops at a pep rally Wednesday outside Citi's Park Avenue headquarters.
A former Pepsico executive, Mr. Liguori has brought to Citi marketing tactics normally reserved for fast-food chains or soft drink companies.
In March, he handed out bagels to morning commuters in Manhattan to promote a new checking account. Citi executives in Miami, San Francisco, Chicago, and Las Vegas ran similar promotions in their cities throughout the spring.
"Everyone said the bagel giveaway was a great idea, so we decided to take it a step further," Mr. Liguori said.
Consultants compared Wednesday's antics to the Pepsi challenge, a 1980s promotion in which consumers took blind taste tests of Pepsi and Coca-Cola.
But bank marketing experts said that banks usually use advertising - not sidewalk snipers - to attack rivals. "Well, a lot of bankers in other parts of the country wouldn't do that," said Gerard Hergenroeder, a consultant at Speer & Associates in Atlanta.
"It's too much New York-too much in your face."
Chase said Wednesday it was not worried that Citi employees were approaching customers outside Chase branches. Citi's promotion includes the software and the promise of $25 for opening a Citi checking account and signing up for on-line banking.
Chase also offers on-line banking. "Their promotion is not compelling enough for customers to switch banks," said Ken Herz, a spokesman for Chase.