Juniper Financial, the online financial services venture started by the founder of the First USA credit card empire and his partner from Bank One Corp., plans to open its virtual doors next week.
The company will begin by offering credit cards by direct mail to the type of customers it hopes to target time-pressed professionals who rely heavily on the Internet and wireless devices and will aim to build full-service banking relationships with the customers it attracts through the cards.
The firms two principals are Richard W. Vague, who founded First USA and led it even after it was sold to Bank One, and Jim Stewart, the former chief executive officer of WingspanBank.com, Bank Ones Internet-only bank. From their base in Wilmington, Del., the partners said they aim to offer an online banking and bill-payment service that will be distinguished by low rates, great customer service, and sophisticated technology.
We will have more wireless functionality than anyone else, Mr. Vague said in an interview Monday. You will be able to receive and pay bills, and get alerts through wireless devices within a few weeks, he said.
What we will lead with is our credit card, he added. We will bring customers in through the card, and weve seen this we will become the primary bank for these customers.
It is a strategy the two men have followed since they worked together at First USA. Mr. Vague said that First USA was the No. 30 U.S. bank card issuer in the 1980s, and rose to occupy the No. 2 spot by keeping its monoline focus and pursuing a direct-marketing approach. The specialist overcomes the generalist, Mr. Vague said. The larger the market is, the more specialized you have to be if you want to be extraordinarily successful.
Juniper will seek out middle-market retail customers not business customers, and not very upscale or very downscale consumers, Mr. Vague said. Weve done this before, and weve seen many other businesses do it.
From day one, Juniper will offer a complete electronic bill payment and presentment service, the executives said. Customers will be able to conduct business through wireless devices, and to receive e-mail alerts about events relevant to their accounts.
Juniper Financial has bulked up to 250 employees, Mr. Stewart said, and is now hiring very experienced, highly educated customer service representatives. Customers will be able to reach them by phone, e-mail, or chat room.
The real focus will be on checking accounts, credit cards, bill payment, and savings accounts, Mr. Stewart said in an interview Monday. Our goal is to make those of high value to the customer to make it hassle-free and much easier to do.
Using the more than $114 million in venture capital it raised from Benchmark Capital, Aether Systems, Fifth Third Bancorp, and other investors, Jupiter Financial hired IDO, an industrial design firm in Palo Alto, Calif., to design its Web site.
The Web site that will go live as soon as next Monday will offer customers real-time summaries of all their accounts with Juniper, plus bill presentment and payment powered by CheckFree Holdings Corp. of Atlanta. The Juniper executives said they are signing deals with major billers including telephone companies and electrical utilities and plan, along with these vendors, to give people financial incentives to sign up for online bill payment.
You can do this business on the go, and its all consolidated in one place, Mr. Vague said. He added that he has stopped toting a laptop computer everywhere, and now carries a Blackberry wireless device.
Juniper Financial is applying for a banking charter, the partners said, and until then it will offer financial services under the charter of Synovus Financial Corp. of Columbus, Ga. Synovus is the parent company of Total System Services Inc., the credit card processing company that Juniper will be using. Weve known them for a long time, Mr. Vague explained.
Despite the strength of their credentials, Juniper executives acknowledged it will take a while for them to attract a critical mass of customers. Its not like you can wave a magic wand and get people to use it overnight, Mr. Stewart said.