In an effort to bolster flagging growth in its banking on-line service, San Francisco-based Union Bank of California has struck a co-branding agreement with Women.com to reach the 2.3 million women who visit the Web site monthly.

Heather Robinson, vp of interactive markets at UBC, the third largest bank in California with $30.9 billion in assets, explains that UBC and other early entrants into the on-line banking market saw tremendous growth in the first few years of operation, but are now caught "in the chasm between the early (users of the technology) and the mass market."

To climb out of the gorge, UBC is appealing directly to women, a segment of the population that did not initially embrace the technology. "We think that by speaking to them directly we can show them the benefits and show how banking on-line can be meaningful to them," Robinson says.

UBC's link on Women.com is the only one capable of on-line banking, though other banks do have banner ads on the site. One-third of that link promotes UBC's product, while the remainder is a Q&A on Web banking in general aimed at education, Robinson says.

an Intersection of three industry trends

UBC's goal, of course, is to attract new customers; to do this, it's concurrently promoting a cut-rate checking account on Women.com. While hardly the most profitable financial service UBC offers, Robinson says checking accounts are a powerful portal to more profitable ones. No specific cross-selling strategy has yet been hammered out, but Robinson says "it's definitely a goal."

Corey Yulinsky, a vp of financial services practices at Mercer Management, says that the UBC initiative represents an intersection of three major trends: targeting a segment of the market, in this case women; maximizing touch points, through portals like Women.com; and developing new customer relationships, such as offering an attractive checking account package.

Yulinsky explains that luring checking account customers can be a smart strategic move, since people attach a lot of psychological significance to where they have their checking account; for this reason, having a person's checking account is "a powerful weapon in a bank's arsenal."

But Yulinsky warns that for UBC's initiative to succeed it will need to do more than simply reach women and offer them a fairly ordinary checking account; UBC must offer women products tailored to their needs. "Just reaching a segment through a different channel usually isn't enough, you really have to have a value proposition targeted to their needs." Otherwise the effort is what he calls "pseudosegmentation," with nothing that really responds and appeals to the group specifically.

-M.Sisk

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