A Chicago-area woman and her bank have given new meaning to the phrase: "You have to spend money to make money."
Carmen Reyes of Berwyn, Ill., won $1 million from St. Paul Federal Bank in a drawing she entered by spending with her debit card. The contest was part of a promotion designed to bring in new customers and encourage existing ones to use a MasterCard that St. Paul Federal began issuing in the spring.
"When I first got a call from St. Paul Federal, I thought it was a prank. I've never won anything, " said Ms. Reyes, who works in the accounts payable department of a furniture store.
To qualify, customers had to use their debit cards at least 10 times between April 23 and June 17.
St. Paul Federal, a $6.2 billion-asset Chicago thrift owned by Charter One Financial Inc. of Cleveland, promoted the contest widely, advertising in newspapers and on radio stations. It even hired a pitchman who knows how to win a cool million - Joe Trela, who in March claimed the top prize on ABC's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."
The campaign generated 30,000 new accounts, while 120,000 debit cards were issued to established customers.
"It was a pretty expensive promotion, but it worked well because we issued so many debit cards that it made it cost-effective," said Anthony V. Sisto, division president of St. Paul Federal. "The odds were really good compared with winning the Lotto or answering the right questions to get onto Regis' show." (That, of course, would be "Millionaire" host Regis Philbin.)
St. Paul Federal said it would pay Ms. Reyes $40,000 a year for 25 years. The single mother said she would use the money for her four kids' college education.
St. Paul Federal should not worry that the rest of the prize money will stray far: Ms. Reyes said she would leave it in the bank.
National Bank of Alaska is trying to cut through the mumbo jumbo of banking jargon for its customers.The $3 billion-asset bank in Anchorage has created an online cheat sheet, Understanding Banking Lingo, with definitions of terms that customers, even those who have been banking for years, might be embarrassed to ask about.
"They have the privacy of their home to go to their PC and look information up without anyone seeing them do it," said Deborah G. Klinkhart, the bank's marketing officer.
The glossary ranges from such commonplace terms such as "FDIC" and "deposit" to more arcane topics such as the Uniform Commercial Code.
In a section of its Web site called Just for You, the bank also offers financial advice on taking out college loans or mortgages and how to retire comfortably.
Ms. Klinkhart said she hopes to keep posting the glossary and other information when her employer converts in May 2001 to become part of Wells Fargo & Co., which recently bought National Bank of Alaska.
"It's a really valuable item to put on to a site," she said.