"The bank that saves you time, makes you money" is WingspanBank.com, according to a new marketing campaign the virtual bank unveiled March 13. In a nutshell, says William Wallace, Wingspan's chief information officer, the virtual bank's first advertising campaign said, "We're different," while its second one says, "These are the ways in which we are different."

Intended to convey the breadth (or should that be span) of the bank's offerings, the new broadcast and print campaign will spotlight a series of products. First in line are home equity loans. Wingspan wants to convey that it is "unique" in giving 60-second approvals, says Kevin Watters, senior vice president of marketing (Others make the same claim, including Wells Fargo & Co., which is running an ad campaign for online home loans in The New York Times and elsewhere.)

"We had so much to get done in the initial campaign-make sure people knew who Wingspan was, that it was Internet-only, that it had a wide array of products. Now we want to focus on a product," Watters says. The bank also wants to inject more personality into its ads, at this juncture, because, he says, "It's important to have the human element in an Internet- only bank."

Wingspan launched on June 24 with the tag-line, "If your bank could start over, this is the kind of bank it would be," with a goal of luring customers "disenfranchised" by bank mergers, Wallace says. The bank was named Wingspan "to convey that it was grounded in the security and trust of a bank and connote the breadth of our offerings, which, at the time we launched, was unique."

Indeed, analysts lauded Wingspan for going beyond standard e-banking products with a broad range of mutual funds, along with third-party loans and insurance products. Such industry plaudits, Wingspan's unusual name and its year-one marketing budget of $150 million, plus Web banner deals through its parent, First USA Corp., Dallas, ensured the new bank drew attention.

But whether it was the right kind of attention is the question that still hangs over Wingspan. Some sources indicate that the board of Bank One Corp. has deemed Wingspan a failure, partly explaining the sudden departures of former Bank One President and CEO John McCoy and other top executives at the Chicago-based bank and First USA.

Asked about such perceptions, Wallace says, "The core team that built and runs Wingspan continues to be here today." He adds they are "ecstatic" to reportedly having attracted, within six months, about double the number of customers of other Internet banks against which it measured itself: Telebank and Netb@nk. The larger of the two, Telebank, was generally credited with having at least 60,000 customers (85,000 accounts) at year-end, 1999. Wingspan stated it had 107,000 accounts at year-end, without providing any customer figures. However, several analysts say Wingspan's numbers are lower than reported. GartnerGroup, Stamford, CT, analyst Laura Starita, says she heard only 15,000 customers had funded their online accounts as of last December. Wingspan's Watters says the number of funded accounts is "significantly higher."

Wingspan won't release the latest rally, pending its first-quarter call report. But Wallace says it appears to be growing at a steady rate of about 50,000 accounts per quarter.

Recently, Wingspan was the only bank that made the first branding index for Internet companies, a 30-company index released early this year by Corporate Branding LLC, Stamford, CT. However, the index is based on a survey of business company executives, notes Tom Miller, vice president of New York-based consumer research firm Cyber Dialogue, whereas "probably just 15 or 20 out of 1,000 consumers would have heard of Wingspan."

In an earlier interview, questioning the long-term viability of virtual banks, Meredith Hickman, a banking analyst now with Celent Communications, Cambridge, MA, said Wingspan faces the same challenges as other online institutions. "They're spending $150 million on marketing and they're losing money hand over fist (in) offering high-interest rates, free bill payment, etc."

In consumer focus groups, Miller says, those who know Wingspan view it as "a positive, strong brand online." He considers it "terrific in its range of products and ease of use." Yet he notes that "Wingspan has failed to capture the imagination of the consumer."

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