First Union Corp. executives said the company's $15 million investment in a Web site that matches small businesses with financiers is a preview of things to come for the newly formed e-finance group.

The $253 billion-asset Charlotte, N.C., banking company took a 15% stake in, a creation of Bethesda, Md.-based American Capital Strategies Ltd., late last year. The Web site, which is still 85% owned by American Capital, offers referrals, tools, and advice for small to midsize companies seeking financing.

Regardless of whether the investment itself ever makes a profit for the bank, executives said, the deal offers built-in opportunities to generate revenue. For example, First Union investment bankers advised American Capital Strategies when it was looking for funding for the site. Also, First Union National Bank will be a featured provider of commercial real estate financing through

Timothy Monnin, co-head of e-finance at First Union Securities, the investment banking operation of First Union, said his group is looking to forge similar relationships with other companies. He said First Union has made at least six other investments in what he called e-finance firms in the last six months and is considering others.

Companies such as are a natural fit for First Union, Mr. Monnin added.

"With our position as one of the largest financial institutions in the U.S., we believe this is an area we have a core competency in," he said. "First Union is very involved in utilizing the Internet to originate financial products. Strategically, it makes sense to be involved with businesses providing similar services."

Beside fitting in strategically, these investments are expected to contribute revenue in the future, Mr. Monnin said.

"We believe there are opportunities for solid growth in this area," he said.

Mr. Monnin said he believes that because their businesses are so similar First Union and other banking companies have an advantage over nonbank advisers in winning the business of financial portals.

"Our customers feel like we really understand their business and can understand the benefits of what they do for the end user," he said. "That helps us advise them and raise capital. Since we understand the business, we can help other investors understand their business."

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