Richard Vague is back to his old tricks again, selling credit cards through direct marketing.

Theoretically, his new Internet banking venture, Juniper.com, is thriving. The company reports that in the first two months of operation it has amassed 50,000 credit card accounts, with $100 million in receivables.

But does that mean Juniper is a successful stand-alone, online bank? We don't think so.

Vague is a great direct-mail marketer of credit cards, despite the severe problems he ran into at Bank One's First USA subsidiary. He was a founder of First USA and ran it so successfully that Bank One paid more than $7 billion to buy it in 1997. At the time, it was growing at an annual pace of 22%.

But Vague, probably pushed by ousted Bank One CEO John McCoy, tried squeezing more money out of consumers than was reasonable, and customers fled the product.

That doesn't take away from Vague's ability to sell cards to new customers, and hopefully he's learned from past mistakes. Since he announced last year that he would form Juniper, it has become clear to most observers that stand-alone Internet banks just don't work.

So, he appears to have changed directions, and is focusing on creating a new credit card business, hoping that he'll be able to convince cardholders to use Juniper for their banking. But online banking no longer appears to be the heart of Juniper. Vague's investors now have a pro doing what he's best at.


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