Vanguard Group is promoting its on-line services by helping people get on the Internet.
The Valley Forge, Pa.-based mutual fund company has teamed up with Concentric Network Corp. to send Internet access software to investors. In the package is an icon for linking directly to Vanguard's Web site, as well as links to partner sites of CNN Financial News and Mutual Fund Education Alliance.
Customers can also sign up for general Internet access with Concentric, which they can reach through the Cupertino, Calif.-based company's icon.
Few financial companies make public Internet access part of their service, said Nicole Vanderbilt, senior digital commerce analyst at Jupiter Communications, New York. Offerings such as Vanguard's encourage Internet use and "shore up the on-line relationship," she said.
Banc One Corp. sends its customers browser software, which provides a private network connection and the option to get general Internet access through International Business Machines Corp., said Bruce Luecke, president of the bank's interactive delivery services.
Banc One's program, which is more than a year old, has not been widely embraced, he said. The bank is looking into joint marketing projects with other service providers.
With the Concentric package, Vanguard customers will receive five free hours of access to the featured Web sites. After the five free hours expire, Vanguard customers would have to sign up for the Concentric plan to continue using the software. Concentric has set up a dedicated customer service center for Vanguard clients.
"It allows our customers to get on the Net and try it out for free," said Joanne Voelcker, Vanguard's principal of on-line services. "Once they see how easy it is, hopefully they'll continue to use it."
The cost of general Internet access is $19.95 a month for unlimited use, or $7.95 a month for five hours plus $1.95 per additional hour.
The product, called Introductory Web Kit, provides Netscape Communicator version 4.04 for Web browsing and Adobe Acrobat Reader for viewing statements and prospectuses.
Concentric calls the service a virtual private network. Users are connected to Vanguard's public Web site and do not get any special functions or security, Ms. Voelcker said. Concentric does offer private connections to Intuit Inc. products, such as Quicken and TurboTax.
Vanguard chose to work with Concentric because it found its customers were having trouble finding or downloading Web browsers capable of the 128- bit data encryption needed for secure access to the Internet site, she said.
Several hundred customers have received the Web software. The project is still in the pilot phase, and Vanguard has not advertised it. The package should be generally available by yearend, Ms. Voelcker said.
The mutual fund company is paying for the software and its distribution, which amounts to several dollars a disk. It will not receive fees from Concentric for customers who sign up for access. Vanguard's aim is to bring customers to its Web site, which provides account information and transaction capability at a lower cost than telephone call centers and branches, Ms. Voelcker said.
"We're looking at the Internet as the '800' number of the future," she said.