Dennis DiFlorio, evp and chief retail officer of Cherry Hill, NJ-based Commerce Bancorp, Inc., is no true believer in banking's electronic channel. "We don't look at electronic delivery as alternative delivery," he says. "It merely adds to your ability to add convenient banking services."

DiFlorio says that he can't believe how eager big banks are to bring customers into their electronic channelsoand keep them there. His idea is exactly the opposite. "It's like the Gap creating a disincentive to visit their store," he says. "We are a growth retailer; everybody else is closing branches, but we plan to open 15 branches a year."

All branches are open 12 hours per day, six days per week, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays. The strategy seems to be working; bank assets grew $610 million, from $1.77 billion to $2.38 billion between 1994 and 1996.

But such apostasy about electronic banking didn't stop DiFlorio from building a Web site that he says has achieved a 10 percent market penetration in a time when much bigger banks are happy to get half that. Commerce's Web site, built by CFI ProServices, Inc., of Portland, OR (with graphics created by Pixel Dust Inc.), enables customers to obtain real-time balances, make in-bank payment transfers, open accounts and apply for employment and loans--including Small Business Administration loans, says DiFlorio. Essentially, everything a bank customer can do in a branch. "I hate the phrase, but we're really trying to build a virtual bank," he says. The cost: about $30,000.

Why make the effort, considering how he feels about electronic banking? To make sure that every Commerce outlet is first class, DiFlorio says. Commerce actually markets the Web site to customers via branch kiosks and statement stuffers and print ads.

DiFlorio has seen some drop in branch visits by frequent site users. "We took a random sample of Commerce On-Line users and tracked activity for a month and found 84 percent (of them) still come to the branch an average of 3.29 times a month," compared to five times per month, on average, for non-users.--reinbach tfn.com

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