Bank One Corp. has begun prodding WingspanBank.com, its stand-alone Internet bank, back into the corporate nest.
Wingspan was conceived as a separate and parallel operation to bankone.com, and the parent company invested heavily in a national advertising campaign to promote the brand. But lackluster results prompted Bank One executives to rethink this strategy time and again.
On Thursday Wingspan said it will soon begin promoting its products at 71 Bank One branches in Phoenix. After a three- to six-month marketing test, Wingspan products could be promoted in all of the Chicago-based companys 1,800 branches.
In another move to boost Wingspans deposits, Bank One said it had cut deals with four regional electronic funds transfer companies NYCE Corp., Fifth Third Bancorp and its Jeanie network, Star Systems Inc., and the MAC subsidiary of Concord EFS to let people deposit money in Wingspan accounts through automated teller machines on those networks.
Michael Cleary, the president of Wingspan, held a press conference Thursday in New York to announce the changes and to reiterate the companys view that, without branches, Internet-only banks cannot do a good job of acquiring and serving customers.
The fate of Wingspan, Bank Ones ambitious 15-month-old effort to build a bank from scratch on the Internet, hung in the balance only a few months ago. In March the week before James Dimon was named chairman and chief executive officer of Bank One Wingspan was rumored to be searching for a buyer. After Mr. Dimon took over, observers wondered whether he would retain Wingspan, which has 90,000 customers and 175,000 accounts, more than half of them funded.
Once Mr. Dimon established that Wingspan was not for sale, the company aimed to integrate Wingspan as a separate brand to take advantage of the assets of Bank One, Mr. Cleary said. There is a lot more sharing between Bank One and Wingspan than there was a year ago.
In the Phoenix pilot test, Bank One will use different methods to sell Wingspan products in branches and will evaluate the effectiveness of pamphlets, kiosks, and Bank One staff members. Then it plans to choose an approach for use in a possible rollout to all Bank One branches.
Internet penetration is high in Phoenix, and it is a strong Bank One market, said Kevin Watters, senior vice president of marketing for Wingspan.
Mr. Cleary said Bank One has taken a lesson from Charles Schwab Corp., which he said gets about 70% of new customers through its 400 branches.
At least one observer was skeptical of Wingspans approach. The proposition strikes me as not as focused as one would hope, said Richard Bell, a senior analyst at TowerGroup, a technology consulting firm in Needham, Mass. If I were a Wingspan customer, why would I want to go to a kiosk in a Bank One branch when I could just go in and deal with a teller?
The agreements with the ATM processing networks mean that by yearend, customers will be able to deposit money in Wingspan accounts through any of 30,000 ATMs across the country. Wingspan, which already accepts deposits through Bank Ones 3,500 ATMs, reimburses customers up to $5 per month for ATM withdrawal fees.
Two other Internet-only banks National Interbank and Juniper Financial, a soon-to-open start-up founded by former Bank One executive Richard Vague are trying to solve the deposit problem by aligning themselves with Mail Boxes Etc. to permit their customers to mail in deposits free of charge.
Mr. Cleary said he takes a dim view of that approach. I applaud their effort, and its a great try that we are watching closely, but I dont think consumers know where Mail Boxes Etc. stores are, he said.
Wingspan executives said they are seeking a specific customer profile for the online bank. Wingspan is meant for self-directed investors who feel little need to rely on branches, Mr. Watters said. They tend to be college-educated, between 25 and 54 years old, and earning more than $70,000 a year, he said.
Within three months, Wingspan plans to introduce a Web site that will include links to Bank Ones site for products that Wingspan does not offer, such as small-business loans. Next year Wingspan is to introduce its first savings account.
Next week Wingspan is to boost interest rates on its three-, six-, and 12-month certificates of deposit, to 6.573%, 7.05%, and 7.35%, respectively.
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