Huntington Bancshares of Columbus, Ohio, has moved its Internet, call center, smart card, and related "virtual" activities into a separate business unit.

In an apparent first for a major U.S. banking company, Huntington conferred on the new unit, Direct Access Financial Services, an organizational status equal to the six geographical regions spanning from Michigan to Florida.

Peter E. Geier, vice chairman, described it as "a new kind of market space, national in scope and defined only by the electronic channels customers can use to access the services they need."

William M. Randle, senior vice president of the holding company and a high-profile industry advocate of advanced delivery technologies, was named managing director of the "seventh region."

"This is not just a call center," Mr. Randle said. "This is a full 'direct bank' with its own P&L" statement.

While many banks are developing systems and products to connect retail customers electronically, the $21 billion-asset Huntington seems "unique in identifying it as a business line," said Michael Granger, an analyst with Fox-Pitt, Kelton in New York.

Because cost allocations can be complicated, he added, "It will be interesting to see what they show and report" financially.

The Huntington services remain identified with the company brand name, in contrast to First Direct, a pioneering telephone-based bank that Midland Bank of London launched in the 1980s.

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