Security First Network Bank is planning a counterattack on Internet credit card banks.
The Atlanta-based financial institution, which opened in 1995 as the first bank to do business primarily through the Internet, has offered credit cards nearly since its inception, though they were not a major focus.
Now that other card companies are trying to make hay on the Internet, Security First wants to make its presence more felt.
Security First was bought last September by Royal Bank of Canada. In April the parent moved its senior vice president of card products, Jane Fershko, to Atlanta to step up the virtual bank's card efforts and oversee marketing of all products. Her new title is senior vice president of marketing.
Security First said it has issued classic and gold Visa cards since 1996. The bank has 20,000 to 30,000 customers but would not disclose the number of cardholders.
It branched out in July by launching, in collaboration with Toronto- based Royal Bank, a Visa affinity card for alumni of McGill University in Montreal. The card is available to residents of Canada and the United States, where about 12,000 McGill graduates live.
Ms. Fershko said the McGill card did not mean the bank was planning to jump into the affinity market.
She said "the affinity market is so heavily pursued by MBNA and First USA"-the latter is owned by Bank One Corp. and is pushing for marketing dominance on the Internet-"that it wouldn't be logical" for Security First. She said a card for one of Canada's most prominent universities was appropriate, "given our roots in Canada and our strength in the Canadian market."
Ms. Fershko said more card products will be released soon and are likely to be geared toward on-line customers.
"The Internet is about forming partnerships and alliances, and so we're looking in a variety of directions," she said.
Analysts said Securities First will have to take bold steps to compete with the likes of First USA and the Internet credit card start-up NextCard Inc. of San Francisco.
"As more and more traditional banks develop strong Web offerings, the advantage of the Internet-only banks decreases," said Robert Sterling, an analyst at Jupiter Communications in New York. "Companies that really have a head start (on-line) are the big card issuers."