Bank Web sites are like bank accounts-everybody has to have one, the presumption being that without them, customers head for the exits. The question, of course, is what does the Internet site do for the bank? Since most Web sites are less than a year old, the honest answer is: No one knows. No known database exists to quantify the effect on bank customers, so bank executives deciding whether to make these investments are forced to rely on common sense.

There are worse ideas, though, than basing strategic marketing decisions on common sense. Common sense will tell you, for instance, that the more a bank lets customers explain what they want, and then gives that to them, the happier those customers will be and the more likely customers will be to stay with the bank and become more profitable over time.

That's why Summit Bank, the $23 billion-asset institution based in Princeton, NJ, chose Toronto-based Quadravision Ltd. to build its 500-page site, live since March. Quadravision's offerings include something it calls Me!, a feature that allows customers to tell the bank what they want to hear about when they access its Web site-current portfolio performance, for instance-after which they get information based on that request every time they visit the Web site.

Summit began exploring Web site alternatives in early 1995. "Quadravision came up as an early player to the game as someone who had the experience to guide us in this," says Dorinda Jenkins-Glover, svp and director of marketing.

Actually launching the Web site took well over a year, thanks to a change in senior-level management in the marketing department, as well as a merger between Summit and United Jersey Bank, with attendant turmoil. But this turned into a blessing in disguise. "It gave us a little more time to discuss the strategy and how it was going to work, and it allowed us to take advantage of some newer technologies," says Jenkins-Glover.

Instead of putting out a flat site, explains John Harding, Summit's Internet manager, the bank put a lot of emphasis on Quadravision's Me! feature, calling it "Your File" on its Web site. "There are other companies out there, certainly, selling a type of software that does the same dynamic generation of pages, but (Quadravision) was really applying it the best," he says.

What Summit was looking for was a company that understood Internet marketing as well as it did software design. "We viewed it as another marketing tool, in addition to being a delivery channel of retail products," says Jenkins-Glover. "We look at our strategy of marketing as segmenting and targeting our customer base, and (Quadravision) understands that." Among the things Quadravision brought to the table: previous site design for Toronto Dominion Bank, Fleet Financial Group and Comerica.

Another big plus of Quadravision in Summit's experience is great customer support, even at 2 a.m. "Even when we were running up to launch date and they were doing their quality assurance tests, they were accepting of our requests, no matter what hour they came in," Harding says.

The bank decided, for instance, to add an entire product line within its personal banking feature about 10 days from launch. This meant another 15 pages on the site, which, Harding says, "isn't a lot, but when you're 90 percent done with a Web site and you go in and start changing stuff, it can really create havoc," because of the technical relationship between length and connectivity.

Harding called Quadravision late on a Thursday night and, by his account, "really put them through the wringer all weekend. We went through (the changes) piece by piece, line by line with them, and had them change the navigation task and the length of the site. Then we went home, and the tech guys went to work, and they re-tooled the site."

Jenkins-Glover says she's satisfied so far. "As a market research tool, we (already) see some value because when people come to the site, whether they're customers or not, they're talking back to us. And we haven't had any technical problems yet."

Summit officials declined to reveal the costs associated with developing its Web site.


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