Commerce Bank of Kansas City, Mo., will offer more than basic banking at the small-business Web site it will launch next month.
In addition to online banking, loan applications, and access to 24-hour customer service, the site will offer ZIP-code-based searches for nearby accountants, attorneys, and insurance brokers as well as daily news about the user's line of business.
"People running small businesses spend all day dealing with those businesses," said Andrew Kaplan, senior vice president of the bank's treasury services group. "They come home and in the middle of the night something about their business will come to them.
"It is our job that, when they think about their business, we are there."
The $12 billion asset bank has selected Magnet Communications of Atlanta to develop the site.
Users will be able to customize the site to their financial needs as well as gain access to news and weather. A search engine will scan the Internet for information relevant to a customer's industry. New articles and information will be posted to the customer's personalized site.
Commerce, which has 30,000 small-business accounts, hopes to distinguish itself by making the site a customizable resource center, Mr. Kaplan said. Commerce plans to add the same resource and search engine capabilities to its large-business customer site, though no timetable has been set.
"There are so many options out there today that if you are just offering banking alone, there has to be something more," Mr. Kaplan said. "People are not looking to Commerce Bank to buy copiers, but it can be an added value to basic banking tools."
Commerce is not the first banking company to offer nonfinancial services to small-business customers. Last month Wells Fargo & Co. introduced its Resource Center for Small Business Owners, which provides an array of services, including human resources and back office help.
Similarly, Bank of America Corp. and FleetBoston Financial Corp. recently opted to work with Biztro Inc., a Santa Clara, Calif., provider of Internet services for small businesses, to round out their offerings for that market.
Banks are realizing that small businesses represent huge revenue growth, said Ray Chinn, a senior engagement manager at Financial Institutions Consulting of New York. According to a recent study completed by the firm, small-business customers who use online banking carry an average of 3.5 accounts with their banks, versus an average of two accounts for customers who are offline.
The average attrition rate for online customers is 10%, compared with 14% for customers who bank through traditional means, according to the study.
The Internet, Mr. Chinn said, is an ideal tool for banks to reach small businesses, which tend to be very diverse and have complex needs.
"The sole proprietor working out of the basement of his house has very different needs than the owner of a business that is generating $8 million in revenue per year," he said. "It is very difficult to segment this market and come up with the appropriate strategies to market to them, but the Internet allows them to do this mass customization."