The typical bank microsite is a simple undertaking with a few pages promoting a specific product or service. Not too flashy or innovative, not too expensive, not too taxing on the IT department and certainly in no danger of overshadowing the bank's primary Web site.

But like so much on the Internet, things can change quickly. At financial institutions such as Umpqua Bank, SunTrust Banks and GTE Federal Credit Union, a radical retooling of microsites is underway. They generally target a market segment instead of a product, often downplay ties to the financial institutions, tap into social media, and some drive traffic through live events. And they're much bigger and more expensive. Instead of five to 10 pages, they're 50 to 100. The microsite has become a megasite.

"The strategy with megasites is to create a deeply immersive experience, and they're throwing everything at it: social networking, Internet banking, blogging," says Jeffrey Pilcher, a consultant and publisher of The Financial Brand.com. He says megasites, while appealing, raise questions for FIs. How far can they stretch IT resources in terms of time, money and expertise? How do they integrate social media sites? How do they maintain brand cohesion between a main site, megasites and microsites?

Doug Richardson, svp of marketing at GTE Federal Credit Union in Tampa, FL, was instrumental in conceiving and launching the credit union's U224U.com site that targets customers and potential customers in the 12 to 22 age group. When he took the idea to the internal IT group he quickly realized they didn't have the time or expertise to construct a site incorporating Facebook and YouTube. So he turned to an outside agency, CAE Marketing Group, which for $60,000 got the site launched within 60 days.

It launched in July and Richardson says it's resulted in 2,700 new accounts and a 10 percent annualized growth rate in the 12 to 22 age group. He attributes the success in part to engaging online contests tied to offline events. The site has been so successful the bank is devising megasites for "the other member segments.

SunTrust recently launched its own megasite in November called LiveSolid.com. The site provides hundreds of tools, calculators, articles, guides, videos, podcasts and tips designed to help individuals make financial decisions. Like GTE, the bank tapped an outside agency to help to design the site and incorporate social networking aspects. Broud Kuhn, group vp of digital and direct marketing at SunTrust, says the launch took about five months.

The success of U22 and LiveSolid leads Pilcher to wonder if the megasites of today are the home sites of tomorrow. "Right now these Web sites are experiments, but if they are more effective why not use this as their home page? These could be what the online bank of the future looks like."

Kuhn's opinion is that the future is probably somewhere between today's megasites and conventional home pages. After all, one of a megasite's greatest strengths-its ability to target a certain customer segment-becomes a weakness if the bank is trying to appeal to everyone.

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