WingspanBank.com rolled out a new advertising campaign targeting women, putting it at the center of a debate over whether Internet banks should try to appeal to everyone or to specific groups.
Early on, Internet banks touted their ability to reach the mass market on shoestring budgets. More recent Internet-only banks, however, are pursuing specific demographic niches: newlyweds, homosexuals, wealthy people, and employees of high-tech companies.
One of WingspanBank's women-oriented ads, which debuted yesterday on ABC's "Good Morning America," features a couple planning for their first baby. Another discusses how to pay for college.
The Bank One Corp. subsidiary -- which is planning to drop the word "bank" from its name -- says it still wants to appeal to men and women 25 to 49.
But women are most likely to pay the household bills and would probably find the convenience of on-line banking appealing, said Kevin P. Watters, senior vice president for marketing at WingspanBank. "Women tend to be more pressed for time, because they are either career women or they are moms who work at home," he said.
Wingspan's plan makes sense, said Octavio Marenzi, managing director of Celent Communications of Cambridge, Mass. "Going after a more targeted market could provide them with greater success in reaching customers," he said. Laura Starita, an analyst at GartnerGroup of Stamford, Conn., agreed. "If you try to go after everyone at the same time, you are bound to be unsuccessful," she said. "You can better create a buzz by focusing in on a small market."
But Kenneth Tepper, chief executive officer of USABancshares.com, asked: "Why limit yourself? The Internet is the World Wide Web, not Nebraska Web."
That said, Mr. Tepper, who is based in Philadelphia, said he likes to zero in on the "younger generation," people who "don't remember the fear of putting a credit card number on the Internet." His company is working with rock star David Bowie to offer private-label banking.
D.R. Grimes, vice chairman and chief executive officer of Atlanta-based NetBank, said he favors the broad approach. A segmented ad campaign for an Internet bank is "like running an ad in USA Today when you only do business in one county," he said.
Christopher Musto, director of financial services at Gomez Advisors, a Lincoln, Mass., consulting firm, said there is room for experimentation. "No one owns Internet banking the way E-Trade owns on-line brokerage," he said. Competing banks "figure there is room to be the leading one."
Brook Newcomb, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, agreed. "Unless Internet banks have something to distinguish themselves, we don't believe they have much of a future, including the established players."
In a separate development, WingspanBank.com said it is planning at an unspecified date to strike the name "bank" so customers know it offers more than banking services. "People don't realize that they can get other services, such as insurance, from a bank," Mr. Watters said. "We are promoting Wingspan as a breadth of financial services, and as people become more familiar with that, the 'bank' name will not be necessary."
Planners originally put the "bank" tag on Wingspan to connote a high level of trust, Mr. Watters said. "On-line banking has taken off slower than forecasters had predicted, and that is largely because of security and trust issues," he said.