Fluff may be a good name for a cat, but it's probably not an adjective you want used to describe your World Wide Web site.
So says J.P. Morgan stock analyst Michael J. Freudenstein, who has taken the unusual step of rating the financial services companies he follows according to a "stuff/fluff" index and posting his evaluations on the Internet.
Mr. Freudenstein covers a dozen nonbank, noninsurance financial companies, including Beneficial Corp. (lots of fluff, little stuff) and Charles Schwab (high stuff rating).
He praises the Web site of the Novus+ family of credit cards ("a terrific job"), but calls Capital One Financial Corp.'s site "somewhat disappointing from the product focus standpoint."
What is "fluff" in an on-line context?
"I would quantify fluff as where there's not a heavy business orientation," Mr. Freudenstein said. A Web site with a high fluff content is "not focused on communicating how you can provide products and services."
Schwab, he notes, recently enabled customers to trade their holdings on- line, making the site highly useful. Beneficial's site used to contain nothing but corporate blather, he said, but it has improved.
Initially, Beneficial's Web site was "all about their company," Mr. Freudenstein said. "That, to me, is nice, but so what?"
Now, he said, Beneficial has added a branch locator and has "much more of a business orientation."
Mr. Freudenstein has specifically avoided making "buy" "or" sell recommendations about any of the companies (only paying customers are privy to those judgments) and says he "wouldn't slap a 'clear winner' title on anybody."
He also says the Internet is so young that companies should not be judged by their Web sites, most of which change constantly.
"There's experience to be gained, and there are limited expectations for what you can do on the Web," Mr. Freudenstein said, "so it's sort of the ideal time to be experimenting."