Looking for an edge in on-line banking, Fleet Financial Group has agreed to sponsor an educational Web site.
The site, called the Family Education Network, aims to unite parents in local communities by providing on-line meeting places for each of the country's 16,409 public school districts.
More than 100 school districts already participate, and another 1,000 organizations-including some private schools-have expressed interest.
As a sponsor, Fleet is permitted to advertise on the network. The banking company also sees opportunities to offer financial services through sections of the site devoted to college planning.
Robert B. Hedges, senior vice president of Fleet's direct financial services group, called the partnership with Family Education Network "an effective and powerful fusion of strategic commitments."
Fleet's role in the site is an example of how banks are trying to maintain their profiles in the communities they serve-even as more of their business migrates to electronic channels.
"This new partnership puts Fleet at the forefront of building new electronic communities," said Mr. Hedges.
Created by the for-profit Family Education Co. of Boston, the site will be supported by advertisements and informational content provided by the site's sponsors.
In addition to Fleet, which contributed at least $100,000, sponsors include AT&T, Century 21, Scott Foresman Addison Wesley, MediaOne, and U.S. West.
With an eye toward stimulating parent involvement, the site offers a wealth of information about local schools including lunch menus and sports scores. In addition, discussions of regional and national education issues are available for parents whose schools are not yet on the network.
"Education really is a community issue, so we are trying to foster a dialogue among communities where parents can talk about the best educational practices," said David Faschetti, senior vice president of Family Education, originally a small publishing company.
Among the site's 20 "channels" are sections that help parents and students prepare for college.
Fleet sees opportunity in this area. It plans to post on the Web a video about teens and money for secondary schools in the northeastern United States. The video will reinforce the bank's brand and give it a foot in the door for selling loans, on-line banking services, and demand-deposit accounts.
The network "is a perfect example of an emerging market on-line," said Blaise Heltai, senior vice president of Fleet's on-line financial services. "Families will be looking on-line for information about their children and their children's education."
The network appealed to Fleet because it concentrates on parents with young children, a group that the bank covets.
"This is an untapped niche," said Mr. Heltai. "No one has pulled together families of school-aged children the way the American Association of Retired Persons has pulled the retired community together," he said.
"Children are one of the key events that triggers financial and investment decisions," he added.
Fleet, one of 18 bank owners of the Integrion Financial Network and one of seven financial institution owners of Meca Software, has been working hard to project an Internet-savvy image. The Family Education Network will further that goal.
Officials at the $83.4 billion-asset company said they hope to target other on-line-oriented communities, including college students and small businesses, through partnerships with the college-oriented Web site of U.S. News & World Report and a section of the media-produced Boston.com focusing on emerging businesses.
"The Web is a grand experiment because it is growing so fast and its rules are changing," said Mr. Heltai.
"But we think there are ways to do business in new and useful ways. It is clear that it is here to stay."