Bank of Scotland is joining forces with televangelist Pat Robertson in an attempt to crack the U.S. retail banking market.
The Edinburgh-based bank and the fundamentalist minister announced plans Tuesday to charter a national bank that would take deposits through the mail and let customers bank by phone and automated teller machine.
The venture would rely on Mr. Robertson's popularity-as well as higher rates for savers-to attract consumer business. His Christian Broadcasting Network reaches some 70 million cable television households, which the joint venture views as its potential reach.
For the $97 billion-asset Bank of Scotland, the strategy is similar to the one it used to enter the hotly competitive English banking market. In 1997 the bank teamed up with the British supermarket chain J. Sainsbury to offer shoppers everything from savings accounts to credit cards to mortgages.
That venture, dubbed Sainsbury's Bank, now has more than 900,000 accounts.
The Robertson bank, which would not have brick-and-mortar branches, would be a subsidiary of Bank of Scotland, with Mr. Robertson holding a "significant minority interest." Mr. Robertson would be chairman of the bank, which filed applications Tuesday with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and Federal Reserve system.
The new bank has not yet been named, though its executives say its moniker would not have a religious element.
M&I Data Services, a subsidiary of Marshall & Ilsley Corp., Milwaukee, would provide all back-office operations and a customer call center for the new bank. M&I said it would add 300 employees to service the bank, which is expected to open this summer.
As banks struggle to gain customer loyalty through building their brands, Bank of Scotland may have come up with the ultimate branding strategy, said Allen Adamson, a managing director with Landor Associates, a brand consulting firm in New York.
"Banks are not held in the highest esteem," said Mr. Adamson. Mr. Robertson "has an unbelievably fanatically loyal following."
Other observers saw the proposed bank as one more example of how financial services competition can emerge suddenly and from practically anywhere.
"This is one more small wave in a big sea," said Donald Taylor, president of FISI-Madison Financial in Nashville.
"Now you've got the religions getting into the financial backyard," said Brannon Cashion, vice president of Addison Whitney Inc., a corporate identity consulting firm based in Charlotte, N.C.
Neither Bank of Scotland nor Mr. Robertson plan to limit their clientele to those who tune in to Mr. Robertson's network. "It's not designed to appeal strictly to the Christian audience," said a Bank of Scotland spokesman.
"This should appeal to the average American," said C.A. Volder 3d, adviser to Mr. Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network in Virginia Beach.
Much of the bank's marketing plan has yet to be disclosed. Mr. Volder, a former banker, said the bank will compete partly on price.
"There will be a premium paid on all savings accounts because what we have is efficiency without all this overhead," he said. The new bank would operate nationwide and would initially focus on offering savings accounts and certificates of deposit.
Bank of Scotland is betting that Mr. Robertson's conservative political appeal will also draw customers. He ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988.
The new bank's headquarters would be in Stamford, Conn. The chief executive would be William Hendry, who now heads Bank of Scotland's $4 billion-asset U.S. operations. Bank of Scotland has been in the United States since the mid-1970s.
The idea for the new venture came as a fluke. Mr. Robertson was seeking financing from Bank of Scotland last April when he broached the idea with bank officials. Marshall & Ilsley officials said they have been talking to both parties since last fall.
Mr. Robertson, who has formed a subsidiary called Robertson Financial Services Inc., was a longtime director of United Virginia Bank in Norfolk. He resigned from the board in 1989, Mr. Volder said.