A Philadelphia savings bank's investment in a fledgling banking Web site has one shareholder crying foul.
John Wilson Spence 3d, general partner of Spence Limited LP in Nashville, is demanding that Jade Financial Corp. in Feasterville, Pa., release its shareholder list so that he can voice his concerns to other investors.
Mr. Spence issued his protest in a tartly worded news release last week after learning "through the grapevine'' that Jade had sunk $2 million into BankZip.com, which is to begin operating in May and bills itself on its Web site as "the world's first Internet banking alliance designed specifically for community banks.''
He argued that Jade, the $202 million-asset parent of IGA Federal Savings Bank, should have notified shareholders before making such a large investment.
"On-line banking is a highly risky, highly competitive industry,'' Mr. Spence said in an interview this week. "I do not see anything in Jade's background indicating that they have any expertise there.''
Nearly a week after making his demand, Mr. Spence said he had yet to receive Jade's shareholder list. "They are acting like turtles, sticking their heads in their shells at the first sign of adversity,'' he said.
Domenic A. DiPillo, Jade's vice president for marketing, said Tuesday that Mr. Spence would get a copy of the shareholder list "in due time,'' provided his request conforms to Securities and Exchange Commission regulations. Mr. DiPillo declined to comment further.
Jade went public in October, selling more than 1.8 million shares on the Nasdaq at $8 each. The initial public offering netted Jade more than $14 million.
Mr. Spence said he purchased 27,000 shares but he has since sold 5,000. Shares were trading at $13.375 Thursday afternoon, down from a high of $13.50 on Feb. 7.
IGA Federal is one of four banks that have joined BankZip.com. The others - all in Pennsylvania - are Madison Bank in Blue Bell, First Penn Bank in Philadelphia, and Patriot Bank in Pottstown, the site's founder.
Patriot sold its controlling interest in BankZip.com in December to protect itself from losses the venture is almost certain to incur - a prospect that apparently has not deterred Jade and other investors. BankZip.com has attracted investment capital of $14 million and is close to completing a private placement that would yield an additional $25 million, its president, Richard A. Elko, said this week.
BankZip.com promises member banks exclusive use of the Web site in their operating areas, as defined by ZIP codes. The base annual fee is $25,000, but bigger banks will pay more.
The venture plans aggressive marketing to enroll banks as well as banking customers, Mr. Elko said. When customers join, BankZip.com will refer them to member banks in their ZIP codes.
"We believe Jade has made a very prudent investment,'' Mr. Elko said. "It may turn out to be the best thing they ever did.''
Jade's board is scheduled to convene April 27, and Mr. Spence said he would have a representative attend. He acknowledged that his stake in Jade is not big but said he intends to press his case nonetheless. "It is a point of principle,'' he said.