With barely a month of banking experience under its belt, a small Indianapolis company with a focus on brokerage said it plans to compete as an Internet bank.
Unified Financial Inc. opened its Unified Banking unit in Lexington, Ky., last month and said it expects to bring it on-line next spring as part of its Unified.com financial Web site. Like its much larger competitor, E-Trade Group Inc., Unified is aiming to become a full-service, high-tech financial services company, offering everything from checking accounts to stock trading on-line.
Buddy Bryant, chief executive of Unified Banking Co., said, "When somebody comes to Unified.com, there really should be no reason for them to leave."
Unified Banking, with $10 million of assets, plans to introduce on-line banking by April 1, Mr. Bryant said. The on-line bank, which would share a charter with its brick-and-mortar parent, must first get Office of Thrift Supervision approval, he said.
Mr. Bryant said the on-line bank will try to expand its regional presence and then gradually promote itself nationally.
Several big-name brokerage houses already offer banking services on the Internet, and a handful of regional and money-center banking companies offer stock brokerage on their Web sites. The field of full-service, on-line providers will become even more crowded early next year when E-Trade of Menlo Park, Calif., is expected to complete its $1.8 billion purchase of Arlington, Va.-based Telebanc Financial Corp.
Russ Hunt, a vice president at Kendrick Pierce, a Tampa investment bank that advises Unified, said he is confident it can eventually become an Internet powerhouse along the lines of Telebanc or Alpaharetta, Ga.-based Net.Bank. He said Unified's growing customer base and a management team experienced in Internet banking should help it compete.
"There are some pretty smart people around this," he said.
Dan Burke, an analyst at Gomez Advisors Inc. in Lincoln, Mass., said it is unclear whether Unified's one-stop shop approach can work. "There's definitely some integration issues there when you talk about banking and brokerage under one roof," he said.
For its on-line bank to succeed, Unified must make sure it doesn't sacrifice performance for convenience, Mr. Burke said. "If the pieces aren't as good as customers can get elsewhere," then customers will not go to the site, he said. "Convenience alone is not going to be the main motivator."
Another challenge for Unified will be getting out the word.
With just $26 million of annual revenues - compared with $621 million for Telebanc's future parent, E-Trade - Unified Financial has a limited advertising budget. It plans to promote the bank through relationships with such partners as Copernic 2000, an on-line search engine.
Dave Koto, a technology consultant at Brintech Inc. in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., said he doubts Unified can stand out on a national scale when some competitors are spending millions to promote themselves.
"If they are going to be an Internet bank and they are looking at going after the retail customer nationwide, they need to be spending between $50 million and $150 million," he said.