Synovus Financial Corp. is gearing up to go virtual.

The Columbus, Ga., company, with $10.8 billion of assets, has named a president and chief executive officer of, an Internet-only bank it plans to launch in the second quarter of 2000. It also is getting ready for a pilot test this month of a separate Internet service for current banking customers.

The new "dot-com" enterprise is to offer the competitively priced products that have become standard banking fare on the Internet. It also plans to offer products tailored for specific customers' needs, said Lisa L. White, the newly appointed CEO.

Anne Dawahare, Synovus' chief information officer, said, "We are not trying to be everywhere all at once in the same way."

The banking company has begun surveying customers to identify target markets and the best products for them. The intent is to ensure "the right Internet offering will be made to the right people," Ms. Dawahare said.

With both and the OnLine Access service for existing customers, "we are working on a number of new product offerings, some of them completely new to the Internet," Ms. Dawahare said.

Octavio Marenzi, research director at Meridien Research in Newton, Mass., said Internet banks face the challenge of providing financial products "beyond bread-and-butter banking services" to distinguish themselves.

So far, branchless banks have promoted their convenience and savings rates, he said. "If banks reduce competition to a price war," he added, "they are going to drive each other out of business."

He said banks should also use the Internet as a tool to get to know their customers better and sell financial services more effectively.

Synovus will offer its OnLine Access service to customers at its 38 affiliate banks in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and South Carolina.

Beyond the Southeast, "we will look at states with demographic needs that Synovus can fill," Ms. White said.

Synovus will do the OnLine Access pilot test at Vanguard Bank and Trust in Valparaiso, Fla., chosen for its proximity to an Air Force base. Customers in the military, who travel frequently and often relocate to other bases, would not have to give up their Synovus banking relationship with every move, Ms. Dawahare said.

OnLine Access will initially offer basic checking, savings, and certificates of deposit. Eventually it will add a bill payment and presentment service; credit cards; mortgage and home equity loans; and trust, brokerage, and other services. The full range of OnLine Access offerings is to be made available before the launching of

OnLine Access will be a test of security and privacy for, Ms. Dawahare said. Synovus also will track customer reactions and "really tweak it" for the Internet-only launching.

Both and OnLine Access are to use Security First Technologies' on-line banking platform, Virtual Bank Manager, delivered through M&I Data Services of Milwaukee, along with BroadVision Inc. personalization tools.

Bill payments will be processed by M&I through its recently acquired Travelers Express unit. Credit card processing will be handled by Total System Services, an 80.8%-owned Synovus subsidiary.

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