Executives at the Internet-only 1st Virtual Inc. are about to find out just how many friends Dan Marino has.
The former Miami Dolphins quarterback, who most recently has been working as a businessman and philanthropist, was scheduled to announce Thursday evening at a catered press conference that he will invite his many deep-pocketed pals in southern Florida to open accounts at a private-label Internet bank he has opened Marino Virtual Bank, an arm of 1st Virtual, of North Palm Beach.
Engaging Mr. Marino as a marketing front man is not the first step in an overt strategy to seek relationships with celebrity athletes, said Courtney McCashland, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of 1st Virtual Bank. Rather, the bank has found that its strategy of targeting wealthy employees of high-tech companies can only go so far, since high-tech firms can supply only so many super-wealthy individuals.
Mr. Marino was an early investor in 1st Virtual, which already runs an Internet bank that targets wealthy people, and his friendship with its chief executive officer, Rory Brown, led to the hatching of Marino Virtual Bank.
The National Football League recordholder will receive a finders fee for every account opened by a friend of Dan. He plans to donate those fees to various charities that he runs, including the Dan Marino Foundation, which supports treatment programs for children with chronic illnesses and developmental disabilities.
Marino Virtual Bank will seek out the wealthy and charity-minded businesspeople, investors, and athletes who run in Mr. Marinos social circles in south Florida. The hope is that the future Hall of Famer will attract more of the types of people whom 1st Virtual is seeking as customers for its CMS Wealth Management subsidiary: those with at least $2 million of investable assets.
We believe well get some fans, but were using more his network to get to high-end individuals, Ms. McCashland said.
The new banks Web site, at http://marino.virtualbank.com, welcomes visitors to the Marino private banking center.
1st Virtual runs the risk of attracting customers through the Marino bank who may worship the football luminary, but would never be invited to the same parties he attends. For these regular fans, 1st Virtual runs its basic VirtualBank service, separate from its wealth management business, which so far has collected $300 million of assets.
The basic Internet bank serves an important role in the overall operation by providing a best-practices test bed for 1st Virtuals products and technology infrastructure, Ms. McCashland said. But VirtualBank is not a business that it is trying to grow significantly, she said. Were not trying to add huge volume. Were going for quality, not quantity.
Marino Virtual Bank is part of an effort to realign 1st Virtuals affinity relationships to better attract the really rich. So far fewer than 100 of its customers have at least $2million to invest. On average, however, these customers have $20 million of assets under management and have contributed greatly to 1st Virtuals earnings, which were first reported Thursday.
The private company said its first-quarter net income increased 454% from a year earlier, making 1st Virtual one of the first Internet banks to become profitable within its first year of operation. Ms. McCashland attributed its success to its technical prowess and focused marketing approach.
That approach is about to get even more focused. Through its VirtualBank subsidiary, 1st Virtual has established banking relationships with four high-tech firms Compaq Computer Corp., EMC Corp., Textron Financial Corp., and Worldcom Inc. and it wants only three or four more, Ms. McCashland said.
The slow-growth approach will let it concentrate on building its existing relationships, while pursuing others with professional firms that have a greater percentage of highly paid employees who would qualify for 1st Virtuals wealth management services, Ms. McCashland said.
She mentioned Deloitte & Touche, Arthur Andersen, and Credit Suisse First Boston Corp. as examples of the types of firms 1st Virtual is more actively seeking for affinity relationships.
1st Virtuals January acquisition of Capital Management Strategies Financial Services Inc. of Rockville, Md., a one-office, 40-employee wealth management company, gave it a significant boost toward this goal. The acquisition helped 1st Virtuals first-quarter assets under management rise 93% during the quarter, to $2.8 billion.
Competition for the Internet banking business of the really wealthy is confined to a relatively small number of new, but capable companies. An online investment and banking service for wealthy individuals, backed by HSBC Holdings PLC and Merrill Lynch & Co., just launched this week in the United Kingdom.
In the United States, the star power of Mr. Marino is up against that of Jim Clark, who founded three successful Silicon Valley businesses, including Netscape Communications, before starting myCFO.com, a wealth management service that combines Internet access to account data and tools with financial advice from experienced professionals.
As of the end of last year myCFO had 310 clients worth $44 billion, up from only 40 clients 18 months earlier.
Like Mr. Marino hopes to be, Mr. Clark is a draw for many of myCFOs customers. In its case, the clients tend to be fellow high-ranking, entrepreneurial executives who earned their millions and billions through high-tech ventures.
Both 1st Virtual and myCFO are putting in place networks of financial advisers to provide personalized advice, but theres no getting around the fact that their offerings rely heavily on the Internet as a mode of delivery. Whether that approach will appeal to the really wealthy still seems questionable.
In a survey conducted last summer by Spectrem Group, a Chicago-based consulting firm specializing in research of the affluent, 39% of people with net worth of more than $1 million turned to the Internet to conduct some type of financial transaction mostly to make a purchase with a credit card. Only 23% used the Internet to obtain financial advice.
Strikingly, the percentage of wealthy respondents who traded online a group considered the most likely to move their entire financial lives to the Web numbered only 14%.
Even though the Internet is loaded with financial advice, it has still increased the need for in-person advice and changed the nature of advice, said Judy Danielson, consulting director at Spectrum. People are not ready to go to online only.
Ian Rubin, director of online financial services research at International Data Corp., said that the type of person who would get actively involved in managing their own money over the Internet is usually too busy making money to do so.
On the plus side, the Internet offers tremendous advantages in an institutions ability to target new types of customers, he said. With minimal effort, the Internet allows you to be very nimble in going after the right segments, he said.
So if 1st Virtual can get X% of the friends of Dan, a wealthy man with a wealthy circle of friends, then theyll be successful, Mr. Rubin said.