Deposit growth may be a banking bright spot now that the lure of the bull market has faded, but keeping those dollars poses its own challenge.
At Citizens National Bank of Evans City, a 122-year-old, family-owned bank, that's where Web brokerage enters the picture. The bank, with $386 million in assets and 16 branches in western Pennsylvania, sees the investment as pure defense of its very local turf.
The chairman, whom everybody calls Buzz, is S.J. Irvine 3d. His grandfather, S.J. Irvine, founded the bank, and his daughter, Margaret Irvine, is president.
Buzz Irvine has worked at the bank for 46 years, and spent 28 of them as chief executive officer before turning the reins over last year to Donald S. Shamey, who worked his way up from management trainee over 26 years.
Small-town history aside, the bank has a clientele heavy on the elderly and well-off yuppies who commute to Pittsburgh. Not exactly fast to the Internet, it introduced online banking in February of last year but pitches itself as an early community bank adopter of Web trading. The service was brought online May 1 and is run through a brokerage that Citizens began working with in 1998, Commonwealth Financial Network.
"We are proud to say that Citizens is one of the first and only community banks we know of to provide online trading services to our customers," Mr. Shamey said.
Citizens Bank has eight full-time financial planners and 250 customers working with Commonwealth brokerage, which is licensed in only 10 states. But the bank has big plans for this arm of the business, arguing that the busy commuters it wants to court and retain will be receptive to online trading. Ideally, the Internet offering - which complements online banking and bill pay - will keep customers from bolting for the area's bigger banks.
When the stock market rose so high, Citizens decided it was time to offer the brokerage service on the Internet, to encourage people to keep their money under the bank's management rather than withdrawing their deposits to invest elsewhere.
"We were concerned that if we did not offer online trading, our deposits would leave the bank, so online trading is a retention device," said Cathy Questiaux, vice president of marketing at Citizens.
Ms. Questiaux said the bank serves a lot of people with long commutes who are eager to do self-service banking. "Expanding into online brokerage is a way of reaching that market," she said.
The online brokerage comes a year after Citizens introduced online banking to its 20,000 retail households. Citizens National Bank offers free online banking, and online bill payment for $5.25 per month.
To get a Citizens brokerage account you needs to open a $2,000 money market account with Commonwealth Financial Network. Customers pay $29.95 per online trade (up to 1,000 shares), plus 3 cents per share over 1,000. Brokerage customers can use the site to see their transaction history and check their portfolio.
Ms. Questiaux said most of their online banking customers are in their thirties and forties, and have above-average incomes. "We anticipate that same type of customer will move over and start to use online brokerage," she said.
The bank hopes to achieve the same success as its larger peers. "Our research has told us that brick-and-mortar investment houses are getting most of their online brokerage customers from their existing customer base who want to do more self service, whereas E-Trade is getting brand new customers," Ms. Questiaux said. "Being more brick-and-mortar, we are anticipating that most of our new customers will come through our existing customer base."
Larger institutions have seen success in pursuing the symbiotic relationship between online banking and online trading; E-Trade Group said its E-Trade Bank contributed 61% of revenue in the slow-trading fourth quarter. But smaller banks such as $14 billion-asset People's Bank of Bridgeport, Conn., have also benefited from an integrated online banking and brokerage.
Since People's integrated its online banking and securities division in 1999, brokerage customer sign-ups have risen 42%, to 35,000. Twenty percent of those customers now trade online, compared with 15% who bank online. And though they account for only one-fifth of the bank's brokerage customers overall, Web customers execute half of People's Securities' trades.
At Citizens National, most people who have signed up for the brokerage service so far were already banking customers of Citizens, but a few have come to the bank through the brokerage first, said bank vice president Mark Ambrose.
Citizens hired Mr. Ambrose, a financial planner, in 1997 to help set up the brokerage. The program is "expanding rapidly," he said, and, since its introduction, has enhanced the bank's noninterest income.
"We see the online brokerage as just another progressive extension of our business," Mr. Ambrose said.