With its trademark dispute with U.S. Bancorp behind it (see story on page 6), USABancshares.com is pursuing a novel way of getting customers through its on-line doors.
Through arrangements with PC manufacturers and distributors it is putting its icon directly onto the screens of personal computers. The tactic of claiming space on the screen where customers log on puts it one step ahead of banks that have angled for a presence on the sites of heavily trafficked Internet portals.
"We're not the Internet bank with the most money to spend on advertising, so we have to be versatile and creative," said Kenneth L. Tepper, president and chief executive officer of USABancshares.com, which was carved from a Philadelphia-based community bank. "We need to generate traffic to the site through reliably effective channels."
USABancshares has arranged to fasten its icon, which links directly to the bank's Web site, to the screens of personal computers manufactured and distributed through Systemax Inc. of Port Washington, N.Y., and Microworkz.com Corp. of Palo Alto, Calif.
Systemax, a Fortune 1000 company, has distributed more than 500,000 private-label and brand-name PCs since late 1997 through electronic commerce Web sites, direct mail catalogs, and relationship marketing. Microworkz.com manufactures iToaster, a computer designed purely for Internet access. USABancshares is evaluating similar partnerships with other hardware companies.
After the initial 150,000 PCs distributed by Systemax, USABancshares will determine whether to proceed with the agreement based on the number of accounts opened through that connection.
The bank also plans to launch a series of co-branded sites with Internet service providers. It plans to offer incentives for signing up for on-line banking and brokerage, along with ISP services. Mr. Tepper said Earthlink, which owns warrants for 3% of USABancshares, is a potential ISP partner.
Other banks have similar arrangements. Mississippi's Lamar Bank offers low-cost computers and discounted Internet access through deals with Howard Industries, a privately held computer manufacturer in Laurel, Miss., and the mobile phone giant Cellular One.
Britton & Koontz First National Bank of Natchez, Miss., and City National Bank of Charleston, W.Va., own Internet service providers, allowing them to offer free or discounted Internet connections to customers.
"While conventional advertising is always important, banner ads or billboards can't compare to the power of the desktop," Mr. Tepper said.
USABancshares.com nonetheless is pursuing a multi-media marketing campaign. In June it began campaigning in 14 U.S. cities on advertisements aired during Howard Stern's radio show. In August, it committed $1 million to a two-month campaign on the cable television channels CNBC and MSNBC. It also advertises on billboards and in publications.
Internet banks are becoming more creative in their efforts to reach new customers as competition heats up, said Robert J. Martin, an analyst with Friedman, Billings and Ramsey. He predicts a "severe shakeout" among Internet banks, in which prices and service will determine the victors.