Taking advantage of growth and "turbulence" in the Atlanta market, Wachovia Corp. launched an aggressive bid for new accounts in Georgia with a $100 cash-back offer on selected products.
Wachovia, which is based in Winston-Salem, N.C., ran ads in weekend editions of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, offering the $100 bonus until June 1 on premium checking accounts, money market accounts, brokerage accounts with checking privileges, and home equity lines of credit. Except for the checking account, which has no minimum balance, all the offers require a minimum $10,000 deposit or credit line.
Wachovia's move follows earlier initiatives by two competitors. In February, SunTrust Banks Inc., Atlanta, introduced a money market account with a 6.5% yield on balances of $10,000 or more. The two-month campaign proved expensive, but yielded about $2 billion of new deposits for SunTrust, according to the bank's first-quarter earnings report.
Charlotte, N.C.,-based First Union Corp. introduced a $50 cash-back promotion last month for customers who maintained a balance of at least $1,000 for 90 days in an interest-bearing checking account.
While SunTrust marketed its account throughout a three-state territory, First Union and Wachovia have targeted their promotions exclusively to customers in Georgia, particularly the booming Atlanta region.
"There's clearly an opportunity there to attract new customers because of the growth dimension as well as the turbulence dimension in that marketplace," said Gary Thompson, president and chief executive of Wachovia Bank of Georgia. "It's important for us to have an aggressive posture to take advantage of that."
By "turbulence," Mr. Thompson was alluding to several acquisitions that took place last year in the Atlanta area, most noticeably NationsBank Corp.'s takeover of Bank South Corp.
Mr. Thompson said Wachovia, which ranks No. 2 in Atlanta market share with 15% of the area's deposits, was more interested in acquiring customer relationships than deposits per se. He said Wachovia expected the $100 cash-back promotion to be profitable to the company, despite the large up-front cost.
"We believe the acquisition value of an account would cover this cost," he said.
The fine print in Wachovia's ads says that the bank reserves the right to deduct the bonus from account balances if the new account is closed within six months.
Unlike First Union, which offered its $50 bonus only to customers who opened their accounts by phone, Wachovia allows customers to open the new accounts by phone or by visiting a branch. "I felt we had to make it available through all channels to let the customer choose how they want to do business with us," Mr. Thompson said.
Both Wachovia and First Union are heavily promoting telephone banking services, which provide a cheaper delivery channel for banks than traditional branches.