A marketing firm called Encirq Corp. is asking banks and brokerages to turn their customers' monthly online statements into virtual advertising billboards featuring merchant logos, links, and special offers people can click on.
The three-year-old San Francisco company says that its trademarked Illuminated Statement tailors offers and ads to consumers according to the content of their billing statements. Someone whose credit card bill showed several purchases of toys or baby goods, for example, would get offers meant for new parents.
Encirq says its technology does not violate privacy: Consumers would participate voluntarily by downloading software from their card-issuing banks, and any personal identification data would stay on their computers, where no third party could see it.
The technology helps banks turn monthly statements from a cost center into a "marketing opportunity that places your company at the center of your customers' e-commerce activities," Encirq says.
Recently, 150 employees and customers of Bank of Hawaii conducted a two-month pilot of Encirq's technology. Each downloaded a small application, or applet, from the bank's Web site to a personal computer. There, the applet began building a profile of each customer according to his or her spending habits, and filtered in advertisements accordingly.
Mary Carryer, vice chairman of Pacific Century Financial Corp., Bank of Hawaii's parent company, participated in the pilot and said she enjoyed it. "The ads weren't as targeted as you would want them to be, but I was quite surprised at how often I would go back and click through just because it was on my screen," she said. "It would say, 'Would you like our catalogue?' and I would do it. Then I would think, 'Gee, I never would have done that before.' "
Ms. Carryer said customers who would use the service are probably fairly trusting of Internet security. "While we as banks do get terribly concerned about privacy, some of our customers are less concerned," she Carryer said. "I think anyone who is already looking at their credit card statement on the Internet is not going to be so worried."
Bank of Hawaii said it needed to make some system enhancements before it could offer Encirq's technology to customers.
Encirq's founders come from the banking industry. The company spent two years quietly developing its product, which it introduced in May. In September it raised $37 million from such firms as Chase Capital Partners and GE Capital.
Jay Dean, vice president of marketing at Encirq, said his company's system benefits merchants, which can place numerous ads on Encirq's server and code each one for a different consumer profile. It also helps banks make the most of their databases, he said.
"Financial institutions are sitting on a land mine of information," Mr. Dean said. "They can't sell it to marketers, since it's legally protected data, but they can still turn it into a revenue source."
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