Now that Tightwad Bank in Missouri has piqued the interest of tightwads nationwide, it aims to turn more of them into customers.
The bank has garnered national publicity in the last few weeks, featured in The Washington Post and on AOL.com and National Public Radio. Since then, said Donald Higdon, its chairman, the $14.2 million-asset Tightwad has picked up customers from New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming, with more coming in each day.
As the media wave fades, the bank hopes to use its name and newfound fame to stretch itself beyond the two tiny towns, including its namesake, that it serves.
"That's part of the plan, but we have no grand expectations," Mr. Higdon said in an interview. "We can survive at the size we are, but the opportunity to grow is there."
The bank's assets have grown about 7% since the end of the first quarter, when it officially became Tightwad Bank. Before that it was Reading State Bank in Reading, Kan., a small commercial bank in a small town (population 250) that Mr. Higdon and his business partner Jeff McCalmon bought in 2000. In 2007 the partners bought a shuttered branch building from UMB Financial Corp. in the town of Tightwad, population 63, and renamed the bank, which officially is based in Reading.
"We thought it could be kind of fun from a marketing standpoint," Mr. Higdon said. "So many community banks have horribly boring, common names."
Mr. Higdon said he is replacing the bank's decidedly low-tech Web site, currently topped with a rainbow-colored "under construction" notice, with a new one designed by Goldleaf Financial Solutions. (As Reading State, it did not even have a Web site.) At first the relaunched site will be informational. A planned second phase is to incorporate some online banking services.
Currently its far-flung customers do their banking with Tightwad by mail. It is counting on the Web site to not only serve its existing customers, but also to help convert those who are amused by the name into customers, Mr. Higdon said.
Steve Ellis, a partner with Change Sciences Group Inc., a New York consulting firm, said the Internet has allowed rural banks to attract or retain customers they might otherwise have lost.
"In states where there is low population and a wide geographic area, it gives them the ability to serve a much larger audience," he said. The name "could actually be a great way to drive people to the Web site," Mr. Ellis said.
"There is some humor in the brand and that could be appealing to some people," he said. "But a bank can't strictly differentiate itself by having a humorous brand. There has to be some follow-through."
Mr. Higdon said that, while the name is meant to be lighthearted, the company is building itself around basic, low-cost products and services.
"We must demonstrate to our customers that we are not only a real bank, but that we also provide good products at a good value," he said. "We are not going to do credit cards, we are not going to do insurance, we are not going to try to sell you other stuff. We are basing ourselves on good, reasonable loan and deposit products with interest rates better than most."
Mr. Higdon said he also realizes that some out-of-area customers will not choose Tightwad as their primary institution, but rather because they want checks or debit cards that carry the Tightwad name. The company is also selling Tightwad T-shirts, coffee mugs, and debit gift cards.
Steven Reider, the president of Bancography, a consulting firm in Birmingham, Ala., said the concept of building fee income through people who open accounts for the novelty value of the name is fine. But he said the "gimmicky" handle might prove to be an obstacle for the company.
"I wouldn't want my institution's name to be a punch line," Mr. Reider said. "Consumers take their financial services very seriously, and this just seems too irreverent."
Mr. Higdon said he realizes the name has negative connotations and that not everyone will be react positively to it.
"There is some reception out there against being a non-spendthrift," he said. "But really, you ought to be saving your money."