West Virginia's One Valley Bancorp said it intends to offer its customers Internet access to push more of them into banking on-line.
Starting in August, the Charleston-based company said, it will offer Internet access through Intelos, a business unit of CFW Communications Co., Waynesboro, Va. The agreement is to give One Valley customers unlimited Internet access for $16.95 a month.
"We are trying to encourage our customers to use the Internet," said Brian J. Fox, chief technology officer at One Valley Bank, the $6.1 billion-asset company's bank subsidiary. "The Internet is an important delivery channel, and we want to do what we can to encourage our customers to take advantage of it."
One Valley, which operates 125 branches in West Virginia and Virginia, said it plans to introduce on-line banking and an Internet brokerage service this fall. "The more customers we have that are on-line, the quicker these services will be used," Mr. Fox said.
Intelos, in turn, gets a large potential customer base.
One Valley will also get an undisclosed portion of the monthly access fee, which Mr. Fox said will go toward marketing the service.
Mr. Fox said he hopes the arrangement will lead to other opportunities. For example, he would like to see One Valley play a role in developing a Web site with information and resources for local people.
Though such arrangements are uncommon, One Valley is not the first bank to become partners with an access provider. National Commerce Bancorp in Memphis, for example, teamed up with Atlanta's BellSouth Corp. last year to offer discounts on electronic bill payment and on-line banking.
Industry experts said similar partnerships should emerge as more banks realize that pushing customers on-line can save money-such transactions can cost as little as one-tenth as much as a branch visit-and also make the bank look cutting-edge in the eyes of its customers.
"The bank has a chance to present itself as being Internet-savvy and at the same time make it easier for customers to go on-line and use its services," said Dave Koto, executive vice president of Brintech Inc., a New Smyrna Beach, Fla., technology consulting firm. "Every bank should be looking for a partner to provide Internet access. It's a no-brainer."
Other banking companies have gone as far as buying Internet service providers. For example, City Holding Co., an in-town rival of One Valley, last year bought one of West Virginia's largest access providers, CityNet. The $2.8 billion-asset company offers deposit customers Internet access for $12.95 per month, cheaper than CityNet's rates for nonbank customers. CityNet has opened an average of 2,000 Internet accounts per month since the banking company bought it.
Mr. Fox said One Valley was considering a partnership with an Internet service provider well before City National Bank, a unit of City Holding, made its move.
"We had been thinking about working with an Internet partner, but we did not want to acquire a service provider ourselves," he said. "We wanted to leave the technology side of this to the people who know it best."