Deposits, Checking, Savings, CDs Archives

The Best Time to Sign Up New College-Student Checking Accounts? High School or Earlier

By Jim Bruene on September 2, 2014 1:06 PM | Comments

image I'm just back from delivering my son to his first year of college. It was our second go-round, so most of the process was familiar. But one noticeable difference: No financial institutions on campus were seen signing up new student checking accounts. While it may just be the policy on this particular campus, selling checking accounts to college freshman is a dying practice (note 1).

In a digital banking world, there is little reason for an 18-year old to start a new bank account at a financial institution near their college. In fact, it might even be a poor choice. What's the most important feature of a student bank account? No, it's not ATMs, low fees or even a killer mobile-app. While those are desirable, the key feature, at least for kids still supported from home, is integration with their parents' account for funds transfers and money management.

And the best way to get seamless integration is to open a companion account at the same bank/CU as mom and/or dad. So instead of sponsoring a booth on campus to pick up a bunch of low-dollar, money-losing, student checking accounts, FIs should concentrate on getting all their customers' kids banking needs set up prior to college (for example, see F&M Bank teen banking account below). Then when you know you have a high-school senior on your books, help the family with the MUCH, MUCH bigger issue, financing those four years of advanced learning.


F&M Bank's Varsity Checking is geared towards teens aged 12 to 17 (link
Note: The bank offers a downloadable financial education guide




1. I'm using the term "checking" account loosely here. Really, all most kids need is a debit card which does not allow overdrafting. Though, in the USA, the ability to write the occasional paper check is still a nice feature.
2. Varsity Debit card pictured is part of the Varsity Banking student package account from Farmers & Merchants Bank in California.


The Surprising Banking Giant Behind New Savings Site Sumday

By Jim Bruene on August 5, 2014 10:18 AM | Comments

BNY's homepage

Last week, the Internet discovered an interesting new savings site called Sumday (note 1). It has responsive design, a cute intro video, and social media integration. But it also has something that few trendy fintech plays have, a $230 billion dollar parent, BNY Mellon. 

I've published something like 2 million words about retail banking and technology and this may be the first time "BNY Mellon" (or Bank of New York) has appeared. Not because they aren't a good company, but its specialities, corporate banking and uber-wealth management, rarely fit our editorial coverage. 

But surprisingly, BNY is bankrolling Sumday, a site encouraging beginners to start investing with "as little as $1.00." That's about 6 zeros to the left of the decimal point from where the typical BNY Mellon client usually starts with. All money collected through Sumday is invested in the Dreyfus Basic S&P 500 Stock Index Fund, according to the prospectus accessible in the fine print (the fund is low-cost index offering charging just 20 basis points annually in fees). 

One distinguishing feature of the service, you can automatically add a preset amount of cash whenever you use hashtag #sumday on a tweet. That's a novel feature, but it's unlikely to get much usage (e.g. most people don't want to use precious characters to add a misspelled hashtag to their snarky missives). Still, it's a nice addition to a platform clearly targeting youth. 

Other than that, there is little detail spelled out on the site. It is in closed beta and soliciting email addresses for the waiting list.

Apparently the project is a collaboration with IBM given that the only person on the LinkedIn listing provided by Sumday is a consultant with IBM Interactive Labs. 

Generating Deposits by Working with Fintech Startups

By Jim Bruene on October 4, 2013 5:21 PM | Comments


While the number of U.S. banks working with tech startups is very small, their numbers seem to be growing. Just this week I learned of two:

  • imageSocial Money is using Iowa-based Lincoln Savings Bank ($630 million assets) to hold deposits generated through prepaid card issuers and other clients of its CorePro, API for savings (more on that below).
  • image Zions Bank is holding funds transmitted through stealthy mobile payments startup Clinkle. For a sneak peek at its UX, see this supposedly leaked video.

In addition, the 800-lb guerilla is driving deposits to smaller financial institutions. BancVue, just announced that its clients have refunded $10 million in ATM fees through various rewards checking programs including Kasasa.

Banks working with startups potentially benefit in a number of ways:

  • Unique source of deposits, independent of their traditional customer base/geographic footprint)
  • Exposure to new methods of marketing to younger segments, who often gravitate to startup offerings
  • Access to modern tools and design expertise that would be otherwise unattainable

Finally, it can be an interesting project to work on, benefitting all involved.

Bottom line: Does working with a startup have a positive ROI? Not necessarily. There are many pitfalls, not the least of which is making sure that everything satisfies compliance and regulatory watchdogs. But that just means you'll have less competition and can negotiate better terms. 


Social Money's new CorePro API

image The Des Moines, Iowa-based company has been a leader in the online savings space, launching SmartyPig back in 2008. In total, about $5 billion in transactions have been processed. That has helped add deposits to its partner banks, primarily Compass BBVA, the 15th largest U.S. bank.

Social Money is now offering its powerful savings platform to developers and non-bank financial companies as a Savings API. Features include:

  • Multiple goals within a single savings account
  • Real-time funds transfer (savings account "issuer" must maintain reserve account at Lincoln Savings)
  • Configurable via client admin site
  • 1099 filings

Its simple pricing is fully disclosed on the website:

  • $495 setup
  • $0.39/mo per savings account
  • $0.02 per ACH transfer
  • $3 to $6 per new account authentication

The startup has had interest from other non-bank financial companies such as prepaid card issuers. It's also getting good feedback from mid-size ecommerce companies looking to offer customers an easy way to save money to make a later purchase (think Christmas Club).

The system is currently in final beta testing and is expected to go live in Q1 2014.


Picture credit: Savings page at Lincoln Savings.

1. Watch Social Money demo GoalSaver at FinovateSpring 2012
2. For more insights into how to leverage your online/mobile channel to boost deposits, see our Online Banking Report (Nov 2008, subscription)


BBVA Compass Bundles Microbiz Checking with PAYware Mobile Card Processing

By Jim Bruene on July 30, 2013 7:09 PM | Comments

imageI rarely get a chance to write about checking accounts, so I was glad to see the BBVA Compass announcement on the wires yesterday.

The bank launched a Business Mobility Bundle which has checking, mobile card processing and a free Galaxy Tab 3 Android tablet (wifi-only), a $200 value (note 1). It's a soft bundle (note 2) of the bank's existing e-Business Checking Account and its Merchant Mobility Pack, powered by Verifone PAYware

imageThe checking account is fee-free up to a certain level of activity (note 3). But the optional card-acceptance piece is $24.95/mo, which is waived in this promo for 12 months. The offer is not currently visible on the bank's website, but a link in the press release leads to a landing page with the offer (see first screenshot).

Myimage take: The Business Mobility positioning is excellent, nicely tying two key business products together. The underlying accounts seem to be solid values, and the free Samsung tablet is sure to spark sales. 

However, my initial enthusiasm from the press release was somewhat tempered by the realities of the fine print (see second screenshot, note 1) and overall execution. For example:

  • No online application, it's a call-me form (albeit a good one)
  • Mobile deposit is limited to $1,200 every 30 days
  • Both the free e-Business Checking and the 12-month fee waiver for mobile card acceptance are currently available on the bank's website. There are no added benefits to the Business Mobility Bundle, outside the tablet premium
  • The free tablet is wifi only and sells for $199 online (it's no iPad)

The offer is not currently visible on the BBVA website, even through site search, presumably so it doesn't irk existing customers who cannot get the free tablet.

Bottom line: I like the promotion, although I wish the bundle had more features. For example, mobile banking pre-loaded on the Galaxy; customer service available via Skype; or even higher mobile-deposit limits for those using card processing (note 4).


BBVA Business Mobility landing page (link, 30 July 2013)


Fine print (positioned directly below the screen shown above)



1. Fine print: (A) New small business customers only, 1 per household/biz; (B) Must perform 10 transactions, not including intrabank funds transfers, within 30 days of account opening; (C) $100 minimum opening deposit
2. I just made up that term, but what I mean is that the customer is not required to add the Merchant Mobility piece to qualify for the free Samsung tablet. The checking account alone earns the premium.
3. Transaction limits before fees kick in:
- 50 items processed
- 2 in-branch deposits
- 5 processed checks and/or in-branch withdrawals
- $5,000 cash processing
In addition, mobile deposit has stingy initial limits of $500 max per item and only $1,200 max every 30 days  
4. The landing page could use more powerful visuals showing the BBVA mobile app and/or PAYware dongle in use.


The Simple Finance Game or "Hiding PFM in Plain Sight"

By Jim Bruene on June 13, 2013 7:16 PM | Comments

image I've written thousands and thousands of words about personal finance management (PFM) including seven deep dives in our Online Banking Report (see note 1) and 130 131 blog posts. However, I've never articulated the behavioral aspects as well as NY Times software developer Andre Behrens who pens the occasional post at

In his Tuesday article, Gamification Done Right, he uses (Bank) Simple as an example of a great use of game mechanics: is the most beautiful bank site I’ve ever seen...but aesthetics are just a baseline. Because what Simple actually wants to do is get you to play a game. The game is called “Master Your Finances”....

HPFM lite: Bank Simple safe-to-spend balancee then describes a key part of this game, which Netbanker readers will recognize as Simple's Safe-to-Spend balance:

If there’s one number you’re guaranteed to see on a bank site, it’s your balance...I take this number for granted...what other number could there be? But once you start playing the Simple Game, you realize this is a number that matters to the bank much more than it matters to you. What you care about is how much money you can use right now.

He goes on to write about how Simple encourages users to keep savings in unique buckets associated with goals:

...saving has always felt to me like denying myself fun spending opportunities. In the Simple Game, the opposite has proven true. Because every goal has a name and a committed plan, and because the transactions are presented in small increments, saving has become an anticipatory pleasure.

Bottom line: Read the whole article. It may help reinvigorate your efforts to infuse basic PFM concepts directly into everyday online/mobile banking. Every customer should be able to reach the first level of the finance game simply by logging in. How do you take it to the next level? That sounds like the makings of post #132, 133, 134 .....      


The OBR PFM library consists of three reports penned a decade ago on account aggregation, the PFM enabling technology pioneered primarily by Yodlee. Then four reports in the modern PFM era looking at features, benefits and bundles (subscription required):
-- June 2012: PFM 4.0 here
-- May 2010: PFM 3.0 here
-- June 2007: Social Personal Finance here
-- Aug 2006: Personal Finance Features for Online Banking here
-- July 2003: Account Aggregation 3.0 here
-- Aug 2000: Account Aggregation 2.0 here
-- Oct 1999: Account Aggregation


UW Credit Union is First to Tap the Mobile Browser for Remote Deposit Capture

By Jim Bruene on June 6, 2013 6:50 PM | Comments

imageimageThere are a few dozen financial institutions I follow closely for inspiration. And one of my favorites is University of Wisconsin Credit Union. The 180,000 member, $1.6 billion asset CU, always seems to be at the forefront.

Its latest feat: Remote deposit capture from the mobile web <>. That's not a typo. Mobile deposit capture WITHOUT a (native) app!

UWCU is the first in the world (as far as we can tell), that allows smartphone users to deposit checks right from the mobile web (see the CU's blog post for more info). The CU taps new controls in mobile browsers (iOS and Android) to operate the mobile camera to capture paper checks. Image processing and fraud detection technology is powered by Ensenta (with Mitek IP).

The in-house UWCU dev team so far has eschewed downloadable apps in favor of mobile-optimized designs that work cross platform. They are working towards full responsive design, so any user can visit the UWCU site from any size device and receive the optimal design, complete with touchscreen controls when applicable. They are targeting year-end completion for the full package.   

But as much as Eric Bangerter (VP Ecommerce & Internet Services) and his team believe in the mobile web, they plan to bow to member pressure and offer a simple native app so they have a presence in the app stores (note 1). As Bangerter notes in a recent interview at, "Not being in an app store today is kind of like not having a Google (search) result." 

Bottom line: I've been a huge believer in native apps. It's how legions of smartphone users have been trained to access services (see note 2). Many normal people don't even understand the "browser construct" in a mobile phone. That said, I see the logic in UWCU's approach. Like most businesses, they must prioritize their investments. And now that the mobile browser can tap the camera (and GPS), it makes sense to push its mobile power users to the mobile web. But I'm glad the CU is also creating a lightweight native app to satisfy the rest.


UW Credit Union's mobile-browser based deposit capture in action (4 June 2013)
Note: Watch the full 90-second demo posted in the UWCU online banking blog, Source Code.

 image       image   

1. The lack of a native app has seemingly not slowed down its mobile growth. The CU has 36,000 mobile users, an impressive 20% of its member base.
2. For more info, see our recent Online Banking Report: Digital & Mobile Wallets (published Feb 2013, subscription).


Duke Energy Advertises Savings Account Alternative on

By Jim Bruene on April 15, 2013 10:13 AM | Comments

image Above a Paul Krugman Bitcoin commentary on today, Duke Energy is pitching Premier Notes, a liquid savings account alternative that pays 1.5% for "deposits" of $50,000 or more, 1.3% for $10,000, or 1.1% for less than $10,000 (see screenshot below). Minimum opening amount is $1,000. There is no online application, but you can print a PDF and mail it back with your check.

The timing of the advertisement is no coincidence. March and April are the months when deposit balances swell temporarily with tax refunds. 

The Duke Energy rate is pegged at 0.25% higher than the taxable money market average, though that benchmark is essentially zero right now (2 basis points last week). So, it's hard to know whether this is a promotional rate that could decline to 27 bps in the near future, of if Duke Energy will keep it above the highest bank rates. That will likely depend on how much money they attract.

The notes were introduced in early 2011, and have carried similar rates since for at least the past year. A May 2012 post at lists the top rate at 1.6% and lowest tier at 1.25%. Apparently, GE and Ford offer similar programs. Those two are both paying 1.0% (for $10k) and 1.1% (for $50k+).

Bottom line: Banks have been competing for deposits with non-insured money market vehicles for decades. So, this isn't a new threat, nor one that you are going to lose sleep over. But it could become a material issue if more non-financial companies target the retail saver.


Duke Energy banner ad in today's NT Times website (link, 15 April 2013)
Note: Capital One 360 maintains its presence in the small upper-right-corner logo

Duke Energy pitches Premier Notes on

Duke Energy Premier Notes landing page (link)

Duke Energy Premier Notes landing page


1. For more info, see our Online Banking Report (Nov. 2008, subscription) detailing various ways to leverage your online/mobile channel to boost deposits.


Feature Friday: Capital One 360 Offers Remote Check Deposit via Simple File Upload (no smartphone required)

By Jim Bruene on March 22, 2013 1:16 PM | Comments

image I don't know how I missed this small, but meaningful, improvement to the remote deposit state of the art. Since last April, Capital One 360 (formerly ING Direct) has allowed customers to make deposit via the mobile phone app, and (drum roll) via file upload.  

Yes, you heard it right. Simply snap a picture of the check (front and back), save the files, upload to CapOne360, and your deposit is complete (see screenshot below). That means check deposit is available to everyone, not just those with smartphones or scanners.

Does that mean more work for Capital One operations? Sure, processing an uploaded .jpg will take more time. But for the relatively low deposit volume of its savings-account-heavy base, it's probably not material. And the idea here is to get more deposits, not save on transaction costs.

Will there be more fraud? There will likely be more garbage (duplicate pictures, fuzzy images, and perhaps even a few suspicious attempts to deposit duplicate images). But will file uploads create a statistically significant amount of actual fraud losses? It seems unlikely, though I'm making an educated guess.

image Bottom line: The decision to accept any old .jpg was brilliant. Make it as easy as possible to do business with you. That's been a driving force behind ING Direct's success (that and the bouncing orange ball, RIP).

While it's not going to make our Digital Banking Hall of Fame (note 1), it's important enough to grab a belated OBR Best of the Web for "raising the bar" in remote banking (note 2). Nice work.


Capital One 360 landing page for its CheckMate remote deposit service (22 Mar 2013)

Capital One 360 checkmate remote depost landing page

Step 1: Users must enter check amount ($) and which account to deposit to (and optional memo)


Step 2: Interim instruction page


Step 3: Agree to the terms and conditions



Step 4: Choose images for front and back of check
Note: Example images, since I didn't have any checks on my machine


Step 5: Review images & click "Deposit Now"



1. The Digital Banking Hall of Fame is updated annually and published in our year-end Online Banking Report (subscription).
2.  Since 1997, our Online Banking Report has periodically given OBR Best of the Web awards to companies that pioneer new online- or mobile-banking features. It is not an endorsement of the company or product, just recognition for what we believe is an important industry development. In total, 89 companies have won the award. This is the second for Capital One (previous winner). ING Direct also won previously. Recent winners are profiled in the Netbanker archives.


Gothenburg State Bank Promotes Kids' Savings Accounts

By Jim Bruene on February 18, 2013 3:54 PM | Comments

image Through the magic of digital delivery, free ATMs, and mobile check deposit, there is no reason for today's youth to EVER switch bank accounts. Even through college, grad school, multiple job changes, and marriage, your bank and card accounts can simply follow you around the country.

That means it's more important than ever to make sure you are banking your customers' kids. Even so, the big players haven't wholeheartedly climbed onboard the youth banking movement. While oft-times offering exhaustive college-banking programs, they often seem indifferent to youngsters still at home.

We see most of the innovation in family banking at the community bank and credit union level. Case in point: Nebraska's Gothenburg State Bank's ($100 mil deposits) three-pronged effort to safeguard the cash of everyone in the family:

  • Little Savers Club (age 0-3):
    -- Savings account paying 3.5% APY on first $2,000 (then 0.10%)
    -- Physical piggy bank
  • Crayon Account (age 4-13):
    -- Savings account paying 3.5% APY on first $2,000 (then 0.10%)
    -- Dave Ramsey "Teaching Kids About Money" financial education kit
    -- Box of crayons and coloring book
    -- Savings deposit book
    -- Deposit rewards (toys & books)
  • Super Savers Account (beginning at age 10-13)
    -- Savings account paying 7% APY for (one year only) on first $2,000 (then 0.1%) 
    -- Requires monthly deposits of $25 or more for the higher rate

Bottom line: I'm impressed that the bank pays a high rate on the first $2,000. It's very hard to teach your kids the value of compound interest when they receive only a few pennies per month in interest. The bank is paying out a maximum of $70 extra per year ($140 in the Super Saver account for tweens, note 1) to keep mom & dad happy.


Gothenburg State Bank homepage with kids' savings promo (15 Feb 2013)


Kids' deposit products page (note 2, link)



1. It's not entirely clear whether the 7% Super Saver rate is good for a single year, 6 months, 3 years or even longer. But I'm making an educated guess that it's a one-year bonus program to jump-start tween savings.
2. I'm surprised the bank doesn't tout the high rates on the webpage (you must follow an obscure link to the rate page). Perhaps they don't want adults gaming the system to score the extra interest.
3. For more on youth banking, see our July 2011, Online Banking Report.


SmartyPig Launches OneClick, Goal-Based Savings Account Browser Plugin

By Jim Bruene on January 21, 2013 1:09 PM | Comments (1)

It's not easy making savings accounts sexy, but Social Money, with its GoalSaver and SmartyPig brands, is trying. The latest innovation? A Google Chrome browser extension called SmartyPig OneClick (link), that allows users to create savings goals on the fly while shopping online.

The service launched last week and can be found in the Extensions: Shopping section of the Chrome app store. The app has 30 users according to stats displayed in the store. In comparison, the most popular shopping extension, from Amazon, has more than 600,000 users.

The SmartyPig OneClick system can be licensed by banks looking to juice their savings account feature set.

How it works
smartypig_browserbutton_300.jpg1. Install from Google Play app-store (see screenshot 1 below)

2. A SmartyPig icon is added to the upper right of the browser (see inset)

3. When shopping online (at any website), users click on the SmartyPig icon in the upper right, which launches a popup (screenshot 2)

4. After logging in (screenshot 3), users establish a goal and automatic savings plan to fund the purchase of the desired item (screenshots 4 & 5). SmartyPig automatically imports the item's price and image and stores it for the user at 



Goal-based savings is an important feature to add to online banking (note 1). And shopping helpers are a relatively popular browser extension (Amazon's Chrome extension has 600,000 users). So marrying the two is an interesting play.

Will this boost savings-account balances? Perhaps a little. But the more important FI benefit is getting a branded button in the corner of the user's browser (whether anyone will remember it's there is another matter). That's a bit of a Trojan Horse that can be used for a variety of services (note 2).

Bottom line: I like SmartyPig's move. Smartphones have conditioned users to look for specialized apps. I believe consumers will use full-featured online banking via direct desktop links (see also Mint's QuickView). Although, it will take education and marketing support.


1. Installing browser extensions is a painless process (Chrome store link)
Note: Users must allow SmartyPig to "access your data on all websites" and "access your tabs and browsing activity." The first one is likely to give users pause.


2. Creating a goal on the fly while shopping


3. Login to SmartyPig via popup box


4. Confirm the savings goal


5. Customize the savings goal


1. For more info, see our Online Banking Report (Nov. 2008, subscription) detailing various ways to leverage your online/mobile channel to boost deposits.
2. Long ago, we wrote a report (Aug 2002, subscription) on ways to put your bank onto the computer desktop. The strategy is still the same, though the specific techniques are somewhat different today.

Comments (1)

Guess Who's Back? NetBank

By Jim Bruene on December 13, 2012 4:23 PM | Comments

imageIt's been 5 years since NetBank failed (see our post). At the time it was the largest bank failure in 14 years. But little did we know then (Sep 2007), that the $110 million taxpayers coughed up to cover its deposits was nothing compared to what was about to happen in the financial markets (note 1).

After the failure, ING Direct bought the NetBank retail deposit business and took ownership of the domain But they never did anything with it besides forwarding the URL it its homepage. 

But evidently Capital One didn't want to be associated with that failed endeavor and/or it thought the "net" was too limiting for the mobile world. So, the Netbank URL and name were sold sometime this year to Bank of Internet (note 2). The URL has pointed to BofI since at least September. No word on the purchase price, but given that just sold for $2.5 million, I'm guessing it was in the $500,000 to $1 million range. 

Anyway, the back story matters little anymore. It's a good name, and once the Google search results no longer have those 5-year-old "failure" articles on the first page, the baggage should be reduced to almost nothing (note 3).

As you can see from the banner running across the homepage (see second screenshot below), the new NetBank is targeting the account towards the "underbanked" (note 4). But the account is positioned as "real checking" as opposed to a prepaid card.

And it has one key feature that sets it apart from most checking accounts: the ability to deposit cash into the account via Green Dot's MoneyPak.

The checking account costs $6.95/mo with direct deposit, or $8.95 per month. It pays 0.25% interest and is loaded with all the important account features (checks, debit card, p2p transfers, rewards, PFM, mobile remote deposit and so on).

It's a good value compared to many alt-banking products. However, consumers in good standing with the U.S. banking system and willing to forego the MoneyPak option, would save with BofI's free checking with no overdraft charges

Bottom line: It's good to have the brand back in the game. Now, when will someone revive NextCard's name?


Before: Last known screenshot of bank before failure (20 Aug 2007, from


After: NetBank's new homepage (13 Dec 2012)



1. For those that want to relive those dark days, here is the 54-page U.S. Treasury audit of why Netbank failed (published 23 April 2008).
2. I don't know whether Capital One acquired in its ING Direct acquisition or whether ING Direct sold it directly to BofI. It was not a material asset in the $9 billion deal.
3. Someone needs to do BofI a favor and get that Wikipedia entry updated ASAP. 
4. Or at least those currently locked out of the banking system due to bad ChexSystem scores.


Bank of Internet Launches No-Overdraft-Fee Checking Account

By Jim Bruene on September 27, 2012 7:00 PM | Comments

imageI've been working on a blog post, "overdrafts in the digital age," for a few days. But it's ballooning to the point where I may turn it into a full Online Banking Report. Or just publish it in several parts here.

Either way, I'm looking for examples of new approaches to overdraft protection. For example, Bank of Internet recently did away with the fee altogether on its Rewards Checking account. The bank won't necessarily honor the check (unless the user is covered by linked-account overdraft protection), but they won't charge a fee if they give it the heave-ho (note 1).

The account also boasts no monthly fee, an APY up to 1.25% (if electronic transaction minimums are met), an ATM fee rebate, Intuit's FinanceWorks PFM with Cardlytics-powered cash-back, mobile remote deposit (Mitek-powered, I presume) and Fiserv's POPmoney P2P payments. It's like a Finovate greatest-hits account.


Bank of Internet homepage features Rewards Checking (27 Sep 2012)

Bank of Internet homepage featuring no-overdraft-fee checking

Rewards checking landing page (link)

BofI rewards checking landing page


1. Bank of Internet won't impose a fee, but the merchant who submitted the check (and who will be dinged by their bank) very likely will. So it's not necessarily a fee-free event.
2. For info, our report on fee-based online services (subscription, May 2011)


Feature Friday: Bank Balance Forecast

By Jim Bruene on June 22, 2012 11:49 AM | Comments

imageAs Simple begins the 6-month process of converting its 100,000-person wait list into paying customers, I expect much attention will be given to its flagship UI innovation, a forecast of your "free cash" after accounting for upcoming transaction. Simple has trademarked the feature as the Safe-to-Spend balance (screenshot below).

We've discussed it a number of times in our Online Banking Report (subscription), but we haven't explored it in Netbanker. Here's why balance forecasting is so important:

  • Intuitive UI: Hundreds of millions of people worldwide log in to their bank accounts at least weekly. Why? To see their balance and to make a mental calculation of whether things are on track. Whether they consciously think it or not, they are making their own calculation of what's left in the account to spend. And given how horrible the average person is at making complex math calculations in their head, it makes so much sense to put that number right in from of them at all times.
  • Advocacy: Doesn't everyone want to believe that the place where they entrust their live savings is looking out for their best interests? But events of the past five years have seriously eroded consumer confidence in financial institutions, especially large banks. Providing a new tool that really helps consumer understand their financial position, and reduce the chances of overdrafting, could go a long way in restoring confidence that the bank is not the enemy.
  • Gateway to advanced PFM services: Doing important calculations on the consumer's behalf is what PFM is all about. So showing that you have the wherewithal to make this important calculation, can be the entry point for delivering more advanced PFM services, hopefully at a profitable monthly fee (note 1).
  • Great competitive weapon: Want to compete with Bank Simple? Want to show you are ahead of the curve. This is a perfect, tangible feature/benefit.

Bottom line: This is not the easiest feature to add. Maybe one of the hardest. And you should expect to spend quite a bit of time explaining it to employees and customers. But it absolutely will be part of every online banking system and third-party PFM service (see also, HelloWallet's "left to spend below).  

Simple makes it impossible to miss your "Safe-to-Spend" balance (22 June 2012)

Bank Simple "Safe to Spend" balance

HelloWallet's mobile app has a "Left to Spend" balance for both in total and for the specific budget category (22 June 2012)



1. We are putting the finishing touches on an update of our PFM report (May 2010, subscription). You'll see an announcement here next week.


Feature Friday: Universal Checkbook from Personal Capital

By Jim Bruene on May 18, 2012 2:58 PM | Comments

imageOne of my favorite features unveiled last week, was Universal Checkbook from Personal Capital. And apparently I wasn't the only one. Attendees voted the startup Best of Show (again) and hit Twitter with positive comments such as the one below from Brad Leimer (@leimer) of Mechanics Bank,.

Universal Checkbook (see inset) allows users to move money directly between any linked bank/brokerage accounts, providing they have check-writing capabilities.

imageWhile many banks also support interbank transfers, they usually require funds to move in and out of the host bank account. To move money between two third-party accounts requires two separate transfers. And it would take 5 or 6 days (via U.S. ACH system) if you waited for the funds to arrive in the host account before sending them elsewhere. 

In the demo, Personal Capital showed how easy it is to enroll a new bank accounts using deposit capture to grab a check image from that account. However, this enrollment option is not yet available in the production iPhone app (note 2, 3).

Pricing: There is no word on pricing, but it looks like there may be a fee eventually. On the bottom of the pay screen it says, "Try Universal Checkbook FREE for three months!" Because Personal Capital offers basic PFM services ad- and fee-free, it will likely need fees for money movement, at least for users not committing any assets to the startup.


Tweet from Bradley Leimer (@leimer) during Personal Capital demo at FinovateSpring (8 May 2012)


1. We took an in-depth look at truly virtual banks (Personal Capital, Bank Simple, and PerkStreet) in our Oct 2011 Online Banking Report.
2. The app doesn't yet explain how to enroll new payment accounts, evidently the image capture capability is still in process.
3. Universal Checkbook has not yet been incorporated into Personal Capital's iPad or desktop versions.


Launching: EFTGuard Provides $500k in Online Fraud Protection for Business Banking Customers

By Jim Bruene on April 24, 2012 8:06 PM | Comments

image That was fast. Just two weeks after my latest appeal to the industry to provide small business owners with more security options, a new product launched today aims to do just that. And it's packaged as a turn-key, fee-based service that could be sold by banks at a $10+ per month profit (MSRP is $25/mo).  

That all sounds too good to be true. When I was first contacted by Greenway Solutions last week, I was more than a bit skeptical. But after speaking with CEO Jerry Tylman and Managing Consultant Jon Meyer, I was convinced they had something that as a business owner, I'd definitely buy.

The product, EFTGuard, is a joint venture between Greenway Solutions and Royal Group Services. They say it's a "win-win-win" for banks:

  • Helps banks meet "UCC requirement for commercially reasonable security and their FFIEC requirement for customer education and awareness"
  • Provides peace of mind to bank clients
  • Protects both the bank and each client up to $500,000 in unauthorized online transfers
  • Helps differentiate checking and deposit offerings


How it works

EFTGuard provides protection against fraudulent online-account withdrawals of $100,000 per account (with no deductible), with a maximum of $500,000 per customer. And because it's not true "insurance" (it just behaves like it), there is no underwriting hassle and the product can be purchased in just a few minutes via online form (demo here). There is, however, the usual list of coverage exclusions; for example, it doesn't cover insider theft. 

The catch? To qualify, business customers must download and install anti-malware software from Trusteer, Iron Key, or Webroot. And every computer accessing the business account must be running these protective software programs. For the time being, that appears to leave out any mobile access. 

Initially, banks looking to offer EFTGuard will need to work with one of these three malware-protection vendors in order to qualify their clients for the fraud protection. Other than that, EFTGuard is turn-key and comes with marketing support, a co-branded signup page, and full claims management.

The $500,000 coverage is backed by Chartis Specialty Insurance Company.


Bottom line

Your business customers are rightly concerned about fraud. Offering them an option to protect themselves is a great way to differentiate your deposit offerings while preventing you from getting bogged down in messy litigation with your customers.

I still have questions about how often the list of exclusions will invalidate claims when actual fraud occurs. But the company assures me that the protections are very real.

Assuming EFTGuard delivers on its protection promise AND creates a small profit center, what's not to like? I, for one, will be the first business owner in line to buy it. 


EFTGuard homepage (24 April 2012)



1. I believe insurance is one of the best growth areas in retail banking, especially in niche lines that can be explained and delivered online (see our December Online Banking Report for more about banks delivering insurance online).


Westpac NZ Makes it Mobile Savings Transfers Easy with Impulse Saver

By Jim Bruene on March 20, 2012 8:42 PM | Comments

image There are two schools of thought when it comes to mobile app design:

  1. Put everything in a single app for each platform (note 1), so your customers aren't confused about which app to download
  2. Create specialized apps for various market segments and/or apps that focus on a single function

American Express (7 for iOS, note 2); JP Morgan Chase (3 for iOS); Zions Bank (3 for iOS); Southern Bancorp (2 for iOS); and a handful of other banks have launched multiple apps. But it's still the exception: More than 99% of banks have no more than one app for each platform. 

Westpac NZ has joined the multi-app group, though oddly it has yet to launch a full-featured mobile banking app (note 3). Yesterday, we wrote about Westpac's clever Cash Tank, that provides a no-login gauge to monitor account balances.

The bank has another cool single-use app, Impulse Saver, which is basically just one huge red button that users press to make a transfer from their checking account to a savings account.

obr_bestofwebThe amount of each transfer, from $2 to $50, is preset using the app settings (see second screenshot).

Bottom line: With Impulse Saver and Cash Tank, Westpac NZ has raised the bar for simple no-login mobile banking, earning an OBR Best of the Web (note 4).  

Westpac's Impulse Saver iPhone app (20 March 2012)

 image     image


1. By single app, we mean one app per major platform, i.e., one app for iPhones, one for Android, one for iPad, etc.
2. In addition, American Express offers at least six more content apps through American Express publishing.
3. A number of reviewers in Apple's App Store have been criticized for not having a full-featured app. For example, in June 2011 "crazfulla" wrote, "This is a great idea; however, we need a real app that has all the banking capabilities."
4. Since 1997, our Online Banking Report has periodically given OBR Best of the Web awards to companies that pioneer new online or mobile banking features. It is not an endorsement of the company or product, just recognition for what we believe is an important industry development. If anyone knows of other financial institutions offering a similar feature, let us know and we'll update the post. Westpac is is the 86th company to win the award and the third in 2012. Recent winners are profiled in the Netbanker archives.


Is BancVue's Kasasa to Checking What "Intel Inside" was to PCs?

By Jim Bruene on January 11, 2012 7:47 PM | Comments

image I just spent the better part of two days attending BancVue's monthly client/prospect meeting called BTAN (note 1). I knew they would have high-energy presentations, great ideas, and outrageous antics; after all, I've seen them take home three Finovate Best of Show trophies. They know how to drive a point home.

But what I didn't expect was to come home believing its Kasasa strategy might really work. Kasasa launched at FinovateFall 2009 (video here) and is the first major attempt to create a nationwide brand around the checking account. They are trying to do for checking what Visa/MasterCard did for the credit card or what Intel did for PC manufacturers with "Intel inside."

Bancvue's about us page One very different element here is that BancVue is creating a national brand exclusively for use by community banks and credit unions. Large banks are viewed as the enemy (see inset from BancVue's "about us" page) and are not allowed to "stock" the Kasasa brand.

On the surface it seems impossible. How could hundreds, if not thousands, of proud, local financial institutions -- many who've been building a local brand for many decades -- unite under a nutty brand called "Kasasa" of all things?

But is it crazy like the iPod was crazy? Smaller banks and credit unions are being taken to the cleaners by the big banks, losing more than half their market share in the past two decades. They have the local ties, the human connection, but it is usually hard to maintain the product set, marketing power, and online/mobile UI, of Bank of America or Chase.

But what if someone was able to level the playing field with best-of-class products and combine the marketing power of 1,000 financial institutions into a national brand? (note 3) Then the community banks/CUs could go ahead and compete on service, price, value and local connections.

It sounds too good to be true, really. And I was skeptical when I heard the pitch two years ago. But after seeing how BancVue has signed up more than 600 FIs for rewards checking, hit #23 in the Inc 500, and witnessing their passion in person, I think they have a real shot.

Bottom line: It takes a long time to build a national financial brand, especially one centered on lowly checking accounts. Other than PayPal, what's the last one you can think of? Capital One, founded 1988, maybe. Discover Card, launched in 1985, perhaps (note 4). And I can think of a hundred reasons why it won't work.

But Kasasa is definitely out of the gates and gaining traction. Having just finished my review of the most important trends of 2011, I have a feeling Kasasa could make this list in 2012 or 2013. 


Kasasa product set (11 Jan 2012)

Kasasa product set

Kasasa products dominate the homepage of Farmers Citizens Bank (link)
Question: Do Kasasa ads clutter the Farmer's homepage? No more than any other promotion. And they are at least attention getting. 


Landing page at Farmers Citizens (link)



1. I attended the event at the invitation of BancVue. But I am not consulting for them or their customers. BancVue is a customer of The Finovate Group for our event and our published reports just like hundreds of other companies. However, they did feed me really well, which, as my family will attest, is a powerful motivator in my life. So I can't say I'm totally unbiased.
2. After hearing the detailed reasoning behind the branding decision, I actually think the Kasasa choice makes sense. But you'll need to see the presentation to get it. The Financial Brand breaks it down here.
3. BancVue says that with 1,000 financial institutions offering Kasasa it would be bigger than the largest U.S. bank in branch network and marketing budget.
4. I can't think of any major national banking brands that have appeared in the Internet age other than PayPal, and perhaps NetBank (RIP). ING Direct made it, but they were a spinoff of a powerful international brand, and even then they spent more than a BILLION in the United States alone during the past 12 years making ING Direct a household name. E*Trade, Ally also come to mind, but the former is more associated with brokerage and the latter is a name change from GMAC. Bank of Internet is doing well, but is hardly a household name.


Can Savings Accounts Be Social?

By Jim Bruene on January 4, 2012 11:55 AM | Comments (4)

image I glanced at my ING Direct eStatement alert today (screenshot below) to see what they had to say in the new year. The soon-to-be-Capital-One direct bank is usually pretty creative in its copywriting. And I was not disappointed today. Here's the pitch inside the alert:


I love the idea of a "Social Network...of Savers," a Facebook-like place where friends help each other keep spending in check and achieve politically correct savings goals such as the down payment on a home, the college fund, or a rainy day reserve.

But I don't think the Facebook model works in the real world (note 1). Even though it might be interesting to follow your friends' drunk spending (note 2), most users want this info to be kept VERY private (note 3). And in most circles, money accumulation is never openly discussed. Who wants to read about someone's "trip to Tahiti" savings goal when you are trying to get off unemployment?

In its recent email, ING Direct is NOT looking to create the Facebook of savings in any way. While the bank celebrates savings throughout its marketing (e.g.,, this email offer isn't about sharing with your network, it's about selling to your network to earn a $10 referral fee per new account, up to $500. And that's OK, because everyone loves to share "found money."   

ING Direct email (4 Jan 2012, 9 AM Pacific)

ING Direct estatement email alert 

Referral landing page (link)
Note: There's even a Flash demo of the referral split for the math challenged.

ING Direct referral landing page

1. I'm not saying that all sharing is a dead end. For example, sharing savings/spending goals can work very well within tight-knit groups such as extended families. And compiled/masked data about peer spending/savings is very promising (see Citi's Bundle joint venture). Finally, there are numerous opportunities for "social investing" (our 2008 Online Banking Report on the subject), because it's much more complicated and often openly discussed.  
2. There is room for "social savings" in the context of sharing discounts, money-savings tips, and so on. But that's not what ING Direct is talking about in this message.
3. Hence the pivots by the two "class of 2010" startups, Blippy and Swipely, which were founded on a "transaction-sharing" model.
4. And the bank makes its win-win. The new customer gets the biggest share, $25 for a savings account, a 70/30 split of the $35 up for grabs. New checking customers get $50, from an 85/15 split of $60.
5. For info on family banking, deposit gathering, transaction sharing, social investing, and much more, see our subscription newsletter, Online Banking Report.

Comments (4)

Wells Fargo Pitching Wachovia's Way2Save Account at Login

By Jim Bruene on November 10, 2011 5:46 PM | Comments

imageWells Fargo generally does a good job with its login product pitches. I like how the bank provides a "Remind me later" and "No thanks" option next to "Apply Now."

However, in today's pitch for the rebranded Wachovia Way2Save account (see old logo, inset), the bank seems to have forgotten an important part of consumer decision process: explaining what the account is. There is no Learn More button to be found on the ad or landing page.

I had to leave the app and search the Wells Fargo website to determine the rate and unique features of Way2Save (see note 1). The main benefit: users receive a 3% APY on the first $500 in the account for one year, provided they use one or these automated savings features:

  • $25+ per month or $1+ per day transferred from Wells Fargo checking (outside accounts not an option, except for initial account funding)
  • Automatic $1 transfer from WF checking to savings with every debit card purchase or pre-authorized debit  

After one-year interest drops to the prevailing rate, currently just 5 basis points, 1/60th the premium rate. 

Online application process: Choosing Apply Now on the interstitial drops users directly into the bank's generic online app where's it's difficult to even confirm what you are applying for (see upper right corner of second screenshot). 

Since I only have a Wells Fargo credit card, the bank offers me a $5/mo checking account, which is free if I have direct deposit or $1500 on deposit. But the checking account is not required. You can setup a standalone savings account, though it won't qualify for the interest rate bonus or be able to use the automation tools.

On the final page users can fund the account with a transfer from a Wells or non-Wells deposit account or they can deposit up to $500 via credit or debit card. 

Bottom line: Automatic savings are a win-win. And offering a $15 interest bonus is a good way to improve signups. But Wells needs to explain the offer better so that customers customers are motivated to complete the application.    


Wells Fargo interstitial login ad for Way2Save (10 Nov 2011)

Wells Fargo interstitial login ad for Way2Save













Landing page, which is the first page of the online application (link)

Landing page, which is the first page of the online application

Wells Fargo online application (page 2)
Note: The bank is still disclosing at $3 debit card usage fee



image1. Way2Save was inherited from Wachovia (previous posts). Here's the cached 6 Nov page from Google. The page now redirects to Wells Fargo savings.
2. Wells Fargo acquired Wachovia in 2008.
2. For info on online account opening, deposit gathering and much more, see our subscription newsletter, Online Banking Report.


Launching: ING Direct Unveils $10 Million Campaign for Teen Banking

By Jim Bruene on August 30, 2011 4:18 PM | Comments

image Just last month we published a report (here) about the large, and mostly unmet, opportunity to bank tweens/teens AND their parents.

Evidently ING Direct didn't need our report. The direct bank, soon to be part of Capital One, is launching an aggressive $10 million advertising campaign for its new MONEY account (note 1). There's no official mention of the program at ING Direct, except for a wall post on its main Facebook page (see last screenshot).

However, several online elements have been released:

Product: There's only a few sentences describing the product, but it sounds like a standard checking account with debit card access. It will have no fees and no minimums and can be managed online (duh) and through a smartphone app.

Campaign: The $10 million campaign (note 2) is primarily fulfilled via Facebook (see screenshots below) and includes:

  • Advertising on Facebook and online
  • Supporting sweeps has (10) $1,000 prizes, (10) MacBooks, (20) iPod Touches
  • Those submitting pictures of themselves, may get it projected on a Times Square Jumbotron for 15 seconds (begins Sept. 15)

Our take: With 1% rates killing its traditional value proposition, it makes perfect sense for ING Direct to build for the future by positioning itself as a place that caters to the banking needs of the entire family. Well played.


1. ING Direct's teen-banking microsite at (30 Aug. 2011)
Note: In the lower right is a "pre-registration form" where the bank collects the name and email address of interested parties

ING Direct teen banking microsite at (29 Aug 2011)

2. Parents are encouraged to send a message to their children to let them know about the sweeps
Note: The lower right contains a place for parents to send email messages to their children

2. Parents are encouraged to send a message to their children to let them know about the sweeps

3. Facebook page at <>

3. Facebook page at <>

3. Facebook page info page (Facebook app)

3. Facebook page info page

4. Facebook page sign-up form

4. Facebook page signup form for ING Direct Money

5. Thank-you page after pre-registering


6. Wall post this afternoon on main ING Direct Facebook page (link, 30 Aug. 2011)

6. Wall post this afternoon on main ING Direct Facebook page (29 Aug 2011)


1. New agency Berlin Cameron is spearheading the effort according to today's Adweek article.
2. That's about 40% of ING Direct's projected $25 million media spend for 2011.
3. Hat tip: MyBankTracker
4. For more on teen banking, see our recent Online Banking Report.


ING Direct Raises the Security Bar Again with Checkbook Activation

By Jim Bruene on August 15, 2011 12:44 PM | Comments

ING Direct has brought a number of security innovations to the United States: 

  • Password entry via pin pad instead of keyboard
  • Trusteer "safe login" browser plugin (previous post)
  • Challenge questions at login (when needed)

  Now add a fourth item to that list:

  • Authorization required when a new book of paper checks is ordered (see update below)

ING Direct, which famously eschewed paper checks when it launched a checking account, Electric Orange, in 2007, recently began offering a paper-check option. True to form, ING Direct added a few twists to standard industry practices:

  • Paper checks can be bought only in quantifies of 50
  • Each order is just $5
  • Only one set of 50 can be ordered at a time (but once they have been authorized, another set can be ordered)
  • Before the checks can be used, the book of 50 must be activated online (similar to credit/debit card authorization)
  • Because the order must be authorized, third-party paper checks will not work at ING Direct (another security improvement)


How it works

The bank isn't exactly pushing paper checkbooks. There are no obvious links to the option on the primary or secondary navigation. Users must click on the Payments tab, then select Overview on the secondary navigation. That brings up a list of the ways to make payments, with "Checkbook" listed half-way down the page (see below).

New paper-check option at ING Direct (12 Aug. 2011)

ING Direct's paper check book option 12 Aug 2011

And the bank's order form is drop-dead simple, unlike most major banks which drop you to a third-party order-entry site.

One-click check-ordering process

One-click check ordering process at ING Direct

Confirmation screen explains next steps

Confirmation screen explains next steps


My take

Offering paper checks is a good move. Most U.S. customers still need the occasional paper check, and waiting 5 days for ING Direct to send one out on your behalf was slow and cumbersome.

And I really like the authorization feature. Since I was old enough to know about check fraud, I've always felt that a book of checks sitting in my mailbox was a bit disconcerting. This solves that worry.

Finally, the $5 per 50 pricing is consumer friendly and competitive. The lower quantity (compared to typical 150-200 orders) subtly discourages paper-check usage, but the price is in line with other financial institutions, which typically charge $15 to $25 per 200 checks (note 1).


PS. ING Direct must be very close to launching remote check deposit. It has a "stay tuned" message posted under the "Deposit Checks" tab in secondary navigation (see below). 

ING Direct's website implies that remote check deposit is coming soon (12 Aug. 2011)

ING Direct's website implies that remote check deposit is coming soon

Update (16 Aug. 2011): I heard from Citibank today. Apparently, they've used checkbook authorization for online account opening since 2007.

1. And you can pay more: Chase recently dinged me for $23 for a book of 50 money-market checks (which I didn't ask for) when I opened a new business savings account. In comparison, I earned $0.40 (before tax) in interest on the balance. That means it would take more than 7 years to earn enough interest to pay for the book of checks. But I'll give Chase credit for immediately reversing the fee after I dropped the unwanted checks off at the branch. 
2. Apparently ING Direct changed its homepage navigation items earlier this year. The overall minimalist design remains unchanged. But now, in addition to View My Account, the bank offers three choices: Banking, Investing or Retirement. Previously, there were only two other choices: Open an account and Learn more.


Southern Bancorp Launches "Shake and Bank" iPhone App Aimed at Youth

By Jim Bruene on April 25, 2011 4:44 PM | Comments

image It's been more than six months since we last featured a new mobile app from a financial institution (see Arvest Bank's financial calculators). It's not because of lack of activity, or importance. In that time, more than 1,000 financial institution apps have been introduced and the market has really heated up.

But we focus on what's new and different. And for the most part, the class of 2010 and 2011 have been "me-too" entries. Which is exactly as it should be. Every mid-sized and larger bank and credit union needs at least one app in the iTunes store, so the last 18 months have been about gaining competitive parity. 

But things will start to get more interesting again as financial institutions:

Southern Bancorp's new mobile app, Shake and Bank, ticks all four boxes. It's an iPhone/iPod Touch app designed to give kids (or any account holder) a quick look at the balance in their account. As you can see below, Shake and Bank is pretty much self-explanatory:

1. Open app (note 1)

2. Shake iPhone

3. See balance

The app requires a setup code to launch. According to the iTunes entry, the code can be obtained through the bank's website or at a branch. But as of today, I see no mention of Shake and Bank, or mobile banking for that matter, at their website.

Bottom line: I'm a sucker for pigs, so obviously I like it. But more importantly, Southern Bancorp makes it easy to monitor account balances with a simple kid-friendly approach. And parents will appreciate the help reinforcing the savings habit (note 1).

Southern Bancorp has $1.1 billion in assets and 40 branches in Arkansas and Mississippi.

Southern Bancorp's iPhone app targeted towards kids (link, 25 April 2011)

Southern Bancorp&#39;s iPhone mobile banking app targeted towards kids      image 


1. Since I couldn't test the app without an account, I assume there is no subsequent login requirement once you've entered the setup code. And more importantly, I hope that it oinks when shaken. 
2. For more info on mobile banking, see our previous Online Banking Reports.


Chase Bank's Checking Account Recommender is Flawed

By Jim Bruene on March 29, 2011 3:51 PM | Comments

image Yesterday, I visited Chase Bank's checking account sales page (screenshot 1 below). Overall, I was impressed. The page is attractive and the bank lays out the options well. I especially liked the icons across the page emphasizing the free benefits applicable to all account types: online/mobile banking, alerts, ATMs and the debit card. Finally, it's easy to figure out how to apply for an account online.

However, the bank's "help me choose" function is flawed (though wisely buried at the bottom of the page, so it may be lightly used). It starts out fine by asking two simple questions:

  • What is your estimated deposit balance you'll keep at Chase?
  • Are you interested in checking account benefits for students age 13-24? (Yes/No)

But things quickly go off the rails.

Flaw #1: Bad form design

Since I have two kids in the student bracket, I naturally chose "yes" to the second question (see second screenshot). I wasn't looking for a student account, but sure, I'm interested. And I thought it was pretty smart of Chase to try to sell me on a kid's account from the get-go.

However, the bank assumed that was all I cared about and pushed me towards student bank accounts even though I'd said I was keeping $15,000+ on deposit (see third screenshot).

So I went back to that page to change the student selection and discovered that once your selection is made, it cannot be changed. Even when you click the "clear" button, the radio button stays set to "Yes." You have to choose "cancel," which sends you all the way back to the previous page, and then start over from scratch. By that time, many (most?) customers will have moved on. 

Flaw #2: Not enough info gathered to make meaningful recommendations

While I applaud the simplicity of the wizard, the bank can't really make a solid recommendation knowing only my anticipated deposit balance. There has to be some understanding of how the customer values the features of the deluxe checking account options such as no-fee non-Chase ATM usage, free OD transfers, free companion checking accounts, free safety-deposit box (see recommendations, screenshots 4 and 5).

Flaw #3: Doesn't identify existing customers 

And speaking of missing info, the bank is neglecting a huge part of the equation, whether I'm an existing customer or not. In fact, I do have a business account there and just a few days ago an in-branch account rep had pitched a free companion personal checking account to me. But the checking account wizard doesn't ask if I'm an existing customer (and the bank apparently is not using cookies to hone in on that either).

Bottom line: Chase does a good job engaging checking account prospects, but it's missing an opportunity to help them choose the right account.


Chase Bank's main checking account page (28 March 2011)

Chase Bank's main checking account page (28 March 2011)

The help-me-choose wizard

The help-me-choose a checking account wizard at Chase Bank

Results page when checking the student box on the wizard

Results page when checking the student box on the wizard Chase Bank

Results page if student not checked (and balance equals $15k+)

Chase Results page if student not checked (and balance equals $15k)

Results page if student not checked (and balance is less than $15k)

Results page if student not checked (and balance is less than $15k)  


Note: For more on online account opening, see our Online Banking Report: Online Account Opening (June 2009).


Piggymojo Hooks up with Brooklyn FCU to Power "Impulse Savings"

By Jim Bruene on March 8, 2011 12:49 PM | Comments

imageLast June, we wrote about Piggymojo's unique "impulse saving" tool designed to help couples motivate each other to save (previous post). Basically, you text your spouse when you save cash during the day, e.g., drinking the company's free swill instead of trekking to Starbucks.

The concept is great, but it needs direct integration to financial accounts so those "virtual saves" are translated into actual dollars sitting in a savings account.

imageToday, the Brooklyn-based startup announced the first financial institution integration with Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union. The program is being funded in part with a $300,000 CFSI grant to gauge whether the program helps lower-income members to increase their savings (press release). Four other projects shared in the $1.5 million total grant (details). 

Weekly summary of savings activity via Piggymojo (7 March 2011)

Weekly summary of savings activity via Piggymojo (7 March 2011)

Longer-term tracking

Longer-term tracking at piggymojo


Note: For more info, see our Online Banking Report, where we wrote in late 2008 about various ways to leverage your online/mobile channel to boost deposits (here).


Google Launches More Financial Product Comparison Pages: Savings Accounts, Checking, CDs, and Mortgages

By Jim Bruene on January 12, 2011 5:30 PM | Comments (1)

image Today, I ran into Google's new savings-account comparison chart for the first time (see notes 1, 2 and screenshot below, link). The search giant now offers separate pages with financial product comparisons for mortgages, credit cards, CDs, checking, and savings accounts. And the comparison matrices are at times positioned prominently on searches potentially reducing traffic to top advertisers and to organic results as well (see screenshot below).

Savings account search results
Let's look at an example search today for "savings accounts." The results include a blue-chip lineup of paid advertisers. Following is a list of the top 10 paid results compared to their position on the Google comparison page (note 3):

1. American Express (#1)
2. ING Direct (#7)
3. US Bank (#24, 30, 32, 33)
4. BECU (local advertiser)
5. Citibank (#19, 25, 26 )
6. Capital One (#10, 15, 31)
7. Navy Federal CU
8. TD Ameritrade
9. Zions Bank (#4, 5, 22, 23, 27)
10. Discover Bank (#2, 11)

I still don't understand why Google would risk antagonizing its financial advertisers by drawing traffic away from their ads and into the Google-powered comparison matrix. The company says its focus is on the user experience. So I guess they believe that long-term this approach will generate more traffic, more searches and ultimately more revenue, possibly from commissions for actual accounts generated, rather than just pay-per-click.

But in its current beta stage, there are some odd results. How would you feel if you are US Bank, bidding high enough to be number three on the search results page, but not shown until page three of the savings-account comparison page? Worse, three top-10 advertisers, BECU, Navy Federal CU, and TD Ameritrade aren't even listed on the savings comparison page.

Which brings up a bigger question. How does Google determine which FIs are listed? The savings-product comparison indexes only 17 banks, of which five aren't even playing the rate game at this point with rates of 0.25% or less (note 4). Furthermore, there's not a single credit union and just one smaller bank (Bank of Internet) listed. 

I understand this is just a trial balloon from Google and that product comparisons could make it easier for users to find the best rate. But right now it's unfair to any financial institution not in the chosen 17, and it doesn't allow users to easily choose from criteria other than rate, monthly fee, and whether a branch is nearby.

It also looks like the system could be gamed. What's to prevent one of these banks from launching ten, or 20 or 30 different savings accounts, all with temporary teaser rates, to soak up more space in the matrix?

Sure, Google will eventually build algorithms to prevent that, but that will take time. Meanwhile, it's an odd transition time for the search engine and its financial advertisers. But if you rely at all on Google to deliver new customers, you better pay close attention to developments with its product-comparison pages.

Google search for "savings accounts" (12 Jan. 2011, 4:00 PM Pacific, Seattle IP address)

Google search for "savings accounts" showing new product comparison ad

Google's "savings" comparison page

Google's "savings" comparison page

Offer details page for American Express High-Yield Savings

Offer details page for American Express High-Yield Savings


1. According to, Google started running the deposit-account comparisons in late December 2010 in the U.S. market.
2. We wrote about Google's credit card comparison matrix in November.
3. Google's savings-account matrix listed a total of 44 results, from 17 unique banks, displayed 10 per page
4. 14 of the 44 results, almost one-third of the matrix, were accounts paying 10 basis points or less.

Comments (1)

USAA Promotes Teen Checking Accounts

By Jim Bruene on January 11, 2011 6:16 PM | Comments (2)


In doing some initial research for a report we are planning for Q1 on "family bank accounts," I started where I usually do, on Google. The only financial institution advertising specifically on the term "teen banking" was USAA (see note 1).

The top-of-the-page ad led to a well-designed landing page devoted to Teen Checking (see screenshots below) with a clever call to action: 

We won't take any of your teen's allowance.
Teen checking without hidden fees.

USAA even has a dedicated site with its own URL to support its youth-banking efforts:

Relevance for NetBankers: Teenagers may be one of the most lucrative segments to attract to your financial institution. They not only spend billions themselves, but also could literally stick with you for a lifetime.

The thinking goes something like this:

  1. Attracting the children of your customers helps you retain the parents
  2. Retaining the parents helps you retain the kids as they become young adults
  3. Young adults become parents
  4. Repeat

This didn't work so well in the old branch-based world because one of the first things the kids did when they moved away was open a checking account at the closest branch to their new apartment or dorm room. In an online/mobile-centric world, that no longer has to happen. 

Google search for "teen banking" (see note 1; search conducted at 5:00 PM on 11 Jan. 2011 from Seattle IP address)

Google search for "teen banking"

USAA's "Teen Checking" landing page

USAA's "Teen Checking" landing page

1. First-page organic results included (note, search was limited to items posted in past month) 
-- Fremont FCU
-- North Shore Bank
-- Coast Hills FCU
-- U.S. Bank (Visa Buxx)
-- S.T.A.R Community Credit Union
-- American Riviera Bank (my new favorite bank name)
2. If anyone wants to point out great examples of teen/youth/family banking efforts, please drop me an email or leave it in the comments. Thanks.

Comments (2)

Out of the Inbox: Cascade Bank Drives Customers to Branch with One-Day iPad Giveaway

By Jim Bruene on December 3, 2010 5:01 PM | Comments

image I've long been an admirer of Cascade Bank, a $1.7 billion bank headquartered in Everett, WA. A friend was marketing director there for a number of years, and I learned a lot from her about community bank marketing and management.

While I used to have a mortgage at Cascade, I don't have any accounts now; hence, the email I received earlier this week. The bank invited prospective customers to come to one of its 22 branches (today only) and enter their name in a drawing to win an iPad. Five iPads were being given away bank wide.

And while in the branch, hoping to pick up a free ipad, the bank dangled an attractive duffel bag in front of visitors as a premium for opening a new checking account. And Cascade promised to drop an extra $25 in your account if you traded in your old check register from the competition.

Bottom line: Thanks to the iPad and some great graphic design, the mailing had a stunning visual, good title, and compelling offer. Excellent work.

Email announcing the giveaway (received 30 Nov. 2010)

Cascade Bank Email announcing the giveaway (received 30 Nov 2010)

Cascade Bank homepage (3 Dec. 2010)

Cascade Bank homepage (3 Dec 2010)

Landing page pitches free checking with duffel bag premium and $25 bonus 

Cascade Bank Landing page pitches free checking with duffel bag premium and $25 bonus

Note: For more ideas, see Online Banking Report: Growing Deposits in a Digital Age.


Service Credit Union Doubles Up on Black Friday Hoopla, Also Promoting Cyber Monday Offers

By Jim Bruene on November 26, 2010 1:52 PM | Comments

imageING Direct ran a slew of Black Friday offers again this year (see screenshots below; last year's coverage). And they weren't the only one. Service Credit Union also ran a homepage-dominating ad for its 6 AM-to-noon "doorbuster deals" today:

  • 10% APY 3-month CD with maximum deposit of $1000...$23 in extra interest compared to its regular CD (pre-tax)
  • Fee-free Visa gift cards (limit 5)
  • 1% rate reduction on new personal loans
  • $25 Visa gift card for opening a new credit card
  • Unspecified "in-branch checking account specials"

The credit union's U.S. branches opened at 6:00 AM to mimic the retail craziness on the day after Thanksgiving. Specials were available until noon only, and all required a branch visit to redeem.

I was going to say something about the lack of online-redemption options, but luckily I checked back after noon and found that a Cyber Monday promotion had taken the place of the Black Friday ad. Online users are being offered similar specials on this coming Monday (aka Cyber Monday):

  • 7% APY 3-month CD with $1000 max deposit (a $17 interest bonus)
  • $100 bonus for opening a new checking account (requires direct deposit and estatements)
  • $25 Visa gift card for opening a new credit card
  • Free personalized credit card design for first 100 members ($9.95 value)
  • $25 Visa gift card for a referral

Bottom line: The dual promotion was a clever way to involve both online and in-branch members.

Service Credit Union placed a bold advertisement on its homepage promoting its Black Friday deals (10:00 AM Pacific, 26 Nov. 2010)


Later in the day, the CU posted Cyber Monday specials on the homepage (1:00 PM Pacific)


Landing page (link)


ING Direct homepage on Black Friday (26 Nov. 2010


Landing page (link)
Note: Offers are good for the entire weekend



ING Direct Adds Kids Savings Accounts

By Jim Bruene on November 23, 2010 5:12 PM | Comments (1)

imageWe first opened an account at ING Direct back in 2001, not long after it opened for business in the United States. Almost since the beginning, my wife and I used it to store money and handle allowance bookkeeping for our kids. To keep things simple, we  created sub-accounts from our main savings account.

That made for a super-easy setup since it takes about 20 seconds (I've timed it) at ING Direct to create a new sub-account. The sub-accounts are nicknamed for each child and automatic transfers drop their allowance in so we no longer had to remember that every week. It's a great system. 

However, the above approach doesn't officially put the money into the child's name, which could have tax and other advantages. And if you want to provide your kids with online account access, you have to turn over your own username/password. And if you do that, there's nothing to keep enterprising youngsters from making an extra transfer or two into their own accounts. While I'm sure that wouldn't happen in our house (right, boys?), it's not an ideal setup.

ING Direct solved those limitations in October when it launched special kids savings accounts, which are joint accounts with an adult. But the child gets his own login-info separate from the adult. Kids can log in to check their balance, but only the adult can make transfers.

The ING Direct kids account pays the same rate as the adult version, currently 1.1%. And there are no fees, an ING Direct custom. The only downside, you have to complete a small application process, which took 3.5 minutes, not much, but still a bit of a chore compared to the 15-second, sub-account set-up process.

Once established, the new savings account shows up on the adult's main account menu like any other account.

Bottom line: It's a nice addition to the ING Direct lineup. While relatively bare bones in terms of features and functions, it will be interesting to see what the bank does with it over time such as integrating with Planet Orange, the bank's financial education effort (see screenshot below).

Landing page for more info on Kids Savings Accounts ( link, 23 Nov. 2010)

ING Direct Landing page for more info on Kids Savings Accounts

Kids account application, for adding to an existing adult account
Note (not shown): On the second step, you choose a 6-10 digit unique PIN for the child and on the third step, you fund the account with a minimum opening deposit of $1.

ING Direct Kids account application, for adding to an existing adult account

Planet Orange is the bank's financial education resource <> Note: So far, no integration with Kids Savings

Planet Orange is ING Direct's financial education resource

Hat tip:

Comments (1)

Certificate of Deposit Renewal Letters in the Digital Age

By Jim Bruene on November 15, 2010 6:40 PM | Comments (4)

image Today I received a letter from a large credit union (note 1) informing me that my certificate of deposit was up for renewal. I was given six choices at the bottom of a form (note 2) along with a postage-paid return envelope. 

Had I received that letter in 1988, I would have considered it state of the art. But in the modern world of instant communications and researching rates via Google, the communication was inadequate and reflects poorly on the CU's brand:

  • No current rate info: I realize that rates are subject to change and are miserably low, but at least tell me what they are today so I have some idea of what's going on. While you are at it, remind me of what my rate was. Avoiding naming the specific rate is a huge red flag that yours is probably not so competitive. Plus, it's irritating when it's obvious how easy it would be to program current rates into the form letter. The CU did at least direct me to its website and call center to find current rates. However, the call center had no main menu option for rates, so you had to guess which number made the most sense. 
  • No email/call center option for choosing: The only way to communicate my investment choice is to return a postage-paid envelope. How about an email address, phone number of even a simple URL?
  • No email notification: I signed up for this account online, and the bank's marketing messages arrive via email. Why didn't I get an email asking me which option I prefer?
  • No clear info on what happens next: According to the fine print buried in the accompanying Truth-in-Savings disclosure, my certificate will automatically renew if I take no action. But nowhere in the main letter does it say that, nor is the deadline for taking action spelled out. The "current maturity date" is provided, but that's using banking lingo that could be clearer.
  • No niceties (or even a sales pitch): The letter was bare bones with just two sentences and an info box about my CD (note 3). There was no salutation, no signature, no thank-you, no names of anyone at the CU, no local branch info, no encouragement to renew, and so on. 


1. As previously noted, we generally avoid posting the name of financial institutions that we criticize here; but we'll privately tell readers so long as it's not posted online (email me if you are curious).
2. The choices:
     A. Change term to 6, 12, 24 or 36 months (it was already 12 months, so that was a
          bit confusing, too). 
     B. Deposit to another account with a blank for writing in the account number
         (and no instructions on whether that had to be an account at the CU)
     C. Send a check for the balance (but with no ability to take a partial payout)
3. My CD is small ($500) and was set up online through a now-defunct third-party. So it's very possible that there are different communications sent to larger CD holders, and/or those that were acquired by a specific branch.

Comments (4)

Debit Card Overdraft Protection: 2 Steps Forward, 1.9 Back

By Jim Bruene on July 13, 2010 5:55 PM | Comments

image So far, I'm underwhelmed with the industry's online marketing response to the new opt-in debit card OD protection regulations. I expected to see new pricing models transforming small overdrafts into a value-add for debit card users, rather than the onerous penalty they had become over the past few years.

On the positive side, the elimination of OD charges for small transactions is a good first step. Three of the five FIs in our mini-survey have dropped fees on ODs of less than $5 (PNC and GTE Federal) or $10 (U.S. Bank). And Wells even makes a bit of a game out of it: Customers who cover the OD during the same day incur no fee.

And Bank of America has just thrown in the towel on the whole notion, running full-page ads (p. A11 in today's WSJ; Overdraft Control landing page) saying they'll just deny any attempt to overdraw via debit card. The retail giant joins Citibank and ING Direct, which already followed the same approach.

But financial institutions are missing an opportunity here. Take Wells Fargo, for example. When I ran across the bank's new homepage ad for debit card OD protection (see first screenshot), I expected to click through and find a novel take on the new federally mandated opt-in requirement (see second screenshot).

Wells does a good job explaining how the new rules benefit customers (the two steps forward): 

  • The bank's website copy is understandable and nicely outlines the lower-cost credit line, and savings account transfer options are offered
  • The toll-free number to sign up is prominent, although where's the online signup option? 
  • Great to see online and mobile balance-tracking tools offered up to help avoid overdrafts in the first place
  • My favorite: Customers are allowed to cover the overdraft during the same day and avoid the charge

But much of that uptick in consumer goodwill is negated when you get to the pricing:

  • Debit card overdrafts are $35 each, with a maximum of 4 per day, or a $140 daily penalty if you opt in and make a mistake coffee-shop (or more likely bar-) hopping some weekend.

In a spot check of other financial institutions, it's clear that Wells Fargo is far from alone in the $30 per item price range:

  • US Bank will charge $10 per overdraft of $20 or less and $33 for all others; it will charge for up to 3 ODs and 3 returned items for up to 6 per day; there's a $25 fee if you don't pay back within a week, but no charge for any item that results in less than $10 in total negative balance.
  • Fifth Third Bank will charge $25 for the first overdraft each year, $33 for the next three, then $37 each after that; maximum of 10 per day; $8 per day after the third day it's not paid back; no OD charge if negative balance is $5 or less.
  • PNC Bank charges $36 per item up to 4 per day, plus $7/day the account is overdrawn for a maximum of 14 days.
  • GTE Federal Credit Union is charging $29 each, with no charge on under-$5 items (blog post, Facebook post)

I just don't see customers being too pleased with the price/value here. Wouldn't customers, and shareholders, be better served with a value-based pricing strategy? How about $5 each for an under-$100 mistake? Or follow the telecom model and sell debit card overdraft protection as a $4.95/mo subscription.

By my simple math, a million customers paying $5/mo is a whole lot more revenue than a few thousand paying $35 a pop. Then there are all the side benefits: customer goodwill, reduced customer service headaches, positive word-of-mouth, and the PR/marketing value of making debit overdrafts into a real service.

Debit card OD link on Wells Fargo homepage (13 July 2010)

Wells Fargo homepage showing debit card OD ad

Landing page (link)
Click to enlarge

Wells Fargo debit overdraft landing page

image Note: Upper-right graphic from Horizons North Credit Union, which is charging $25 per item, with no limit on the number. The opt-in ad is a huge part of its current homepage (inset, click to enlarge).


Online Account Opening: Mango Financial Sweetens the Final Step

By Jim Bruene on June 21, 2010 4:11 PM | Comments (1)

imageI've always been a bit perplexed by how the online application process ends with such a whimper at many financial institutions. Often new applicants receive little more than two or three lines of small text such as:

Thanks for applying! Please watch your mail. Within 7 to 10 days you should have your xyz account. 
If you have any questions, call 800-YOURBNK. Have a nice day.

Think about how anti-climactic this is. Customers have just gone through an intensive research process, decided to go with xyz bank, evaluated the various options at the bank, figured out how to apply, located the necessary documentation, read through the disclosures, entered their most private financial details and passed through an online identify verification. 

Then after all that work customers receive in exchange no more than a short thank-you message and perhaps a confirmation code. Generally, customers can't even log in to their new account.

Here's where a new customer stands after submitting an online app: 

  • They cannot explore their new account to see how it works
  • They cannot verify the opening balance or pending deposit to see if it was processed properly
  • They cannot add additional funds to their new account
  • They cannot access their money to make a purchase, even via online shopping
  • They cannot set up bill payments, change passwords, set up alerts, adjust account preferences, add mobile banking or any of the dozens of activities that have to wait until account materials arrive in the mail
  • Users cannot purchase other products, consolidate balances, transfer info from an old account, order checks, contact customer service, refer friends, or do anything account related

New users are basically abandoned on-screen with absolutely nothing to do. The dead end is not only a bad first impression, but also affects account activation and engagement, resulting in lost profits.

This standoffish behavior may be partially rationalized: Since many applications will ultimately be denied, why waste time with someone who may not even qualify? But we know it makes no financial sense to treat every applicant as a potential loser. Why not assume everyone is a winner, and go from there if they are not?

So it was refreshing to find a financial company that understands the importance of a good start. Mango Financial <>, is another startup out of MPower Labs, the financial incubator from the the founders of NetSpend, brothers Bertrand and Roy Sosa. Two other MPower ventures debuted at FinovateSpring 2010, GoalMine from Gratio Capital and MPower Mobile (videos here).

The prepaid cards are issued by Austin, TX-based Horizon Bank, SSB.

How it works: The sales process for a Mango prepaid card is short and sweet, as it must be. It takes less than a minute to sign up. Users are automatically issued a reloadable plastic card which is shipped immediately, even before you load money on it. The company also issues a virtual card, which can be used immediately after money is loaded onto the card.

The card can be loaded via electronic bank transfer (ACH), direct paycheck deposit, or through retailers such as Walmart and CVS via Green Dot. Electronic loads are currently free of charge, while retailer-based loading costs $4.95 per transfer.

After the simple application process, users are presented with an action-oriented page (see first screenshot below). Users are congratulated for becoming Mango members (second screenshot) and given clear choices on what to do next (third screenshot) including a $20 incentive for directing their paycheck into their Mango account, making the prepaid account a clear checking-account substitute (note 1).

1. Final screen of successful application process at Mango Financial (18 June 2010)


2. Closeup view of the confirmation section above


3. Closeup of the "what to do next" options


4. Mango Financial homepage (17 June 2010)


1. Mango offers an additional incentive to add direct deposit. Only direct deposit customers are eligible to open a 5.1% APR savings account (first $5,000 only).
2. Mango has a two-page prepaid card application (click to enlarge).

image          image

3. For more on online account opening, see our Online Banking Report: Online Account Opening (June 2009).

Comments (1)

Launches: Piggymojo Taps Twitter and SMS to Track Everyday Savings Success

By Jim Bruene on June 1, 2010 10:25 AM | Comments (1)

image Who hasn't played this game? "If I give up x, I can justify buying y." At our house, after two decades the game is mostly now limited to big-ticket items. For example, "If we don't replace our 11-year old Toyota, we can take a summer trip to the U.S. Open."

The basic premise is that the extra three grand you DON'T spend on the new car essentially pays for the vacation, making it seemingly "free" and more guilt-free. It's a common and powerful principal of consumer behavior.     

Piggymojo's just-launched service taps into this psychology and gives it a mobile twist. The startup uses text/Tweet-based data input so it's easy to track all the expenses you've avoided during the day. And because it takes just a few seconds to tap out a message, the principal can be used to track even trivial daily savings that can add up over time.

For example, if you decide to start brown bagging lunch instead of hitting your normal lunch spots, you can track the savings by Tweeting/texting to your Piggy Mojo account:

Packed own lunch, saved $5 (or on Twitter, "d piggymojo 5 lunch not out")

Drank free office coffee, saved $2.75

Read office newspaper, saved $1

The service collects all these messages and tracks the total amount "saved." The totals can be applied to various savings goals to measure progress. The site uses a unique photo mosaic to visually represent goal progress. You can choose from dozens of exisiting photos or upload your own. As you build your savings, the photo gradually fills in until it's complete (see screenshot below).

You can add your spouse/partner to the account so both of you can contribute towards the savings. There's also a way to set up "recurring savings" so you don't have to constantly text repetitive items. For example, if you cancelled your cable TV, you can input the amount saved once at the Piggymojo site and it will automatically credit your account each month (see second screenshot).

There's also a social piece, allowing you to bring friends and family into the fold. Piggy Mojo will automatically send them a weekly progress report on your goal, providing that all-important peer pressure to your spending discipline.

Relevance for netbankers
Currently, the site is not hooked to an actual bank/CU savings account. The user is responsible for actually moving these fictitious savings amounts to a real savings account for later use. But this concept would be much more powerful if every time you texted "saved $6 at lunch" that six bucks were actually transferred from checking to savings.

Piggy mojo goal-tracking via completing picture of your goal (1 June 2010)
Note: The arrows point to the color sections that have been completed, visually demonstrating that I'm about 7% of the way to the goal


Recurring savings input form


1. HT: Credit Karma blog
2. For more info, see our Online Banking Report, where we wrote about various ways to leverage your online/mobile channel to boost deposits in late 2008 (here).

Comments (1)

Out of the Inbox: $50,000 "Goal Savings" Sweeps from ING Direct

By Jim Bruene on April 20, 2010 7:51 PM | Comments (1)

On April 16, the day after 2009 U.S. income taxes were due, ING Direct emailed customers with a little incentive to establish an automatic savings plan or direct deposit (see first screenshot below).

Any ING Direct savings or checking account customer who has at least $100 automatically deposited into their account is eligible for monthly drawings of $5,000 (April through Sep.). And one grand prize winner takes home $50,000 on October 1st (total prizes awarded = $80,000; full terms and conditions here; FAQs here).

With interest rates so low, it's a good idea to provide extra incentives to keep the savings habit alive. And April 16 is the second best day of the year to make a systematic savings appeal (the first business day after Jan. 1 has to be the best).

The sweeps is not mentioned on the bank's main website or within online banking. This seems odd, given that any account holder can win. Perhaps it's coming to the website.

ING Direct email to existing customers (16 April)


Landing page includes interactive smartphone app graphic (link)
Note: Users can drag and drop icons onto the phone's list to simulate a savings plan


Note: For more ideas on driving deposits online, see our Online Banking Report: Growing Deposits in the Digital Age (Dec. 2008).

Comments (1)

PNC Bank's Virtual Wallet Offers Three Ways to Put Your Savings on Autopilot

By Jim Bruene on April 6, 2010 5:15 PM | Comments

imageIf PNC Bank's Virtual Wallet, launched in July 2008 (previous post), worked with any bank account instead of just PNC's, it would have hundreds of thousands of users instead of the 60,000 or so estimated by Compete.

From the outside it's hard to know whether the strategy has paid off for PNC. It depends on the profitability of these customers, how many were new to the bank, and how much was invested in the effort. 

imageThe Virtual Wallet contains several superb products wrapped in an inviting user interface.  No wonder it's won so many awards, including an OBR Best of the Web from us. The eight awards are shown in a scrollbar at the bottom of the homepage (see inset).

One thing the wallet does better than most is try to make savings less painful or even fun (see last week's post about making banking fun). There are three ways users can boost their savings rate (see inset from PNC's demo):

  • imageEstablish automated savings transfers at various times of the month
  • Set up a savings amount to be transferred every time a bill is paid (same concept as Bank of America's Keep the Change)
  • And my favorite, Punch the Pig. Every time you hit the animated pig, a certain amount of cash is transferred to the Growth (savings) account.

: For more information on the PFM space, see our Online Banking Report on Personal Finance Features (new report available in April). For more on deposits, see Online Banking Report: Growing Your Deposits in the Digital Age (Dec. 2008).


ING Direct Black Friday Screenshots

By Jim Bruene on November 27, 2009 6:53 PM | Comments (1)

As a followup to our pre-Thanksgiving post, here's what the ING Direct website looked like on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving).

ING Direct Black Friday homepage (27 Nov 2009, 1 PM Pacific)


Black Friday deals landing page <>
Note: All the "Learn more" links went to the regular product pages


Comments (1)

Another Black Friday Banking Special: Service Credit Union

By Jim Bruene on November 27, 2009 10:20 AM | Comments

imageING Direct wasn't the only one with a Black Friday promotion (yesterday's post).

Portsmouth, NH-based Service Credit Union also took advantage of the U.S. vacation day to promote a special 10% APY 3-month CD ($1,000 max deposit) and 1% off loan rates (promo page). But unlike ING Direct, the CU's special offers were redeemable only in its branches, which opened at 5 AM to mimic giant retailer early-morning specials.

The offer was promoted in a rotating banner on the homepage (see inset and screenshot below). And it had its own landing page (see screenshot below).

I like the creativity, so I'll give them an A for effort. But seriously, opening at 5 AM? Maybe they were hoping for PR exposure, but it's just not right (note 1). I understand (sort of), heading to Best Buy in the middle of the night to save a couple hundred on a TV. But who would go to their bank at 5 AM to make an extra $20 on a CD (note 2) or apply for a car loan (note 3)?

But there was one offer in the fine print that was more valuable for a typical Black Friday shopper, fee-free gift cards until noon. Although, I'm not sure why they limited the number to five per customer. 

Hat tip: Bank Deals blog

Service Credit Union Black Friday promo page (link, 27 Nov. 2009, 9 AM Pacific)


Service Credit Union homepage


1. Now if you have in-store branches, it's another matter. Desert Schools FCU opened its 24 WalMart branches at 5 AM along with the retailer.
2. Extra interest on a $1000 CD for 3 months is about $7 per month, or $20 total. And that's before tax.
3. The almost unreadable type on the bottom of the small banner mention great prizes and giveaways, but the landing page makes no mentions of prizes. Now, free stuff would make it worth a trip to the branch, so I wonder why the CU didn't mention that on the promo page? Maybe they didn't want people to show up only for the prizes? 


Innovators: Incredible Bank Breaks the Direct-Bank Mold

By Jim Bruene on November 9, 2009 10:15 AM | Comments (1)

image The ink's barely dry on the news that ING Group will divest its U.S. bank, ING Direct, within the next 48 months (note 1), when someone else has already launched a direct bank with a distinctive orange theme (note 2):

The new brand: Incredible Bank from River Valley Bank, an 18-branch, $900 million (assets) bank headquartered in Wausau, Wisconsin.


The strategy: Like the original orange bank's Electric Orange account, Incredible Bank offers a high-yield checking account, currently paying 2%, that's 100% electronic. No paper checks (note 3), no paper statements. And unlike the hundreds of rewards-checking products, this one comes with no strings attached. The full rate is paid on all balances up to $250,000, then it drops to 1%.

Other account features:

  • Debit card
  • Free online bill pay
  • Unlimited ATM reimbursement
  • Overdrafts are $34 each with max 10 per day
  • Incoming wires are $5 each, outgoing are $20
  • Mobile banking (which is highlighted on the home page, see below and note 4)
  • ACH in/out (coming soon)

I've always wondered why, other than ING Direct and Kiwi Bank, only the U.K. direct banks seemed capable of a light-hearted brand positioning online (see update below). While we've seen many good social media and microsite efforts using humor, few financial institutions have dared use this approach on their core websites. Leave it to those spirited cheeseheads in Wisconsin to break the mold finally (note 5).

Initially, it's the 2% rate that will bring cash to Incredible Bank. But longer term, for any direct bank to add value to the parent's franchise, it must create loyal customers who won't bolt to the next newcomer offering a 15-basis-point rate advantage. This is a good start for River Valley, but they'll need a lot more than this bare-bones website to create long-lasting relationships.     

Hat tip: Bank Deals blog.

Update 9 Nov: The Financial Brand's Jeffry Pilcher reminded me of two good U.S. examples, GMAC's Ally Bank and (how could I forget?) Redneck Bank.

Incredible Bank homepage (9 Nov 2009)


1. In his Retail Delivery presentation, always one of the highlights of the show for me, Second Curve principal Tom Brown said ING Direct would be an attractive acquisition for any number of deposit-seeking large financial institutions; however, he did not name any.
2. Full disclosure: I have a strange weakness for the color orange, perhaps the result of many trips to Florida as a child. So, take anything I say in this post with a huge grain of salt. 
3. Normally, I think paper checks should still be made available, even if they are discouraged with fees. However, in cases where the direct brand will cannibalize deposits at the parent, it can make strategic sense to cripple the direct brand's checking account in this way. That way, fewer River Valley customers will simply move their entire checking account over.
4. The bank has created a mobile site with shorter URL:
5. While Incredible Bank is quite different, the main River Valley Bank brand remains typically conservative, at least in its online presence. They don't even dare mention the Incredible brand anywhere on its website.
6. See our Online Banking Report: Growing Deposits in the Digital Age for a dozen more strategies.

Comments (1)

Fifth Third Bank Bundles Free Credit Report Monitoring & Identity Theft Protection into Checking Accounts

By Jim Bruene on September 2, 2009 4:21 PM | Comments (1)

imageChecking account profits are being attacked on several fronts. Near-zero short-term interest rates have destroyed the profitability of the balances. Regulators and activists are putting pressure on penalty fees. And consumers are loath to pay monthly charges for what's been positioned as a free service for so long.

So how is it that Fifth Third Bank is able to bundle a service into its checking account that typically costs consumers $12 or more per month? They are bringing back the monthly fee (see note 1), charging either $7.50 or $15 per month for a so-called package account (see options below). It's a strategy right out of Marketing 101: figure out what customers want, then build the  product, package it right, promote it well, and price it for the value delivered.

I believe Fifth Third has taken the right tack with its checking accounts, though it should go even further (see analysis). The bank offers two non-interest checking account bundles (PDF comparison here), neither of which are free of charge no matter how high the balance (note 2). Instead of offering fee waivers, the bank has bundled full-service three-bureau credit report monitoring and identity theft services powered by Affinion (link to Fifth Third Identity Alerts). And the monitoring is available for BOTH names on a joint checking account (note 3). 

  • Secure Checking at $7.50/month, comes with free credit report
    monitoring and identity theft protection (valued at $9.95/month per person)
  • Gold Checking at $15/month, comes with the same free ID protection &
    monitoring plus free nationwide ATM access

Analysis of Secure Checking
imageNow more than ever, customers are craving security and safety in all things financial (see yesterday's post). Bundling identity theft/credit report monitoring in checking accounts is an excellent way to address customer concerns AND differentiate your account in the marketplace. And naming it Secure Checking helps drive home the key benefit.

I like what the bank has done. It would be even better if it highlighted more of its current security features available in mobile and Internet banking (note 4):

  • Email alerts
  • Mobile text alerts
  • Secure storage of estatements
  • Transaction monitoring for fraud and error
  • Other security protections as outlined on its security page
And down the road, they could enhance the account with additional features such as (note 5): 
  • Out-of-band authentication via text message
  • Disposable credit/debit account numbers
  • Long-term (7+ years) secure transaction archives
  • Enhanced fraud protection guarantees
  • Dedicated security reps on call 24/7 to help out in the case of a suspected problem
  • Software and tools to safeguard online banking (e.g., Trusteer, Authentium, Check Point)

Fifth Third Bank non-interest checking accounts (link, 2 Sep 2009)


Secure Checking landing page


1. Ref: Is This the End of Free Checking?, SmartMoney Magazine, 31 Aug, by Kelli B. Grant
2. The bank does offer an interest-bearing checking account with its $15 monthly fee waived with a $2,000 average balance in checking or $20,000 across all deposit and investment products. The bank also has a free non-interest checking account option.
3. I'm not sure the bank gets enough mileage out of covering BOTH account holders to justify the additional costs. To improve profits, the bank should consider a modest additional fee (approximately $5/mo) to cover joint account holders. 
4. These benefits are hidden behind a tab that most consumers, including myself on my first two passes, will likely miss (see second screenshot above).
5. For more info on how to package security benefits into your services, refer to the following Online Banking Reports: Marketing Security (June 2005) and New Techniques for Securing Online Banking (Sep 2008).

Comments (1)

WV United Federal Credit Union is First with iPhone-based Remote Check Scan & Deposit

By Jim Bruene on July 12, 2009 5:37 PM | Comments (2)

imageIn June, we reported on USAA's upcoming iPhone app that will support remote check deposits. But it looks like they were beaten to market by tiny WV United FCU headquartered in Charleston, WV. Haven't heard of WV United? They have just six employees, $11 million in assets, and 3,000 members.

But somehow they were able to pull off something that no other financial institution has yet to accomplish, accepting paper check deposits via a native iPhone application (iTunes link, see note 1 and 2). The application was added to the iPhone App Store on July 4, and the CU wasted no time in heralding the innovation with a homepage banner (see screenshot below).

imageThe application could not be simpler. Users take a picture by pressing the button on the left (see inset), verifying that the image is readable, then uploading with the button on the right. WV United uses the member's mobile phone number to apply it to the correct account. The latest iPhone OS 3.0 is required.

The credit union also accepts deposits via in-home scanners using secure file transfers powered by LeapFile (co-branded site here).

It appears both services simply send images to the credit union where an employee manually converts them to ACH items. According to the E-Deposit customer agreement, the first 10 items each month are free; a $1 fee per item for the remainder of the month is charged. This allows for collection of a bit of fee revenue from small business members, while enabling most consumers to use it free of charge.

Certainly, fraud possibilities exist. But the CU's normal deposit-processing controls should mitigate most of the risk (see E-Deposit funds availability policy here). 

Mitek Systems introduced a mobile remote-deposit system last year (post here), but it's not yet in production at any financial institutions. 

imageAnalysis: Although not a feature that will see widespread usage, mobile check deposits will prove convenient for certain customers, especially mobile small businesses. More importantly, it helps differentiate between online and mobile services.

So, for raising the bar in mobile banking, we are awarding WV United with our first OBR Best of the Web award for 2009 (note 3). In the 12 years we've given the award, WV United is by far the smallest financial institution to win. 

WV United FCU homepage with iPhone banner (11 July 2009)


iPhone app landing page (link)


1. Sometimes it's nice to be small. WV United has six employees total, according to NCUA data. Most large banks would have a project team larger than that just to do the feasibility study on mobile remote-deposit capture.
2. For more info on the importance of iPhone applications for financial services, see our recent full report: Online Banking Report: Mobile Banking via the iPhone.
3. OBR Best of the Web awards are given periodically to companies that pioneer new online and mobile banking features. It is not an endorsement of the company or product, just recognition for what we believe is an important development. WV United is the 74th recipient of the designation since we began awarding it in 1997.

Comments (2)

SmartyPig Deposits Up Ten-fold with High-rate Strategy

By Jim Bruene on June 25, 2009 5:21 AM | Comments (1)

image Maintaining one of the highest rates in the country, currently 2.75% (see note 1), SmartyPig's deposits have grown ten-fold since January (see chart 1, below). And the company plans to continue its aggressive pricing and marketing, hoping to grow another five-fold to a half-billion by year-end (see chart 2, below) or 50x what they started the year with.

Deposits in the United States are held by part owner, Des Moines, Iowa-based West Bank. Australian deposits are held by SmartyPig partner ANZ Bank.

To help fund their growth objectives, SmartyPig announced today that Red McCombs, co-founder of Clear Channel Communications, has invested an undisclosed amount. McComb Enterprises lists one other financial services company in its portfolio, asset-based lender, Propel Financial Services.

Founder Jon Gaskell is pleased with the aspect of goal-based saving at SmartyPig. In an email yesterday he told me:

Of our customers who have reached a goal, more than 80% of them have started a new goal. The average SmartyPig goal length is nearly 4.5 years, and our average user is depositing a little more than $200 per month toward his or her goal. Fifteen months after launch, our data suggests that a vast majority of our customers are staying focused on their predetermined goals, and the deposits are "CD-like" in nature.

The half-billion-dollar question, assuming they meet their 2009 projection, is how sticky are the deposits when rates come down off the top of the chart?   

Chart 1: Actual deposit growth at SmartyPig


Chart 2: Expected deposit growth through Dec. 2009


Source: SmartyPig, 25 June 2009

SmartyPig homepage (24 June 2009)


1. In Bank Deals weekly list of highest savings rates, SmartyPig was number one on June 20 at 3.05%. The rate was lowered on June 22 to its current 2.75%.

Comments (1)

Bank of America promotes retirement planning at logoff

By Jim Bruene on June 16, 2009 5:52 PM | Comments

image After viewing my credit card statement (personal and business) I was greeted with the following retirement planning pitch from Bank of America. I've recently seen similar banners on the bank's homepage (though not today).

It's not easy getting consumers interested in looking at their retirement situation when they are in the middle of an Internet session. There's always something more pressing or entertaining to be done than worry about some distant event. 

So it takes extra effort to entice clicks. BofA has a good approach. The "Stop Guessing About the Future" hook is a good way to grab attention. And the colorful slider-based tool is easy to use and, most importantly, takes only a few seconds to deliver some meaningful results.

1. Bank of America logoff screen (2:25 PM, June 16)


2. Landing page of promo (link)

The BofA tool uses a short bit of audio to get your attention and explain how to complete the short, five-step wizard. Users may turn off the audio using the button in the upper right. 


3. Step 1 of 5


4. Results page

  • Calculates your "retirement number," the amount you need to have to bring your cash income during retirement to 85% of today's value (similar themes have been used by Wells Fargo (here) and ING (here))
  • Shows range of possibilities based on a range of potential investment returns
  • Has two handy boxes showing when you'll run out of cash and how much you need to add to your monthly savings to avoid that (also expressed in ranges)
  • Action plan in the lower right leads to some suggested courses of action, that the bank can help with, such as rolling over a 401(k)


Note: For more information see our Online Banking Report on Selling Behind the Password, published in April.


Chase creates excellent transition site for Washington State consumers, but stumbles with online application

By Jim Bruene on June 3, 2009 8:12 PM | Comments (1)

image Chase Bank is sparing no expense in launching its brand in former WaMu strongholds, particularly Seattle, the previous headquarters of WaMu. The bank is remodeling the branches, hanging new signage, taking full-page ads in the Seattle paper, running radio spots, and bidding for the top spot on Google.

The Chase Washington State microsite is gorgeous, really impressive. The graphic design is eye-catching, serene, and uplifting. Chase's logo is superimposed where the sun would be, creating a nice effect and great first impression of the bank, which is new to Washington state (see screenshot 1 below).

While the website designer scores an A+, the online app gets an incomplete (as in, I couldn't get it to work), at least for the checking account I tried to purchase (note 2). 

My first issue with the application, and this is more of a nitpick, is the location of the compare accounts links. Chase lists four main checking choices plus two student-oriented accounts (see screenshot 2 below). Since the account names provide no help in selecting the right one, I looked for a way to compare accounts. But my eyes were drawn to the Get Details and Open now buttons, and I never saw the links in the upper right corner. Since most users will need help selecting the right checking account, the Compare option should be at least as prominent as the Get Details button.

The much bigger issue prompting me to write this article is that online account opening didn't work, at least for the account I selected, Chase Premier Platinum Checking. After completing the first page of the online app (see screenshot 3 below), I was greeted with a cryptic message telling me to visit a branch for help (see note 1). And this is from a bank introducing its name in a new market.

Lessons for financial institutions:

  • Make sure you test all the options in your online application (see note 3)
  • If there are valid reasons why you cannot open the account online, explain them to your customer in detail (and don't lead them to believe the account can be opened online if it can't)
  • Provide more options for help than just "visit your branch;" for example, online chat, telephone numbers, Web-based inquiry form, and a call-me button
  • APOLOGIZE and thank the customer for their application attempt. Chase does neither. The bank's entire message (see screenshot 4):

   Unable to Continue: We are unable to open a Premier Checking account
   online. Please visit your local Chase Branch for assistance.

1. Chase Bank's Washington-state transition site main page (1 June 2009)


2. Chase checking account options


3. First page of Chase's online loan application


4. Fail screen displayed after hitting next on previous screen 


1. I had selected "not a Chase customer" so I thought perhaps I was having trouble because the bank's cookie's showed me to be a Chase card holder. So I tried it on another machine, with the cookies erased, and the same thing happened.
2. The problem seems to be with Premier Platinum Checking. I was able to start the app process just fine with Chase Checking.
3. Chase isn't the only one with online account-opening problems. I am researching account opening for an upcoming Online Banking Report, and just today I reached a complete dead-end in the online application at a large credit union, and was forced to abandon the app late in the process, after I'd been through credit-bureau validation. 

Comments (1)

Has Mercantile Bank cracked the code for generating online banking fees?

By Jim Bruene on May 26, 2009 6:17 PM | Comments (1)

imageWe are always on the lookout for examples of U.S. financial institutions charging fees for value-added services online (see note 1). In the past seven or eight years, the sightings have been rare. 

But today, we have a great one. And like most brilliant ideas, it seems pretty obvious in retrospect. The new service from Mercantile Bank of Michigan is called Funds Manager (PDF FAQs here) and it's not only a great service innovation, but also promises to bring fees back to online banking.

How it works
Funds Manager is basically a consumer version of positive pay, a standard offering in commercial banking. In the commercial version, clients look at checks and electronic items being presented for payment, and can nix any that are fraudulent.

Mercantile launched similar capabilities for its retail customers, allowing them to peek at their pending checks and ACH items a half-day before they are withdrawn from their account (see note 1).

Between 11 AM and noon, the bank posts the checks that will be processed that evening, giving customers a few hours lead time to make a transfer to avoid an upcoming overdraft. Customers have until 5 PM to make a branch deposit or 7 PM to make an online transfer to cover a shortfall.

Mercantile's online and mobile banking are powered by S1.

Business case
Sure, the service would impact OD/NSF income. But the bank makes up for that by charging a small fee, $4/mo, for the service. Given the type of customer who'd be drawn to this service, $48/yr should more than cover any lost OD income. And it provides a service that improves customer satisfaction and differentiates the bank from others. Business customers pay $30/mo, a potentially lucrative small-business service.

According to an article in Friday's American Banker, the bank has signed up a quarter of its retail online banking customers for the service (558 of 2,361). While the $27,000 in annual revenues to Mercantile barely covers costs, if Bank of America experienced similar penetration, it would be worth more than $250 million per year, a nice boost to the online banking P&L.

Not only is consumer positive pay a nice standalone service, it could be the cornerstone of a premium online banking option that could be priced at $5/mo or more. 

It would be even better if users received email or text-message alerts whenever they had items to review. And it would be a great addition to an iPhone/mobile app where the items could be reviewed, and transfers initiated, right on the phone.

1. Please email other examples to me or add them to the comments.
2. The advanced look does not include branch deposits, ATM transactions, wire transfers, or telephone transfers.  

Comments (1)

Chase Uses Branch-Based WaMu Checking Account Offer at Credit Card Login

By Jim Bruene on May 2, 2009 7:25 AM | Comments

image I spent the past few weeks looking at cross-selling efforts from within the secure online banking zone. But unfortunately, I came across the following example too late to be included in our report (see note 1). 

When I logged in to pay my Chase consumer credit card online (note 2), I was greeted with the following interstitial page (aka "splash screen") inserted before the main account-management area (see first screenshot).

Chase is offering a $125 incentive to open a WaMu-branded free checking account (note 3). This offer may have something to do with the fact that I'm located in Seattle, the former headquarters of WaMu. The same creative was used in a statement insert and a banner ad across the main account-management page (see third screenshot).


1. Serving "more info": In this example, Chase handles the info-serving process a bit differently than others I'd looked at recently. When selecting More Info on the splash screen, the bank opened a new tab (in Firefox 3) for the landing page (see second screenshot below). And while the user read the offer details on that page, the original tab automatically loaded the original destination (account management page), and the interstitial ad disappeared.

On the one hand, it's convenient for the user to be able to look at the offer details and then quickly navigate back to the area they were originally logging in to. However, for more experienced users expecting a pop-up screen that can be quickly closed after reading, it can be momentarily confusing. There's a risk the user will inadvertently close the entire browser session by clicking the upper-right "x," necessitating an annoying restart and re-login.  

I'm not sure there's a single right answer, but another variable worth testing - something I'd prefer - is a popup running in a smaller window in front of the original Chase page.

2. Branch-only fulfillment: I was surprised to see the offer can be redeemed only in branch. There is no way to sign up online. The landing page is actually actually a coupon users are encouraged to print with the page-dominating blue "print" button (see second screenshot below).

I can understand the rationale for pushing people into branches where they can be upsold other services. But in this quick-start age, I'm surprised there isn't at least an option to apply online. Perhaps this is a test to see how a branch-only offer compares to online-only ones.

Chase Bank splash screen (interstitial) immediately after login
(30 April 2009, 1:40 PM Pacific)


Landing page/coupon (opens in second tab in Firefox 3)


My Accounts page


1. The results are compiled in our latest Online Banking Report: Selling Behind the Password
2. Tiny rant: I owed $2.45 left over from some extra finance charge even though I paid my bill in full online last month. It's not so much that Chase didn't earn the $2, that's fine. What's irritating is that they made me pay it right away by setting my min payment to $2.45. Come on Chase, I've had this account since the 1990s, you can float me the $2 until the next time I have a charge.
3. Interestingly, I already have a small business checking account at WaMu. Either the bank's householding algorithm missed it, or Chase is making the offer to everyone in my Zip, or it still wants me to open a personal account to go with my biz one.


New Online Banking Report Published: Selling Behind the Password

By Jim Bruene on April 24, 2009 6:14 PM | Comments


We just posted our latest Online Banking Report.
It will be mailed to subscribers tomorrow. It's also available online here. There's no charge for current subscribers; others may access it immediately
for US$395.


Selling Behind the Password
Unlocking the marketing potential within
online banking

48 pages (published 21 April, 2009)

In this report (abstract), we go behind the login screen and report on the marketing and cross-selling practices of 15 financial institutions and card issuers.

Even among large banks, there's a huge disparity in the amount of cross-selling efforts within online banking. Wells Fargo is the most prolific, with nine marketing messages and product placements alone on its main account-management page. The bank also uses login and logoff activities to display promotions (see screenshot below). On the other hand, US Bank has just a single link to an "offers page" buried below the fold. Most FIs fall somewhere in between.

We looked at the opportunities within six different areas:

  • Interstitial pages (splash screen) inserted after performing any online activity, especially after the initial login.
  • Banner and keyword promotions within the secure online banking area
  • Product placement within online banking and bill pay
  • Transactional upgrades
  • Page displayed after an online banking session has concluded (either through logout or inactivity)
  • Product/shopping/discount portals and third-party ads

The following financial companies were analyzed by logging in to actual accounts and documenting their sales and marketing efforts:

  • American Express business gold
  • Bank of America online banking
  • Chase credit card
  • Citibank business card
  • Citibank online banking
  • Discover Card
  • Everbank
  • First Tech Credit Union
  • ING Direct
  • Jwaala (demo only)
  • Mint
  • Netflix (non-financial)
  • PayPal
  • Revolution Money
  • US Bank
  • WaMu
  • Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo promotion displayed after logging out from online banking
(27 March 2009)



Failure to Launch? Consumer Remote Deposit Posts Very Slow Growth

By Jim Bruene on April 15, 2009 7:18 PM | Comments (5)

image_thumb10_thumb2Two-and-a-half years after USAA was first to offer remote deposit capture to consumers via standard scanners (post here), it appears the technology has failed to gain much of a following outside business circles (notes 1,2).

Quoted this month in Digital Transactions magazine (PDF here, pp. 58-62), John Leekley, founder of, estimates that only 75,000 consumers (and apparently 1 cat, see inset) use the service, less than 0.001% of all U.S. households.

Some other numbers from the article by Jane Adler:

  • After 14 months, EasCorp, a CUSO out of Burlington, MA, has just 24,000 registered users across its 30 credit union installations, or 800 per CU (see previous post)
  • Other EasCorp metrics:
    • Average deposited check = $900
    • Average deposits per session = $1,200
    • Total amount deposited in past 14 months = $80 million
    • At $900 per item, that amounts to about 90,000 checks processed, or about 4 per end-user
    • Cost per deposit for CU clients is $0.25 per item for "higher volume" customers
  • The initial experience at First Command Bank is more encouraging: Since launching in November, First Command Bank has registered 1,600 users for its Deposits on Command across its online customer base of 65,000, for a 2.5% penetration rate (note 3). First Command has a total of 85,000 customers online and offline, so the overall penetration rate is about 2%.
    • Total remote deposits per month are 1,200; slightly under 1 per registered user per month
    • There is no fee for the service, but you must be an estatement user or have an investment account to qualify. Daily deposit limit = $5,000

First Command Bank homepage (14 April 2009)
Remote deposit capture (Deposit on Command) is one of two items that rotate in the top banner-ad slot  image_thumb1_thumb1

1. We are referring here to CONSUMER remote deposit, not to be confused with the very successful business remote deposit.
2. In the same article, Fiserv was cited as projecting growth to 1 million users by the end of 2009, although there was no indication as to when the prediction was made or whether it included business users.
3. If Bank of America had similar usage, it would be well on its way towards 1 million registered users (625,000).
4. Photo from CheckFree/Fiserv

Comments (5)

MoneyAisle Introduces Multi-Auction CD Laddering

By Jim Bruene on February 11, 2009 6:03 PM | Comments

image CD laddering is a great way to increase yield without sacrificing liquidity. Sophisticated savers have used the strategy, often at the suggestion of personal or private bankers. It's not rocket science, but it takes a bit more planning.

It's a trivial bit of logic to program a ladder tool into a computer or website, so it's surprising that it's rarely featured on banking sites (note 1). That may be because most financial institutions have dozens of product lines to nurture, and it's difficult to justify the resources for speciality features.

That's just the kind of thinking that creates market opportunities for startups like MoneyAisle from neoSaej. The Boston-area company, which made its public debut at Finovate 2008 (demo video here), is totally focused on deposits and can justify the investment in advanced features. In fact, their livelihood depends on it.

So it makes sense they'd be first to market with an automated CD-laddering tool. But what makes it especially impressive is that MoneyAisle users can run up to 30 simultaneous auctions placing funds in up to 30 different financial institutions (see note 2).  

In our test of a relatively simple, but typical, four-rung ladder (see below), four different financial institutions won the bidding:

  • MetLife paying 2.1% for a $25,000 3-month CD
  • First National Bank of Florida paying 2.3% for a $25,000 6-month CD
  • Wainwright Bank paying 2.5% for a $25,000 9-month CD
  • KeySource Commercial Bank paying 2.93% for a $25,000 12-month CD

And by distributing our funds into four different maturities, 3-month, 6-month, 9-month, and 12-month, we were able to increase the yield by 0.36% compared to putting it all into 3-month certificates. And we are still able to withdraw 25% of our funds every 3 months without penalty. To further increase yield, the shorter-term CDs could be reinvested into longer-term CDs at maturity, e.g., each CD could be rolled into one-year CDs at maturity to create a ladder of four 12-month CDs with one maturing every 3 months.

Advanced option: The advanced ladder is designed for users that want to spread their deposits around. The money designated for each CD maturity can be spread to two or three different banks if desired. Users may also choose up to 10 banks they want excluded from the bidding.

Simple CD ladder tool at MoneyAisle (11 Feb. 2009)


 Results from the above auction: Four $25,000 CDs of varying maturities
(11 Feb. 2009)


MoneyAisle's Advanced laddering tool (11 Feb. 2009)


1. Bank of America has a Java-based laddering calculator here as does Citizens Bank (here) and Safe Credit Union (here).

2. The maximum number of simultaneous auctions in the simple ladder program (shown above) is 10.

3. For more information on MoneyAisle and other new lead-gen programs, see our Online Banking Report on Lead Generation and our recent report on Growing Your Deposits Online.


neoSaej's MoneyAisle Generates $100 Million in Deposits in Q4 2008

By Jim Bruene on January 28, 2009 5:45 PM | Comments

image It's so refreshing to have some real numbers to go on, even if they are self reported. Aside from Prosper, Lending Club (here), and most recently SmartyPig (here), few of the startups we track provide meaningful metrics on their operations. That's why we use Compete website traffic estimates as a proxy for success.

Yesterday, MoneyAisle, the reverse-deposit-auction marketplace from neoSaej, released the following results for fourth quarter 2008 (press release): 

  • $1.65 billion in auctions run by consumers, up three-fold from Q3 2008 (note 1)
  • $100 million in deposits generated

That's not a lot, but we can make a few estimates from that info (note 2):

  • Assuming 80 active bank partners, the average take per bank in Q4 was $1.25 million
  • But applying the 80/20 rule to those results means that 16 banks generated about $80 million in deposits, or $5 million each
  • And conversely, the remaining 64 banks brought in just $300,000 each
  • Assuming the average deposit balance auctioned was $20,000, five thousand separate auction winners funded a deposit
  • Assuming a commission of $37 per funded auction (note 2), neoSaej would have generated $185,000 in commission income in Q4, this is in addition to license fees and monthly maintenance fees

And for those of you who still want traffic numbers, MoneyAisle's website usage (monthly unique visitors) has been trending upwards after suffering a post-launch dip in November. In December, visitors totaled just under 20,000. 


Bottom line: It's a promising start for the company which earned an OBR Best of the Web this summer, was picked by the audience as Best of Show in October's Finovate (video here), and was recently chosen as a top-10 innovation of the year in our most recent Online Banking Report (here).

When MoneyAisle adds integrated online account opening (powered by Andera), results should be even stronger. 

1. Deposit-generated total is 6% of total auctions run, because consumers are not obligated to make the deposit after they run the auction.

2. My speculative estimates, not provided from the company.

3. We outlined the company in a June blog post and in the pages of our Online Banking Report on New Models for Lead Generation and Online Banking Report on Growing Deposits in the Digital Age


SmartyPig Releases Social Savings Metrics; Launches in Australia with ANZ Bank

By Jim Bruene on January 14, 2009 6:07 PM | Comments

image SmartyPig, which launched its social savings program in March 2008 (previous post) and debuted at Finovate Startup (video here), hit the world stage Dec. 16.

The company, operating out of world headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa, partnered with ANZ Bank to launch SmartyPig in Australia. ANZ was able to lay claim to being the first to offer social savings down under (see note 1).


The site is nearly identical to the stateside version, but ANZ has a smidgen more branding (see screenshot below). Also note the new emphasis on being 100% free, a benefit echoed on the U.S. site as well.

However, unlike U.S. partner and part owner, West Bank (note 2), which has the SmartyPig logo plastered all over its site (see screenshot below), the ANZ site has no mention of the product, it even draws a blank using ANZ site search.

Social savings metrics from SmartyPig
Because SmartyPig's sole emphasis is on goal-based savings, its results provide unique insights into the market. While the company has not released account totals, its partner, West Bank disclosed that total deposit in the program amounted to $5.6 million at the end of Q3.

While that's less than $1 million per month since launch, since many accounts start very small, it could be a healthy number of accounts. And with the requirement of automated savings additions, the growth potential is excellent. Assuming a $1,000 average account balance (note 3), the company would have attracted more than 5,000 total accounts during its first six months.

After the initial launch spike, site traffic has been steadily increasing to 25,000 monthly visitors in December (see chart below).

SmartyPig has made available information on the savings goals made by users. The data is through Oct. 2008 (except total deposit amount) and includes only the totals from the U.S. site. 

Total amount on deposit (30 Sep 2008, per West Bank 10Q): $5.6 million

Primary account holder by age*:

18-25 >>> 30%
26-35 >>> 37%
36-45 >>> 20%
46+ >>>>> 13%

*By law, primary account holders must be 18 or over,
so children’s goals are owned by their parents

Average goal amount across all holders on the following dates:

April 1 >>>  $3,900
May 1 >>>> $7,300
June 1 >>> $7,400
July 1 >>>> $7,400
Aug 1 >>>> $7,900
Sep 1 >>>> $7,700
Oct 1 >>>> $8,600

Goal amount by category:

Travel >>>>>>>>>>>>> 21%  (Avg = $4,400)
Holiday spending >>> 12%   (Avg = $900)
Electronics >>>>>>>> 10%    (Avg = $2,500)
Home improvement >> 6%  (Avg = $12,900)
Unspecified >>>>>>>>> 5%   (Avg =  $9,800)
Weddings >>>>>>>>>>> 5%   (Avg = $7,900)
House down payment or addition >>> 4%  (Avg = $22,200)
Emergency fund >>>>> 3%   (Avg = $6,600)
Babies >>>>>>>>>>>>>> 3%   (Avg = $5,100)
Home furnishings >>>> 2%   (Avg = $3,500)
Car or car expenses >> 2%   (Avg = $6,800)
College >>>>>>>>>>>>> 1%   (Avg = $9,700)
Other >>>>>>>>>>>>>> 26%  (Avg $10,700)

Average projected time until goal met based on savings rate: Just over 4 years


SmartyPig ANZ Version (13 Jan 2009)


USA partner West Bank's homepage (14 Jan 2009)


Traffic chart from Compete (14 Jan 2009)


1. See our most recent Online Banking Report: Growing Deposits in the Digital Age, for more info on social savings, along with 16 other strategies.

2. Des Moines, Iowa-based West Bank owns 18% of SmartyPig according to its 30 June 2008 SEC filing.

3. My guess, not a number that has been disclosed.


EFT Network Inc. Launches Remote Deposit Capture via Fax

By Jim Bruene on January 13, 2009 6:29 PM | Comments

imageRemote deposit capture (RDC) via mobile phone has to be the coolest way to make paper checks disappear from your office and reappear in your account. But from a usability standpoint, it leaves something to be desired, limiting its appeal to geeks with a check to deposit every once in a while. 

Businesses with several checks or more every week need something more convenient and easy to use. Proprietary scanners connecting to PC-based software apps work well, but require installation and training, not to mention $30+ per month in service fees.

image Enter FAXTellerPLUS, a new solution from Hawthorn, NY-based EFT Network, that uses the common fax machine for the input mechanism. The bank runs the software on its end freeing the user to get back to their business once the fax transmits.

Today's press release says the four banks using the system are processing "thousands of transactions per month."

How it works:

  1. Bank sends customers a special sleeve that holds up to 3 checks to be transmitted and includes info on the customer so deposit can be directed to the correct account.
  2. Customer transmits the check (front and back) to the bank via standard fax machine.
  3. Bank sends confirmation back to customer via fax or email.
  4. Funds are deposited in customer's account and images viewable online.

If this works as billed, it could put RDC into the hands of micro- and small-businesses as well as consumers with access to fax machines at home or work. If any readers have used or tested the system, please let me know your experience by commenting here or emailing.


New Online Banking Report Published: Growing Deposits in the Digital Age

By Jim Bruene on December 16, 2008 5:59 PM | Comments (1)

image Every banker talks about the importance of core deposits, but in most years it's hardly front-page news: 2008 changed that.

As demonstrated by the shocking downfall of WaMu, Wachovia, and others, a stable deposit base is crucial to your profitability, your brand, and even your viability as an organization.

As a result, deposit product marketing is on the forefront of many bank and credit union marketing plans for 2009 and beyond. With that in mind, we offer the latest issue from Online Banking Report:

Growing Deposits in the Digital Age:
Seventeen smart strategies for gathering core deposits while building your brand

The report includes 72 pages of ideas, tactics, and strategies to expand retail deposits in 2009 and beyond. It was written by guest author Jeffry Pilcher, a branding and marketing guru who recently launched his own brand consultancy, ICONiQ. Pilcher joins OBR Editor Jim Bruene in looking at seventeen promising deposit-building strategies. Many are tried-and-true techniques, such as sweepstakes and rewards, updated with a digital touch. While others, such as bidding on deposits at auction at MoneyAisle, are pure Internet-enabled inventions.

Online Banking Report subscribers may download the report (here) free of charge. Others may purchase (here).

The seventeen strategies explored in Growing Deposits in the Digital Age:

  • Customizable accounts
  • Debit savings rewards
  • DIY online-only accounts
  • Deposit auctions
  • Gen-Y checking
  • Green banking
  • High-yield/big rate
  • Instant online depositing
  • Mobile savings apps & online widgets
  • Online savings buzz
  • Rewards checking
  • Savings automation & incentives
  • Social savings contests
  • Socially conscious banking
  • Sweepstakes & giveaways
  • Social "friends & family" savings
Comments (1)

Schwab Takes Over Tully's WiFi Landing Page

By Jim Bruene on December 5, 2008 3:48 PM | Comments

image I go online at a Tully's coffee shop every few weeks, but I don't recall ever being pitched something outside the usual Costa Rican blend when logging in to its free Internet connection.

But today, Charles Schwab owned the Tully's landing page, with three banners running across the page touting its High Yield Investor Checking among other things (see below). The two on the right have financial questions that, when clicked, take the user to an article on the site (see last screenshot).

The banner lower-left is more interesting. Little squares scroll across the banner in a very Web 2.0 way and, when clicked, additional info is delivered directly within the banner. Users stay on the Tully's page unless they click the Open an Account Today button.

The three scrolling graphics include:

  • ATM fee graphic leads to an ATM calculator (see below)
  • The High Yield Investor Checking graphic (not shown) leads to a description of that product
  • The map leads to a short animated audio visual piece promoting ATM access and the High Yield account

Comment: This type of grassroots marketing can be done by financial institutions of all sizes. Just find a local coffee shop or cafe and see if they'd like a little cash to subsidize that bandwidth each month.

Schwab banner ads on Tully's landing page displayed after logging in to free WiFi at a coffee shop (Seattle, 3 PM, Friday, 5 Dec 2008)


imageClicking on How much do ATM fees cost you? in the banner above opens the following tool in the window. >>>

Users can move to the slider to calculate the cost of a foreign ATM.







Schwab landing page after clicking on question in right-hand banners
(link, 5 Dec 2008)



ING Direct Launches "We, the Savers" Manifesto & Microsite

By Jim Bruene on October 28, 2008 6:53 PM | Comments

imageI noticed a new graphic on the ING Direct homepage today, "We, the Savers" in the upper-right corner. It leads to a banking version of the Clue Train Manifesto called The Declaration of Financial Independence operated by the bank at <>.

imageAt the microsite visitors can read the 10-point declaration and sign the manifesto online. The U.S. map includes orange balls in each state that when moused over reveal the number of signers. So far, more than 5,300 consumers have signed since it went live Oct. 10th. All signers can be viewed at the site, but you have the option of leaving only your last initial for privacy.

When you sign the declaration, a little orange ball bounces over to the map and updates the state count in real time. As a final touch, signers qualify for a free "I save" bumper sticker from the bank's online store.

The effort is well conceived and well executed, as we've come to expect from ING Direct. microsite from ING Direct (28 Oct 2008)


"We, the Savers" link on ING Direct homepage (28 Oct 2008)



Finovate 2008 MoneyAisle

By Jim Bruene on October 14, 2008 11:17 AM | Comments

imageNext up is MoneyAisle from NeoSaej. Mukesh Chatter, president & CEO, will demonstrate.

The Burlington, MA-based company launched its auction-based deposit service this summer.

MoneyAisle demonstrated a reverse auction for a CD with a winning bid of 4% APY by Commerce State Bank. The company emphasized that it's fully transparent with no ads, and the consumer can choose at the end whether they want to accept the bid and purchase the deposit.


Reward Checking Account Results: $5.5 billion Down, $2.994 Trillion to Go

By Jim Bruene on August 13, 2008 7:23 PM | Comments (4)

Reward Checking banner at First State Bank (13 Aug 2008) In the year or so that they've been widely available, so-called reward checking, those high-yielding accounts that require a hefty number of debit card transactions (see note 1), have attracted quite a following.

image But besides the number of blog posts and press mentions, we've had few other metrics upon which to gauge their success. Until now. In an email to me yesterday, the company behind many of the accounts, BancVue, laid out the total rewards checking results across its client base:

  • 381 financial institutions live
  • 610,000 reward checking accounts
  • $5.5 billion on deposit in the accounts
  • $9,000 average balance
  • Opening more than 13,000 accounts per week (700,000 annual run rate)
  • Average of more than $14 million in deposits per financial institution
  • Average of 1,600 accounts per financial institution

Although $5 billion isn't even the rounding error across the entire $3-trillion U.S. retail deposit market, it's real money to the smaller banks and credit unions offering the program.  

1. Most accounts require 10 to 12 debit transactions per month in order to earn the high yield. For more info, see our previous coverage and Finovate Startup video here.
2. Upper-right graphic comes courtesy of First State Bank, Gainesville, TX.

Comments (4)

Frost Bank Momentum Account Combines Reward Checking and Personal Financial Management

By Jim Bruene on July 30, 2008 1:08 PM | Comments (2)

image After a solid decade ignoring the financial management features of online banking (see note 1), we now have two banks doing very interesting things melding transaction accounts with personal financial management.

Frost Bank is the latest visionary, launching its Momentum Account this week (press release). The account melds high-yield checking, goal-oriented savings, and financial management into one online offering. Unlike PNC Bank's VirtualWallet, which is clearly aimed at the youth market (see previous coverage), Momentum goes directly to the online sweet spot, 30- and 40-somethings trying to manage their money in a more systematic way.

Frost Bank Momentum Account video page (30 July 2008)

The account
Basically, it's a fee-free, interest-bearing checking account with the usual freebies: debit card, online banking, bill pay. After the first three months, balances of $15,000+ earn 3% and those under $15,000 earn basically zero. However, the bank has added an interesting twist they call "DIY APY (see screenshot below). For every 10 monthly debit card transactions, they add 5 basis points to the interest rate, up to a maximum gain of 0.25% (for 50 debit card transactions).

That's a piddling amount, earning about a buck a month (pre-tax) for someone with $25,000 in the account typically doing 10 to 19 debit card transactions monthly. Yet most consumers like the feeling of winning the rewards game, so it should be good for marketing and retention.

Like PNC's VirtualWallet, online account opening is powered by Andera.

The innovations
Besides the DIY APY gimmick, the new account is noteworthy because it incorporates goal-oriented savings and transaction tracking into the interface. Users can allocate funds to one or more savings goals and set up automated transfers to the savings sub-accounts.

The interface also includes budget-categorization features using the folders metaphor. And the usual charting and graphing functions are available. Unfortunately, there is no online demo, so I could see only the features in the bank's demo video. 

Is it trendworthy?
I'm not ready to say that two examples make a trend, but given all the interest by investors and the press in online personal finance, I think this is the beginning of an interesting period in online finance product development.

Frost Bank homepage announces "DIY APY" (30 July 2008)

Frost Bank homepage announces Momentum account (30 July 2008)

1. See Online Banking Report: Personal Finance Features for Online Banking for more information on the pros and cons of various personal finance features.

Comments (2)

PNC Bank Takes on Mint & Quicken with PNC Virtual Wallet

By Jim Bruene on July 14, 2008 6:53 PM | Comments (13)

image Just when you thought Mint, Wesabe, and Geezeo had a lock on all the headlines for Gen Y personal finance, along comes a truly inspired effort from a major U.S. retail bank. Furthermore, it's not from Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Chase, or even ING Direct.

Pittsburgh, PA-based PNC Bank, the 15th-largest U.S. retail bank with $83 billion in deposits (see note 1), today launched a new online combo account called PNC Virtual Wallet.

The account comes with a checking account, bill payment, and two types of savings accounts. It also features several unique personal financial management features with an emphasis on functions most likely to appeal to a 20-something audience:

  • Cash flow: debit card, checking, online bill pay, financial calendar, recent transaction report
  • Savings: two types of savings accounts, automated savings options, wish list, and a random video-game-inspired savings tool called "punch the pig" (see below)

Finally, the account is priced well:

  • No fees (except $0.50 per written check after the first 3 per month and the usual penalty fees)
  • Free overdraft protection among linked accounts
  • 3% APY on the growth savings component
  • ATM-free rebate (but only if there's a $2000 average monthly balance in the checking account portion)

What's innovative? (note 2)

  • Package of three deposit accounts: Spend Account (e.g., checking), Reserve Account (e.g., savings) and Growth Account (e.g., high-yield savings or money market deposit account)
  • Ability to move money among the three accounts by moving a slider across the screen, called the Money Bar
  • Automated savings function called Savings Engine that allows users to set up time-triggered (e.g., once per week) or event-triggered (e.g., each debit card use) automatic savings transfers
  • Savings game called Punch the Pig, a video-game-inspired savings gimmick: Each time the pig appears on screen, users can elect to "punch" it to automatically move money from checking to savings
  • Wish List with savings goals and progress reports

What can be improved?
Four areas that are noticeably absent, or at least not mentioned:

  • Mobile functionality, especially text banking and alerts
  • Online customer support: Customer can apply online through the Andera-powered app; however, there is no link to any online-support options such as chat, IM, text, or even a Web-based input form or old-school email address
  • Social aspects: forums, reviews, blogs, or even testimonials (note 4)
  • Credit: credit cards, line of credit, auto loans, and so on

The website design is impressive and very un-banklike, yet it lacks some basics:

  • No demo: There are several Flash instructional videos that show most of the key features, but there is no all-encompassing demo for users wanting a tryout before buying.
  • Lame homepage videos: Granted, I'm not in the Gen Y target market so I could be wrong, but if I think the videos are lame, what do you think a 22-year-old will make of them? I say lose the "man on the street videos" or reshoot them in a less-scripted manner. 
  • Extensive FAQs: The FAQs need to be expanded tenfold. Currently, only 16 questions and answers are up, but with so many unique features, that number doesn't come close to answering many basic questions, such as "Are there account alerts?" or "What's the rate of interest on the reserve account" (note 3), or "How long are transactions stored?"

PNC Bank virtual wallet homepage (14 July 2008)

PNC Bank Virtual Wallet home 14 July 2008

Explanation of "Punch the Pig" savings feature

PNC Bank Punch the Pig feature in VirtualWallet 14 July 2008

1. Deposits as of 31 Dec 2007; deposits were up 25% compared to $66 billion as of year-end 2006.

2. PNC has applied for a patent on the account and tools.

3. Eventually, I did find a link to interest rates and fees on the "how to apply" page

4. See Online Banking Report on Social Personal Finance for more info

Comments (13)

MoneyAisle Bags $1 million in First Week

By Jim Bruene on June 19, 2008 2:46 PM | Comments


The deposit-auction site MoneyAisle, which we wrote about last week, has reached its first milestone, $1 million in deposits. Assuming $25k per account, that's only 40 customers, but it's a decent start for a novel way to chase rates online. The company also said it had signed 7 new bank participants, bringing the total to 72.

The company has attracted good press coverage, especially in the Boston area, where MoneyAisle Chairman Ray Stata is the well-known co-founder and current Chairman of Analog Devices. There was a good interview with Stata posted at last week.


BancVue/FirstROI Launches Checking Finder

By Jim Bruene on June 17, 2008 1:56 PM | Comments (3)

image FirstROI, a division of Austin, TX-based BancVue (previous coverage here) launched its CheckingFinder service June 2. FinovateStartup attendees received a sneak peak in April and rewarded it with a Best of Show award (video here). The innovative service helps consumers find the best BancVue-powered rewards checking account based on geographic location, APY, or total return (see second screenshot below).

How it Works
finovatestartup_bestinshow_2008The first challenge is getting customers to the site. FirstROI is investing heavily in Google AdWords to get the word out. For example, a search on "checking accounts" at Google today (note 1), displayed CheckingFinder in second place, trailing only BofA (see screenshot below).

As a relative newcomer to AdWords, the company's bid price would have to be high to score the second slot over such big names as Schwab (#3), HSBCdirect (#4), Key Bank (#5), WaMu (#6), Chase (#10) and Wells Fargo (#11). CheckingFinder may very well be paying more than BofA, depending on how Google's ad-positioning algorithm weighs its relevance.


Clicking the AdWords link results in a list of banks presorted by closest distance to the IP address used to search Google (see next screenshot). Unfortunately, the closest participating BancVue client, Altra Federal Credit Union, is 1043 miles away
(see note 2).

CheckingFinder from BancVue and FirstROI

You can also sort the results by rate (APY) or plug in an estimated checking account balance and ATM usage and have the results sorted by highest annual return
(see note 3).

After selecting the account you prefer, users land on a page that lays out the offer in more detail and includes a bright green "open now" bar at the bottom of the page and another open button in the webpage bullseye, the upper-right corner. The online account opening process is powered by Andera.


Overall, it's a good "micro" search engine, helping users quickly find the best checking account from the company's client base. The big downside from a consumer perspective is that it's currently limited to just 60 participating BancVue reward-checking clients. It will be more effective if they can get more of their 400+ banks and credit unions on board.

While I think most consumers will understand that they are searching a subset of available checking accounts, I think BancVue should disclose a bit more about its relationship with the financial institutions listed. That fact is touched on in the About Us section, but the FAQs don't address this, nor are there any direct links back to BancVue or FirstROI. 


1. Google search conducted from Seattle IP address at 1 PM Pacific time, 17 June 2008.

2. Verity Credit Union, which is about 4 miles from my home, is a BancVue client, but their reward-checking account, Velocity Checking, is currently paying a short-term teaser rate of 6.75% to celebrate its 75th anniversary (APY updated 20 June per Shari's comment). When Verity returns to its normal 5% APY, its account will be available through CheckingFinder. There is also a slightly closer California bank participating, Tri Counties Bank, but it is not marketing to Seattle residents, so I don't see it in my CheckingFinder results page.  

3. Jeffry Pilcher, who recently left Weber Marketing to found his own consultancy, ICONiQ, is also blogging at The Financial Brand. He cautions that the days of differentiating your brand with "reward checking" has passed in many markets.

Comments (3)

Wachovia Way2Save Lands 650,000 Accounts

By Jim Bruene on June 2, 2008 11:07 AM | Comments (1)

image In an interview in the Charlotte Business Journal (here), Wachovia's Savings Director Kathryn Black reveals that the bank has added 650,000 Way2Save accounts since its launch four months ago, and are "well ahead of our goal to have 1 million Way2Save customers by the end of (2008)." She also said they are looking at expanding the service: 

We consider (Way2Save) generation one. We're continuing to think through what's next -- how do we make this product better? How do we add on to this idea for other segments who have different needs?

   -- Kathryn Black, Wachovia's Savings Director, 30 May 2008

The Way2Save account offers up to 15% APY in the first year on a maximum average annual balance of $600, built up through automated savings of up to $100/mo. That works out to a maximum of $90 in interest the first year (not including the golf bonus detailed below), about $70 more before-tax than you can earn on other high-yield accounts. For more details, see our previous coverage here. For small savers, it provides above-average returns and helps them sock away cash without thinking about it.

Way2Save Golf Bonus
In addition to the maximum 15% first-year rate, Wachovia ran a promotion in May tied to this year's PGA tournament Wachovia Championship (see screenshot below). All Way2Save customers, new and existing, will earn a rate of interest in June, July and August pegged to the number of strokes under par scored by the tournament winner. With Anthony Kim beating the course record by 3 strokes, for a 16-under score, Wachovia is now paying 16% interest for the next 3 months. For the savers that started their $100/mo contributions in February, it will be another $15 in extra interest. For those just getting started in May, it's only $5 more before tax. It also means that the first year's blended rate -- (16% x 3 months) + (5% x 9 months) -- is just under 8% (see note 1).

Wachovia's 16% interest rate bonus tied to PGA championship results

So it's no wonder Wachovia has attracted a slew of accounts. It's been live for about four months, so it's adding about 150,000 accounts per month. The most anyone could have amassed in the account so far is $400 plus a buck per electronic transaction. Assuming average balances of $200 per account, the product has attracted approximately $130 million so far.

Whether the new account pans out for the bank is yet to be seen. Assuming it pays out an average of $60 extra to each new Way2Save customer, Wachovia will have invested more than $60 million to attract a million low-balance savings accounts. And that doesn't include the marketing or customer-service expenses or the cost to open 15 new checking accounts for one person so they can open 15 Way2Save accounts (see previous post). It will be years before Wachovia knows if this product has a positive ROI. 

Granted, a bigger strategic issue is at play here: creating awareness of the Wachovia brand. It could be a huge success if the bank opens up hundreds of thousands of new customer relationships due to the promotion.

1. The 16% rate applies to accounts opened before May 30th.

Comments (1)

Citibank and WaMu Rated Tops in Deposit Account Sales Process in Change Sciences Study

By Jim Bruene on May 16, 2008 11:13 AM | Comments

image Change Sciences, publishing under the moniker of its new Kantuit research service, just released its latest financial services website evaluation. The report uses proprietary user-experience modeling to rate, rank and compare 18 leading banking sites on how easy it is to find, select, and open a new deposit account online (see Table 1, inset).

Citibank and WaMu were ranked one and two and scored significantly better than the others. Wachovia was third, scoring about 20% higher (the lower the score, the better). Bank of America, Fifth Third and BB&T were in the next tier, finishing about 50% higher. Among mega-banks, U.S. Bank had the worst score, more than double the leaders. 

The Change Science score includes various components that show how a consumer may struggle with various aspects of the application process. These individual scores are totaled to come up with the final composite score shown in Table 1 right.

For example, Figure 1 below illustrates the scores for "Effort (expended) finding and learning about deposit accounts" with Fifth Third leading the way with a 0.1 score, compared to Peoples United Bank, the worst of the sample, scoring 19x higher at 1.9

Download an abstract of the research results here (registration required). The full report runs $4,000; a significant investment yes, but you could make that up with just a handful of additional good deposit accounts.  image


New Online Direct Bank: OnBank from M&T

By Jim Bruene on April 18, 2008 12:36 AM | Comments (1)

image It's been six months since the last direct bank launch, Provident Direct (coverage here). The latest entry is OnBank from M&T Bank, a $66 billion bank based in Buffalo, NY. 

OnBank passes our strict 25-word homepage standard, joining ING Direct, EmigrantDirect on the short list of financial institutions with Google-like clarity on their home page. It takes just a few seconds to know that this is a place to get a high rate of interest on your money, but you should look elsewhere for a commercial loan.

The user has just two main choices of what to do next (screenshots below):

  1. Apply...encased in a trendy lime green button
  2. More details...which leads to an equally succinct page that answers the important questions (see last screenshot below):
    - fee free
    - minimum balance of $1
    - FDIC insured
    - quick online opening process

The only thing missing is a comparison to other banks. Given that it's one of the highest savings rates available right now, OnBank should be aggressively showing how it compares to key online rivals, including ING Direct's 3%.

Not only is the bank direct and to the point in its copywriting, it also uses simple, effective graphics, including a gimmick sure to gain attention. To reinforce its 24/7 "always on" branding, OnBank takes a page from the iPhone weather forecast interface, showing the current time in reverse lettering in front of a background image that changes to match the time of day. As you can see in the three screenshots below: daylight (4:42 PM), sun setting (8:58 PM), and nighttime (9:02 PM). Presumably they also have a sunrise background. The bank displays the time according to the user's machine, PDT in my case.

We didn't test the Metavante-powered online application all the way through, but it looked relatively straightforward, although graphically not as appealing as the other OnBank pages.

Thanks to Bank Deals for the find.

OnBank homepage during daytime (17 April 2008)

M&T's OnBank homepage

Evening (16 April 2008)


Night (16 April 2008)


"More details page" (17 April 2008)

OnBank more details page

Comments (1)

Digital Federal Credit Union and Four Others Offer Consumer Remote Deposit Capture Through EasCorp

By Jim Bruene on April 13, 2008 9:23 PM | Comments (4)

VIP Deposit from Sharon Credit Union USAA is no longer the only financial institution offering consumers the ability to deposit paper checks from the comfort of home using standard home scanning technology (see previous coverage here).

image Through DepoZip, a new offering from Massachusetts-based corporate credit union, EasCorp, five northeastern credit unions have recently begun offering remote deposit capture services for their members. In addition, Austin, TX-based Randolph-Brooks FCU is slated to launch it later this spring.

According to its published prices, the cost is $15,000 to implement the program ($5,000 for the license and $10,000 for training), then $100/mo plus $0.40 per active user plus $0.01 per its plus applicable image processing fees which range from $0.03 to $0.14 per item. Compared to manually handling deposits at the teller window, that's a bargain. 

The service was piloted beginning in August last year and launched in November at Sharon Credit Union (see inset image) and Hanscom Federal Credit Union. The latest to roll it out is 300,000 member Digital Federal Credit Union. 

Company HQ Size Service Name Launch Date
Sharon CU Sharon, MA $590 mil assets VIP Deposit (Virtual Item Processing) Nov 2007
Hanscom FCU Bedford, MA $280 mil assets Easy Deposit Nov 2007 (pilot began Aug 2007)
Service CU Portsmouth, N.H. $1 billion assets   Dec 2007
Paragon FCU Montvale, NJ $390 mil assets
62,000 members
eDeposit Jan 2008
Digital FCU Marlborough, MA 320,000 members; 150,000 banking online PC Deposit Feb 2008
(2000 members enrolled in first 3 weeks; pilot began Aug 2007)
Randolph-Brooks FCU San Antonio, TX $3 billion assets
250,000 members
  coming in late spring
Comments (4)

ING Launches Retirement Calculator:

By Jim Bruene on March 17, 2008 6:04 PM | Comments (1)

image Last week, ING Group's U.S. unit (note 1) made a splash with two major promotional efforts:

  • Sponsored free access to the Wall St Journal online for an entire day (see screenshot below).
  • Launched a TV advertising campaign,, aimed at the retirement market (press release here, view the spots here). Update 18 March: The company ran a full-page ad for the program in today's Wall Street Journal (p. A7)

INGyournumber <> is remarkably similar to Wells Fargo's Retire Secure Index that we looked at last week (here). The financial services giant created a special site with a Flash-based tool designed to help you find your "number." That is, the total amount you need to save to provide your desired level of retirement income.

Financial institutions should draft behind these well-funded efforts, and make sure your retirement tools are prominently positioned within your website.

ING Took Over The Wall Street Journal Online last Thursday (13 March)

















1. These promotional efforts from the main ING group, not ING Direct; although the direct banking arm did receive a small link on the bottom of the screen.

Comments (1)

Social Networking Meets Savings Accounts: SmartyPig Launches this Week

By Jim Bruene on March 4, 2008 12:24 AM | Comments (15)

Update March 6: I added two clarifications pointed out in the comments. First, that normal ACH deposits to your own SmartyPig account are free of charge. Second, that the retailers bonus on withdrawals to their gift cards is UP TO 5% (not a flat 5%). 

imageHow about this recipe? Take a basic FDIC-insured savings account, spice it up with automated electronic transfers and email communications, mix in gift/debit cards, wrap the whole thing up in a social network, and top it with a memorable name. What do you have? SmartyPig, the most innovative financial service we've seen since Prosper launched two years ago.

The site is in the final week of private beta. To register, you still need an invitation code. The company asked me not to publish it, but it's OK if I distribute by request via email. Send a note to info@netbanker with "SmartyPig" in the subject line. Or simply wait until after this weekend when the site goes into public beta.

How it works:

image1.  Users create savings accounts at the site. Deposits are held at West Bank, a Des Moines, IA- based financial institution with $1.3 billion in assets. Funding is through ACH (electronic) transfers from outside bank accounts. SmartyPig currently pays a high, 4.3% APY on deposits. 

2. After the account is established, users are encouraged to create savings goals funded through automatic monthly ACH transfers until the goal is met.

3. Now here is where SmartyPig diverges from a typical bank account. The savings goals can be made public or kept private. Public goals can be funded in part, or entirely, by outside contributors. Think of grandma and grandpa contributing birthday money to help junior buy a new bike. Contributions are funded through credit card charges with a maximum charge of $500 and a per transaction processing fee of $4.95. To make sure grandma's $50 doesn't go to a Mario game, the money cannot be withdrawn until the savings goal is met (or canceled by the primary account holder).

4. After goals have been met, the user can elect to take the funds out in the form of a MasterCard debit card or a gift card from a retail partner such as Participating retailers add up to 5% bonus to the savings goal so that $1000 saved for the plasma TV is worth $1,050 if redeemed via Amazon gift card. That's a great added incentive to use the service.

Gift Cards
SmartyPig gift card SmartyPig also sells gift cards that can be redeemed towards new or existing savings goals. These cards, issued in denominations of $25 to $500, are meant to be given as gifts or employee incentives. They cannot be redeemed outside the SmartyPig system. Physical card are produced and delivered for a processing fee of $4.95 plus delivery fees of $5.95 or more. Or consumers can deliver a virtual card through email to eliminate the delivery charge (but the $4.95 processing fee remains the same). 

Summary of Fees

  • Your own deposits: Free (via ACH transfer)
  • Public contributions: $4.95 flat processing fee for each contribution made by an outside contributor. Contributions can be from $25 to $500 and are funded via credit card.
  • Gift cards: Gift cards incur a $4.95 processing fee and an optional $5.95 shipping fee. The shipping fee can be avoided if a virtual gift card is chosen which is fulfilled via email.

Although, not everyone is going to want to go through the extra steps to save this way, we are impressed with SmartyPig and are awarding it our first OBR Best of the Web award for 2008 obr_bestofweb(see note 1). We like how it's part gift registry, part savings account, and potentially a big help in getting users in the habit of saving for larger goals. The look-and-feel is very Web 2.0 and should resonate with teens and twenty-somethings.

There are a few rough edges that need better explanation and/or minor redesign. For instance, there is no way to simply add funds to a savings account without first setting up an automatic funding plan. But the site isn't even officially launched yet, so these issues should be ironed out during the beta period. 

The processing fee for outside contributions of $4.95 per transaction is a bit on the high side (there is no fee for funds transfers from your own bank account). One could argue that it's worth price of a triple mocha for the convenience and benefits of the savings account. But for smaller deposits of $50 to $100, it's a pretty high percentage of the overall deposit.

It would be nice if the company could lower the fee, perhaps by creating an ACH funding option. Another way to reduce costs is to lower the 4.3% APR. I'm not sure the savers attracted to this account really need that high of a rate. A lower interest rate combined with lower fees might make the service more palatable overall.   

The company may have to tweak its business model going forward. But the real lesson here is that savings accounts can be made stickier with automation and incentives. Leave it to the Iowans to show us the way (note 2). 


1. The main account screen: I set up a savings account for my son. Then set a savings goal of $300 for a new bike. SmartyPig requires that the savings goal be funded in equal monthly withdrawals from the linked checking. It would be helpful if you could opt out of the automated savings plan so that the savings goal could be funded manually. 



2. Public goals: If you opted to make your savings goal public, anyone can find it by searching via email address under the "Friends' Goals" tab on the top (you can see this one by searching for  SmartyPig widget

Users can publicize their goals with a widget (see inset, and link at bottom of screen above) or by sending email to friends.

After making a contribution, the following screen is displayed.

SmartyPig contribution thank you screenshot



1. Online Banking Report (OBR) Best of the Web awards are given for products that "raise the bar" in online financial services, usually for pioneering a new feature. Recent winners are covered here. Five awards were been handed out in 2007: two for Wesabe, and one each for Jwaala, Buxfer and Obopay. In the past 10 years, 67 companies have won the award.

2. Full disclosure: I was born and raised in Iowa and my brother lives within a few miles of the SmartyPig world headquarters.

Comments (15)

ING Direct's $60,000 Sweeps for Automatic Savings Plans

By Jim Bruene on February 20, 2008 2:13 PM | Comments (1)

ingdirect_logo ING Direct, renowned for its many contests that have created strong brand-buzz, is offering customers the chance to win one of five monthly $1,000 prizes. Any user with a new or existing automatic monthly deposit of at least $100 is entered into the sweepstakes. In addition to the monthly prizes, one grand prize winner will take home $30,000. The contest runs for six months, so the total payout is $60,000.

Low-cost incentives to encourage automated savings are a win-win (see note 1). The bank gets a stable flow of deposits to its savings products, and customers end up "paying themselves first" and developing a savings habit. We recently covered WaMu and Wachovia's efforts in this area (here). 

ING Direct Transfer Money area within online banking (logged in)

ING Direct transfer money area with sweepstakes banner

Same area showing second part of animated banner 

ING Direct online banking screenshot


1. Unfortunately, the sweeps ended up costing me $700, although it went to a good cause. Since I'm a sucker for a contest, and I didn't have an eligible auto-debit, I went to the bank's Transfer Money page to set up a new one. In the process, I noticed that the auto debit for our son's allowance had ceased working in mid-2005 (note 2). We owed him 31 months of allowance plus interest. Ouch. After taxes, the $1k in prize money will just about get me to breakeven.  

2. The allowance transfer originates from another ING Direct account, which was likely out of funds in July 2005, so the transfer was canceled. It's up to the customer to reinstate the transfer, which evidently I never did. 

Comments (1)

More Innovative Reward Checking Accounts from FirstROI/BancVue

By Jim Bruene on February 14, 2008 10:46 AM | Comments (1)

image If you are a subscriber to our Online Banking Report (see #150), you know how impressed we are with the work of BancVue and FirstROI. They are the team behind the 400+ rewards checking accounts we first discusssed here in early January (see note 1).

The reward-checking phenomena, largely created by these companies, landed as the sixth most important trend of 2007, according to our year-end report. The Wall Street Journal looked at several BancVue clients in an article last weekend (here).

If you are looking for ideas to spice up your Web-based marketing, take a close look at the FirstROI portfolio (note 2). They are doing some of the most creative work I've seen in 12 years of following the space, rivaling the UK banks, which have long set the bar for online bank marketing.

Case in point: Green Reward Checking from Bank of Hiawassee/Blairsville/Blue Ridge, all part of Georgia's $440 million Chatuge Bank Shares is well-explained in a clever Flash animation (see first screenshot below). Wisconsin's $770 million First Banking Center uses similar Flash techniques with a much more "serious" branding (see second screenshot below).

Green Reward Checking from Chatuge Bank Shares Inc. <>  
$440 million-asset bank headquartered in Hiawassee, Georgia

Frog reward checking Chatuge Bank Shares

First Banking Center Rewards Checking
$760 million asset bank in southern Wisconsin

First Banking Center Reward Checking


  1. (2) The credit union that first sparked our interest in the subject, Verity Credit Union, was advertising its reward product, Velocity Checking <>, on the radio this morning during Seattle's rush hour. The focus was on the 6% APY.
  2. (1) First ROI will demo its latest innovations at our FINOVATE Startup conference April 29 in San Francisco.
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Wachovia's Way2Save: Deal or No Deal?

By Jim Bruene on February 7, 2008 12:00 PM | Comments (6)

Earlier this week, Ron Shevlin wrote about the "disingenuous" (see note 1) advertising from person-to-person lenders (here). He took issue with their claims of facilitating loans primarily for the social good, rather than for a profit motive. That criticism might be a little harsh, but he has a point.

Wachovia way2save ad Well if Ron doesn't like P2P ads, I wonder what he thinks of this one from Wachovia? The advertisement in question is for the bank's well-named, and well-intentioned new savings account, Way2Save.

I saw it advertised yesterday, above and adjacent to US Today's popular Super Bowl Ad Meter (here, screenshot below, note 2). According to BusinessWeek, the product is being supported with an eight-figure ad buy. 

Wachovia's ad promises an impressive return, a 5% APY plus a 5% bonus. On the face of it, that's a 10% yield. They'd have $100 billion in it tomorrow if it was that simple.

Here's the fine print:

  • Must have a Wachovia checking account (but those are free)
  • Limit of one Way2Save per checking account (but you can have more than one free checking account, see note 4)
  • The only way to fund the savings account is through automated monthly debits from your Wachovia checking account (and those have to be set up in branch or over the phone)
  • Maximum monthly transfer amount is $100, so the most you can add to the account in a year is $1200 (see note 4)
  • The savings account has a variable rate and it not guaranteed to stay at 5% over the course of the year; and it is already scheduled to decline to 2% in years 2 and 3 (see detailed disclosures here)
  • The bonus in year 2 and 3 falls to 2%
  • A hard inquiry is posted to your credit bureau when opening a new checking account
  • After the first year, the savings account has a $5/mo fee if there are no automated deposits

For a small saver who can sock away $1200 over the course of a year, earning a 5% bonus, or $60, is an excellent deal, amounting to 15% return on the average annual balance of $600 ($30 interest @5% plus $60 bonus = 15%). While that's a fantastic APY, the $600 balance limit means the total extra earnings are only $5 per month, before tax, hardly a strong motivation for most savers.

The other part of the account that has created more confusion is the $1 transfer to savings with every debit card purchase, automated debit, and online bill pay. Some consumers, and even a few bloggers, have assumed Wachovia is paying a $1 bonus on each transaction. Now that would be a deal, if it were true. The $1 is simply a transfer from the user's checking account to his/her savings account. Wachovia will apply the 5% bonus to those $1 transfers, but that's only $0.05 per debit, or $1/month pre-tax for an active electronic banking user making 20 transactions per month. Again, not a strong motivator for most savers.

The semi-disingenuous advertising
Overall, we like the account. But we are not so thrilled with some of the advertising. Our main complaint: the landing page overplays the $300 maximum reward amount, which is virtually impossible to reach. Many visitors will initially believe that a $300 maximum payout means they can drop $6,000 in the account. However, that's not the case since it's limited to $100 month contributions, yielding a $60 bonus.  

Where does the other potential $240 come from? (This is the disingenuous part.) Answer: From the $1 funds transfers every time a Wachovia debit card is used. So the average visitor might think, "wow I'd have to make 240 debits to come up with the $240." Wrong again. The $1 is just a funds transfer from checking to savings (note 3). At the 5% bonus level, Wachovia only pays a nickel per transfer.

So how do you get a $240 annual bonus from that? You'd need 400 debit card transactions EVERY MONTH. That's not a typo, 400 transactions per month, or 4800 per year in order to earn the $300 shown in the headline of the Wachovia landing page. And that's in the first year. In the second year, with a 2% bonus, you'd need 1250 transactions per month to reach the $300 mark.

Final verdict
Ignoring the advertising, I say it's a deal for the customer. The product makes sense for beginning savers, a cross between Bank of America's Keep the Change (coverage here) and WaMu's Saving for Success (coverage here). I like the focus on automated savings, and the $1 per debit gimmick seems harmless, so long as it's better disclosed.

However, I'm not sure it's such a deal for the bank, at least not worth a $10-million ad campaign (note 5). Many Wachovia customers drawn in by the advertising will go away disappointed due to the fine print. In addition, thousands and thousands of zero-balance checking accounts will be opened to game the system, then closed at the end of the year, wasting bank resources and putting pressure on 2009 sales. 

Wachovia advertising on USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter (6 Feb 2008)


Wachovia landing page from USA Today ads

Wachovia way2save landing page


  1. I knew it wasn't a compliment, but I had to double check that one in the dictionary for the precise meaning: "lacking in candor or sincerity" or "pretending to be unaware."
  2. I was disappointed to find that E*Trade's ads finished outside the top-10 (#13 and #14). 
  3. Although it's not addressed in the Wachovia's FAQs, apparently the $1 automatic funds transfer will be canceled if there are insufficient funds, so it can't trigger a $30 NSF fee. 
  4. The folks posting at FatWallet are sharing account details to game the system. According to several posters, the bank allows up to 5 accounts per person in the household, but only one Way2Save can be linked to a single checking account. One poster says he opened 15 checking accounts and 15 Way2Save accounts and will transfer $100 per month into all 15 accounts, resulting in an $18,000 year-end balance and a $900 bonus. Then he'll close all 15 accounts and move on to next year's hot rate. One poster said, the branch people seemed happy to set up five new checking accounts since they appeared to get a bonus for each one. To avoid the "FatWallet effect," make sure you always have account limits and sales incentive limits.
  5. Granted, the $10+ million is more to promote the bank' image than for the product itself. And being associated with savings is good branding these days.
Comments (6)

CheckFree to Enable In-home Remote Check Deposits for Consumers and Small Businesses

By Jim Bruene on February 5, 2008 12:23 PM | Comments (4)

Link to USAA's Bank@Home Although, remote deposit capture has captured a significant share of larger businesses, consumers have had fewer options:

  • USAA has offered in-home scanning, called Deposit@Home, for more than a year (previous coverage here), but its customer base is limited to current and retired members of the military.
  • DepositNow, a unit of BankServ, allows anyone to use remote deposit services, but it's geared towards businesses and costs at least $29/mo, far above what consumers or even smaller businesses will pay.
  • A number of banks also make it available to small businesses and the very wealthy, but consumer rollouts have been nonexistent. The cost of a dedicated scanner makes it uneconomical for the mass market.

checkfree_logo CheckFree aims to change that with a new service targeted to consumers and very small businesses (press release here). The key is using existing consumer scanners and multi-function printers. USAA has proven that this technology does indeed work, so we expect CheckFree's service will pass technical hurdles.

It's hard to predict consumer demand, but given that around 20% of U.S. households maintain a full- or part-time business endeavor, we expect strong demand if the price is reasonable and technology is extremely easy to use.

Remote deposit services could be used as the cornerstone of a premium online banking offering (note 2) attractive to microbusiness (note 1) owners and consumers who still receive paper checks a few times per month.


  1. We define a microbusiness as one with $50,000 or less in annual revenue, typically a part-time, home-based business. For more information see Online Banking Report #107/108: Small and Microbusiness Banking Online.
  2. See Online Banking Report #109 for ideas on how to create a premium online banking channel.
Comments (4)

Zions Direct Uses eBay to Auction New-Account Vouchers

By Jim Bruene on January 18, 2008 10:36 AM | Comments (1)

Link to Zions eBay store While not the first bank to experiment with eBay auctions (see note 1), Zions Direct is the first to open a dedicated site within eBay and the first to sell "new-account vouchers" (see screenshots below).

Apparently the vouchers, listed in the gift certificate category, skirt eBay rules against auctioning financial services. The buyer of the certificate can redeem them for a cash deposit into their Zions Direct brokerage account. Zions Direct also auctions CDs every week directly on its website (see previous coverage here).

Bidding starts at $0.99 for the vouchers which range in value from $500 to $1,000. Bidders can pay via PayPal or check. The amount of the voucher is deposited directly into the buyer's Zions Direct account, which is required to redeem the voucher. So not only are buyers receiving cash at a discount, they also can earn frequent flyer miles and a free grace period if their PayPal account is connected to a rewards credit card. There is no requirement that buyers be new customers, nor are their limits on how many certificates can be purchased. In fact, bidder shecdoggy bought 5 of the vouchers totaling $4,000 at a total discount of $72.50.

So far the bank has sold 16 vouchers worth at total of $12,800 to 9 unique bidders for an average of $12.50 less than face, a discount of 1.6%. And there are currently 10 vouchers up for auction (see screenshot below). As more people have caught on, the spread has been reduced to less than 1% on recent auctions (see past and present listings here, Zions Direct eBay store here).   

From a marketing perspective, this is brilliant, at least in the short run. For a cost of $15.95/mo for a basic store, and $30 to $40 per voucher (mostly in eBay/PayPal fees), the bank gets its name on eBay, numerous mentions in blog posts and press stories, a cool ad on its homepage (see screenshot below), positions itself as innovative and provides customers a nice little spiff.

Long-term, however, the terms will have to be adjusted or the bank will just be handing over easy money to the "gamers." The certificates will be purchased at face, or slightly over, by existing customers who rack up frequent flier miles and a do a little interest arbitrage during their credit-card grace period. The bank will need to lower the amount of the vouchers to $100 to $200 to reduce the potential for gaming, or if possible, restrict purchases to one per customer. Another cost reduction tactic would be to disallow PayPal payments, but that would reduce the effectiveness of the promotion. 

Zions Direct Auction Listing


Zions Direct eBay Store



Zions Direct Homepage (18 Jan 2008)



1.  In the late 1990s PNC Bank was the first to try CD auctions. In 2004, WaMu used eBay technology in a market test (see previous article here).

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BancVue Alters the Checking Value Proposition, Powering High-Yield "Reward" Checking Accounts at 350 FIs

By Jim Bruene on January 9, 2008 2:11 PM | Comments (1)

For someone whose job it is to stay on top of innovations in financial services, I hate to admit I'm late to the party on the so-called "reward checking" phenomena. Last year, I'd noticed a number of smaller financial institutions launching high-yield checking accounts, but I hadn't realized it was a national trend primarily powered by a single bank tech supplier, Austin, Texas-based BancVue (see note 1).

According to a November BankRate article, more than 350 U.S. banks and credit unions now offer so-called "reward checking accounts" powered by BancVue with 30 new ones coming on board each month. These checking accounts usually pay high rates of interest, typically 6%, if users meet high levels of electronic banking activity each month.

Typical requirements to earn the high yield:

  • 10 to 12 debit card transactions each month
  • Electronic statements (no paper)
  • Online banking usage

Typically, the following benefits are paid ONLY when the above requirements are met:

  • 5% to 6% interest on the first $25,000 to $40,000 in balances
  • ATM refunds up to $10 to $15/mo

And most seem to include:

  • No monthly fees regardless of activity or balance levels, so the account can be marketed as "free"

Another distinguishing characteristic of these accounts is the innovative marketing and website design. With the help of BancVue, smaller banks and credit unions are able to offer a level of design and pizzazz that meets or exceeds the typical megabank high-budget program.

Here are some of the more interesting BancVue-powered programs we've looked at (screenshots follow):

  • Velocity Checking <> from Seattle's Verity Credit Union
    Earn 6.01% on balances up to $40,000 and receive ATM refunds up to $25 when meeting the following monthly requirements:
    - 12 debit transactions
    - 1 online banking login
    - electronic statement in lieu of paper
  • Turbo Checking <> from New Mexico's Charter Bank
    Earn 6.01% on balances up to $25,000 and ATM refunds when meeting the following monthly requirements:
    - 10 debit transactions
    - receipt of 1 direct payroll deposit or other automated ACH deposit
    - 1 login to online banking
    - electronic statement in lieu of paper

And our favorite, which substitutes iTunes downloads for the high-yield benefit:

  • FreeTunes Checking <> from Oregon Community Credit Union (see note 2)
    Earns 4 free iTunes downloads each month provided the following are met:
    - 12 debit transactions
    - 1 login to online banking
    - electronic statement in lieu of paper


Velocity Checking from Verity Credit Union

Turbo Checking from Charter Bank

FreeTunes Checking from Oregon Community Credit Union


1. I began researching this area after reading Verity Credit Union CMO Shari Storm's recent blog post (here) about how she'd changed her payments behavior to make the 12 monthly debits required for its Velocity Checking.

2. Oregon Community Credit Union also offers a high-yield version, Remarkable Checking, that substitutes a 5.05% APY on all checking account balances instead of the free music. Monthly account requirements are the same. 

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WaMu's CD/Savings Account is Perfect for that New Years Resolution to Save More

By Jim Bruene on January 7, 2008 1:00 PM | Comments

A full-page ad in the front section (page A8) in yesterday's Seattle Sunday Times/PI alerted me to WaMu's latest offering called Savings for Success (see note 1).  

It's not a new invention, essentially a 1-year CD funded with automatic monthly deposits instead of a one-time deposit (see note 3), but WaMu uses its marketing prowess to dress it up like a super-high-yield savings account with an attractive 5.5% yield. It also delivers the ultimate marketing coup: turning what is normally a negative, not being able to get your money out for a year, into an account FEATURE, saying that the savings is "out of sight and out of mind" for the one-year CD term.

According to the Bank Deals blog, the savings account has been made available in select markets as far back as July. At that time the rate was higher, 7% in Illinois and Texas and 6% in Washington and Georgia (note 1).

It's great marketing that plays right into the new year's resolution mindset this time of year. Surprisingly, the account is not mentioned on the bank's website, even though the call to action (below) includes the bank's Web address. Also, WaMu has not used search marketing to support the print ad. Google searches do not lead to the the bank and a site search at leads nowhere. 

This is a great product and a good fit for online banking users. Assuming it pencils out in the four test markets, look for the account to debut nationwide in 2008.  


1. Apparently, the same ad has also run in the Houston Chronicle, but with a 6.5% APY. In the disclosures on that ad (reprinted here), the offer was said to be available in Illinois, Georgia, and Texas. The Seattle Times/PI ad says the offer is only available in Washington.

2. Here's the text in the main paragraph of the ad above:

Your checking and savings needs are officially over. To complement our WaMu Free Checking account, we've created Savings for Success. It's simple. You choose the amount you'd like to save each month - by automatically transferring as little as $25 and up to $500 from your WaMu Free Checking account to your Savings for Success account. There it is kept out of sight and out of mind, earning big interest, and helping you save without even having to think about it. After one year, it's yours to access when we sweep the savings into any savings account you choose. So save like never before and still get free checks for life, free ATM cash withdrawals, and all of the other features of our WaMu Free Checking account. It's banking bliss. To learn more stop by a WaMu near you, call 1-866-808-1396 or visit

3. Update Jan 8: The product, with the 6.5% rate, has also been advertised in The Dallas Morning News (link to the ad here). Also, I neglected to mention that the account can ONLY be funded with automatic debits with a miniumum of $25 per month to a maximum of $500 per month, so it's not an account aimed at large depositers. 


First Look: Zopa Opens in the United States with Depository Model

By Jim Bruene on December 2, 2007 4:53 PM | Comments (3)

Zopa US opened a private beta Saturday morning, emailing selected customers that had previously signed onto its mailing list. Both of our listed email addresses received invites.

We'll look closer at the new service in our upcoming Online Banking Report on P2P lending, but what stands out is the business model: part P2P lender, part deposit-taking financial institutions, part charitable organization, part broker, and part lead-generation site. I'm not positive you can be all of those things at once, but it will be fascinating to see if Zopa and its partner credit unions can pull it off.

How it works
To understand how the Zopa US system works, you must first realize that all loans and all deposits are held at the six partner credit unions (see list below). So in that way, Zopa is a pure lead-generation play.

Zopa "investors" put their money in fixed-rate, 1-year certificates of deposits held by a credit union partner. Borrowers take out 5-year fixed-rate personal loans, again from a credit union partner. This part is pure depository financial institution, with Zopa as a broker. 

Finally, the P2P/social finance aspect comes into play with the requirement that all depositors must choose to "help" at least one borrower by reducing the borrower's loan payment. The depositor has the choice of accepting the highest rate of interest, currently 5.1%, and making a token donation, or sharply reducing the APY on the Zopa CD in order to provide more financial assistance to Zopa borrowers. Depositors select who they want to help from the listed loans. An obvious scenario would be a grandparent investing a substantial sum into low-interest Zopa CDs, so that a child/grandchild could take out a 5-year loan to help with a down payment on a house. But depositors may also help a stranger whose story they find appealing. 

Our preliminary take
Zopa has removed much of the uncertainty from the P2P lending process. But by eliminating the risk, they've also reduced available returns. Marketing Director Wade Lagrone, with whom I spoke Saturday afternoon (as Zopa engineers hammered away on the final tests), believes that U.S. investors overwhelmingly prefer low-risk, fixed-income investments and will prefer this P2P model.

I'm not convinced yet. It seems like a somewhat convoluted path to buy a simple CD. First, you must set your deposit rate, choose one or more borrowers to help, and finally join one of the six credit unions. The website makes the process relatively straightforward, but it's not the same as simply dropping a few grand into an online bank. 

On the other hand, the ability to donate all or part of your deposit's interest-yield could appeal to certain investors, especially the well-heeled looking to help family members obtain below-market-rate loans for defined purposes (home purchase, education, business expansion, etc). And eliminating lender risk removes the huge chore of keeping lenders happy and informed about their book of loans. 

Another potential problem is lack of transparency for borrowers. To obtain a Zopa loan, prospective borrowers fill out a nonbinding "loan quote." Not until after this application is made, and a credit inquiry logged, do borrowers find out if they will receive the lowest rate of 8.75% or the highest of 16.99%. And borrowers have no idea whether they will receive "help" from investors to lower their payment, and effectively reduce the APR of the loan.

Screenshot: Zopa CD setup (1 Dec 2007)
Zopa investors (aka lenders) select the rate of return for their 1-year CD and then choose a borrower to help by offsetting a portion of their Zopa loan payment.

Appendix: Credit Union Partners
The six U.S. credit union partners of Zopa US:

  • Addison Avenue Federal Credit Union
  • Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union
  • FirstTech Credit Union
  • FORUM Credit Union
  • Provident Credit Union
  • USA Federal Credit Union

Comments (3)

Bank of America Offers $75 to Entice Credit Card Customers to Open a Free Checking Account

By Jim Bruene on November 20, 2007 7:26 PM | Comments (3)

For some time, Bank of America has been offering its credit card customers a cash bonus for opening a new checking account. Today, with $75 dangled in front of me, I decided to take advantage of the offer and went ahead and opened up a free MyAccess Checking account online. Below is a screenshot of the main credit card page with the offer strategically placed in the upper-left quadrant.   

While the online account opening process was relatively smooth, there are a number of things the bank could do better, starting with pre-filling the application with my personal info. Even though I have two Bank of America credit cards and I responded to the offer from within the secure online banking environment, I still had to start the application from scratch.

And taking a queue from online retailers such as Dell, the bank drops a number of cross sells into the application process.  I'll have a full analysis of the account opening process in our upcoming Online Banking Report on online account opening to be published in first quarter. 


Comments (3)

Provident Bankshares Opens New Direct Bank

By Jim Bruene on November 5, 2007 6:05 AM | Comments

According to story in Wednesday's American Banker, Provident Bankshares, a $6 billion Baltimore, MD-based bank, has opened a direct bank to help reduce customer defections to other online banks (see screenshot below). In testing now, the new unit is slated for official launch in 2008. And unlike many other regional programs, Provident intends to market the new bank within its home market. It even plans to advertise to select visitors on its main website, <>.  

While the bank risks cannibalizing its own deposit base, it feels that the direct bank, combined with the reputation of the parent, will help stem deposit outflows. The new bank will operate at <>.

I'm not convinced slapping a "direct" on your name and boosting savings rates ten-fold is all that compelling of a strategy (note 1). Sure, FNBO was able to add $1.5 billion in deposits, but only by offering a way-above-market 6% rate until just a month ago (see previous post here).

Dueling websites create channel conflict. Depending on how they are compensated, branch staff will either move everyone into the online-deposit account, or keep it a secret and hope never to be confronted by an angry customer wanting to know why they are earning 75% less in the branch than if they moved their money online.   

However, if Provident can keep costs down, operating the unit as more of a "virtual direct bank," with little additional expense other than a small website and a few dedicated sales/support reps, and figure out how to manage channel conflict, it could pencil out. And the bank can also use the unit to test new products and pricing without impacting its larger customer base.   


1. Actually, the high-yield rate at Provident Direct is 15 times higher than its 0.3% standard savings rates. But for higher balances, at least $25,000, the parent bank already offers a 4.0% APY money market account, just a half-percent under the high-yield rate. 


FNBO Direct Brings in $1.5 Billion in Deposits

By Jim Bruene on October 31, 2007 2:50 PM | Comments

First National Bank of Omaha has attracted $1.5 billion in deposits through its Internet subsidiary, FNBO Direct, launched in February (previous coverage here). 

The numbers were chronicled in a NY Times article earlier this month (here) about the so-called rate chasers, depositors that move money around online seeking the absolute highest rate, even if it means moving the money many times each year.

Total deposits: $1.5 billion

Total accounts: 36,000

Average per account: $42,000

Number of mega-depositors (with $400,000+): several thousand

Deposits of the mega-depositors: approx $1 billion

Deposit of everyone else: $500 million in 33,000 to 34,000 accounts

Average per "normal" account: $14,000 to $15,000 

Now that the 6% APY has dropped to 5.05% (effective Sep. 28), it will be interesting to see how many deposits the bank retains.


New Direct Bank: NewBank from Stockman's

By Jim Bruene on October 24, 2007 10:15 AM | Comments (1)

I'm not sure how new it is, but Bank Deals Blog had its first posting yesterday (here). NewBank from Elk Grove, CA-based Stockmans Bank coincidentally was purchased by PremierWest Bancorp while I was writing this blog post yesterday.

It looks like another deposit play, offering higher rates through the online brand to help it keep rates at the parent relatively low (see comparison below). The direct bank is also offering a $50 bonus for new checking accounts opened with at least $2,500 (see screenshot below).

Here are the rates for a $20,000 balance:  

                             Stockmans      NewBank    Advantage

Interest checking >>> 0.50%         3.50%            7x

Savings >>>>>>>>>>>> 1.35%          4.00%           3x

Money market >>>>>> 2.30%           n/a            1.5x (vs savings)

6-month CD >>>>>>>> 4.30%          5.25%           +22%

First National Bank of Omaha used this approach to bag $1.5 billion in deposits at its Internet subsidiary, FNBO Direct, since its February launch (see previous coverage here). 

Thanks to Bank Deals Blog for the tip (here).

Comments (1)

High-Rate Savings for Kids, Patelco's "gr8 r8"

By Jim Bruene on October 19, 2007 11:14 AM | Comments

Earning interest is a great incentive for kids to save. Even a couple bucks in "free" money earned on their deposit is a great motivator. But with many savings rates below 1% annually, it doesn't add up fast enough for lower balance levels. At US Bank's 0.10% rate, my son's $1,700 in savings would only earn him $1.70 per year, or 14 cents a month. There is no incentive there.

But at Patelco Credit Union, with its kid-friendly "gr8 r8" account (see note 1, 2), he would earn 8% on the first $1,000 and the going rate on the rest (1.51%). And the 8% is guaranteed through the end of 2008. So his annual return increases to $81, or almost $7 per month, 50x the US Bank return. Seven bucks extra a month is real money to a pre-teen, and gives him a good taste for the benefits of saving and investing for the long-term. Even more important, it positions the CU as family friendly, impressing the parents and maybe hooking the kids as future members as well.

Granted, the business case is tricky. Does subsidizing junior to the tune of $5/mo really benefit the credit union and its members. If the CU had 20,000 of these accounts, that's an extra $1.2 million per year in interest expense. Might the credit union's other 220,000 members prefer an extra $5 in their accounts at the end of the year? I'm guessing most members would support efforts to instill savings discipline in today's youths. And the marketing and PR benefits are excellent. The CU even features the account on its homepage (see screenshot below).

So, overall I r8 it gr8. Thanks Trey (see note 2).  

Patelco CU homepage (19 Oct. 2007)


1. Must be under 21 when account opened. No maximum account balance, but only the first $1,000 earns 8%. The special rate is good through the end of 2008, when the account reverts to a regular savings account.

2. I just realized the account name, gr8 r8, is a double entendre, not only being SMS-speak for "great rate," but also with an eight-percent rate. [My family has to spell these things out for me.]  

3. Thanks to Trabian's Trey Reeme for the tip (here). And I agree with him, gr8 r8 savings absolutely must have an SMS component, at minimum a message each month when the "free money" (interest) is added to the account.


E-Mailbag: Everbank Addresses Falling Rates with Three Deposit Options

By Jim Bruene on September 25, 2007 3:51 PM | Comments (2)

With the personal finance news full of reports of falling deposit rates, EverBank strikes back with an eye-catching email overview of its high-yield deposit choices:

  • Yield Pledge Money Market
  • Yield Pledge CDs
  • FreeNet Checking

The bank's yield pledge, to always offer a rate in the top 5% nationwide, helps take the customer's mind off the actual rate itself, which may not be as high as they'd like (see screenshot below). Not that EverBank isn't competitive on rates. The bank still offers 5% APY's in a number of key deposit products including its Money Market account and most CDs. And it sweetens the pot for new customers with 3-month introductory rates of 6%.

Nicely done email with an appropriate, and eye-catching graphic, to-the-point copy, personalization, the yield pledge, and links to all the right places.  

Grade: A

Email header 

Sent: Tue 9/25/2007 2:04 PM
From: EverBank News []
To: <your email address>
Subject: 3 high-yield accounts - to fit your style

Personalization: First name in salutation

Email body

Comments (2)

ING Direct Launching in Seattle

By Jim Bruene on August 7, 2007 6:47 PM | Comments (1)

I received a mailer yesterday at my Seattle home address announcing ING Direct's upcoming launch in Seattle (see scan below). This version at least was sent only to existing ING Direct customers. Note the inside headline with an appropriate local touch, "Seattle's Getting More Bean for its Buck." 

There are not many specifics in the orange self-mailer, other than "You'll soon be seeing us all over the cityfrom Puget Sound to Lake Washington spreading the savings message." I'll keep my camera handy to capture big orange visuals as the company arrives on the scene.

So, it doesn't sound as if we're getting a famous ING Cafe (see inset, the newest one in Chicago). However, I do have the opportunity to earn a $10 referral bonus by handing out the two detachable cards that came with the mailer (see note 1). The new account holder also earns a $25 bonus. Customers can sign up through the mail using the card, or go online to a special landing page <> (see screenshot below).   

Seattle mailer front

ING Direct Seattle mailer front

Seattle mailer back

ING Direct Seattle mailer back

Landing page for Seattle offer <>

ING Direct Seattle landing page


1.  On the above scan, you can only see the top portion of one of two identical perforated referral cards designed to be given to family and friends. Sorry, my 8.5 x 14 scanner didn't capture the entire self-mailer.

Comments (1)

Bank of America Advertising NSF/Overdraft Protection at TechCrunch

By Jim Bruene on July 28, 2007 1:02 PM | Comments (1)

Along with 550,000 other followers of Web 2.0 happenings, I'm a regular reader of Michael Arrington's TechCrunch, although it's harder to keep up with these days as the blog has gone from a couple posts per day to seven or eight. Although I usually read it in an RSS reader, I visit the site once per week or so to read comments.

This week for the first time I noticed financial services advertiser Bank of America, a hardly newsworthy occurrence as Bank of America spent $43 million advertising online last year (here). But the content of the banner proved most interesting (screenshot below); here's what the bank's ad says:

A little knowledge is a powerful thing.
Online Banking Service: Check your balances and account activity so you can help prevent fees.

And the blue button on the right says "Know More Now."

The banner leads to a landing page (here) that discusses a number of topics, but opens to a discussion about overdraft-protection options in the middle of the page (screenshot below). It's very interesting to see a large bank take on this controversial issue in its advertising. It's a good sign that the banking industry is taking the criticisms seriously and is working to educate users on how to avoid fees, even if does impact short-term fee income (see my discussion of how mobile alerts can be used to keep users informed, here).

BofA landing page from TechCrunch ad

Comments (1)

Everbank's Latest Multi-Currency CD: World Energy Index

By Jim Bruene on July 17, 2007 5:18 PM | Comments

Some companies are so innovative, you take them for granted. Five that come to mind, in no particular order:

  • Yodlee: account aggregation, credit card-based bill payment, mobile banking
  • Vancity (Canada): microcredit, green banking, blogging, community involvement
  • Wells Fargo: simple expense tracker, blogging, Second Life
  • PayPal: email-based payments, confirmation via twin deposits, integration into eBay (before it was part of eBay)
  • Prosper: Social lending, open API to most of its aggregated data, groups, auction style, Facebook app (game)

These companies are all relatively famous, but one that doesn't get nearly as much press, but has long pushed forward on a number of fronts is Everbank. From its website design (here), product marketing (here), to its foreign-currency certificates of deposit (here), the Jacksonville, FL-based bank continues to shine in an increasingly crowded online space (all previous coverage here). 

My inspiration for this post (see note) was the bank's marketing email today announcing its World Energy Index CD, a multi-currency certificate pegged to the currency of four western countries with better-than-average energy resources: Norway, Canada, UK, and Australia. I have no idea if this CD is a good investment, but I do know that Everbank has proven that even the narrowest niches can be profitable using the reach of the Internet.

Everbank Email

   Date/Time received: July 17, 4:07 PM (Pacific)
   From: Everbank News []
   To: James []
   Title: A new CD with a powerful combination - energy and currencies

Customer type: Current checking account customer

Personalization: First name in salutation

Landing page: none (homepage link only) 

Other offer: Third-party investment newsletter offer (link on right-hand side goes directly to newsletter publisher, Agora Financial Publications, landing page here)

Note: I have had an account for ten years at Everbank. Therefore, I see more of their marketing material and tend to write about them more frequently.


Free Checking in the Internet Age

By Jim Bruene on July 6, 2007 3:15 PM | Comments (1)

Bank of America and Chase, two of the three largest U.S. banks, are putting an online spin on free checking offers using online banking, security, and other benefits to encourage applications. On the surface, Bank of America's approach appears much more effective. And with no direct-deposit requirement, it surely generates more new accounts. However, without knowing how the free accounts convert to profitable relationships, it's impossible for an outsider to recommend one approach over another.    

Bank of America
Bank of America's free checking offer (see note 1) is difficult to overlook (screenshot below).  The top-of-the-page banner has animations that showcase the major benefits:

  • online banking
  • bill payment
  • "Keep the Change" debit card savings program
  • SiteKey security

The teaser "We're redefining Free Checking" creates interest while the bright blue "open an account" and "special online-only offer" further entice prospect to click through the banner.

BofA home page with free checking offer

The landing page (screenshot below) reiterates the online benefits and features a large laptop to reinforce the high-tech nature of the account. Two additional benefits are added to the list:

  • Free debit card with security protections
  • Free ATM access at 17,000 BofA machines 

BofA free checking landing page


1. The free checking banner appeared in a visit to the homepage from a Seattle IP address at 10 AM Pacific time today. It did not appear on afternoon searches from several computers.

2. The bank uses a live chat popup after lingering on the application for a short time (click on image right for closeup).

Chase Bank
Chase's homepage banner uses the "kitchen sink" approach with an image of an ATM machine, debit card, paper checkbook, laptop, and PDA along the top. The mobile phone is a good addition, but the ATM machine and laptop are so small, they aren't easily recognizable in a quick scan (see screenshot below).

Another problem: the paper checkbook, which is centered and slightly larger than the others, seems to get an inordinate amount of attention. I'm not sure that the checkbook or the debit card add much value. U.S. consumers pretty much realize those are included in a checking account.

Chase's landing page leaves a lot to be desired. The benefits are listed in small, gray type that is relatively hard to read. And the only call to action, if you can describe it as one, is the last line in small blue type, with an underlined "apply online." No buttons + no color + no large font + no offer = no interest.  

Comments (1)

New Direct Bank: Element Financial from Irwin Union Bank

By Jim Bruene on June 28, 2007 10:37 AM | Comments

It's been a few months since a direct bank launched. The last one we've been tracking is FNBO Direct that launched in February (coverage here). FNBO has been in the news lately, with a video interview with Business Week (here).

Element Financial rate tableThe latest is Element Financial <>, a unit of Irwin Union Bank. The simple homepage layout includes an icons across the top that gives it a modern look (see below). 

Unlike most direct banks pitching high-yield savings, Element features certificates of deposit. The lead product is a 5.44% APY CD. Rates are displayed on a unique rate table with tabs across the top listing typical deposit sizes, $5,000, $25,000, $50,000, or $100,000 (see inset).  

For more on direct banking, see our previous coverage here or refer to our Online Banking Report, Lessons from the High-Rate Deposit Marketers (here).  


ING Direct Offers 1% Cashback for 60 Days

By Jim Bruene on May 17, 2007 3:25 PM | Comments (1)

Email from ING Direct announcing cashback bonus I just received an email (inset) from ING Direct announcing a 1% cashback promo for its Electric Orange debit card. Not surprisingly, the rebate applies only to signature debit, where interchange fees cover the cost.

Initially I thought it was a permanent feature of the bank's new paperless checking account. But after clicking through to the landing page (see screenshot below), I discovered it's just a two-month promotion, running June 1 through July 31.

Given ING Direct's staunch consumer advocacy positioning, I am a little surprised it is not a bit more upfront about the two-month time period. Perhaps it's just an oversight, or maybe they are testing different copy treatments.

The 1% offer is also shown on the bank's main Electric Orange product page (here). Again, there is no mention that it's a promotion until you click through the "1% cashback" banner.

Overall, it's a good promotion. A clear benefit for the customer and limited duration for the bank. And it helps build awareness that ING Direct supports debit card use at the point of sale, a relatively new feature for the direct bank. See previous coverage here.

Landing page (here)

Comments (1)

Citibank Buys the Top Spot for Google "Checking Accounts"

By Jim Bruene on April 2, 2007 10:22 AM | Comments

Citibank has the top spot this morning if you Google "checking accounts" from a Seattle IP address (see below). Wachovia and US Bank are the lucky recipients of the free advertising that goes with being in the top-two organic results. Two smaller institutions purchased well-placed ads with Alaska USA Federal Credit Union landing in the number four spot on the right-side column (#7 overall) and Viking Bank at #5 on the right (#8 overall).

Citibank's landing page emphasizes the rate on its savings account, with a passing mention of EZ Checking (see screenshot below). The landing page is gorgeous, but is it missing the point by soft-pedaling what the searcher was looking for? Only Citi and its analytics team knows for sure. My guess is that it does pretty well since the bank's been using this basic design for more than a year now (see previous coverage here).   

Citibank landing page from Google search on "checking accounts"


Boeing Employees Credit Union (BECU) Pitches 7.50% APR Savings/Checking Account

By Jim Bruene on April 1, 2007 5:22 PM | Comments (5)

One of my favorite Sunday pastimes is seeing which bank dropped $25,000+ on a front-section full-page Seattle Times print ad. Over the years, there have been fewer and fewer sightings. And usually, it's BofA, Key Bank, or US Bank making the bold print buys in our market.

But today, Boeing Employees Credit Union, or BECU as they refer to themselves now that they allow anyone in the state to join, bought the entire page A10 and used most of it to say:

Shouldn't you profit from your bank rather than the other way around?

Bottom 1/3 of BECU print ad in Sunday Seattle Times 1 April 2007That's an attention-grabbing headline, especially in Seattle with plenty of anti-big-business sentiment. But it won't drive sales unless the CU can back it up with tangible benefits. And it does, with a large reverse-type rate offer for Member Advantage Savings & Checking (bottom section of print ad at right):

7.50% APY on your first $500  

This is a great approach for going after mainstream consumers. Why?

  • They bash the banks to gain attention, always a popular strategy...even the banks do it (see here).
  • They don't waste space, or risk customer confusion, by going into detail about their credit union status; in fact they don't even use the words credit union, other than the CU in their name, instead using the generic "bank" in the headline. 
  • They pay 2%+ more on savings than even the highest-rate online bank...but it's only on the first $500. Now that won't bring in the $25,000 deposits, but it will bring in new checking accounts and relationships.
  • The extra 6% BECU pays out on the $500 balance, only costs them $30 per year...a small price to pay for a new relationship, which requires an electronic connection, either direct deposit, online bill pay, or electronic statements (of course, the Seattle Times ad drives the acquisition price up considerably).
  • The same headshot of "Cyrena S." runs in the lower-left of the print ad and in the middle of BECU's homepage (see screenshot below), nicely tying the website to the print-ad strategy.

BECU homepage with 7.50% Member Advantage pitch

A few areas could be improved, mostly within the Web portion of the call to action: 

  • The online signup option is buried at the bottom of the Member Advantage landing page (here), and uses a generic link and understated small maroon button, rather than the large red/orange "Apply Now" graphic used by most retail financial institutions. 
  • The online app appears in a small popup window and is an old school all-text version powered by uMonitor. If you want to drive online sales, the application should be more user friendly and graphic-rich. Despite the shortcomings of CashEdge's online application design (see here), its layout is easier to follow. 
  • The go-to rate after the first $500 is just 1.75%; that's a bit less than one would expect from someone spending so much money pitching "earn more" in 48-point type.
  • Although BECU appears as the top organic result in Google searches involving the credit union's actual name, it doesn't show up on the first page for generic searches for "seattle savings accounts" or even "seattle credit unions." BECU should consider supporting its print buy with search engine advertising.  
  • The 7.50% advertised APY is identical to the 7.50% APR used by US Bank to promote its home equity product a few pages earlier in the same Sunday Seattle Times section. It might help to show a competitive comparison against other savings rates to emphasize that this is a fantastic DEPOSIT rate, not merely a competitive lending rate.
Comments (5)

Future Friday: CD Auctions at Zions Direct

By Jim Bruene on March 30, 2007 5:25 PM | Comments

Several banks, including PNC in the bubble days and WaMu through eBay in early 2004, have tried auctioning certificates of deposit (see Online Banking #104). Those first attempts were aimed at retail depositors, an unlikely audience for a several reasons. First, the demographics of retail CD buyers is decidedly older and they tend to be fiscally conservative, not the right group for a new-fangled way to buy from the bank. On the other hand, CD auctions are a great way to introduce a bit of Web 2.0-style innovation into what is mostly a commodity.    

Zions Direct: Results of Mar 27 CD auctionSo Zions Bank, through its Zions Direct division, has chosen a different path. Instead of creating an eBay-like environment for retail investors, it is using its non-bank investment division to sell CDs like the Treasury Dept sell t-bills. The certificates are sold at a discount to par, resulting in an acceptable yield for the bidders. 

While PNC and WaMu's efforts were clearly just market tests that were shuttered after a few months, the Zions auction platform is full-featured. It appears to have staying power provided the bank is comfortable with the prices its paying. 

Clearly, this is not a retail playground. There were 20 bidders making a total of 28 bids with a median bid dollar amount of just $10,000. However, there were three huge bidders, all playing with $2 million in cash, that set the final prices. Most likely it was someone in a large company treasury department looking to increase its yield on excess cash by a basis point or two.   

But even though the big money sets the rates, the small depositors can still win since everyone received the same "market-clearing" rate. For example, four of the 14 winning bidders in the March 27 auction were small CDs of less than $5,000:

Winning bidders by size of deposit:

  • 4 had $1,000 to $4,000 
  • 5 had $8,000 to $20,000
  • 2 had $90,000 to $100,000
  • 1 had $200,000
  • 1 had $536,000 (partial fill of $2 million bid)
  • 1 had $1 million (they also had non-winning $2 million bid)

It makes sense to set rates for large deposits this way. It mimics the way the capital markets already function. And it allows motivated smaller depositors to join the "action," receiving what they are likely to perceive as a fair price since it was set on the open market. Some day, the majority of CD dollars will be sold this way.

Finally, an added bonus for the first-mover, it positions Zions as innovative, fair, and looking out for its customers. The word of mouth and press attention should quickly pay back the investment Zions made in the platform.

More information:

  • Press release here
  • American Banker article here
  • Online Banking Report #104 here


Zions March 27 CD Auction Results
(see screenshot right or view archived page here

Product: $2,000,000 in 5-month CDs

Bidders: 28 bids from 21 bidders

Final Price: 5.506% rate

Start date: 20 Mar 2007

End date: 27 Mar 2007 (6 PM EDT)

Discussion: Two $2 million bidders tied at the market-clearing rate, one ended up with a partial funding of $537,000 and one ended with zero, so had Zions made more money available, it could received total deposits of $3.6 million at 5.506% rate.


ING Direct Adds 220,000 Accounts in Fourth Quarter

By Jim Bruene on March 27, 2007 5:47 PM | Comments

The FDIC database has been updated with Q4 numbers, allowing all the data miners to slap on their hard hats and get to work. Since reporting on the tepid third quarter of ING Direct (U.S.) (here), we've been looking forward to the year-end data.

The biggest surprise is that the bank not only reversed the Q3 account run-off, it managed to add 220,000 new accounts, its best fourth quarter ever. However, things weren't so rosy in terms of deposit balances, which increased just $800 million, the lowest Q4 increase since 2001 when the bank had less than $3 billion in total deposits.

For the full year, ING added $7.2 billion in deposit for an 18% increase, the first time the bank had less than 40% year-over-year growth. And almost the entire increase came in first quarter. The bank essentially had no deposit growth in the final nine months of the year (see table below).  

It will be interesting to see what impact its new high-rate Electric Orange checking account will have on deposit and account growth. The account was growing rapidly during the final stretch of the invitation-only launch period, growing from $1 billion on deposit Dec. 31, to $2.2 billion by mid-February (see coverage here).


ING Direct's Electric Orange Launched to General Public

By Jim Bruene on March 8, 2007 7:59 PM | Comments

I don't know how I missed this yesterday. The Bank Deals blog, which routinely gets this stuff first, was the first to note that ING Direct's much-discussed new paperless checking account is now visible on its website (see below). The full launch follows a 4-month invitation-only period (see our previous coverage here).

However, the account is not currently running on the homepage, which tonight was rotating through three product offers:

  • 4.5% Orange Savings
  • 6.0% Orange Mortgage
  • Orange retirement accounts: Traditional and Roth IRAs  

ING Direct, along with Everbank, are currently running ads on Google for "electric orange" and "electric orange ING Direct" (see inset). The landing page, shown below, includes a Jane Kim Wall Street Journal clipping.  Interestingly, the ING Direct landing page still says you must first open a savings account to qualify for the checking account. The Website carries no such restriction.   

We'll have more info on the account as we run it through its paces.

ING Direct product page

ING Direct's product page with Electric Orange checking

ING Direct landing page from Google AdWords ad


Bank of America Opens One New Checking Account per Branch per Day

By Jim Bruene on February 28, 2007 11:31 AM | Comments (6)

The folks at BAI, using research by Raddon Financial, ran the numbers on new checking account sales per branch and found that Bank of America is opening 31 new checking accounts per branch per month, or just about one per day (article here). WaMu did better with 39 per month or 1.3/day. The article said community banks typically get only about one-fifth that,  just 2 new checking accounts per week per branch.

I'm not sure exactly what those numbers mean, but someday in a meeting when you are trying to make a case for new investment in your website, you can counter the, "but customers love the branches" with, "sure they do, but even BofA, who spends more than $200 million/year advertising, only manages to sell one checking account per day per branch" (see top 2005 advertisers here). It still might not mean anything, but it makes it sound like you've done your homework.

The problem with comparing branch-account openings to online-account openings is they are not separate ecosystems. Would the account have been opened online without a nearby branch? Or did that account, opened at the branch, come as a result of research conducted online by the customer? In the U.S., you need both channels for the foreseeable future, unless you sell a financial product that doesn't need physical support, like a savings account (see note 1).

Another wild card: How do you gauge the impact of increasingly prominent website offers like this one currently running on the checking account page at <> (see note 2)? Naturally, to get the $50 you have to open the account online.

Bank of America landing page for $50 checking account offer


1. For more information on the future of the online channel vs. branch, see our report, The Demise of the Branch, published spring 2006 in Online Banking Report (OBR 128).

2. The offer was presented to a non-customer browsing the main Bank of America site from a Seattle IP address and indicating their state of residence was Nevada.

Comments (6)

ING Direct Makes Checking (Almost) Fun Again

By Jim Bruene on February 22, 2007 4:47 PM | Comments (13)

According to, the "modern" check dates back to the early 1500s; that is, if you don't count chiseled IOUs from the Roman era 2,000 years earlier (see history here).

Five-hundred years ago, I'm sure a "user customizable" piece of paper you could trade for a goat was an exciting new way to pay for something. But there hasn't been a whole lot of innovation since then. As a matter of fact, the paper check-writing practice has all but disappeared in most countries.   

That's why it's newsworthy when someone puts a new spin on a five-centuries-old product as ING Direct is attempting with its new Electric Orange (EO) checking, currently in invitation-only trial, but soon to be released to the entire country. And they are having some early success, landing more than 60,000 accounts as we mentioned here, and creating some online buzz as Ron Shevlin points to here at Marketing ROI.  

What are the features of Electric Checking

  • Cool name
  • Great user interface for payments (see screenshots below)
  • Same-screen initiation of electric (ACH) or paper payments
  • 24-hour payment delivery for $15 fee
  • High-payment limits: $100,000 for paper, $25,000 per day on debit card, $5,000 for ACH, and $1,000 per day on ATM withdrawals
  • Good branding with the ING Direct no-nonsense design, colors, and copy
  • 100% fee-free (other than a few rare items)
  • 4% to 5.3% interest depending on balance (see note 1)
  • 30-second account setup for existing ING Direct customers
  • Easy-to-use website and online access
  • No paper checks

Electric Orange is an outstanding product, with one major exception which I'll discuss later. The online integration of electronic and paper payments on the same screen makes it intuitive to use and perhaps the best bill-pay suite on the market (see screenshot below). With 32,000 free ATMs, high interest rates, and a MasterCard debit card, this account competes fairly well with old school checking accounts that also come bundled with unlimited free access to 5,000-square-foot human-powered branches. 

But I take issue with the account's most unique feature, "no paper checks" (see note 2). While I understand the marketing advantage of this anti-paper non-benefit, it's actually somewhat limiting for account holders. Instead of not supporting paper at all, why not simply charge a hefty transaction fee for paper checks while keeping electronic items fee-free? Sell me bright orange checks for $5 per 100 and charge a quarter per cleared check. That'll keep the volume down, while allowing customers the convenience of the old-fashioned paper check. And ING Direct gets the "viral marketing" benefit of those bright orange negotiable instruments being literally flown across the country.

I'd be willing to give up preprinted paper checks if a good subsitute were available. Reading earlier descriptions of the account before its introduction, I thought the bank had invented a new in-home process for printing checks, like printing through Quicken but a whole lot easier. Unfortunately, the paper option is good old online bill pay, complete with five-day mailing delays. That won't cut it when you need to pay the lawn guys standing in your front yard with a truck full of toxic liquid (see note 3).  

The last missing piece in EO is electrification of the deposit process. Since the bank opened its doors in late 2000, it's been exceptionally easy to ACH money into the account. That's been one of its key growth drivers. But now that it offers full checking services, the bank should adopt remote deposit capture technology so EO customers could zip paper checks to them over the Net (see USAA's remote deposit service here).

ING Direct Electric Orange main payments screen
Select electric or paper checks

Electric Orange "send paper check" interface
Looks just like a "paper" check, and no need to have the payee set up prior to creating the payment (see next step)

ING Direct "add payee" interface
If the payee in the previous step is new, users simply "address" this virtual envelope to set up the payee; users also have the option of not saving the payee info.


1. In online forums and blogs, some confusion has been expressed about what happens within this account when more than six transactions are made in a single statement period. In the account disclosure, ING Direct says that each Electric Orange account is divided into a savings account and checking account, and that the bank will direct deposits into the appropriate account as it deems appropriate, but that after six transactions, all funds will be put into the checking subaccount. However, all monies EARN THE SAME RATE OF INTEREST, so there is no impact on the customer, nor does the customer even see these transfers. It's a technical manipulation that saves ING Direct from having to maintain transaction account reserves on most balances, thereby cutting costs. 

2. Actually ING Direct does offer "remote paper check" initiation via the online bill pay function where users choose from electric or paper checks (see screenshot above). The bank just doesn't allow users to have the paper in their own hands.

3. The bank does offer a quicker ACH payment function, but you need to have access to the bank account number of the recipient, which is not readily available from most people/businesses to whom occasional checks are written. And ACH usually takes 48 to 72 hours to post in the recipient's account, unless they are ING Direct customers.

Comments (13)

New Account Totals for ING Direct's Electric Orange Checking

By Jim Bruene on February 16, 2007 2:23 PM | Comments

ING Direct debit cardYesterday, posted an article (here) citing new account totals for ING Direct's Electric Money checking account:

  • 60,000 accounts, a 1.5% penetration of the
    bank's 4 million accounts
  • $2.2 billion in new deposits, a hefty $37,000
    per account*

Two weeks ago (Feb. 1), the bank said it had attracted 42,000 accounts (see post here).

The inset is an actual Electric Orange MasterCard debit card. 

*An average of $37,001 if you ignore my $100 account


ING Electric Orange Reviews

By Jim Bruene on February 16, 2007 2:00 PM | Comments (2)

Much virtual ink has been spilled over ING Direct's Electric Orange account, and the new checking account isn't even available to the general public. From its Internet cafes to subway sponsorships, this is a bank that knows how to generate buzz, which really isn't all that easy with checking and savings accounts (see here for previous coverage of ING Direct).

Searching for <"Electric Orange" + review> on Google, we found six full-scale reviews of the product among the first 100 organic listings (10 pages of results using the default settings). All were blog postings. Most were moderately positive, and only one took shots at the bank calling the rates "too good to be true" (see Watch Your Wallet below).

It illustrates an interesting new phenomena, the power of the personal finance blogosphere. Most top-ranked search results belong not to mainstream press accounts, but to bloggers writing from various levels of knowledge about banking and finance. Most of the top-ranked blog reviews were thorough, factual, and relatively unbiased. But a few bits of misinformation creep in now and again, such as the rumor that the account stops paying interest on the sixth transaction in a statement period (false, by the way). Financial institutions should monitor these postings and jump in with a comment and/or email to the author to correct any factual errors.

Here's a list of what the personal finance bloggers are saying about Electric Orange:

1. Highest-ranked review on Google (#2 overall)

Date: 13 Feb. 2007

Verdict: Positive


2. Second-highest ranked blog review (#4 overall)

My Money Blog Header

Date: 2 Dec. 2006

Verdict: Positive


3. Third-highest blog review (#5 overall)

Date: 30 Nov. 2006 (#7 overall)

Verdict: Positive


4. Fourth-highest blog review (#33 overall)

Date: 29 Nov. 2006

Verdict: Neutral



5. Fifth-highest blog review (#46 overall) (Callahan)

Date: 4 Dec. 2006

Verdict: Neutral



6. Sixth-highest blog review (#65 overall)

Date: 28 Dec. 2006

Verdict: Somewhat negative


Comments (2)

ING Direct Books 42,000 New Electric Orange Checking Accounts

By Jim Bruene on February 5, 2007 11:03 AM | Comments (1)

According to an American Banker story last week (here), as of Feb. 1, ING Direct had cross-sold 42,000 (see note 1) checking accounts to its 4.3 million savings customers, a penetration of 1%. Keep in mind, the new checking account has been slowly rolling out over the past 60 days to current customers only (see note 2), and is not yet mentioned on the bank's website. It is expected to be launched to the general public within the next 30 days. 

You can view these initial results in two ways: 

Glass is half full -- Even with just 42,000 accounts, ING Direct may have the largest "Internet only" checking account base, at least when measured by the number of active accounts

Glass half empty -- Because ING Direct's checking account pays 50 to 80 basis points (0.50% to 0.80%) more than savings on $50,000+ balances, many (most??) of the new checking account customers simply moved large balances into the checking option, providing few incremental deposits.


  1. Make that 42,001 accounts. I just opened one this morning. It took all of about 30 seconds to do it. Existing customers simply choose an account nickname, enter the dollar amount they want transferred into the account (from the pre-existing link from an outside account), and agree to the disclosures. See below for the confirmation screen.
  2. I received my invitation to open an Electronic Orange account last week (screenshot here). I've had an account there since 2001.

ING Direct Electric Orange confirmation screen CLICK TO ENLARGE

Comments (1)

ING Direct's Deposit and Customer Totals Decline as Direct Bank Competition Intensifies

By Jim Bruene on February 1, 2007 10:52 AM | Comments

Ingdirect_homepage_logoballFor the first time in its short six-year history, ING Direct's U.S. division showed declines in both total deposits and customer accounts during third quarter, the latest data available (see the table below, originally published in our year-end industry forecast, Online Banking Report #137). Although the runoff was relatively small $600 million in deposits, or about 1% from the peak, and 150,000 accounts, or about 4% from the peak it's a clear indicator that the entry of Emigrant Direct, HSBC Direct, and especially Citi Direct have taken a toll on the direct banking giant.

Looking at quarterly results below, you can see that average account balances began declining in Q1 2005, as some of the hottest money, large balances held by extremely rate-conscious consumers, moved to better paying accounts; still, total deposits and customers continued to grow rapidly through 2005 and into 2006. However, in the second and third quarters, deposits began to flatten as the number of accounts grew only 230,000 compared to 560,000 in the same period a year earlier.

ING Direct appears to have deliberately slowed growth by maintaining deposit rates 50 to 100 basis points lower than the new entrants. With its marketing muscle, the bank could choose to grow deposits if it closes the rate gap. The bank's new checking account, gradually rolling out to current customers, may help stem the tide, with higher rates for larger balances (see coverage here).

Table: ING Direct Deposit and Customer Totals: 2000 to 2006 (click to enlarge)


PDF version of this table here.


Everbank Takes on ING Direct with 6.01% Checking Account Campaign

By Jim Bruene on January 31, 2007 10:47 AM | Comments (1)

Everbank launched its "What are you waiting for?" campaign today by giving away 2,500 free subway tickets at 6:01 AM in lower Manhattan. The time was chosen to coincide with the 6.01% APR promotional start-rate on its FreeNet checking account (see Note 1). 

The campaign targets ING Direct's soon-to-be-released Electric Orange checking account, which currently pays beta users 3% on balances under $50,000 and 5.3% on balances greater than $50,000 (see Note 2).

Everbank launched a microsite called <> with direct comparisons to ING Direct (see screenshot below).

Everbank <> landing page CLICK TO ENLARGE

Clicking the large Compare Banks button in the lower right leads to a comparison to ING Direct and several other major competitors (see screenshot below):

Everbank "whyruwaiting" comparison to WaMU, ING Direct, Bank of America and Bank of Internet CLICK TO ENLARGE

The campaign has not been extended to the Everbank website, which shows a banner for the 6.01% offer, but no mention of "Why are you waiting?" (see screenshot below). 

Everbank homepage with 6.01% FreeNet checking banner CLICK TO ENLARGE

Clicking through the banner leads to the following page:

Everbank's FreeNet checking landing page CLICK TO ENLARGE


  1. The 6.01% is a promotional "teaser" rate is good for three months, then resets to the "regular" rate which are currently as follows: 
       Under $10,000 = 3.25%
       $10,000 to $25,000 = 3.30%
       $25,000 to $50,000 = 3.60%
       $50,000 to $100,000 = 4.00%
       More than $100,000 = 4.41%

    The minimum deposit is $1,500 and the maximum that earns 6.01% is $100,000.
  2. ING Direct customers can also easily transfer funds into the companion savings account which pays 4.5%. ING's Electric Orange account began rolling out in waves to its 4 million savings account customers in December (see coverage here). Coincidently, I received my invitation yesterday (see screenshot below). 

    Email invitation for ING Direct's Electric Orange checking account CLICK TO ENLARGE
Comments (1)

HSBC Direct Attracts 350,000 Accounts

By Jim Bruene on January 26, 2007 11:10 AM | Comments

In a Jan. 1 case history published in Direct Magazine (article here), HSBC Direct says it has attracted 350,000 customers since the launch of its high-yield savings account just over a year ago (Nov. 2005).

Assuming typical high-yield balance levels of $8000 to $10,000 per account (our estimate), the bank has attracted more than $3 billion in deposits. The bank has marketed its 5%+ APR account heavily, so it's not likely that the new business is making much of a profit contribution yet. 

Based on the bank's reported online ad spending, its acquisition costs were $75 per account from the online spending only, not including what it spent in other media to support the direct business unit (see note 1).

The bank said it is working on new products to offer through the direct bank. This is a crucial step in the evolution. There just aren't enough customers with $10,000 savings balances to feed all the financial institutions looking for new deposits. HSBC's ability to sell other services to its 350,000 new customers will determine the long-term success of the direct banking initiative. 

Thanks to former Forrester senior analyst, Ron Shevlin, now VP at Epsilon, for the link in his Marketing ROI blog. 


  1. According to data from TNS published in American Banker here, HSBC spent $20 million online during the first three quarters of 2006. To calculate the acquisition cost we annualized the online spending and divided by 350,000. This calculation excludes the portion of non-Internet advertising that went to support the direct unit. The bank's total ad spend was $42 million during the first 3 quarters of 2006.

WT Direct takes on ING Direct at

By Jim Bruene on January 23, 2007 9:53 AM | Comments (2)

Kiplinger published an article on the state of online banking (see article here). It's an interesting read, but it's the WT Direct ad in the upper-right corner that I found most interesting (see screenshot below). WT Direct is the new direct banking arm of Wilmington Trust (see coverage here).  


It's a Flash animation that's part parody of the whack-a-mole banner ad and part a direct shot at ING Direct.

Viewers are directed to:

"Hit the ball and get a really great rate."

That's when the humor begins. Attempting to move the cursor over the ball causes the ball to move away. So there is no way to actually click on the ball. After a few seconds a new screen appears with two words, "Give up?" It's a not-so-subtle dig at  ING Direct rates which are revealed on its homepage usually after an orange ball bounces across the screen. ING Direct is currently paying 0.75% less than WT Direct on a $10,000 balance (see note 1).   

WT Direct Flash animation part 2

Then finally, it's revealed who is sponsoring the ad, WT Direct: 

WT Direct Flash animation part 3

The landing page reinforces the banner ad with a direct comparison to ING Direct's payout with the animated graph in the lower-left corner (see screenshot below).

WT Direct landing page from Kiplinger ad with parody of ING Direct orange ball CLICK TO ENLARGE

Nicely done.


1. After the first 60 days, balances of less than $10,000 earn just 0.6% at WT Direct. ING Direct pays 4.5% on all balance levels.

Comments (2)

Key Bank Uses TV Advertising to Promote Deposits in its Saveday Promotion

By Jim Bruene on January 22, 2007 9:19 AM | Comments

Thursday night, as my son was Tivoing his way through the commercial breaks on The Office, I noticed a Key Bank logo at the end of the commercial break. I had him go back and play the 5-second spot which was teaser style with a brief voiceover, logo, and the URL:

Expecting to see an interesting web-based savings account marketing effort, I typed "key bank save" into Google and came up empty handed (see note 1). The first link was to a Key Bank loan application, and there were no sponsored results.

Key Bank error page for CLICK TO ENLARGENext, I tried connecting directly to the bank using what I remembered of the URL show in the TV spot, <>. I realized that was the wrong address when all I saw was an error page, which unfortunately contained no guidance on what to do next (see inset). Finally, I went to the Key Bank homepage and found a large banner announcing the program aimed at encouraging users to curtail their discretionary spending on a designated day (your "Save day") each week (see second screenshot below).

Key Bank homepage with Saveday banner CLICK TO ENLARGE

I'm like the idea of creating an interesting program to spur savings. For example, even though I didn't much like it initially (see post here), Bank of America's Save the Change does have a certain amount of appeal, at least from a marketing standpoint (see note #2).

And Centra Credit Union's <> new prize-based savings plan deserves a second look (thanks Doug True for the original post on this, here; see screenshot in note #3 below).

However, there isn't much to like about Key Bank's Saveday effort. The television spots may work as image advertising, but the website execution left a lot to be desired. Not only did the bank fail to support its television buy with search advertising, the landing page has little of interest besides the standard suite of savings calculators (see screenshot in note #4 below). There are no incentives, contests, or benefits to motivate a consumer to do something as unpleasant as giving up their daily latte.

While the bank does offer a handy PDF worksheet that can be printed out to calculate a monthly budget, there are no links or discussions of automated savings plan. Putting savings on auto-pilot is a much more powerful saving system than trying to get customers to sacrifice their caffeine one day per week.

There's also no interactive elements that might help get someone started. For example, why not send customers a text message to their phone or email each Saveday to encourage them to save.

However, the biggest blunder, is calling attention to the bank's incredibly low savings rates. For example, for a $10,000 saving balance, a typical amount in high-yield savings accounts, Key's three options paid a paltry 0.10%, 0.20% and 1.24% (see note #5). And no, those are not typos, that's two-tenths of a percent, in the KeySaver account, or a grand total of $1.66 per month, before tax. Not even enough to buy that cup of coffee the bank wants you to forego on your Saveday.

It takes a $25,000 balance to get above 1.24% in any of Key's savings accounts (note #6). And anyone who's managed to stash away that much in liquid savings probably doesn't need a Saveday.


1. Later we tried, "key bank saveday" and the first link was a press release on the promotion, but it was at a URL (see release here). Searching from a Seattle WiFi IP address in Seattle.

2. Bank of America has recently been touting the Save the Change debit card benefit in its usual excellent television ads.

3. Centra Credit Union Super Savings page

Centra Credit Union Super Savings landing page CLICK TO ENLARGE

4. Key Bank Saveday landing page

Key Bank Saveday landing page CLICK TO ENLARGE

5. Rates quoted on for zip code 98115 on 22 Jan 2007

6. Update Jan 30: According to a bank employee, a $25,000 deposit now pays 3% in Key Ultra Money Market which I confirmed online. And in markets where Key Bank doesn't have a branch presence, the rate is as much as 5.25% through Key Direct (see screenshot below).



First Direct Bank's Holiday Pop-up Marketing

By Jim Bruene on December 14, 2006 11:21 AM | Comments (1)

Citibank_holiday_homepage_esavings_1I am a sucker for holiday graphics on websites. It doesn't have to be dramatic, a few snowflakes or candy canes in the background is fine. For example, Citibank's e-Savings banner on its homepage today (see inset, click to enlarge). Just like a holiday wreath on the door of the branch, it shows your customers and employees that you have some holiday spirit.

Unlike two years ago (see prior post here), this year many banks and credit unions are running holiday promotions for gift cards and other products (see rundown here) and/or have dropped holiday sprinkles into their websites. The most dramatic is the popup from U.K.'s First Direct <>. This is over-the-top, but it brings a grin, not a bad thing during the end-of-year rush.

First Direct homepage with popup showing (click to enlarge)

First Direct home page with holiday popup CLICK TO ENLARGE

Close-up of popup after choosing "let it snow" option
The loud holiday music that accompanies the snow globe can be turned off with the button in the lower right. Selecting "all snowed out" or "bah humbug!" from the first screen displays a brief "seasons greeting" message before automatically closing the popup.

Comments (1)

USAA Offers Nationwide Remote Deposit Capture for Consumers

By Jim Bruene on December 7, 2006 9:34 AM | Comments

In a press release yesterday, USAA, which serves many of its 5.6 million members remotely, announced the availability of its Deposit@home remote deposit capture service. It's the first major remote deposit capture service geared towards consumers. There are no fees for the service.

Previous services have been targeted to businesses who could justify the $300 to $700+ cost of a dedicated on-location paper-check scanner (see prior coverage here). USAA's service USAA remote deposit in actionworks with any 200 dpi or better scanner hooked to a Windows 2000/XP computer, so households with a dedicated scanner or multi-function printer will not be required to add hardware.

Deposit@home has been rolling out to selected customers since mid-November. To reduce risk, the service is only available to credit- and insurance-qualified checking account customers.

It's being positioned as a replacement to the UPS/NetBank QuickPost service that was abruptly discontinued by NetBank in a cost-cutting move (previous post here). QuickPost allowed USAA customers to overnight deposits free-of-charge from any UPS Store. There is no word on when or if it will be available to all USAA checking account customers.

Because of its limited availability, it has not been featured on USAA's website. Invitations were sent by email and the option was added to the menu within online banking. However, the feature was used in an online promotion for the Lackland Airfest 2006 a month ago (see mention in upper-left here). 

Here's a screenshot posted on the USAA thread at FatWallet:

QuickPost alternatives at USAA CLICK TO ENLARGE

Assuming the service works as promised on in-home scanners, the ability to submit deposits remotely should help financial institutions compete for checking accounts outside their geographic footprint.

Winners: Direct banks, credit unions, and smaller banks with limited branch networks; also, remote deposit technology providers and printer/scanner manufacturers

Losers: Any financial institution that doesn't offer remote deposit options; branches


Yet Another Direct Bank: WT Direct from Wilmington Trust

By Jim Bruene on December 5, 2006 10:40 AM | Comments

Link to WT Direct website It may be premature to give the direct banking trend a cynical acronym such as YADB, meaning "yet another direct bank" (see Note 1). However, it's getting more difficult to distinguish one 5% high-yield offer from the 27 others (see Note 2).

The latest top bidder on Google (see End Notes) is WT Direct <>, a new direct banking brand from Wilmington Trust. Its sole product is a 5.26% APY savings account. To encourage trial, the bank pays the advertised rate on any balance for the first 60 days. On day 61, the rate drops 466 basis points to 0.60% unless you've stored $10,000 or more in the account. The bank clearly discloses both rates.

The homepage is direct and to-the-point (see Note 3). While not as flashy as ING Direct or iGObanking, it communicates the benefits in an efficient manner. The landing page from its top-ranked Google ad (see Note 4) is better, with a chart showing how it beats ING Direct.

The application is well conceived (see below), with few of the problems identified in our earlier critique of iGObanking's online app (see previous post here). The one improvement we'd recommend: Divide the personal info section into two steps, first getting the "public" info (name, address, email address), then asking for the private stuff (SSN, driver's license, etc.).

WT Direct savings application CLICK TO ENLARGE

End Notes

1. Modeled after YASN, a term used in tech circles for "yet another social networking site."

2. In BankDeals' weekly high-rate summary, 27 banks were identified as offering 5% or more APY on online savings accounts (see post here).

3. WT Direct homepage screenshot (click to enlarge)

WT Direct homepage CLICK TO ENLARGE

4. WT Direct search ad on Google (4 Dec. 2006 search on "savings account gifts" from Seattle P.I. at 3 PM PST)

Google results for "savings account gifts" CLICK TO ENLARGE


The iGoBanking/CashEdge New Account Application Needs Improvement

By Jim Bruene on December 1, 2006 11:25 AM | Comments

Link to iGoBanking home page As mentioned earlier this week (previous post here), Flushing Financial's new Internet offering iGoBanking features a great price, modern homepage design, visible rates, and an overall good user experience.

iGoBanking application hosted by CashEdge CLICK TO ENLARGEAt least until prospective customers decide to buy. Once the user clicks the grammatically challenged link, "iGo Open a New Account," things go downhill quickly. The application (see screenshots right and below), hosted by CashEdge (see related post here), fails to maintain the user experience from the bank's homepage.

In fact, the application is a circa 1999 all-text affair that leaves you wondering if the graphic designers at CashEdge are on strike. Here are a few of the problems:   

  • No Customer Service or Help on the application
  • No telephone number
  • No way back to the homepage, the bank's logo is NOT clickable
  • Overall lack of design and graphics, even the logo in the top looks like a low-resolution version
  • The application steps are hardly visible because the white font is too thin to be easily read through the blue background
  • Social security number required on first page
  • Application is massive in length for a simple savings account (see screenshots below); we realize the need for regulatory compliance and security, but it should be either shortened or broken into smaller steps to maintain

For more on best practices in application design, refer to Online Banking Report (#104).

Screenshot: iGoBanking application page 2 (click to enlarge)

iGoBanking/CashEdge application page 2


E*Trade Bank and Flushing's iGoBanking Join the 5% Online Savings Account Club

By Jim Bruene on November 29, 2006 12:48 PM | Comments

<Updated 12/1/06 with more details>

Two new entrants in the so-called high-yield savings market launched this week:

  • E*Trade Bank <>: Its new 5.05% Complete Savings Account was advertised in the Wall Street Journal today and took next-to-top honors in Google search results for "best savings accounts" (see end note 1, screenshot below).
  • iGoBanking <>: The new online brand from Flushing Financial launched Monday with a 5.3% rate on an online savings account (see end note 2, screenshot below).

iGoBanking (click to enlarge)

Flushing Financial's iGoBanking CLICK TO ENLARGE

As previously reported, Flushing Financial launched its entry into the online savings market. The 5.3% APY no-minimum account ranks as the fourth highest in the nation according to the Bank Deals blog (see list here). The rate leader continues to be E-Loan's at 5.5% (see our coverage here).

However, iGo can claim the highest no-minimum rate in the nation since E-Loan and the others require at least $5,000 to qualify for the higher rate.   

The bank will focus on deposits, CDs, and savings in 2007 and may expand to home equity and mortgage lending in the future.

The website is attractive and relatively well designed. The online application is hosted by CashEdge (see related post here). Unfortunately, the outsourced application fails to maintain the look and feel of the main website and may cause a few applicants to second guess their decision to sign up (click here for a more thorough analysis of its application design). 

E*Trade Bank (click to enlarge)

E*Trade Bank Complete Savings page CLICK TO ENLARGE

E*Trade's Complete Savings account builds on the direct bank's lineup of award-winning products (see previous coverage here). The bank flat-out understands the market and the medium.

The landing page for the new savings offering is brilliantly laid out with Google-like simplicity using just 25 words of copy (other than the table and the below-the-fold fine print). Notice how they show specific competitive prices, including high-yield market leader ING Direct. But what most consumers will remember from the chart is the "6X national average" rate.

Finally, the "Open an Account in Minutes" and "Free, one-click transfers to and from any institution" address user concerns on both those issues. And the small padlock with E*Trade's protection guarantee helps users understand security issues.

End notes:

  1. Search conducted at noon PST, Nov. 29 from Seattle IP address (see screenshot below).
  2. Source: American Banker, 29 Nov. 2006 (article here)

Google search results for "best savings account"

Google search results for "best savings rate" CLICK TO ENLARGE


ING Direct to Launch Online Checking Account in February

By Jim Bruene on November 27, 2006 11:28 AM | Comments

As previously reported here, direct-banking giant ING Direct (U.S.) <> will soon be in the checking account business with the Feb. 1 launch of Electric Orange.
(No word on whether the German band of the same name will be part of the launch event.)

In an interview published yesterday in Delaware's The News Journal, CEO Arkadi Kuhlmann revealed important details about the effort:

  • It would be made available to about 10% of the bank's 4.4 million customers in December
  • The nationwide launch is scheduled for Feb. 1
  • ING Direct is planning to add 500 workers at Wilmington's headquarters to support the product, an expansion of more than 50% from its current headcount of 900
  • The account will NOT have paper checks, but it will allow customers to print one from their home computer if necessary
  • The interest rate will be 3%, about a third less than its savings rate of 4.4%
  • Surcharge-free ATM access will be provided through the Allpoint network of 32,000 machines

Product postioning
While the account sounds relatively standard for an online-only checking account, the ability to print a check from home is an interesting feature we haven't seen before. It sounds like ING Direct will be marketing ease-of-use benefits, most likely centered on the bill payment function.

ING Direct "cash cow" promotion in ChicagoThe catchy name combined with ING Direct's marketing flair (see picture right from its Chicago cash-cow promotion) should make for an interesting product launch. We'll be paying close attention here and testing the account as soon as possible.

There is little reason for most consumers to choose a branchless bank for their main checking account when they can get free checking PLUS branch services at their local financial institution. ING Direct has long understood this and has not squandered resources on a limited-appeal product.

However, with more than 4 million customers, they have a large enough base to make a profit on a checking account, even a (relatively) lightly used one.

Due to the bank's ease of use and well regarded brand, it should be able to convince a portion of its base to use Electric Orange checking as an auxiliary account, perhaps as the household bill-pay account.

If the bank moves 5% of its $47 billion in savings deposits into the checking account, it would save $3.5 million annually in interest expense. Add another $3 billion in net new deposits at a 3% spread and Electric Orange pulls in $10 million per year, enough to cover expenses anyway.


Texans Credit Union Offers Free Identity Theft Insurance

By Jim Bruene on November 21, 2006 1:29 PM | Comments (1)

Texans Credit Union <> has added complimentary ID theft insurance and help services to their checking accounts. The new service is promoted through a somewhat confusing "Upgrade Now" call-to-action near the bottom and a large graphic (which rotates with two other spots) in the middle section of its gorgeous homepage (see screenshot below; notice how they use drop shadows to highlight the page).


It's an OK perk, but doesn't do anything to help members prevent ID theft. To do that, members need credit report monitoring, which is available for $70 to $140 per year from the credit union's co-branded program with Identity Fraud Inc. (see screenshot below; read the full terms and conditions here).

However, it's not clear on subsequent pages whether members must take action to get the free service and which options they should choose to upgrade to credit report monitoring. We'd like it better if the credit union were more upfront about what is and is not included, and what the member must do.   

Comments (1)

Bank of America's $250+ Premium: Richest Ever?

By Jim Bruene on October 30, 2006 9:57 AM | Comments

Bank of America is offering $250 for new customers willing to open a checking and savings account. And customers willing to play the "Keep the Change" debit-card game could easily rack up another $20 to $50 or more in freebies with the bank's three-month, 100% match (bonus averages $0.50 per debit card transaction). See our previous coverage here.

Wow! Even adjusting for inflation, that's about 10x the free toaster deal of the 1960s. Here's the link (screenshot below).

There is only one "catch" to the offer. It applies only to consumers outside the bank's sprawling branch network; however, we were able to see the offer no matter what state we entered into the initial screen.

But as long as you live in Nebraska, North Dakota, or other non-BofA states, it's very easy to earn the $250. Just drop $100 in savings and $25 in checking and the bank will triple your outlay. There's no direct deposit or online bill payment requirement, the norm for most online offers. However, the MyAccess checking account is only free if direct deposit is used, otherwise it costs $5.95/mo.

Bank of America $250 offer CLICK TO ENLARGE

Credit for first posting the offer goes to We saw it first at BankDeals


Prosper Markets to Savers at Google

By Jim Bruene on October 27, 2006 1:36 AM | Comments

If you thought it was tough competing with the direct banks and their 5% savings products, now you have a legitimate company advertising rates of 8% or more. Of course, this is no FDIC-insured product; it's the interest rate paid to lenders at Prosper's person-to-person loan marketplace.

The person-to-person lender was bidding aggressively today at Google on both "high yield savings" and "online banking." The ads typically made the fourth position in the right-hand column, putting them "above the fold" (see inset).

The company is testing three different ads, all focused on rate levels substantially higher than the 5% to 5.5% advertised by the competition. Prosper is testing a straight up "8%" ad, an "8% to 12%" ad, and an "8% to 29%" one (see below). 

The ads lead to one of two landing pages. Here's the slick one that looks more "bankerish": 

Landing page from Google ad

Or the more "Web 2.0" version that no one will confuse with a bank ad. There is even a small eBay logo visible in the screenshot (used by one of the participants seeking to bankroll an eBay store), a smart touch for a company that is positioning itself as "the eBay of lending." 

All-in-all, it's a good effort put forth by Prosper, which can only succeed if it attracts enough money into the marketplace. 

For more information on Prosper, Zopa, and the entire person-to-person market, see Online Banking Report #127.


Majority of Banks Offering High-Yield Savings are Traditional Brick-and-Mortar Institutions

By Jim Bruene on October 10, 2006 3:53 PM | Comments

Bankunited_savingsSavings accounts paying 5% or more are a sweet spot for consumers by allowing them to beat inflation with little risk. According to Bankdeals blog, <>, 22 U.S. banks are currently paying 5% or more on consumer savings accounts (see BankUnited's "Sweet Rate" in inset).

While there's been much talk about online-only banks and their competitive threat, only 4 of the 22 fit this definition. The other 18 are traditional branch-based banks, often marketing the higher yielding accounts through direct banking brands such as HSBC Direct (see 26 Aug 2005), MyBankingDirect from New York Community Bank, or the latest entrant Grand Yield Direct from Apple Bank for Savings (see Sep 27). 

The traditional banks are evenly split on how they market the higher-yield product. Ten use a separate brand which is often not mentioned on their main website. Six of the ten simply append a "direct" to their main brand. The other eight market high-yield accounts online under their normal brand, but two (Zions and Wamu) hide the higher rate accounts from users of their main websites. 

Here's the list as posted Oct. 7 at BankDeals:

Pure direct banks with little or no branch network (minimum balance to earn rate, if more than $1,000):

Direct brands of traditional banks (parent):

Traditional banks with links to the high-yield account from its main website:

Traditional banks with "secret" online-only offer (not linked to regular product pages):


Apple Bank Joins the High-Yield Savings Game with Grand Yield Direct

By Jim Bruene on September 27, 2006 10:22 AM | Comments

Google_highyield_25sep06_1Yesterday, a new advertiser appeared at the top of Google searches for "high-yield savings accounts (click on inset for closeup)," Apple Bank for Savings <>. The New York-based thrift is marketing the 5.25% APY account under the brand name, Grand Yield Direct <>.

To market the account, the bank uses a single-product microsite powered by Digital Insight (see screenshot below). The Apple Bank name and logo appear in the lower-right corner in a subtle graphic image, but there are no links back to the main bank site. The online application is hosted by CashEdge (click on continuation link for screenshot).

The new product joins an increasingly crowded field that just two years ago was owned by ING Direct. Just yesterday, E-Loan launched its 5.5% savings account (see NB 26 Sep).


First page of the online application hosted by CashEdge



E-Loan Launches High-Yield Deposit Line

By Jim Bruene on September 26, 2006 11:10 AM | Comments

Eloan_logoSix months after announcing its intention to enter the direct-banking deposit market (NB 29 March), Popular Inc. launched a 5.5% deposit account through its E-Loan subsidiary. The fee-free account requires a $5,000 minimum opening deposit. The rate drops a quarter-percent if the balance falls below $5,000. The news was covered this morning in American Banker and The Wall Street Journal.

Popular execs clarified the timetable of its $3 billion deposit goal, saying it hoped to bring in that amount within a year. With few U.S. deposits to cannibalize and no branch network, the company expects to be aggressive with its pricing. To prove the point, it launched today at 5.5%, a full half-percent higher than Citi's E-Savings (NB Jun 26), Wamu (NB Sep 21) and HSBC, and a quarter-percent above Countrywide (NB Sep 20).


The Delivery
The E-Loan homepage has been remodeled to include a Savings tab across the top and a deposit box in the middle of the page (click on inset for a closeup; click on continuation link below for a screenshot of the entire homepage). There is also a high-yield savings category in the drop-down menu in the upper right.

The main savings page is laid out in a modern style with clear rate and APY in the upper right and the beginning of the online application on the lower-left side (see screenshot below).


Since this had been expected for six months, there's nothing earth-shattering here. The decision to market deposits under the E-Loan brand makes sense given its awareness level online as demonstrated by the four million loan applications since its 1997 launch. It will take some advertising and promotional efforts to make consumers aware that the pure-play lender is now in the deposit business. But it will be less expensive than if Popular had tried to create an entirely new brand.

E-Loan has not yet begun marketing on savings terms at Google, but they'll likely have to join Citi, Wamu, HSBC, Emigrant, ING Direct and others if they are serious about making the $3 billion goal.

New E-Loan homepage with "Savings & CD" tab



Wamu Targets Savers on Google

By Jim Bruene on September 21, 2006 2:15 PM | Comments

Wamu_google_savingsaccountAs we reported Aug. 16, Washington Mutual Bank is looking to win back some of the high-yield deposit business from ING Direct, HSBC, and Citibank. The bank is now bidding aggressively on Google with its "5.00% APY" landing it in fifth place for "savings accounts" (placing it second on the right-side list) and eighth for "high-yield savings" (see inset, search conducted 21 Sep, 1 pm PDT, from Seattle IP).

After clicking through the ad, potential customers are delivered to a well-designed landing page further emphasizing the "5.00% APY Statement Savings" rate (see screenshot below, click for larger view). Wamu continues its year-long effort to lampoon bankers with the three-piece suited icon "complaining" about the high rate paid on savings (see also, 28 April).

A new Wamu checking account (opened after 11 March 2006) is required to take advantage of the special rate. That important fact is downplayed on the landing page but is obvious once the user clicks through to the application (see screenshot by clicking the continuation link below). Furthermore, both accounts must be opened online. However, deposits can be made in the branch.

Wamu landing page from Google ads on "savings accounts" (see continuation link to see full page with fine print)

Full landing page (with fine print)


Full application



Countrywide Uses Dedicated Microsite to Market SavingsLink

By Jim Bruene on September 20, 2006 9:43 AM | Comments

Countrywide_logoCountrywide Bank is using a microsite <> to funnel users interested in its new high-yield savings account (see screenshot below). The account was advertised in Sunday's (10 Sep) New York Times (Business section, National Edition, p. 4) with a one-third page, 5-inch tall ad that asked, "Can your bank match our online savings rate?"

The account is also to be advertised aggressivly on Google, appearing second from the top in the right-hand column for searches on "online savings accounts" and "high-yield savings accounts." However, it's only in eighth position on the more generic "savings account" search (searches conducted 20 Sep, 10 am PDT, from Seattle, WA, IP address).

The bank took a low-key approach to using its main brand by using just a small logo in the lower-right corner. The fine print explained that the advertised 5.25% APY applied to balances of $10,000 or more with smaller balances garnering a still-respectable 4.50%. The bank has raised the SavingsLink rate a full 1% since its launch in mid-May with a rate of 4.25%.


The use of a dedicated microsite for marketing a high-profile product such as a high-yield savings account offers a number of benefits:

  • Ability to focus users on a single product/offer
  • Easier to track traffic and test layouts
  • Avoids the distractions of other website navigation
  • Can use a different look and feel than the main corporate website
  • Makes the product feel like a true "special offer"

Washington Mutual Joins High-Rate Savings Game

By Jim Bruene on August 16, 2006 2:34 PM | Comments

Reports first surfaced Saturday (Aug. 12) that Washington Mutual was offering 4.75% on a no-minimum deposit savings account. But don't try to find it on their website. The offer is only visible after you begin the application process for one of the highly promoted free checking accounts (see NB July 20).

We searched the WAMU website using a variety of states and did not see any mention of the high rate. However, the bank could be using cookies or other methods to serve the banners to select customers (see Citibank, NB May 10). In our tests (from a Seattle IP address), users are first introduced to the savings offer on the first page of the online checking account application (click on screenshot below for a closeup).


Like Citibank's e-Savings Account, Washington Mutual is requiring a checking account to take advantage of the offer. However, WAMU's checking account is completely fee-free regardless of balance and with no direct-deposit requirement. Current WAMU customers can take advantage of the high rate, which is 12 times higher than the current 0.4% rate, only by opening a new checking account.

WAMU is attempting to minimize deposit cannibalization by keeping the offer off the website. They are attempting to leverage their free checking campaign by upselling new customers at the point of sale. For a bank with a major branch presence, that's not a bad approach; however, it's not going to bring in deposits at the same rate as Citi or HSBC.

It will also be interesting to see how the bank deals with the inherent channel conflicts. If the high-rate deposits are credited to the Internet channel only, branches will be up in arms over the 12x rate advantage offered online. But if branches do get credit for the deposits, they will be converting their biggest customers into the new accounts as fast as possible (unless WAMU rewards branches by account profitability).



Good Landing by WAMU

By Jim Bruene on July 20, 2006 6:12 AM | Comments

Wamu_ad_rottentomatoesWashington Mutual, one of the more creative offline promoters, is beginning to apply its talent to online promotions. We're still not particularly fond of the "trapped bankers" creative (see NB April 28), but we like the bank's new "more than free checking" campaign.

We first ran across the promotion July 7 in a skyscraper-animated banner (175 x 500 pixel) on the right side of Rotten Tomatoes <>, the popular film review aggregator (see inset).

The banner was good, but what we really liked was the landing page (see below). The design was clean and fresh (not so hard to do), and the copy was original and user-friendly, with just the right dose of humor (not so easy to do).


Our only criticism is the crucial final step. Users clicking the "Get Started" button are delivered to a much different and more bank-like screen to begin the application. The relatively dull look (see below) is a real letdown after the originality of the landing page. It's so different, it may cause users to stop and rethink their decision to apply.   


The bank would likely convert more prospects if they continued the landing page theme through the first page of the application. Overall, we'll score the effort an A-.



Bank of America's Expandable Landing Page

By Jim Bruene on July 11, 2006 12:02 PM | Comments

Bofa_keepchange_msn_landingBank of America is back on the MSN front page (see End Notes) using its clever, if somewhat misleading, Keep the Change program to lure new checking account customers (see End Note below). The pitch is similar to the last time we looked at it (see NB 2/13/06), but the bank has redesigned the landing page (click on inset for closeup).

It now features three compelling benefits:

  • Free money through "Keep the Change"
  • Extra security through Sitekey (powered by PassMark/RSA)
  • Free online banking

The bank has found an effective way to keep the landing page concise, but still discuss all the benefits of these three programs. Each of the three main features has a small box on the landing page (see right). Each box has a "more details" link that expands the box yet does not open a new browser window (click on before and after pics below). Finally, for users needing even more info, there's a link in the larger box to another page with full details.

Before expansion


After expansion


--JB >>>>click below for End Notes

End Notes: Playing the "Keep the Change" game
Although we have mixed feelings about the value of the program overall, there's no doubt it has strong appeal for new account aquisition due to the 100% bank-match during the first three months. It creates a "game" for the user, incenting them to immediately begin using their new debit card to rack up free cash from the bank. That means new customers will need to deposit signficant funds, probably their paycheck, in order to fund the purchases needed to maximize the gains.

Assuming one debit card purchase per day, users will gain $10 per month from the bank, or $30 for the three-month introductory period. After that, the bank match drops to 5%, or $0.50 per month in this scenario.

Hard-core debit card users with two or three purchases per day could earn $60 or $90 during the matching period, And those gaming the system, splitting a $10.20 grocery bill into two $5.10 transactions (earning $1.80 from BofA), could drive their bonus into the $100+ category (the bank caps the rebate at $250, and doesn't pay it until the one-year anniversary). 

BofA Banner on MSN Homepage (July 11)



Chartway Federal Credit Union Referral Campaign Falls Short

By Jim Bruene on June 27, 2006 9:38 AM | Comments (1)

Chartway_logo_1Sometimes it helps to see how NOT to do something. Today's victim: Chartway Federal Credit Union <> which has been running a clever, but poorly executed, 8.00% APY certificate-of-deposit special on its website for the past month (see screenshot below).


The good news
: It's a great offer. Any member making a successful referral gets to put up to $8,000 in an 8-month CD earning 8% (notice a theme there?). To qualify, the referral must bring in a new credit union member that opens a checking account along with the certificate OR initiates a $500-minimum direct-deposit relationship. The new member also gets to put up to $8,000 in an 8-month CD.

Members can make up to three referrals for a total deposit of $24,000. With the CU's normal 6-month rates at 3.4%, its more than double the normal rate of return, earning both the referrer and referee an extra $31 per thousand over the 8-month term or almost $250 extra per certificate (pre-tax). The eye-catching offer is featured front and center on its webpage.

The bad news: There is no hyperlink. Clicking on the logo, headline, or text does absolutely nothing! There aren't even any instructions on how to participate. Viewers are simply left hanging. The only extra info provided are the disclosures delivered via mouseover (see screenshot above).

It harks back to websites of the mid-90s that were put together by the "ATM guy." Unless you are trying to entice users to go on scavenger hunt through your website, this is a major mistake, and it's been that way for nearly a full month.


Comments (1)

Five Percent Savings Rate from Citibank

By Jim Bruene on June 26, 2006 10:18 AM | Comments

In yet another aggressive deposit-pricing move, Citibank raised its e-Savings rate to 5%, the first major high-yield player to surpass the magic 5% mark on a savings account with a low minimum balance. IndyMac (5%, $25k min) and Countrywide (5.25%, $50k min) hit 5% before Citi, but have higher minimums.

Keep in mind, Citi's account requires a checking account, a significant part of the strategy that has attracted more than $2 billion in new money in the past three months (NB June 1).



Citibank's e-Savings email

By Jim Bruene on June 21, 2006 4:24 PM | Comments

Last night, Citibank sent selected checking-account customers an email solicitation for its 4.75% APR e-Savings account. I live outside its branch network, so Citi may have elected not to send the message to customers serviced by traditional branches.

Citibank_email_esavings_with_imageThe message was direct and to the point (click on screenshot left). Citibank even included the impressive 4.75% interest rate in the message subject. The only distracting portion of the message was a garbled first word in the second paragraph. It was probably caused by incompatibilities in software rendering of the apostrophe in the first word, "there's." To avoid this type of error, make sure you proof your message in multiple email clients.

The bank continues to engender trust in its marketing messages by including the "email security" box in the upper-right corner which includes the customer's full name and last four digits of their ATM card. The security information is prominently displayed, in a blue shaded box to make it more prominent, even if the user has images blocked (see screenshot below).

The bank also includes short text messages that appear where the images would have been displayed (alt-text tags) making the message relatively readable even for users that never download the images.


Surprisingly, the landing page for the offer was a generic product page. The campaign would be much more effective if the bank had reinforced the e-Savings benefits on the landing page like it does when it advertises online (see NB March 29). Click on the following link to see a screenshot of the landing page. --JB


Landing page
(displayed when clicking on the "signup" button in the email).

Note: I tested the link on my laptop where I am not recognized as a customer and on my desktop that saves my username in a cookie. Both times I was served the same landing page (below).



"Forever Free" Banking Online

By Jim Bruene on June 2, 2006 12:30 PM | Comments

Zios_freebanking_iconIf you were to chart the top-10 events in bank-marketing history, one of them would be the March 1990 launch of AT&T's "no-annual-fee-for-life" Universal Card. Today, an annual fee waiver hardly rates a bullet-point in a three-page direct-mail piece. But 16 years ago, the offer was so successful it caused massive application backlogs that made the 6:00 PM national news. In its heyday, the card attracted one million new accounts per month. However, the marketing stalled once the fee-free strategy was widely copied, and the portfolio was sold to Citibank in late 1997.

I've often wondered if there was a similar opportunity online to recreate the success of AT&T's offer. Probably not, but I do think "free forever" online banking would attract attention and generate new enrollments. To make it profitable, you might make a bundled credit account a requirement (the requirement could be waived in the event of a credit decline).

At first glance, UK-based Halifax Bank <> has an unbelievable "free forever" business banking program. But you can see the pesky asterisk in the upper right. Reading the fine print, the account is only free if you keep at least 5,000 pounds on deposit and write fewer than 100 checks per month.

The problem is that U.S. consumers have seen so many free-checking offers, it's not such an attention grabber any more. One way to get past consumer skepticism is to provide a longer list of freebies than they've ever seen before. For example,

  • No checking account monthly fees
  • No check-writing fees
  • No ATM fees
  • No teller fees
  • No telephone call fees
  • No online banking fees
  • No funds-transfer fees
  • No NSF/OD fees*
  • No late fees*
  • No returned-check fees*
  • No PIN debit fees
  • No signature debit fees
  • No credit card fees
  • No ACH fees
  • No archive-access fees
  • No statement fees
  • No direct-deposit fees

*If open credit available

Feel free to use this idea and let me know if it works.


Citi Direct Bringing in $1 Billion Per Month in New Money

By Jim Bruene on June 1, 2006 3:50 PM | Comments

According to remarks made by Citibank CEO Charles Prince at the Sanford Bernstein investor conference, the bank's new high-yield savings account, currently yielding 4.75% (see NetBanker May 19), is bringing in $1 billion per month in new money. He characterized the deposit total as, "the equivalent of having opened 23 new branches."

His exact quote, available via webcast (comments start at the 47:45 mark of the webcast) was, "In the first ten days after the launch, we had ten times the volume we predicted. Today, literally only a few weeks after the launch, we've raised 3 billion dollars in deposits." He also said that two-thirds of that was "new money to the institution."

These numbers are in line with the industry forecast outlined by director Catherine Palmieri a month ago (see NetBanker May 5) of $250 billion in 2006. If that forecast holds true, $20 billion per month into high-yield savings, Citibank is bagging 7% to 8% of the market. 



E*Trade on MySpace

By Jim Bruene on May 31, 2006 10:46 AM | Comments

Etrade_myspace_ad1_1 E*Trade is running a clever teaser advertisement on MySpace today. The 200 x 175 pixel ad in the right-middle area of the user's homepage asks, "Are you willing to accept a $1.50 fee to see this ad?" (click on the inset right for a closer view).

Etrade_myspace_ad_1Choosing "yes" results in another screen saying, "Are you sure?" while selecting "no" yields a "Good." Either way, a pitch for E*Trade's ATM rebate program is the final screen (click on inset left for a closeup). Users clicking through end up on the landing page shown below.

Etrade_myspace_landing Analysis
Although it took me a moment to figure out the premise, that a $1.50 fee to view an ad is as absurd as paying that to use an ATM, it's a clever campaign. The company is sure to get good click-throughs, at least on the teaser ad. Whether the company signs up enough good checking accounts is another matter. But if you are courting young online users, you must take a look at MySpace (see NetBanker March 16).   



Huntington's Online Game Boosts Blue Jackets' Affinity Marketing Efforts

By Jim Bruene on May 23, 2006 1:26 PM | Comments

Huntington_bluejacket_game_1As part of its sponsorship of the Columbus Blue Jackets National Hockey League franchise, Hungtington Bank has created an online Flash game. The simple hockey-themed game is easy to play and apparently addictive, at least for "Chuck Norris" who had all five weekly high scores, ranging from 250 to 350 times my score of 1,162 (see left).

At the conclusion of the 45-second game, users are invited to play again or "challenge a friend," a great way to spread the word virally. The bank's logo in the upper right clicks through to its regular homepage.

Huntington_bluejacket_homeAccess to the game is from a "Blue Jacket's Banking" page < bluejacketsbanking> at Hungtington (click on inset for a closeup). The bank dresses up its checking accounts with Blue Jacket checks, ATM card, and mousepad. Any of the bank's checking accounts can be ordered with Blue Jacket adornment.

Unfortunately, the online application process requires "blue jackets" to be manually typed in the promotion code field or the customer will receive regular old Huntington colors.



Ohio Savings Marketing CDs through AmTrust Direct

By Jim Bruene on May 22, 2006 1:01 AM | Comments

Amtrustdirect_homeOhio Savings Bank <> is marketing CDs through a direct-banking subsidiary, AmTrust Direct. The company is currently topping the 1-yr CD chart at with a 5.35% APY. Users can click through to the direct-banking site (see screenshot right) through an enhanced listing at

The direct banking offer is only 35 basis points higher than the 5.00% offered at the parent, Ohio Savings, or its AmTrust Bank <> division.



Citi Focuses on its High-Yield Savings Account

By Jim Bruene on May 19, 2006 9:24 AM | Comments

Citi_esavings_msn_1On Tuesday (5/16), Citibank raised its e-Savings rate 25 basis points to 4.75%, making it the highest savings rate at a name-brand financial institution. Only Corus Bank in Chicago has a higher APY on today, 4.84% with a $10,000 minimum.

Bankrate_savingspageMore importantly, Citi continues its massive ad buy touting the rate. It was back on the top of MSN's homepage today, and the bank has bought huge parcels of, with some pages running three Citibank promos, top, bottom and side (see BankRate "Checking & Savings" page right). It's similar to what Emigrant Direct did last year to kick off its direct banking efforts (click here to see past NetBanker articles on deposit marketing).

Emigrant Direct, HSBC, ING Direct, and now Citibank are all spending $10+ million per year promoting high rates (see ad spending NetBanker5/17). While high-rate offers are nothing new, the ease of finding rate deals online and transferring the funds means it will be harder to hold onto those high-balance 0.50% checking and savings account balances.



Sunmark FCU Goes Direct with

By Jim Bruene on May 16, 2006 1:11 PM | Comments

Rateedge_logoWe've seen a number of banks enter the direct banking business, primarily through high-rate savings products. Late last year, Sunmark Federal Credit Union <> joined the fray with a private-branded direct Web offering at (click on screenshot below for a closeup).

Rateedge_homeThe Internet-only savings account pays 5.25% interest on all balance levels with no fees and no minimum balance. Rates are five times higher than the credit union's regular share account, which pays 1% on balances of $5000 or more. The credit union's money market pays 2% on a $25,000 balance.

The only possible fee is for transferring money OUT of the account more than twice in a month. The third and subsequent withdrawals are charged a fee ranging from $2 to $5 per transfer depending on the amount. Refer to its fee schedule for more information.

This would be the best savings account in the country, except that it is limited to residents of six counties in upstate New York (Albany, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady and Schoharie). However, anyone in the country can open an account if they have a relative in any of those counties, or at least claim* they do.

*The application asks for the name of the relative living in the six-county area, but no other identifying information. According to an online posting, the credit union's customer service department requires the address and phone number of the relative prior to opening the account. We did not test it ourselves.


Hiding Your Offer from Existing Customers

By Jim Bruene on May 10, 2006 12:45 AM | Comments

Usually, when designing targeted offers, you focus on what you know about the prospect. Where do they live? What products do they use? What's their balance? What if you wanted to offer a product only to folks you know nothing about, such as new visitors to your website?

Suppose you had a hot APY offer you wanted to make only to new customers to avoid cannibalizing that cash cow, the passbook savings account. Using cookies, you could avoid showing the offer to online banking users, minimizing their awareness of the product.

Citi_esavings_homepageApparently, Citibank is using this approach. In a routine visit to Citibank's website in mid-April using our laptop, we were surprised to see advertisements for its 4.50% e-Savings account dominating the website (click on inset for a closeup). When the high-yield product was announced (NetBanker March 29), many observers believed it was a stealth offer made through a new "Citibank Direct" entity.

But when we returned to the office, the offer had disappeared from the homepage. We had to click on the small "special offers" link to find it listed along with several other offers. Apparently, the cookies on our office PC, which identify us as a Citibank online banking user, triggered the website to load a different homepage. We confirmed this through testing on other PCs.

But before you use this tactic, realize it has significant drawbacks. First, it doesn't work with users who delete or disable cookies, estimated to be as high as 40%. Also, an online banking user visiting from a different location, or with a different browser, will also see your offer.

There is also the risk of your clever marketing being outed to the press and public, which may find the practice deceptive (see SmartMoney, April 2006). Finally, you may be teaching users to game your system, deleting cookies more often, entering different zip codes, and so on. This could hinder your ability to deliver targeted promotions to the customers you DO know something about.


Citi_google_citibankNote: Citibank isn't shy about putting the offer on Google, where it shows as the top paid result on searches for  "Citibank" (see screenshot right).


SunTrust Introduces "Really Free" Credit Monitoring

By Jim Bruene on May 9, 2006 11:44 AM | Comments

Suntrust_home_idtheft_1SunTrust launched a new checking account acquisition strategy built around free credit-report monitoring (see personal homepage right). And this is not a low-budget identity-theft "insurance" policy (see PNC Bank, NetBanker Feb. 3 and Washington Mutual, NetBanker, Nov. 7, 2005), but full-blown Equifax Credit Watch Silver costing $6.95/mo or $50/year at the Equifax website.

Credit Watch Silver includes:

  • Weekly credit-report inquiry and balance-change alerts
  • One initial Equifax credit report.
  • $2500 in identity fraud insurance with $250 deductible

How it works
SunTrust is offering the free monitoring on most of its checking accounts, including its standard $9/mo account that is fee-free with a $1500 minimum balance. The free offer is not available to "free checking" or "senior checking" customers. However, they can buy it for a discounted rate of $3.45/mo or $35/year, a substantial discount from the regular price of $6.95/mo.

Of course, customers will have to wade through relatively gentle up-sell pitches for Equifax Credit Watch Gold, which will cost customers $6.95/mo or $70/yr, about one-third less than the list price of $11.95/mo or $100/yr; or Gold with 3-in-1 Monitoring for another $30/yr. Also, customers that want to extend the Equifax Silver coverage to both members of a joint account will have to pony up an additional $35/yr.

Credit Watch Gold includes:

  • Daily credit-report inquiry and balance-change alerts
  • Unlimited Equifax credit reports
  • $20,000 in identity-fraud coverage with zero deductible

Suntrust_checking_withfreeidprotectChecking account customers must enroll for the free service at a co-branded Equifax website. It's a jury-rigged sign-up process that requires the use of an offer code that includes the customer's 13-digit SunTrust checking account number.

New customers must first open a checking account, then enroll at Equifax at least two days later. SunTrust offers online account opening, but there is no link to an online option from the credit monitoring landing page (click on inset for a closeup).

This is an excellent value for SunTrust checking customers and could potentially have little out-of-pocket cost for the bank. The bank's costs depend on four factors:

  1. 1. How many checking customers take time to enroll for the free service
  2. How many of the enrollees elect to accept credit-monitoring upgrades
  3. How many enrollees opt to buy additional credit-report viewing during the course of the year
  4. How often a fraud situation involving a SunTrust account is thwarted due to the service

The only real problem with the program is that it is not integrated with online banking. The separate enrollment and sign-on make it a hassle to use (of course, this holds down the bank's costs). We expect other banks to offer similar programs during the next 12 to 18 months.



Citi Markets e-Savings in Amazon Packages

By Jim Bruene on May 8, 2006 11:00 PM | Comments



Amazon_box_1The new headphones for my son’s eleventh birthday arrived last week with the usual advertising fliers dropped into the box. One of the three products caught my eye, a 4x6 glossy sheet advertising Citibank’s 4.5% e-Savings account. Citi_esavings_amazonofferIt looked much like their online ads with a blue-and-white theme emphasizing the APY (see right).





On the back, four benefits were highlighted:


  • Free Online Bill Pay
  • Online Fraud Protection
  • Free Wireless Alerts
  • Online Statements and Check Images

Notice how the 13 words of benefits included “free” twice, “online” twice, along with the positive buzzwords “wireless,” “fraud protection,” and “check images.”
Citi_offersiteThe bank used an easy-to-remember URL <> with offer code CSA2 (click on inset to see the Citibank offer site prior to inputting the offer code).
The fine print contained the usual requirement that it was not available in Citi branches. Interestingly, the bank elected to forego the usual toll-free number option.







Marketing Database -

If you'd like to learn more about past interactive financial marketing campaigns, check out the Interactive Financial Marketing Database from our sister publication, the Online Banking Report.


Citibank's Forecast for Online Savings

By Jim Bruene on May 5, 2006 9:25 AM | Comments

Google_onlinesavingsaccount In an effort to boost awareness of its 4.5% e-savings account (see NetBanker March 29), Citibank made the unusual decision to reveal its 5-year forecast for industry-wide sales of online savings accounts. In today's New York Times, director Catherine Palmieri made the following market size estimates:

$250 billion in 2006
$600 billion in 2010

To put the numbers in perspective, the 2006 estimate is approximately four times the total deposits of the two biggest direct banks, ING Direct and E*Trade. And it's about 4% of the total U.S. deposit market of $6 trillion.

Assuming Citibank is right and the online savings market grows at a compounded rate of 25% per year, it will represent 10% of today's total deposits or 8.5% of the total $7 trillion in total deposits 2010, assuming a 3% annual growth rate.

The article also said that HSBC Direct is on track to have 250,000 accounts by the end of this year.

Googling "online savings accounts" from a Seattle IP address today found Citibank in the number seven position. Here were the top advertisers (see inset above for closeup):

1. HSBC Direct
2. Emigrant Direct
3. Capital One
4. American Express
5. E*Trade
6. Alaska USA Credit Union (Seattle local ad)
7. Citibank Direct



Wachovia's "Free Checking" Marketing

By Jim Bruene on April 17, 2006 10:09 AM | Comments

Wachovia_google_resultsEveryone wants free checking. So it's no surprise to see Wachovia the top bidder on the term at Google (click on screenshot right). The bank also managed to snag the top organic listing (directly below the paid ads), a coup for its search-engine-optimization consultant.

Wachovia_landing_google_freechecking_1As much as Internet users love a good deal, they are skeptical when they see "free," especially when a company is spending money to advertise on the term. Wachovia wisely meets the skepticism head-on with a landing page entitled (click on inset for closeup):

Free checking. No catch.


The page also includes six bullet points, three of which relate to online banking. And there are two "Apply Now" buttons, at the bottom of the bank and the upper right.

While this landing page won't win any Webbys, it's fundamentally sound. The first three bullet points meet the likely customer objections by affirming that there is no minimum balance, no monthly fee, and no direct deposit requirement.

Clicking on the Apply Now button leads to a page explaining the process and what's needed to apply. Unfortunately, the user is forced through three screens of disclosures, the last one a record-setting 69-screen monster before the application begins. With such a tedious first phase, the bank is losing most of its prospects before they've even entered so much as an email address.

To avoid massive application abandonment, you must get customers engaged in the application before the trip down disclosure lane. Wachovia also stumbles by offering too much product choice. The customer that started at Google looking for free checking is forced to choose from 12 checking account options on that same 69-screen testament to the power of a large bank's compliance department.

A for search-engine marketing
B for landing page design
C- for application design