Wingspan Bank Archives

Citi Getting Closer to Launching its WingspanBank

By Jim Bruene on August 9, 1999 9:50 AM | Comments

Citi f/i

Citibank’s Financial Interactive Network.

Citibank (New York; $690 billion) is getting closer to launching its WingspanBank. The new Citi f/i site is active, but is more of a placeholder than a legitimate virtual bank. There isn’t even an online application. Users are asked to download and print an account application or call various toll-free numbers.

We are not sure what Citibank hops to accomplish by making this site viewable to the general public. We know it’s a pre-launch “beta” site, but the average prospect, or journalist, that happens across it won’t realize it’s a work in progress. The bank should slap a password in front of it so only legitimate test accounts can get through. We’ll analyze it thoroughly when it’s finished. One think we can say, the name is cool, at least compared to Wingspan(ban)k.

Contact: Norm Bloomberg is SVP, (312) 627-5248.

Categories: Citibank, Wingspan Bank

Instant Applications: Overpromising and Underdelivering

By Jim Bruene on June 6, 1999 10:49 AM | Comments

We usually have trouble with account applications at new Net banks. WSB was no exception. (See also, CompuBank OBR 10/98; and NextCard, OBR 5/98).

We’ve long been a proponent of the so-called instant credit application. It’s a powerful tool in a world accustomed to instant gratification. The downside of hyping your instant decision capability occurs when you can’t deliver on the promise. When we went to sign up for our initial account at WSB, we were impressed that they would give us instant approval on our account.

Of course, since we were only setting up a checking account, we thought the instant approval aspect was just a formality, so we were surprised to learn that our checking account application “requires offline processing” (screenshot above), and we would be notified of the decision within 30 days (full text below):

Requires Offline Processing:
We’re sorry, we are unable to offer an “instant” decision at this time. We have all the necessary information to process your application and you will be notified in writing regarding the status within 30 days, as required by law.

Please do not resubmit your application. Thank-you for applying!

In other words, “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Is this any way to treat a new customer?

How about a little more info, like why it couldn’t be processed online, or that you’ll email us within 24 hours, or a link to customer service to inquire? And what about our $100 bonus you promised?

And who approved the “as required by law” copy? It makes us sound like a criminal for bothering the bank. Don’t you suppose WSB would respond to our application even if the law didn’t require them to do so? What a terrible first impression. Had we been a normal customer, we probably would have dismissed the bank at that point. The lesson here is twofold:

  • Don’t overpromise: We don’t really care if we get instant “approval” when we sign up for a checking account. For most Net users, being approved for a checking account is nonsensical (what, you won’t take my money?), so don’t mention it. If you subsequently do provide an instant overdraft line of credit, then I will be happily surprised.
  • Test all copy: It wouldn’t take 60 focus groups to identify this message as confusing and offensive. We can imagine the time pressure Bank One was under to launch WSB before its rivals, but fixing shoddy copy writing needn’t have delayed the launch.


Categories: Wingspan Bank

Bank One Unleashes the First Net Banking Powerhouse

By Jim Bruene on June 5, 1999 10:38 AM | Comments, despite its poor name/URL, is by far the best Net-only bank effort to date.

Note how the front page draws you towards the money-makers: loans and credit cards, with a red “Apply Now” bar centered smack in the middle.

We love the closing line in the opening paragraph, which has been carried over into its advertising campaign:

If your bank could start over, this is what it would be.


The Company: Unless you’ve been out of the country for the past six weeks, you undoubtedly know that (WSB) is the grand, new Net-only effort from Bank One (Chicago, IL; $256 billion; 8.3 million ATM cards). But you’ll have to search high and low on the WSB Web before you’ll find the name of Bank One or its credit card company First USA. Wingspan has been launched as a totally separate brand to minimize channel conflict with its parent and to position the brand as hipper than that conveyed by the parent. Finally, the separate brand makes it easier to spin-off in the future.

Not surprising, WSB is the product of its net-savvy credit card group, First USA, which used a team of third-party vendors, along with 60+ national focus groups to nail down the strategy. WSB is structured as a division of FCC National, an old First Chicago’s subsidiary, founded in 1983, which has been merged into Bank One. This structure works well since WSB can show skeptical visitors a 16-year track record via links into the FDIC database without disclosing the Bank One connection.

Funding: WSB’s development and marketing costs have not been disclosed. However, Bank One told security analysts that the Internet effort would chop $0.05 per share from earnings in the first year, or $100 to $150 million pre tax. In year two, the bank expects to add $0.05 per share to earnings, followed in year three by $0.20 per share in incremental earnings. Calling that an optimistic forecast would be an understatement. Bank One is projecting $30+ million in incremental pre-tax profits per MONTH by late 2001. That’s a lot of zeros in the spreadsheet. If Bank One hits those targets, it will be on its way to Web dominance.

Even if it doesn’t hit the revenue targets, if WSB is successful in Internet terms, e.g., number of accounts, momentum, and so on, we expect it will be spun off either as a separate company, such as, or a tracking stock, such as DLJ Direct. Bank One vehemently declines to comment on that matter, which makes even surer it must be in the near-term plan.

Marketing: Specific marketing plans were not disclosed, other than the budget will be “significant” and include a “variety of channels,” including national advertising, direct cable, spot TV, national print, national radio, and online. The bank is targeting Internet users comfortable with ecommerce and in the 25 to 55 age groups. Press reports following the launch mentioned a one million-account goal in the first year, but the bank declined to confirm that number.

A week after its launch, a $135 million pact with Lycos was announced. We also expect WSB to ride on the coattails of the marketing agreements its sister company, First USA, has inked with numerous Web portals, such as AOL, MSN, and Excite (OBR 11/98); especially since WingspanBank was developed by FirstUSA execs. The bank has earmarked a million dollars to give $100 to the first 10,000 accounts.

Press Coverage: During the first week of its launch, 62 articles cited the new bank according to the archives at Dow Jones. Most of the mass-media press coverage was positive, except, which questioned its positioning as a stand-alone bank when it could have leveraged the Bank One name. The magazine also speculated about inevitable channel conflict as Bank One customers find out the Net bank is offering far better pricing, especially for checking accounts. The business press was neutral to upbeat.


Most of Wingspan’s products and technology are outsourced.

Strategic Partners: As expected, the Internet bank has been stitched together using technology from outside suppliers (see chart right). The biggest surprise is that E-Loan is handling the mortgages on a co-branded basis. It must have been a monumental internal struggle to hand over a key part of the bank to a formidable competitor of Bank One. Another surprise is that bill payment processing is handled by M&I instead of Checkfree, which has had a long-time relationship with Bank One; both sharing Columbus, Ohio headquarters until recently.

Technology Providers

call center specs/training


core banking software


data-center & back-office support


net banking platform


network & servers


project management


Source: company, 7/99

Third-Party Products & Services



Distribution Model

ATM finder InfoNow co-branded running on InfoNow server
Bill pay M& I private label running on WSB server
Brokerage DLJ Direct private label running on Bank One brokerage server
Financial calculators Smart
co-branded running on WSB server
Insurance InsWeb co-branded running on InsWeb server with InsWeb login and username
Mortgages E-Loan co-branded running on E-Loan server

Source: company, 7/99

Customer Service: Customer service, call center and email, are handled by employees. It is not integrated with First USA customer service.

The bank offers a robust set of financial tools, most are co-branded with, which ironically was the lone news outlet to question the core strategy of WSB


Contacts: Richard Vague is head of the First USA card unit where the new bank was organized. At, Jim Stewart is CEO; Bill Wallace is EVP and CIO, Jeff Unkle is VP, Corp. Affairs, (302) 594-8233.

“Mortgage Marketplace” is a framed version of E-Loan. However, instead of highlighting the excellent interactive features of E-Loan, the initial page is dominated by a list of participating lenders, a puzzling design decision.


Products: WSB provides a full line-up of retail banking products. The bank or its affiliates provide: checking accounts, short-term CDs, auto loans, overdraft lines, and credit cards. Third parties provide a number of private or co-branded services including: bill payment, discount brokerage, insurance (auto, home, life, health, and renters), and mortgages (see table on the previous page).


Wingspan’s online ads feature the credit card, in this case the ad on features the 3.9% APR.

We like how the bank has simplified the deposit account structure, essentially lumping checking, savings, and a money market into one account, an interest-bearing checking account. This appeals to the average Net user who simply wants to pay the bills, withdraw cash, write a few checks, and park cash in the bank. CDs are available for those looking to lock in a rate for up to one year; while those looking for long-term investment products can easily link to the WSB online brokerage.

Grade: B+

Nothing new and different, but a solid product line stitched together through third parties; additional features expected to be added rapidly


Pricing: Pricing is aggressive. As you can see from the chart below, no account carries a monthly or annual fee at this time. Even overdraft protection is priced low with no transaction charges and a five-day grace period before interest accrues. Other penalty and transaction fees are typical, such as 2% for a credit card cash advances, $19.95 for stock trades (up to 1,000 shares), and so on (see chart below).

Deposit rates are generous, and nearly at parity with non-FDIC insured money market mutual funds. The First USA credit card offered is the 9.99% fixed rate card popularized at Yahoo! for the past year and a half. Pricing


Mo. Fees


Checking None Interest paid on all balances:

$0 to $999 0.50%

$1,000 to $9,999 3.10%

$10,000+ 4.50%

Overdraft credit None No OD advance fee plus grace period of five days before interest begins accruing; APR = 19.99%
Bill Pay None Free for Wingspan checking, savings, or CD customers, $4.95 as a standalone product; payments can be drawn from non-WSB accounts
ATM card None No ATM fees (new customers receive $5 ATM surcharge rebate for first 3 months); $500 maximum ATM withdrawal per day; $1,500 max. POS purchases per day
CDs None Minimum deposit = $2,500; rates (7/1/99):

3-month = 5.0% (APY = 5.12%)

6-month = 5.15% (5.27%)

12 month = 5.50% (5.64%)

Invest-ment accounts None Minimum opening deposit:

Investment Account: $2,000

Asset Management*: $10,000

Premiere Asset Management*: $50,000

Trades: $19.95 per trade up to 1000 shares and $.02 per share thereafter; no/low load mutual funds are $35 per transaction ($20 for switching) except for certain “no transaction fee” funds which carry no trading costs ($5,000 min)

Credit card None 3.9% fixed introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first four to five months, then 9.9% (19.99% on cash advances); automatic 5% rebate for online purchases made at participating merchants

Source: company, 6/29/99 *coming soon


Pricing Fine Print

Monthly statement No charge for snail mail, checks not returned (aka check safekeeping)
Minimum opening deposit $100
Compounding Monthly; 365/366
ATM card replacement $ 3.00/card
Account research $20.00/hour
Check copies $ 2.00/item after first 3 in month
Check printing Varies by style
Legal processing $20.00 max. per order, e.g. garnishment, tax levy, etc.
NSF/overdraft $25 each except VA ($15), WV ($20), and WI ($22)
Duplicate statement $3.00/statement
Stop Payment $18.00/item
Bill payment No fee if have a WSB checking account, CD, installment loan, credit card or investment account, otherwise cost is $4.95/month for first 10 payments each month, then $0.25 per transaction.
Credit card fees Cash advance fee = 2% of the transaction amount, with a minimum of $10 for cash advances, $5 for checks; late, overlimit, and returned check fees = $29 each; if payment is received late twice during any 6-month period, the APR goes to 22.99%
Brokerage Annual custody fee = $40 for accounts without any transactions: retrieval of account information = $30 per full or partial year requested; returned check fee = $20 per event; extension fee = $20 per event; wire transfers = $10 each; broker assisted trades: $0 - $3000 = $26.25 + 1.3%; $3,001 - $6,000 = $37.50 + 0.75%; $6,001 - $10,000 = $56.25 + 0.375%; $10,001 - $20,000 = $63.75 + 0.278%; $20,001+ $82.50 + 0.18%; with overriding min charge of $0.03 per share or $37.50 and maximum of $0.41 per share


Grade: A

Current prices leave little room, if any, to be materially underpriced. It will be interesting to see if rates stay so high long-term.

Home Page/First Impression: The bank has posted an impressive home page. Just 60 words of text draw users into the site. The 31-word opening pitch is excellent, but could be improved by rewording or eliminating the middle sentence. Here is a sentence-by-sentence breakdown of home page copy:

Wingspan Home Page Copy

Current Language



There is a new powerhouse in finance: You.


Perfect first impression. Give the copywriter a bonus.
WingspanBank is here to help in ways no traditional bank can.


OK, but could use more focus on the end-user, e.g. “And to help you ….”
WingspanBank. If your bank could start over, this is what it would be.


Perhaps a little too brash for some readers, but we think a good, confident statement.


A log-in button is prominently placed in the upper right-hand corner. The navigation bar is well done and emphasizes things a user can do, such as Pay Bills and Bank rather than the usual nebulous product names, such as Personal Banking. In the middle of the page is an action bar that allows users to easily link to the three key areas of About, Help, and Apply. Even though the Apply is shown in red to contrast with the other items, we think it is still lost on the page and should be a button on its own. The home page also does a good job sending people to the high-profit products: loans and credit cards.

The part of the home page we dislike is the domi-nating visual of happy customers linked to the usual contrived financial profiles, which themselves are OK. But the home page graphic makes it look like a typical bank’s “take-one” brochure. Even though the home page is fast loading, the typical user still doesn’t want to wait an extra few seconds to download a 21k picture of newlyweds. Take a look at Yahoo,, eBay, Excite, and so on: you won’t see bytes wasted on pictures of blissful users.

Grade: B

Arguably the best bank home page on the Web, but still not up to the standards of other leaders such as NextCard, E*Trade, and E-Loan.


Branding: Unique brand names are usually trashed by analysts initially, until they are embraced by consumers and become a part of the industry vernacular. With the money Bank One is expected to pour into the Net bank, WingspanBank will likely become a household name.

However, we think the name is a significant short-term liability, allowing start-ups a window of opportunity to gain share while Bank One pours bucketloads of cash into image marketing.

The name is certainly unique, memorable, looks good visually, and is a good metaphor for a Net bank. But if you could have almost any name, including,, or (or even all three), why would you choose a tongue twister such as It’s easy to misspell the URL, its hard to pronounce, and hard to understand orally, which ultimately will hurt its word-of-mouth potential. (Say it fast 10 times and you end up with “wing spank” or something equally silly.)

When pressed on the name issue, the bank says they didn’t want to be “just be a bank, but wanted to provide the best of class in all financial and related services.” Then, why tag “bank” on the end of the Wingspan?

An even better choice would have been that would have provided instant credibility and saved the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising it will take to get on the tip of everyone’s twisted tongue.

Grade: D

Why put “spank” in your name, especially if you have a hundred million-dollar budget?

Leveraging the Web: In our last “Anatomy of a Start-up,” we looked at CompuBank (OBR 10/98). We liked its Web-based features but were unimpressed with the product line. WSB is the opposite with a superb retail banking product line-up, but little in the way of interesting things to do with those products online. Despite its claims to the contrary, it still acts like a traditional bank, basically having posted an elegant brochure around account access, financial calculators, a topnotch product application, and a great mortgage area courtesy of E-Loan. Notable deficiencies include:

  • Lack of interbank transfers: a core offering from most other Net-only banks (see USAccessBank and First Internet Bank,
    OBR 2/99).
  • Lack of email services: WSB does virtually nothing with email outside of the interactivity provided by E-Loan in the mortgage area (see OBR 5/98; OBR 10/97). When opening a new WSB account, we didn’t receive even a single canned email, although we got plenty of snail mail, and even a telephone call.

WSB has established an advisory board of six users chaired by Frank Cappiello, author and Wall Street Week panelist. The other five “iBoard” members represent a carefully selected cross section of bank users, and are identified only by first name. A nice touch: we’ll see what they do with this resource.

WSB does excel in the planning department. Its Plan section includes 21 calculators, worksheets and tools, primarily Java-based applets from Some of the mortgage calculators are HTML-based versions from E-Loan.

The bank bungled the implementation of the Java-based applets by omitting the coding that tells non-Java browsers, or browsers being used with Java disabled (as recommended by many security experts), that they must be Java-enabled to use the applets. Instead you get a small blank area where the calculator should be. It’s very confusing and left us scratching our heads until we went to SmartMoney to test the calculators and saw the error message that WSB forgot to code (Note: At press time 8/11/99, this error remained.)

Another promising feature is called By Your Request It’s billed as an online concierge tied to the credit card. But the WSB Web site doesn’t explain how you use the feature, or even what it is. (You can read about it at First USA’s Web,

Grade: C

For $150 million we’d like a little more innovation in Web services.


Wingspan’s navigation bar uses red to make the “Apply” button stand out.

Sales/Application Process: From the home page on, the bank is always selling. Small cross sell messages appear near the navigation banner on many pages (see CD ad on loan page lower right).

The new account promotion on the home page is a good idea, but half-baked in its execution (Note: Both new account promotions described in this section have been discontinued at press time, 8/11/99). New accounts get $100 automatically, regardless of account size. So a new customer can open a checking account with just $100 to receive the $100 bonus. This strikes us as a waste of $1 million dollars (first 10,000 applicants get $100). Sure the bank wants to show that it can get 10,000 faster than any other Net bank, but the marketplace is going to discount that claim because they are simply buying their first 10,000 accounts. Anyone with a Web site and $1 million to throw away could attract 10,000 “accounts” in a matter of days, if not hours by offering $100 a pop.

Another unusual promotion is the $500 offered to the first 500 approved credit card applicants with a name that connotes money, such as Bill or Penny. We’re not sure what that quarter-million dollars buys, but we look forward to finding out.

The application process is very slick. After pressing the Apply button, users simply check boxes to indicate which products they want, fill out the usual mini-application, are served up two disclosures, and press submit. The application process is entirely paperless, except for the signature card that must be returned via snail mail to avoid income tax withholding.

WSB has done an excellent job making the forms user friendly, and explaining the process along the way (although not as good as NextCard, OBR 5/98). Users are promised a remarkable 60-second approval for “most” applications. We would have been even more impressed if our application would have been one of those approved online, but unfortunately, we were greeted with an error message and didn’t get to experience the instant approval process. Here are some of the things the bank does well in the sales process:

  •  positions the application one click away from most pages of the Web site
  •  encourages multiple product purchases
  •  bundles overdraft protection with checking
  •  offers 60-second approval on some applications
  •  offered promotional incentives at launch


A- For the application process

D+ For the launch-time sales promotions

The loan area contains a good cross sales
message about “parking” funds in a CD.

WSB provides a good, concise summary of pertinent bank details in its “About” area. However, certain items need more elaboration.

Security/Credibility: Given the public’s well-documented concerns about online security, we find it surprising that WSB does little to address these concerns. The only mention of security is buried in the About section, where users will find a short boilerplate discussion of security and browser encryption.

This oversight is probably due to WSB’s mega-bank heritage. Bank One isn’t accustomed to having to explain to users that it runs a safe and secure operation. It’s simply assumed as soon as the Bank One names is invoked (Bank One is the fifth largest bank in the US). But, at least initially one of the smallest banks in the country, must behave differently.

One thing the bank does well is provide an easy link to the FDIC database record for FCC National Bank, technically its parent. A simple and powerful way to throw the power of the federal government behind your Internet operations. Check out the coding by following the About link from the home page, then choose FDIC Policy in the third paragraph from the bottom of that page.

Grade: C-

The bare-bones security discussion needs to be beefed up with guarantees and VeriSign and/or ABA site certification seals (see OBR 4/99).

Customer Service Impressions: Overall, the Web site has a good customer service “look and feel,” from the Help button on the front page to the customer service inquiry template, which runs on’s server. We like the warning at the top of the email form warning users not to communicate confidential information, although saying that anything in the email could “end up in the public domain” is probably a tad too strong. That’s not the kind of thing you want to tell users already skittish about overall security on the Net.

Telephone service is available 7x24, but the bank forgot to disclose hours for email service (presumably 7x24). The FAQ also mistakenly says that telephone service is available from just 7 am to 1 pm Monday through Friday; probably some copy left over from beta testing (Note: This error was fixed by press time, 8/11/99.).

The lack of emphasis on email customer support is a common mistake. We believe that most Web users would prefer to communicate routine inquiries by email or Web form, if they were confident that they would get a timely response and understood security implications. Since most banks don’t provide these reassurances, users continue to clog the phone lines looking for help. The bank needs to post email service guarantees to increase confidence in the channel.

The FAQs are well written but could be divided up better. Also, some of the questions deserve more detailed explanations. (Note: By press time 8/11/99, the FAQs had been expanded in some areas.) WSB also lacks a real-time chat option for customer service in use at NextCard, First Internet Bank, OBR 2/99) and others.

Grade: B-

Need to improve email and Web customer service options and rely less on telephone service.

Summary: Overall, WSB is put together very well, (barely) earning an OBR Best of the Web ’99 designation (see table on page 16 for others). The important things are in place: they’ve made it easy to buy, the site has a high-quality look and feel with good copy writing, and the product line is concise and well priced from the user’s perspective.


Strategically, WSB is a stroke of genius for Bank One. As a standalone entity, WSB would be just another Internet bank, but as a tool for Bank One and First USA to boost market cap, we expect it to be a spectacular success. Here’s why.

First USA has 59 million credit cards. Assuming normal industry churn, the company opens and closes five to ten million accounts every year. Using the five million number, if First USA diverts just 20% of its normal production into the Wingspanbank portfolio they will have created the first one-million-account bank from scratch (sort of).

This milestone will create an enormous amount of positive press leading to even more accounts. This first-mover momentum and the much sought after “scale” will wow Wall Street paving the way for a blockbuster IPO turning WSB into a multi-billion dollar entity and siphoning capital away from other would-be start-ups.

And initially there is little downside for First USA. At least until a spin-off, it can still roll the one millions of WSB cards into its overall portfolio. The main thing that could derail the plan is if other mega-banks, especially Citibank, do the same thing.

Wingspan Winners

  • all-in-one deposit account
  • customer friendly pricing
  • integrated OD credit line, with grace period
  • excellent Web site with good navigation
  • co-branded E-Loan mortgage offering
  • co-branded InsWeb insurance offering
  • relatively integrated brokerage offering

Source: Online Banking Report, 7/99

But if you are an existing financial institution, take heart, Bank One has left plenty of room for you to get a leg up. For one, the name is awkward. Be very thankful that tiny Commerce Bank of Atlanta has the name and not Bank One (we’ll look at next month). Also, WSB has yet to harness many Web capabilities such as triggered email alerts, real-time chat, and other interactive service. Finally, by not leveraging the Bank One brand, they must fight the expensive battle for mindshare with every other newcomer on the Web.

A few other missing items are listed in the following table:

Wingspan Weaknesses

  •  no email service standards
  •  no fraud protection guarantees
  •  little email integration
  •  no interbank transfer form
  •  no extra security features (e.g., multiple passwords)
  •  few security assurances (e.g., VeriSign. ABA)
  •  few credibility enhancers (e.g. BBB Online, ICSA)
  •  no suggestion box/feedback forms
  •  no customer service via online chat
  •  no small business/home office products
  •  little mutual fund integration
  •  no automotive leasing
  •  no personalization
  •  no CDs longer than 12 months
  •  no savings accounts (for children, Christmas, etc.)

    Source: Online Banking Report, 7/99


Overall Grades:

B+ WSB on its own merits: Will likely move up to an A as more Web services are added.

A+ As a Bank One strategy : The only way they can lose is if other mega-banks do the same thing, especially Citigroup.


Categories: Bank One, Wingspan Bank

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