MBNA’s Big & Ugly Card Application

In direct mail, sometimes "big & ugly" beats "short & sweet." But when it comes to preapproved credit card applications, we're pretty sure the 8-screen form posted by Bank of America's FIA Card Services (formerly MBNA) isn't going to help improve response rates (see the full form by clicking the continue link below).

My wife received a preapproved, direct-mail offer from Fidelity Investments where she has an investment account. The solicitation included the usual one-third sheet mail-back "acceptance form." Recipients could also either call a toll-free number, or go online to www.ibscredit.com.

Fidelity_mbna_cardapp_firstThose that went online were greeted with this almost-blank screen operating under a different URL www.applyforcreditnow.com and had no reassuring message or graphics to assure users they had not arrived at a phishing site.

Fidelity_mbna_cardapp_subsetAfter entering the 6-digit code from the mailing, prospective cardholders are transported to this boring form, which surprisingly includes MORE fields than its paper-based counterpart (click on inset for closeup; click on continuation below to see the full 800 x 5200 screenshot). For example, it contains a section to be completed by students, who are unlikely to be receiving this particular Fidelity Investments WorldPoints Visa card with no preset spending limits.

Not only are the layout and design dull, but also two major design flaws are readily apparent:

  1. No reinforcement of product benefits above the fold, especially the "0% through Nov. 2007" offer
  2. No division into smaller segments, the first of which should gather the email address

See Online Banking Report #104 for more on application design.

— JB

Endnote: Full online application (820 x 5200)


Facebook Launches MoochSpot, a “Social Loan” Tracker

Facebook_moochspot_logo_1 In mid-August, Facebook, the popular social networking site aimed at college students, alums, and now a few select corporations has released a simple personal finance application. The original name was FaceBank (see screenshot at bottom of article), but recently it was renamed MoochSpot (click on screenshot below for closeup).

MoochSpot allows Facebook users to loan (i.e., spot), borrow (mooch), and settle debts with other Facebook users. At this point there is no payment capabilities, so the money must change hands through other methods.

Here's how it works:

  1. Create a "piggy bank" to track the funds
  2. Select a Facebook friend from the list that automatically shows in the MoochSpot list (note, in our screenshot below, we don't have any predesignated friends, so the list is empty)
  3. Enter the amount of the loan
  4. (Optional) Enter a reason for the loan


MoochSpot was developed, not because of huge user demand to track personal debts, but to showcase the type of application that can be built by outside developers using the recently released Facebook APIs. MoochSpot is highlighted on the Facebook developer's page <developers.facebook.com>.

Billmonk_facebookBillMonk, the self-proclaimed "social money" site which allows debts to be split and tracked via website or mobile phone (see NB Apr 30), is the first financial services provider to jump on the bandwagon and create Facebook integration (in inset, see Facebook login in lower-right of BillMonk's homepage). We tried on several computers to get it to work and were unable to get past the Facebook login. We'll check back in a few days to see if they have the bugs worked out.

Financial institutions looking to create online banking sites that click with college students should pay close attention to BillMonk and MoochSpot. It would be relatively simple for a bank to use the Facebook API to develop even more powerful payment applications that combine the loan-tracking benefits of MoochSpot with actual epayment capabilities to move money back and forth among friends. While it wouldn't do anything that Paypal doesn't do today, the integration within online banking is important.

But the biggest reason to integrate with Facebook, MySpace, or any other 20-something social network is because it positions yourself as a bank or CU that understands the younger generation. And make sure you have genuine 20-somethings designing the marketing and writing the blog copy.


Below is the original FaceBank application prior to changing the name to MoochSpot:



Update on Zopa’s U.S. Release Date

Zopa_usnewsletter1Zopa <zopa.com> continues to work towards a 2006 launch of the U.S. version of its person-to-person lending exchange. The company is trying to spur a bit of word-of-mouth in advance of its launch by buying a case of beer for anyone sponsoring a Zopa barbecue this summer.

The company website also contains a newsletter-like posting <www.zopa.com/ZopaWeb/ promo/newsletter/ us/issue1/> with info on the U.S. division (click on inset for closeup).

Beside promoting the free beer offer, the newsletter profiles Bruce Brenkus, VP Credit and Risk at Zopa U.S., an excellent choice of subject matter since credit management is the biggest concern for prospective Zopa lenders.

Wells Fargo Launches a New Blog, The Student LoanDown

Wells_blog_studentloan Wells Fargo launched its second blog today, The Student LoanDown  <blog.wellsfargo.com/ StudentLoanDown>. The site, which is not yet mentioned on the main Wells Fargo site, is designed to offer guidance on the student loan process (click on inset for closeup).

The first post claims they won't try to sell anything. It's a claim not technically accurate since there are several links to the corporate lending site, and a position that's not really necessary. As long as you are upfront about the corporate affiliation, it's OK to highlight your own products and services PROVIDED it's done in a way that is both interesting and useful.

The website is powered by Six Apart's Moveable Type and launched with just a single post from two of its four listed authors. Wells Fargo joined the so-called blogosphere back in March when it launched an odd site called Guided by History, a look back at the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and what we can do today to be better prepared for natural disasters.

While that site is pure community service, The Student LoanDown hopes to educate students and parents while driving more business to its student loan unit. Live less than 24 hours, it's too early to give it a full grade, but here are our first impressions.


  • A bank that blogs, and one that will provide good PR, regardless of whether students like it
  • Even if it looks a bit hokey, you can tell the bank put an effort into the design, unlike Bank of Internet (see NetBanker Aug. 31)
  • A good cross-section of authors, one from marketing, one who's a May college graduate, one communications consultant, and a bank-sponsored, literacy-program manager (where are the guys though?)
  • Full bios and pictures of the authors
  • Comments are open (but moderated of course), which is a good feature provided the function is used. The bank will probably have to do some subtle encouragement, perhaps with employees, to get some Q&A started


  • There are only two postings, neither of which offered anything useful or interesting; try to launch with something interesting, even if it's a blatantly commercial sweepstakes
  • The design is a bit hokey; Trey Reeme over at OpenSourceCU called it, "a little on the MySpace side with a WF feel" (hint: that is not meant as a compliment)
  • The content needs more pizazz


StopPong.com from American Express

Amex_mylifemycard_logo If you watched any U.S. Open tennis over the holiday weekend, you couldn't miss the American Express tie-ins. My favorite commercial showed Andy Roddick exchanging ground strokes with a white bar designed to look like the early video game, Pong. It has nostalgic appeal to younger baby boomers who played the orginal Atari game in the late 1970s, and it was funny enough to get the attention of younger consumers.

The commercial ended with a tie-in to a special website, <stoppong.com>, where the game can be played online. It's much like the original, not surprising given the site was built by Atari Interactive. With the mouse, the user operates Roddick who bats the ball back to the white bar. Like the original, the game speeds up the longer the ball stays in play. In a modern twist, you can choose either 3-D or 2-D version. The top 100 scores are listed to help stoke the competitive spirit.


Overall, it's a good campaign with engaging broadcast advertising driving customers to a good website with viral hooks. We do have a few suggestions:

  1. Add Google support: The first step for the majority of Internet users will be to enter "stop pong" or something similar into Google. Luckily, the Stop Pong microsite is in first position in the organic results, so it's relatively easy to find. However, numerous first-page blog-listings could snag the traffic before they ever get to the genuine site. American Express should support the expensive campaign with a relatively inexpensive Google AdWords buy on the relevant terms, "American Express Roddick," "American Express pong," "stop pong" and so on.  On a 10-point scale, the company is docked half a point for this.
  2. Personalize it: There should be some way for users to add their name to be shown on the screen during play. Even more important, it should track each user's high score during the session.
  3. Grab leads: In addition to personalization, users should have the option of saving their high score(s) by registering with a username, password, and valid email address. Give registrants the ability to opt-in for future marketing messages.
  4. Make it viral: Offering the HTML code in the lower left is a good viral marketing move. An even better one, because anyone can do it, is to provide an email-your-friend option. Even better: allow friends to email their scores to others as a challenge.
  5. Offer player rewards: Another way to increase word-of-mouth is to offer prizes, not for scoring high, which might run afoul of gaming regulations, but at random simply for playing the game. 
  6. Allow the sound to be turned off (on screen): Obviously the designers have never worked in a "real office" where the sound of a pong game coming out of your cubicle is not exactly what the boss had in mind when he/she asked you to "serve up some ideas for the next project meeting." Whenever you add audio to your website, make sure you have a visible on-screen mute button.
  7. Support the campaign on landing pages: Neither of the landing pages accessible through the microsite are customized for the Pong campaign. However, the main "My Life. My Card" page <mylifemycard.com>  (see screenshot by clicking "continue" below), reached by clicking on the banner in the upper left, includes "play pong" superimposed on a small picture of Roddick. But the main clickthrough spot, the banner in the lower right, leads to the regular "My Life. My Card" selector tool with no mention of Pong, tennis, or the U.S. Open.

Overall Grade
Even though we think American Express could do a better job capturing leads, it's probably better to err on the side of a too-soft sell instead of too-hard, especially if the goal is to have the online game grow virally thorough blog and other media mentions.   

We'll give it an A for creative and B+ for execution.


Here's the main "My Life. My Card" site reached by clicking on the logo in the upper left of the Stop Pong site:


Here's the card selector reached from the banner in the lower right of the Stop Pong page:


billQ Named Best of the Web by Online Banking Report

Bestofweblogo_2In the latest from Online Banking Report, "Personal Finance Features for Online Banking," we've awarded an OBR Best of the Web 2006 to a new Web-based bill management service. It's the third winner of the year,* and 53rd since the first recipient in 1997 (here's the list).

And the winner is, drum roll please, billQ <mybillq.com> a new Web 2.0-inspired bill manager from Seen Creative Group <weareseencreative.com>, a relatively new website-design firm based in Rochester, NY. The company was chosen for raising the bar in three areas:

  • User-interface design (click on screenshot below for closeup; see more screenshots by clicking the continuation link at the bottom of this article)
  • "Add this bill" browser-toolbar button
  • Publishing bills through RSS and iCalendar feeds


Read the entire review, along with a look at a dozen other online personal finance applications, in this month's Online Banking Report (#131/132).


*Previous 2006 winners include E*Trade Bank for its Mileage Maximizer airline card mile aggregator (NB 7 Dec 2005) and Prosper for its person-to-person lending platform (NB Feb. 5 and others).


Welcome screen prior to setting up bills (see above for main screen after bills have been enabled)


Set-up reminders


Set-up feeds


Set-up feeds

Bank of Internet Launches MyRVBank

Bofi_rvbank_logo Bank of Internet <bofi.com>, has launched its second niche, direct-bank brand, MyRVBank. This one is targeted to the 8 million U.S. households with recreational vehicles. The site is virtually identical to its Senior Bank <seniorbofi.com>. The only differences, aside from the URL, are the homepage picture, different button designs, a few unique links in the Community Center and the blog. Click on the screenshots below for closeups (follow the continuation link at the bottom of the article to see a comparison of the product pages).

Bofi_rvbank_home  Bofi_seniorbank_home

Creating microsites for market niches is a good strategy. The RV market has been targeted by at least two banks in the past, Chase Bank in 1997 and Affinity Bank. Neither of those programs is still in operation.

Bank of Internet shows how to do niche marketing on a shoestring budget, basically re-purposing its existing Seniors' website. The bank said it spends less than $100,000 on the niche site. From the looks of it, I'd estimate it's quite a bit less than $100,000.

The only content differences are in the Community Center which contains several links to blogs and other resources of interest to RVers. The bank also sponsors a blog, MyRVBank Blog, hosted on Google's free Blogger site <myrvbank.blogspot.com>.

Blogging is a great idea, and we think every financial institution will eventually host a blog (see NB Aug. 29); however, the bank's RV blog is bad. It's designed to demonstrate the joys and pitfalls of life on the road, with a hired guest blogger, Tim McWhorter, chronicling his year-long trip with his wife and four kids across the country.

Here are a few of the problems with the blog:

  1. No pictures: Travel blogs MUST have pictures at least every once in a while
  2. Small type: The font is small and the text-only postings have almost 25 words per line, an uncomfortable read for most users, especially the seniors they are trying to attract.
  3. Poor layout: The blog doesn't even use many of the free tools available to make it more visually interesting; for example, entries without dates, no author profiles, no explanations of purpose, no recommended links, no post categories, and no permalink so other blogs can link to specific entries.
  4. No email address: Most blogs provide a means to communicate with the author(s).
  5. No RSS feed: The blog does not allow users to sign up for an RSS feed.
  6. Infrequent posts: There are seven posts since the supposedly grand RV adventure started June 24; only three about the trip and four generic posts about fuel economy, buying an RV, and so on.
  7. Boring: It's just as well that there are few posts, because what's there is mind-numbing dull. Here's an excerpt about the trip:

When we came back outside, the sky had darkened and thunder was easily heard off in the distance. We had five miles to get back to our car with several large uphill climbs ahead of us! Yikes! We made it back to the car and loaded up the bikes. We did not even make it out of the parking lot before it started pouring down rain! We were very relieved to make it back before the storm which was also accompanied by high winds and lots of lightning.

Bank of Internet has the right idea here, but they need to invest a bit more in design and content to make its niche marketing effort more appealing. In addition to sprucing up the blog, the bank should work with marketing partners such as KOA to provide more RV-related value adds. The bank should also do a better job highlighting features of interest to frequent travelers, such as the $10 month in ATM surcharge rebates.


Appendix: Product page comparison, Senior Bank vs. MyRVBank (click for closeups)

Bofi_seniorbank_products  Bofi_rvbank_products

Lower East Side Federal Credit Union to Embrace Web 2.0

According to Web-design firm Trabian <trabian.com>, one of its clients, Lower East Side People's Federal Credit Union <lespfcu.org>, is redesigning its website to include many so-called Web 2.0 features including RSS, blogging, and integration with the photo-website Flickr and Upcoming.org, a user-fed events calendar owned by Yahoo.


So far, the most common Web 2.0 feature is an RSS feed, since it requires minimal programming or repurposing of content. Just about any timely content posted online can be delivered directly to the user's browser or newsreader through RSS techniques. For example, in Uwcu_rssfeed_menuCanada, Vancouver's North Shore Credit Union <nscu.com> now publishes rate updates through RSS (see above), and Madison, WI-based UW Credit Union <uwcu.org> offers 10 different feeds in its education area (see inset).

It's encouraging to see financial institutions begin to embrace newer collaborative technologies available online. We are not surprised to see credit unions lead the way. During the very early days, circa 1995/1996, many of the online pioneers were credit unions, notably Stanford FCU <sfcu.org> which posted account information online in 1994 and Boeing Employees Credit Union <becu.org>, which had the tenth largest online banking-user base in the world in early 1996.

While financial institutions still need to act like "grownups" on the Web (see note 1), younger banking customers in the "MySpace generation" (15- to 24-year olds) will grow up expecting certain things from the businesses they choose to patronize. For example:

  • Instant-messaging access to customer service
  • RSS feeds for service-related messages, such as holiday closures or systems maintenance
  • RSS feeds for bill reminders and other alerts
  • Open forums to post questions and review answers to others' questions
  • Aggregating content from other sites, including competitors'
  • A modern Web 2.0 design (see note 2)


  1. That's why we don't think it's such a great idea for financial institutions to post profiles on MySpace (e.g., Land of Lincoln Credit Union <myspace.com/llcu>). To prospective customers over 30, it looks rather silly. To those under 30, I suspect it looks incredibly lame. 
  2. According to Seen Creative Group's <areyouseen.com> Nick Adams, a Web 2.0 look includes "large fonts, lots of white space, and big shiny buttons."
  3. See also, Banking the MySpace Generation, (NB Mar. 16)

Verity Credit Union’s Blog

Veritycu_logo Verity CU <veritycu.com>, a large Seattle-based credit union with a field of membership spanning the entire state, has been operating a public blog using Google's Blogger since December 2004 (click on inset for closeup), making it perhaps the oldest-running financial institution blog (let me know if you have one that started prior to Dec. 13, 2004). Veritycu_blog

Fourteen contributers are listed, more than 10% of the 105-person employee base. Each author has a profile posted online, making it a great way for members to get a better understanding of the behind-the-scenes activity.

Posting activity varies. In recent months, we've seen four or five lengthy entries. This month, there are 17 articles so far. Subject matter varies from the personal ("My trip to the dentist") to more salesy stuff about the credit union.

Comments are open, but little used. There were only two non-employee comments left in August.

The website counter shows 6,613 visitors.

Offering a blog is an excellent way to show that you care about customers/members and that you are Web-savvy. We applaud Verity for their pioneering efforts over the past 18 months. But it's time for the CU to upgrade its blog.

  1. Improve the design with a masthead, better archive options, and graphic images that link back to the CU. Users expect more than the basic free blogger template from their credit union.
  2. Shorten the entries and add graphics and pictures.
  3. Keep the postings relevant. It's OK to have the occasional rant about Seattle traffic, but stick to things that matter to the reader. Most come to your financial institution to learn more about your company or your products. Let them go to a million other blogs for entertainment.
  4. Highlight the author of each entry. Currently, the Verity author is listed in small, faint type near the bottom of each posting. You want readers to get a sense of the people doing the writing, so it's important they see the name at the top of the posting.
  5. Improve the author profile info. Some author-profiles are quite skimpy. If you want credibility, the authors need to fully disclose their role at the credit union.
  6. Close the comments. Blog-comment areas are fine if they are used; however, a big ZERO down there just makes it look like you're visiting a ghost blog. If you do use them, make sure they are fully moderated, i.e., no comment goes live until approved by the blog administrator.

Blog address: veritycu.blogspot.com

HSBC Teams with Marriott to Give New Customers Free Lodging

Hsbc_smartoffer_home HSBC <us.hsbc.com> is offering new Smart Idea checking customers a free night at participating Marriott hotels, and are even tossing in breakfast for two. The only major requirement, as outlined in the relatively scant fine print (click on continuation link at the bottom of this article), is a direct-deposit relationship or $3,000 deposited by the end of September. The screenshot right shows the offer on the bank's homepage (click to enlarge).

Here's the landing page for the offer (first click off the homepage):


This is a good offer because the perceived value of $200+ is likely far less than what HSBC is paying for it, which we estimate is considerably less than $100 due to the exposure Marriott receives. While it may not appeal to the stay-at-home crowd, they are not the target market for HSBC's premium checking account.

We also like the alternative to dropping $3 grand in the account in lieu of direct deposit. That appeals to small business owners and the self-employed who often are ineligible to participate in many bank premium offers  that require direct deposit. However, the bank should work with the single-deposit customers to get some electronic hooks into the account as soon as possible, either electronic bill payments, pre-authorized debits, or an integrated credit line with automatic payments from checking.



Fine print for HSBC's offer:
* Minimum balance to avoid monthly maintenance fee applies if direct deposit ceases. To receive the Marriott award, customers must open an Interest Checking account by 9/30/06 and either set up direct deposit or deposit at least $3,000 by 10/31/06. Interest Checking Account has 0.15% Annual Percentage Yield (APY), which is accurate as of 8/1/06 on balances of $5 or more. APY is variable and subject to change after opening. Charges and fees may reduce earnings. HSBC reserves the right to charge your Interest Checking account an amount equal to the bonus if your account does not remain active for at least 180 days. Hotel redemption forms will be sent to qualifying customers by 12/31/06. Hotel award includes accommodations for a one (1) night stay, including breakfast for two and room tax, at participating Marriott properties in North, South and Central America, Hawaii and the Caribbean, subject to availability. Breakfast not included at SpringHill Suites and TownePlace Suites properties. Hotel reservations must be booked and used by 1/1/08. Limit of one hotel award per customer. Cost of gift will be reported on IRS Form 1099.

** The Introductory APR does not apply to cash advances. After the Introductory Period or if during the first 12 billing cycles of your Account, whichever is earlier, your Minimum Payment (or any greater amount) is late or you exceed your credit limit twice, the Introductory APR will increase to the Customary APR. The variable Customary APR is 11.99%, 15.99% or 18.99% (as of 8/1/06), depending upon your creditworthiness. There is no balance transfer fee for balance transfers that post to your Account within 90 days of your Account opening; otherwise a 3% ($5 minimum, $50 maximum) balance transfer fee will apply, unless otherwise disclosed. We apply payments to lower APR balances before higher APR balances. We have the right to change your APRs, fees, and other terms at any time, for any reason including, but not limited to, any change in your credit history, credit obligations, Account performance, use of your credit lines with us or any creditor, or our financial return. Any changes will be in accordance with your Cardmember Agreement and applicable law.

US Bank Introduces Email Alerts 2.0

Friday, US Bank <usbank.com> began using a new design for its email alerts. It has a softer, more modern look to it (see before and after screenshots below). The layout and copy are identical to the previous version.

The new look arrived about the time we intended to post a rant about the lack of creativity in bank messaging. One of our examples was US Bank, which had sent us the same basic confirmation message more than 1,000 times over the past three years.

While it's good to see an improved design, it's still pertinent to note that there is more to the lack-of-creativity argument than just the font and background colors. The problem with email alerts is that after receiving them two or three times per week for several years, many users may ignore them. To keep that from happening, financial institutions need to upgrade their messaging system; let's call it Alerts 2.0.

Here are some important features of Alerts 2.0 (for a detailed look at bank messaging, see Online Banking Report #91/92) :

  • Educate about preference changes: Once or twice per year, perhaps more frequently for those receiving a large number of alerts, remind customers about the types of alerts available and how to change them.
  • Provide periodic summaries: Someone getting six alerts each week would likely appreciate a weekly summary of all changes.
  • Change the "look & feel" periodically: Don't wait three years to change the design. Create a template so that the alert design can easily be changed to fit the season or holiday.
  • Gently cross-sell: Alerts should be kept primarily factual. But every once in a while, most of your customers would appreciate a low-key "reminder" of relevant services, such as overdraft protection, credit report monitoring, and so on.
  • Give thanks: As trite as it sounds, don't forget to thank the customer, at least every once in a while. For example, you might add a thank-you when receiving a large deposit (or ANY deposit for that matter). Also, a periodic "thanks for participating in online banking" and/or email alerts would be appropriate. This would also be a good time to ask for feedback on the service.

US Bank email alerts redesign (click on images to enlarge):
New  Usbank_alert_new_1 Old Usbank_alert_old_1