E-Loan to Stop Direct Mortgage Lending but Will Maintain Loan Portal/Referral Business

image In the early commercial Web era (1995 to 1998), five financial startups inspired me in terms of their innovative products and services: 

  • E-Loan for mortgage
  • E*Trade for stock brokerage
  • Netbank for deposit-taking
  • NextCard for credit cards
  • LendingTree for lead generation

These were my go to companies for ideas and inspiration when covering the space in the mid-to-late 1990s. In those days, traditional financial institutions were just getting started and were not as far along in features and functionality. 

Sadly, two of the five have failed, NextCard in 2002 (here) and NetBank in 2007 (here). And the other three are struggling through the credit crisis.

The latest downer: This week, E-Loan, owned by Banco Popular, announced its exit from the online mortgage origination business. Reading the headlines, I first thought they’d thrown in the towel altogether. But it turns out they are discontinuing only direct mortgage originations. The company will continue to use its popular website (see traffic below) to attract potential borrowers who are handed off to other lenders, something it already does today for student, auto, personal and business loans, along with credit cards. This is a potentially lucrative fee-based business with zero credit risk.

It’s a cautionary tale of how critical, and difficult, the execution piece is. These were industry darlings, always in the news and at the top of the search results. Yet, in financial services especially, you have to temper innovation with prudent underwriting and business practices. All three were brought down by credit-related problems. 

E-Loan traffic has stabilized at around 250,000 uniques per month:


NetBank Falls But Don’t Blame Online Delivery

I was flying to New York Saturday morning when I read the news in The Wall Street Journal that NetBank had gone under, the largest bank failure in 14 years (note 1). While the WSJ headline, NetBank Failure Shows Online Limits, implied that online delivery shared some of the blame, NetBank's downfall was primarily from poorly underwritten loans, both prime and sub-prime, and most of those originations came the old-fashioned way, through face-to-face mortgage broker sales.

Over the years I've been acquainted with a number of NetBank employees and have written extensively about their innovations since their launch in 1996, as the second Internet-only brand. Interestingly, the three major U.S. Internet-only brands launched in 1995, 1996 and 1997 are gone: the first Internet-only bank, Security First Network Bank was sold to Centura (owned by RBC) and Compubank was sold to NetBank. 

But no matter what the reason, a failure of one of the key names in U.S. online banking certainly gives the industry a black eye. My hope is that a forward-thinking bank buys the NetBank brand from the government and relaunches it with much fanfare next year. Sure, there's some negative brand equity this year, but the NetBank name is a classic and shouldn't go to waste (note 2).

ING Direct, which now lays claim to the retail deposits (note 1), has taken over the NetBank hompage for now (see screenshot below):

NetBank homepage with ING Direct message

For more information:

  • FDIC info on the closure here
  • NetBank timeline from the Atlanta Journal Constitution here
  • It takes a failure for a bank to make TechCrunch here
  • American Banker's good summary of the failure, complete with quotes from federal regulators, here


1. The company was taken over by federal regulators, who will sell off the assets and return all deposits up to the $100,000 insurance limit. About $1.5 billion in retail deposits, and 102,000 customer accounts, have been purchased by ING Direct. The estimated $110 million shortfall will be covered by the deposit-insurance reserves funded by premiums levied to all banks. The failure does not have direct cost to taxpayers.

2. We said the same thing about NextCard in 2001, but no one followed our suggestion. Now the most well-known website and brand of the most prolific advertiser in the late 1990s has been reduced to a link farm collecting rent from Google Adsense.

NetBank for Sale?

After a string of divestitures and the shuttering of money-losing operations, NetBank is returning to its core retail banking roots (see coverage here and here).

Whether the company remains an independent entity is up to its management and shareholders, but at least one analyst is speculating about a 2007 sale.

While not in a position to judge the value of the entire enterprise, I do know the brand itself has considerable value. The URL alone is worth millions. It could make a nice entry point into the U.S. market for an international bank looking to capitalize on the direct banking model, e.g., ING Direct.

The bank was launched in 1996 as Atlanta Internet Bank and went public in mid-1997. It was renamed NetBank in 1998 after securing the rights to the domain name for a reported $150,000.

NetBank was the second Internet-only U.S. financial institution, the first to go public, and the first to become relatively well known.

Netbank Wallflowers Concert Promotion

Netbank_concert_logoMaybe I’m biased as a fan, but I think Netbank’s Concert Connection, sponsoring a free Wallflowers concert, is a great stunt. Especially if the bank can leverage it to gain exposure in more than just the Austin market.

Here’s the offer (click on inset below to see landing page): Customer’s who plunk down $500 into a new checking account, or $1500 into a CD or Money Market, get two free tickets to a private Wallflowers show in Austin, TX on Sept. 17. The money must be kept on deposit for at least 90 days or the bank will deduct $85 to cover the tickets.

The bank’s press release says it will be promoting the offer with a mobile vehicle along with billboards, print and radio ads. The concert venue holds 5,000, so Netbank can use the offer to attract a maximum of 2500 new accounts.

This is an expensive promotion for a single market, with the concert alone cost an estimated $100,000 or more, not to mention the cost of promoting it in the Austin market. It might make more sense to sponsor an entire Wallflowers tour, providing tickets to new Netbank customers around the country. That would be even more costly, but would guarantee broad exposure to the offer.

Yet, we still like the Austin promotion for several reasons:
1. Free publicity: There’s nothing like a free event to garner media exposure.
2. Lasting brand impression: Unlike other media campaigns, this event should provide a more lasting brand impression, especially with the 25-35 crowd attracted to this music.   
3. Dylan connection: The Wallflowers, led by lead singer Jakob Dylan, son of rock legend Bob Dylan, is an especially good choice for this promotion. Along with its younger fan base, the band will also attract attention from an older crowd that might drop $1500 into a CD to see if Jakob can carry on dad’s legacy.
4. Concert tie-ins: Even though the event is primarily oriented to Austin-area consumers, it will pull in business from Wallflowers fans all over Texas. But to reach beyond Texas, Netbank should consider negotiating rights to offer the concert as a free download for all its customers. Other tie-ins with merchandise, fan clubs, and so on are also possible.

The downsides:
1. Demographic mis-match: Alt-rock fans aren’t usually old enough or wealthy enough to be parking big cash piles in a bank. Many will deposit the bare minimum and pull it out after 90 days or when their CD matures.
2. High acquisition cost: As you can see by the mini-business case below, the acquisition costs are hefty. Assuming Netbank ends up with 500 new accounts that remain open after the 90-day minimum, the cost per new account is $2000 or more.
3. Extra customer service load: The first law of marketing applies here: for every customer delighted with your offer, another is mad because they missed out on it for some reason. We can already see brewing discontent on the Wallflowers bulletin board from rabid fans that don’t have the extra cash to plunk down into Netbank to earn the tickets (we have one word of advice for them: eBay). Also, there can always be headaches when third parties are involved. As we were researching this article, we noticed that the ticket fulfillment site, Tickets.com, was not functioning properly. We were able to download two Wallflower tickets without fulfilling the offer requirements. We notified Netbank right away who will likely have it fixed within hours. Now if we could only find a business reason to be in Austin on Sept. 17….

Back-of-the-envelope business case:
Cost = $150,000
$100,000 for the concert + $50,0000 out of pocket promotional expenses (assumes radio exposure is bartered for with free tickets)

Accounts generated initially: 1500 x $2000 average deposit = $3 million in deposits worth $30,000 to $60,000 per year assuming a 1% to 2% spread (will depend on deposit mix)

Long-term accounts generated: 750 assuming a 50% fallout after the first year

Acquisition cost: $150,000/750 = $2000 per long-term account



2004 Online Financial Services Ad Spending

JP Morgan Chase and Citibank led all banking and lending companies in online ad spending according to the most recent American Banker survey of financial services spending (May 2005).

Chase’s $50 million in online advertising was 21% of its entire advertising expense, the highest among major banks, and considerably above the 11% online share across all financial services companies. In comparison, Citi’s $49 million spent online was only 9% of its total advertising expense, slightly below the industry average.

NetBank, the 16th biggest online advertiser, was the percentage leader, funneling all but $100,000 of its $4.9 million in advertising into online initiatives. Two other major online advertisers spent more than half their money online last year: ING Direct spending 60% of its $40 million total online, and MBNA spending more than half its $14 million online.

Lending Tree, Quicken Loans, HSBC, Sovereign and East-West Mortgage all devoted about one-third of their advertising into the online channel.

Top-20 Financial Institutions Online Advertisers*
2004 Online Advertising (% of total advertising)*
1. JP Morgan Chase  $50 million (21%)
2. Citigroup              $49 million (9%)
3. American Express $28 million (9%)
4. Bank of America    $25 million (9%)
5. ING Direct            $24 million (60%)
6. Lending Tree        $22 million (31%)
7. Ameriquest           $16 million (13%)
8. Quicken Loans       $10 million (33%)
9. Wells Fargo           $9.2 million (14%)
10. HSBC                  $8.3 million (39%)
11. MBNA                  $7.0 million (51%)
12. Wachovia            $6.3 million (7%)
13. E-Loan                $6.1 million (21%)
14. NetBank              $4.8 million (98%)
15. Discover             $4.7 million (6%)
16. GM                     $3.8 million (4%)
17. Royal Bank          $3.2 million (12%)
18. Sovereign           $2.8 million (33%)
19. East-West Mtg.    $2.7 million (32%)
20. WAMU                $1.9 million (2%)

*Banking, Lending, Mortgage, or Credit Card segments only, does not include online brokerage, insurance, or investments.

If you look at the brokerage and mutual fund category, the spending accelerates. Four online brokers Ameritrade ($65 million), Scottrade ($63 million), Schwab ($58 million), and E*Trade $52 million) each outspent even the largest financial institution, and Netstock Direct ($32 million) outspent all but Citi and Chase.

Top-10 Brokerage & Mutual Funds

2004 Online Advertising (% of total advertising)

1. Ameritrade   $65 (64%)

2. Scottrade     $63 (87%)                              

3. Schwab        $58 (35%)                              

4. E*Trade        $52 (77%)                              

5. Netstock       $32 (99%)                              

6. Harrisdirect  $24 (78%)                              

7. Vanguard      $12 (31%)                              

8. TD Bank        $10 (17%)                              

9. Fidelity        $5.3 (4%)                               

10. T.Rowe Price $3.8 (5%)

Download the Excel file with more details.    



Innovators in Small Business Online Delivery

Innovators in small business online delivery


Table 55

Watchfire/Gomez Small Business Scorecard



Dec ‘03

Number Sm. Biz Clients

1 (tie) Bank of America


2.5 mil1

1 (tie) National City



3 (tie) Key



3 (tie) Wells Fargo


1.3 mil2

5 (tie) Chase



5 (tie) Fleet



5 (tie) Wachovia



8 Bank One



9 (tie) HSBC America



9 (tie) U.S. Bank



Source: Watchfire, 6/04 <gomezpro.watchfire.com>
Other banks evaluated, but not making the top 10: Bank of New
York, BB&T, Citibank, Citizens Bank, Comerica, Fifth Third Bank
(150,000 clients), LaSalle, PNC Bank (200,000 clients),
SunTrust, UBOC, Washington Mutual (250,000 clients)
1American Banker, May 18, 2004, BofA total includes
2American Banker, Oct. 1, 2003

Our first report on small business banking was produced in the fall of 1997
(OBR 29).
At that time, few banks were specifically targeting small businesses. Then,
a Yahoo search for “small business” and “banking” yielded only 19
results compared to 2.5 million today. In the late 1990s, most banks were
still busy building out their consumer interfaces. Even as recently as 2001
(OBR 70/71), we found few major innovations to report on. Our
favorite small business banking service was OneCore
 which was
shuttered shortly thereafter, at least as a direct provider.  

Today much has changed. Everywhere you look, banks are innovating to
serve the small business market more effectively. According to
GomezPro unit the best small business banking sites
are Bank of America and National City, tied for first place in
its year-end 2003 scorecard (see Table 55, right). 

Other online innovators in the small business market:

  •          Barclays Bank (London; $800 billion) uses its
    website to target startup businesses with a broad array of support
    services that many startups would find essential, including a free
    business checking account for the first year. It’s so impressive, we’ve
    given it our second Best of the Web award this year
    (see next page).
  •          PNC Bank (Pittsburgh, PA; $70 billion) and
    have both announced plans to offer remote check deposits,
    something most U.S. banks will support within a few years. One of the
    last reasons to visit the branch will be eliminated when clients can
    feed paper checks into a scanner instantly depositing the cash into
    their account and storing the image into their online banking archive

    This service is a shoo-in for an OBR Best of the Web once it goes
  •          NetBank (Alpharetta, GA; $4.1 billion) which
    launched a new small business initiative a year ago, has attracted 1,600
    businesses with $38 million in deposits ($24,000 average deposit). If it
    keeps to the announced third-quarter launch, NetBank may be the first
    bank to offer remote paper check scanning



Barclays provides valuable services for startups

Why do the U.K. banks do a better job serving small businesses online
compared to their U.S. counterparts?1 Perhaps U.S. banks are
underestimating the value of services targeted directly to small business
owners. Or maybe they’ve found it too difficult because business owners
won’t bother switching bank accounts to save a few bucks a month. That’s why
it makes so much sense for Barclays Bank to focus on startups
at its business website <business.barclays.co.uk>. After all, if you
succeed in being a startup’s first bank, you have the inside track to retain
its business over time.

Barclays business homepage (see below) is dominated by a shaded
area asking the important question, Starting a business? Even though
the vast majority of visitors already have a business and a banking
relationship with Barclays, those most likely shopping for services are
startups. The bank also offers Pain relief in a box, a proprietary
business management and accounting program targeted for tiny businesses or
startups that haven’t settled on an accounting software system.

1Two out of three of our Best of Web winners for small
businesses are headquartered in the U.K.


Barclays’ small business Starter Accounts consist of the following
features and benefits:

  •          Current account (checking) with an overdraft facility; free
    for the first 12 months, 18 if you also maintain personal accounts at
  •          Savings account
  •          Loans, subject to credit approval of course
  •          Insurance
  •          45-minute free consultation with a business/marketing
  •          45-minute free consultation with an accountant
  •          30-minute free consultation with an attorney



NetBank and PNC to offer remote deposits

According to recent press reports, both NetBank (American Banker,
May 20) with 1,600 small business clients and PNC Bank (Wall Street
, June 8) with 200,000, will launch remote deposit service for their
business customers. Although details of the yet-to-be-launched services are
sketchy, it is expected that business customers will be able to scan paper
checks into a remote device that transmits images to the bank for immediate
deposit. PNC estimates the scanners will rent for $15 to $25 per month. No word
on pricing from NetBank. The NetBank service is expected in late third quarter
and PNC expects to roll-out by yearend. Alogent
 is the
technology provider for NetBank.

Benefits for small business owners:

1.   Saves time/money: Frees business owners from the daily/weekly
trek to the branch, something 80% of online self-employed households reported
doing during the past 30 days according to Javelin Strategy

2.   Improves cash flow: Checks can be deposited immediately rather
than collecting dust waiting for the owner’s next trip to the branch

3.   Streamlines record keeping:

i.    the original check can be filed as a paper receipt if desired

ii.   a back-up electronic image is stored at the bank if questions arrive

4.   Improves customer service: Check images can be quickly retrieved
and emailed if
a dispute arises

5.   Saves storage space/cost: Paper checks can be destroyed much
sooner, eliminating storage and security issues

6.   Improves management control: Owners can spot-check deposit
activity by looking at actual check images, rather than staff-entered accounting

Speaking as both as a small business owner and an industry analyst, this is a
great service and a strong candidate for a Best of the Web award once it
becomes operational.


NetBank Announces Remote Deposit Scanning Service

According to an article in the May 20 American Banker, NetBank is about to launch a remote deposit service for its business customers. Although details of the yet-to-be-launched service are sketchy, it is expected that business customers would scan paper checks into a remote device that transmitted the images to NetBank for immediate deposit.
This service has two important benefits in addition to the obvious: freeing small business owners from a trek to the branch:
1. Improves cash flow since checks can be deposited immediately rather than on periodic trips to the branch
2. Streamlines record keeping in two ways:
(a) the original check can be filed as a paper receipt
(b) an electronic image is stored at the bank and is available if questions arrive
The service is not expected until August at the earliest. The technology provider is Alogent.
Speaking as both as a small business owner and an industry analyst, this is a great service and a strong candidate for an Online Banking Report Best of the Web award once the service becomes operational.