Wells Fargo Pitching Wachovia’s Way2Save Account at Login

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.    

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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

image

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Notes:
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.

Banks and Credit Unions on Twitter

image If you haven’t been following Twitter the last few months, you may not realize it now has almost eight million monthly unique visitors according to Compete. That’s almost double the traffic it had just two months ago and a nearly a nine-fold gain from a year ago.

To put that traffic in perspective, it’s more than half that of the NY Times and slightly more than banking giant Wachovia (see Compete chart below).

image

Banking activity
Financial institutions are pretty new to the micro-blogging platform. In a search today, we found 15 U.S. banks and 22 credit unions with active Twitter feeds (see notes 1, 6-8). There were also and nine international banks for a total of 46.

See the table below for the non-inclusive list ranked by number of Twitter users that follow the bank’s feed (note 2). Wachovia (now owned by Wells Fargo), the only major bank that has promoted Twitter on its main website, leads with 2,000 followers (see previous post on Wachovia’s foray on to Twitter).

Opportunity 
Participating in Twitter is a low-cost entry into social media that can actually help save a customer relationship or three. Compared to blogging, it is much less labor intensive. It’s also less of a marketing platform given the 140-character limit in posts. But in the current environment, perhaps less truly is more. By all means, find a gung-ho Facebook devotee in your bank and let him or her get you into the Tweeting game.

Table: Banks and Credit Unions using Twitter (updated 16 March 2009)

Name Twitter URL (4) Updates Followers
1. Wachovia (Wells Fargo) /wachovia 257 2,058
2. Bank of America /bofa_help 557 1,486
3. Wells Fargo (3) /wellsfargo 4 548
4. ING Direct (6) /ingdirect 50 451
5. North Shore Bank /northshorebank 194 319
6. MSU Federal CU (7) /msufcu 180 270
7. Chase /chasebank 11 260
8. Pioneer Credit Union /pioneercu 225 251
9. 1st Mariner Bank /1stmarinerbank 140 227
10. Group Health CU /ghcu 353 219
11. GLS Bank (Germany) /glsbank 279 204
12. Brewery Credit Union /brewerycu 65 194
13. Bellco Credit Union /bellco_cu 67 192
14. Banco de Chile (Chile) /bancodechile 175 181
15. First Federal /firstfederal 89 177
16. Oklahoma Employees CU /oecu 14 148
17. CU Credit Union /mycucommunity 73 147
18. Allegiance CU (7) /allegiancecu 29 141
19. Heartland CU (7) /heartlandcu 33 125
20. Hopewell Federal CU (7) /hopewellfedcu 74 122
21. Tech CU (7) /techcu 62 115
22. Ubank (Australia, 8) /ubank 151 113
23. Banco Sabadell (Spain) /bancosabadell 2,272 111
24. FORUM Credit Union /forumtalk 19 97
25. Citibank /citi_forward 16 96
26. Fidelity Bank /fidelity_bank 11 92
27. Northeast Bank /northeast_bank 5 84
28. Banco Popular (Puerto Rico) /mi_banco 15 65
29. U.S. First Credit Union /schecking 43 61
30. Oklahoma Central CU (7) /okcentralcu 5 60
31. First Arkansas Bank /fabandt 27 59
32. SEB Bank (Germany) /seb_bank 37 59
33. 66 Fed Credit Union /66fcu 8 47
34. Telesis Credit Union /telesiscu 18 46
35. University CU (7) /universitycu 18 46
36. Nicolet Bank /nicoletbank 15 43
37. Chesapeake Bank /chesbank 8 41
38. Libra Bank (Romania) /librabank 14 38
39. KU Credit Union /kucreditunion 8 32
40. TwinStar CU (7) /twinstarcu 19 32
41. Capital Credit Union /captialcu 7 30
42. NW GA Credit Union /nwgacu 18 30
43. Banco de Guayaquil (Ecuador) /bancoguayaquil 77 28
44. COP Credit Union /copcu 7 26
45. Webster Bank /websterbank 3 20
46. Friesland Bank (Netherlands) /frieslandbank 8 10

Source: Online Banking Report, 13 March 2009 (see notes 6,7,8)

Notes:
1. To be considered active, the bank or credit union had to have set up a Twitter account, customized it with its logo, have made more than 1 update or “Tweet,” and have at least 10 followers. 
2. This is not a complete list. With a few exceptions, we only looked for financial institutions with “bank” or “credit union” in their name.
3. Wells Fargo’s Twitter page says it will be launching soon.
4. Twitter URL = www.twitter.com/<shown below>
5. For more on bank blogging, see our Online Banking Report on Banking 2.0
6. List and totals updated with ING Direct and First Federal on 16 March 2009
7. Searched on “CU” and found eight more credit unions on 17 March 2009. Thanks Gabriel Garcia.
8. Added NAB’s Ubank from comments, unsure why it didn’t show up on “bank” search

Wachovia’s Initial Foray into Social Media is Impressive, Now Twitter That

Link to Wachovia Twitter page Taking a page from Wells Fargo’s playbook, Wachovia has ventured into social media, giving Twitter a try (see screenshot below and previous Twitter coverage here). The bank has sent 94 updates (aka Tweets) via its Twitter page since it began Aug. 18 and has amassed 340 followers.

But more importantly, they are leveraging the minimal customer-support expense to support Twitter (see note 1) with a nifty badge on its Contact Us page (see inset and screenshot below). That little bit of online marketing, demonstrating the Web-savviness of the banking colossus, is probably worth 1000x whatever goodwill they earn actually talking to customers via Twitter.

Wachovia Contact us page with Twitter badge 17 Sep 2008

Analysis
I’ll admit, I was expecting the usual corporate marketing-speak. But Wachovia is actually using the medium very well. So far, the bank has provided a realistic mix of low-key promotional items such as the following “Ike update” with real customer service response (see second example below).

Example 1 (earlier today): Promotional Tweet today mentioning the bank’s Hurricane Ike response with link to more info, e.g., <tinyurl.com/4vbbyn>: 

image

Example 2 (this morning): Responding to a customer complaint: 

image

This last message is directed back to a customer who posted a complaint about Wachovia in his public Twitter stream. Wachovia could have sent it privately, but they elected to respond publicly.

This is surprisingly bold, considering that the bank risks elevating the issue. For example, anyone following Wachovia’s updates can click on bastille71’s username and see that she is upset about a $250 overdraft charge. It’s unlikely anyone outside bastille71’s friends would have known about that had Wachovia not responded publicly via Twitter.

Twitter user bastille71 But anyone who really believes in social media will argue that the bank has far more to gain by demonstrating real commitment to solving customer problems.

Looking further at the above example, bastille71 (inset) has 135 followers on Twitter, her own blog, and who knows how many friends on Facebook. What are the chances that if Wachovia ends up refunding her $250, bastille71 (aka Miss Rehobeth) will write it up in her blog, Twitter it, and even talk about it with her co-workers and friends? 

And if you need more ROI than that, Wachovia has already received a good payback on its Twitter investment (note 1) with a nearly full-page article in American Banker last week during an otherwise not-so-positive news cycle for banks. In addition, the customer service innovation made several blogs and of course the bank’s been Twittered about in a positive way.

Note:
1. There’s no real cost to using Twitter other than staffing it with a social-media-savvy customer-service rep and someone in marketing/PR to look over his or her shoulders. 

Wachovia Way2Save Lands 650,000 Accounts

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

Analysis
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.

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

Wachovia’s Way2Save: Deal or No Deal?

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

Analysis
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)

 image

Wachovia landing page from USA Today ads

Wachovia way2save landing page

Notes:

  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 syst
    em. 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.

Tech Credit Union, Wachovia Create First iPhone Buttons

At least two financial institutions moved quickly to add an iPhone button for their websites:

  1. image Tech Credit Union was the first financial institution to let us know with a comment posted to NetBanker by Gabriel Garcia  at 9:50 AM Thursday
  2. image However, Wachovia may have beaten them to it, since the bank already programmed the feature in advance of the Jobs announcement according to the Director of Emerging Trends, Ilieva Ageenko, who posted this comment at 4:30 PM Thursday. Ilieva also said that Wachovia is working on an iPhone optimized homepage. 

Kudos to both financial institutions, first for adapting quickly to the iPhone opportunity, and more importantly by getting the word out by commenting on an industry blog. Anyone else add an iPhone Web Clip to their website? Let us know by adding your comment to the original post here.

Why is Wachovia Advertising Mobile Banking on Seattle Radio?

Wachovia Bank is not exactly a household word in Seattle. According to the bank's website, the nearest retail branch is 627 miles away in Sacramento, California (see note 1). So I was surprised to hear an advertisement for Wachovia's mobile banking services in the middle of the afternoon on a relatively obscure alt-rock station in the heart of Seattle yesterday. 

Wondering whether I'd missed an acquisition or maybe the launch of a direct banking effort in the Seattle metro area, I Googled "wachovia seattle" and confirmed there were no retail branches (note 1, 2). I double checked through wachovia.com's office locator which informed me there were no offices within 30 miles.

As for direct banking, there were no bank ads displayed for "wachovia," "wachovia bank" or "wachovia direct" on either Google or Yahoo, so I'm pretty sure Wachovia is not targeting Seattle on the direct banking front.

But searching "wachovia mobile" did result in a targeted ad on Google which led to a mobile banking landing page at Wachovia (see below).

And surprisingly, AT&T Wireless was advertising under "wachovia seattle." Unfortunately, they dropped interested parties on its wireless homepage (see below), not the mobile banking page. Finding mobile banking on AT&T's site requires using the search box. It's buried under the not-so-obvious "Ringtones & More" category (note 3).

Summary
I still don't know why Wachovia is advertising in Seattle. I suspect it was an inadvertent placement within a larger radio buy. And/or the advertising was orchestrated by AT&T Wireless, which has a large Seattle metro presence, but no mobile banking partner in the area. Perhaps Wachovia was dropped into the regionalized ad by default. In any event, it's wasted air time. 

Note:
1. There are three Wachovia Securities brokerage offices, but those aren't even listed on the main Wachovia website. 

2. Search conducted at 2 PM Dec 20 from a Seattle IP address.

3. Note to AT&T: Time to update your FAQs and webpage, which still say that mobile banking is "coming soon" at Wachovia.

Blogs Bring Negative Publicity to Overdraft Charges

The players: An angry and articulate Wachovia customer with the online handle haberschmidt; Wachovia Bank; Wesabe; PaymentsNews

Wesabe thread on banking feesSynopsis: According to an anonymous online posting, Wachovia charged a customer $245 in overdraft fees on seven transactions, at least a few of which were signature debit. The customer claims to be a practicing attorney with an undergraduate accounting degree and Ivy League law degree who deposits $8,000 per month into his Wachovia checking account. Unfortunately for the bank, he/she also took the time to research the incident and document it in a 1,500-word comment at personal fiance site Wesabe (see inset).

In the pre-blog days of the Internet, the post would have been read by a few dozen readers and cost Wachovia nothing, other than the attorney's business. However, the so-called blogosphere can amplify these isolated incidents a thousand-fold.  

Timeline:

???: Wachovia charges "haberschmidt" $245 in overdraft fees on seven low-dollar transactions, many made by signature debit (see note 1)

???: Haberschmidt spends an hour and half with Wachovia customer service reps to understand the process. Ultimately, he/she has the fees reversed by the branch. 

April 27: Wesabe user "haberschmidt" documents Wachovia's overdraft policies in a 1,500-word comment to a thread on bank fees at Wesabe (here) (see inset above and note 2) and says he or she is closing their Wachovia accounts

April 27, 8 PM: Wesabe blogger Marc Hedlund highlights the issue in the Wesabe company blog (here) under the proactive title, "More on How Banks Maximize Your Overdraft Charges" and adds a few more digs on overdraft fees

April 28, 6 AM: Scott Loftesness, after seeing Wesabe's post, broadcasts it to the payments world via the PaymentNews blog (here)

Future: It's possible the story dies now, but with Google prominently displaying blog posts, the story will likely be visible through searches for years to come. However, the real damage occurs if the mainstream media picks up on this story, possibly precipitating one or more negative stories on debit card authorizations and/or creative engineering of transaction-processing algorithms to generate more fees.

Analysis:

Before the Internet, if a customer was really mad, 10 to 25 people might be told, and those people could pass it on, but the damage was likely limited to that close-knit group.

After the Internet, but before blogging, if a customer was really mad they might comment on a popular blog such as FatWallet, and hundreds or even thousands of people might see it. However, in an anonymous online forum, the reader wouldn't be able to readily discern a one-sided rant from an actual problem. So, even though a few hundred people might read it, few would be moved to action. 

But today, the blogosphere can amplify a complaint a thousand-fold. Now, the number of readers could be in the tens or hundreds of thousands. The combined readership of Wesabe, PaymentsNews, and NetBanker is more than 10,000 already. And the blogs, with known authors, have far more credibility than random forum posts.  

What a bank should do:

  1. I know this is going to hurt, but if you haven't done so already, take a hard look at your NSF/overdraft fee policies and program some common sense into the fee and check processing algorithms. As this incident shows, financial institutions risk a real backlash as the fees grow relatively larger and are applied to smaller dollar amounts, especially debit card charges that the bank had a chance to decline at the point of sale. Case in point: An article in Saturday's Wall Street Journal (herehad an example of a widow charged $30 for a $0.95 cent debit card overdraft AFTER her account was frozen (see note 1).
  2. Educate customers on the tools they can use to minimize overdrafts such as online banking, email alerts, and if possible, text-message alerts.
  3. Make sure every creditworthy customer has an overdraft line of credit. If they are credit-averse, use a savings account. In the Wachovia example, the customer apparently had an overdraft setup between two deposit accounts, but it didn't work because "Wachovia recently monkeyed around making administrative changes to my accounts and lost track of the overdraft protection feature." Had the customer, who sounds like he makes a six-figure income, been covered by a line of credit, he'd simply be paying Wachovia a few bucks in interest, instead of costing the bank thousands of dollars in lost income.
  4. Use your CRM systems to apply logic to the overdraft-fee assessment. If you know a customer deposits his/her $8,000 paycheck on the 15th every month, don't ding them a $30 fee on the 14th for a debit card charge at Starbucks.
  5. Follow WaMu's approach and give customers an annual "get out of jail free" card that allows them to turn it in for a no-questions-asked fee reversal on an overdraft.  
  6. Put your chronic NSF/overdraft customers into an account with a prepaid model that does not allow them to go over the amount in their account. Access can be by debit card and good-funds bill pay, but regular paper-check access would not be allowed (sounds a bit like a certain new account named after a fruit here).

Final word:

Banks need to voluntarily reign this in before the class-action lawyers and politicians campaigning for '08 make this into a public-policy issue with a raft of new regulations. Haberschmidt closed his forum post with this chilling paragraph:

Although the branch corrected the overdraft protection issue and reversed the fees, I am closing my accounts. I believe strongly in voting with my dollars and I don't want to belong to a bank that takes advantage of its customers in this way. It strikes me as a predatory practice, and the kind of thing of which Congress should be aware when it reviews regulation on the credit card companies and other financial industry practices.

<Stepping off the soap box>. Now back to your regularly scheduled "happy marketing blog."

Notes:

1. The Wall Street Journal article (here), about how bill collectors are abusing the garnishment order system, should be required reading at U.S. banks and credit unions.

2. "Haberschmidt" is the user's Wesabe public ID, he/she joined Wesabe the same day he posted the comment.

3. The forum comment appears to be a genuine beef with Wachovia. However, it's extremely unusual to see a 1,500-word, well-written comment online, and closing with a call for Congressional action to boot. So it's possible haberschmidt has an undisclosed agenda, especially given that he joined Wesabe the same day he posted the comment. However, he immediately posted another comment apologizing for his typos and implying that he composed the whole thing in Wesabe's online forum. That makes it very believable, although it's still possible that this followup was also a calculated move. Even if it is a fabricated post, the underlying issue still needs to be addressed.  

Wachovia, SunTrust, and Regions Bank Team with AT&T Wireless and Firethorn for Mobile Banking

BancorpSouth mobile banking banner Once Citibank and Bank of America started making mobile banking noises, we didn't expect it to be long before others jumped into the market (note 1). So it came as no surprise today that SunTrust, Regions, and Wachovia announced full-service downloadable mobile banking apps (see press release here). No firm dates were released, but according to the Washington Post (here), AT&T will include the Firethorn software in handsets beginning in mid-year and support the launch with a multi-million dollar ad campaign.

It's a huge win for the Atlanta-based startup Firethorn Mobile, who in a single day picked up contracts with the fourth, eighth, and fifteenth largest U.S. consumer banks (see chart below). Just four months after its coming out party at BAI's Retail Delivery Conference, Firethorn boasts a partnership with one of the biggest consumer spenders on the planet and three of the largest banks the U.S. Not a bad quarter.    

In addition, Firethorn's beta partner, BancorpSouth officially launched the production version today (press release here). The free service works only at AT&T/Cingular and only with the following five phone models: Motorola V3 Razr, V551, V557, L7 SLVR, or the LG CU500. See previous coverage here.

The BancorpSouth website today had a promotional link for mobile banking in its online banking area (see banner above) and a brief webpage and signup form (click on screenshot right for closeup).

Update: American Banker's Steve Bills reported that Wachovia is planning an October rollout and SunTrust is looking at a "test" of up to 100,000 customers later this year, with full rollout in 2008 (full article here).

Note:

1. See our full forecast in Online Banking Report 138/139.

Wachovia is Developing User-Managed Security Controls

Link to Wachovia Security Plus page In an American Banker article today (here), Wachovia says it is developing security controls that will put users in charge of some of their own security settings such as the size of a funds transfer allowed. According to John Watkins, Wachovia's Director of Online Services, the new capabilities will be available "sometime this year."

This is not a new concept. The first full-service online-only bank in the world, Security First Network Bank, offered user-set bill payment limits more than ten years ago. Other international banks, such as ABSA Bank in South Africa, have long allowed users some control over security matters.

However, in the United States user-controlled security has been slow to catch on, other than via triggered email alerts, which remain the first line of defense. For several months, Bank of America has been reminding online banking users that alerts can help them prevent fraud in their accounts. 

While it's too early to speculate on what Wachovia will or won't do, the concept is a good one, and will eventually be used to some extent by all financial institutions. It's a win-win, providing users a better sense of control while reducing actual fraud losses within the bank.  

For more information:

See Online Banking Report #119, "Marketing Security" for more ideas on how to turn security concerns into a marketing advantage.