Wells Fargo Extends Hours via ATM Deposit Capture

Wells Fargo explanation of remote ATM deposit capture No matter how comfortable and convenient your branches are, forcing customers to rush to the branch to cash a check before closing time is not helping cement the relationship. And it leaves you vulnerable to competitors with longer hours or branches that are closer to your customer. And extending hours into the evening and weekend may be great for the customer, but its tough on the bottom line. 

That's what makes Wells Fargo's latest move doubly smart. Because deposit/check-capture ATMs automate the check cashing process, the main reason customers visit a branch late in the day, the machines can serve almost like a virtual branch for many users.

So Wells Fargo is leveraging its so-called "Envelope-free" ATM network to provide what amounts to extended branch hours, providing same-day credit for checks deposited in its Envelope-free ATMs to 7 PM. By adding three hours to what was a 4 PM cut-off, the bank instantly has a network of 1200 extended-hour locations (see Note 1) for a fraction of the cost of keeping branches open an extra 10 to 15 hours per week.  

As remote deposit capture becomes a key selling point for banks, we expect deposit cutoff times to disappear altogether, just as many bill payment systems now allow payments to be initiated up to midnight for same-day processing. 

Notes:

  1. The bank announced Tuesday that it will be expanding its network of envelope-free check capture ATMs to 1200, from the current 400 (see press release here). The Wells Fargo Envelope-free page is here.

Wells Fargo Adds "Comment Box" to Student LoanDown Blog

Comment input box at Wells Fargo blog, Student LoanDown Wells Fargo has tweaked the design of its Student LoanDown blog by adding a comment input box for the most-recent blog post (see inset). The bank uses this a similar technique at its first blog, Guided by History.

This should spur more comments, especially with the call to action at the bottom, "send a comment to Barbara." Users preview their comment, and read an onerous Wells Fargo disclaimer (see second screenshot below), on a separate page before submitting.

The comment input box is only used on the first blog entry on the main page. Late entries revert to typical blog format, with the comment function at the bottom of the post.

The main downside to this layout is that it's a bit distracting (see screenshot below), but that's probably a good trade-off if it helps drive more comment activity.

Wells Fargo Student LoanDown blog CLICK TO ENLARGE

Comment Preview

Comment preview at Wells Fargo Student LoanDown blog CLICK TO ENLARGE

Online Banking Report Awards Five "Best of the Web" Winners in 2006

Our sister publication, Online Banking Report, is constantly on the prowl for innovations in online finance. When it finds a new one, it awards the new development an "OBR Best of the Web." During its 12-year history, the newsletter has handed out about 80 such awards (click here for the pre-2006 list). The main criteria for winning is "raising the bar" in online consumer banking, credit/debit cards, payments or lending (see note).

The 2006 winners in chronological order were:

  • Prosper (March) for its eBay-like take on
    person-to-person lending (coverage here)
  • billQ (August) for its Web 2.0 bill payment
    reminder service (coverage here)
  • USAA (November) for the first in-home, remote deposit-capture service (coverage here)
  • Wells Fargo (December) for fully embracing
    blogging with the launch of four blogs in 2006
    (coverage here); also, a belated award to Verity Credit Union for being the first to blog in
    December 2004 (coverage here)
  • Bank of America (December) for its Yodlee-powered, full-featured online personal
    finance service, MyPortfolio (coverage here)

It was a good year innovation-wise, and we look forward to continued growth in 2007. One prediction: multiple winners in the mobile finance arena. For more information on the top developments of 2006 along with the latest 10-year forecast, see Online Banking Report #137.

Note: Usually, the first company to implement a significant new feature wins the award. And generally there is only one award for each new feature. For instance, Signet Bank was named best of the Web in 1997 when it launched the first triggered-email alert. Then Charter One won the award in 2002 when it took the triggered-alert feature to a whole new level, integrating voice, fax, and email options into a full suite of alerts. Online Banking Report founder and managing editor Jim Bruene makes the final decision. The only way to win the award is by being innovative. There is no nomination process, no deadline, nor any way to influence the decision. 

Wells Fargo Launches Two More Blogs

Evidently, Wells Fargo has found blogging religion. Not only is it the only major U.S. financial institution with a blog, but it now has not one, not two, but FOUR public blogs.

Here's the lineup:

Previously reported:

  • Guided by History: The bank's first blog, a community service resource that began in March.
  • The Student LoanDown: An excellent blog launched in September to support the bank's student loan business. We've reported on it here and here.

Launched in August, but not previously reported:

  • Commercial Electronic Office (CEO) Blog: This B2B blog supports the bank's Commercial Electronic Office business portal. It launched August 10, but is not listed on the bank's blog index page <blog.wellsfargo.com> or on the bank's main website. Our initial reaction: The CEO Blog is an all-business affair with 39 posts in four months, a good rate for a business blog (see screenshot below). We'll take a closer look in a future post.

Wells Fargo CEO blog CLICK TO ENLARGE

Newcomer:

  • Stagecoach Island Community: Another good-looking blog (see screenshot below) launched Nov. 27 supporting the bank's Second Life-inspired virtual world Stagecoach Island (see our coverage here).

Wells Fargo Stagecoach Island blog

Wells Fargo to Redesign its Homepage

In our opinion, the Wells Fargo homepage has been the gold standard for the past three years, ever since the launch of its tabbed navigation in June 2003. It was one of four large-bank homepages earning an A in our Report on Financial Homepage Design in October 2003 (see Online Banking Report, 101/102). The navigation, copywriting, and usability are still top-of-the-line, but the look and feel is a bit dated, especially the banners running along the bottom.

According to a small-text warning at the top of the page, the site is being refined, and users "may see a different homepage for the next few months" (see screenshot below).

Analysis
The bank's homepage design has been essentially unchanged for more than three years, so it's about time for a remodel.

What we don't quite understand is the reasoning behind the cryptic message at the top of the page. With spoofing a continual problem, the bank may not want users to be concerned if they see changes. However, this message probably does more harm than good. 

The main problem is lack of information. The bank doesn't say what type of changes to expect, or even when they might happen. Most importantly, they fail to communicate why they plan to dribble out incremental changes instead of launching a redesigned site all at once. (And a quick search on "home page redesign found nothing at the bank's site.)

There may be very good technical and/or marketing reasons for the iterative process, but they should be explained. At minimum there should be a link to an FAQ page. As it stands, users can't be sure if an odd-looking Wells Fargo is a spoof or a new design. 

Don't leave users hanging! It creates only more uncertainty, not to mention additional emails and calls to customer service. 

Truly Virtual Banking in Second Life

We've come a long, long way since the dawn of the commercial Web, which in banking began in May 1995 when Wells Fargo posted the first customer statement on a website.

Back then, when we talked about virtual banking, we meant Internet banking. Now, there's the very distinct possibility that banks and credit unions will set up shop in virtual worlds such as Second Life from Linden Lab <secondlife.com>.

Let's call it truly virtual banking. Second Life, with more than 940,000 users, allows the exchange of virtual Linden dollars for real greenbacks, currently at a rate of L$273 to US$1. Due to the possibility of real profits from virtual activities, this metaverse has attracted more than 10,000 businesses including Starwood Hotels and others (see Analysis below). 

Apparently, the first real-world bank with a truly virtual presence is none other than Wells Fargo, whose Stagecoach Island debuted in Second Life late last year. However, after a few months the site was moved to a standalone site with no connection to Second Life <stagecoachisland.com> (see screenshot below).

Wells Fargo Stagecoach Island game CLICK TO ENLARGE

In Second Life, the private island was accessible only to Wells Fargo customers who received an invite from the bank. Normal Second Lifers could not gain entry. Users were given a $30 stake in virtual cash. Although the island tempts them with various ways to spend it, the goal is to save, with interest paid at the rate of 10% per day. Users can earn additional cash by taking finance-oriented online quizzes.

The stated purpose of Stagecoach Island is financial education. It is part of a larger program aimed at younger adults. The We Take the Fun of Money Seriously program was piloted in Austin and San Diego last year. Here's an excerpt from the Sept. 14, 2005, press release:

Wells Fargo is hosting a series of live "We Take the Fun of Money Seriously" events throughout Austin and San Diego during September and October where young adults can participate in various activities — from karaoke and trivia games to athletic challenges and photo booths — and win prizes while learning about banking basics. Event participants will receive the Web address and a unique log-in code for the Stagecoach Island software and will have the opportunity to play the online game at home for 30 days.

Apparently, the pilot was successful. This year, the program was used at summer rock concerts, primarily a dozen venues of The Warped Tour, and at 19 college campuses this fall. The first stop was Aug. 20 at the University of Nebraska and the tour ends Nov. 1 at Central Washington.

The bank was assisted by Swivel Media, a San Francisco-based marketing firm which hosts a Web page and short video devoted to the game at <www.swivelmedia.com/fun_money.htm>. According to a July blog post at Clickable Culture, the company paid $17,000 to Second Life freelancers to build the game.

Analysis
Online gaming, or advergaming as it's sometimes called, is a good way to make an impression with younger users, even though it may be difficult to create a game not considered totally lame by the target audience. We recommend keeping it simple, and bribing the target audience with numerous prizes.

The bigger issue, whether to create a presence in Second Life and/or other metaverses, is more complicated. Several major brands have recently taken the plunge including American Apparel, Starwood Hotels, and others.

The Starwood's program is interesting. They are using the Second Life hotel project, aloft, to create a buzz for a real-world brand they intend to introduce in 2008 under the same name. The hotel's Second Life effort is chronicled in its own blog, <virtualloft.com>, which includes a virtual grand opening featuring Ben Folds scheduled Oct. 19.

Financial institutions, looking to create some buzz, should consider a presence in Second Life. With an expected population of one million by year-end, the marketing opportunities within the metaverse are intriguing. But more importantly, a Web-based blog and marketing campaign could yield millions of free impressions for online and offline media.

However, this is not as easy as it seems. There are numerous risks and obstacles that must be overcome. The largest banking operation in Second Life, Ginko Financial <ginkofinancial.com> which lends Linden dollars at 44% interest, has been plagued with accusations of fraud, specifically of being a Ponzi scheme (read Reuters article here). There have also been recent incidents of Second Life hacking that have caused problems.

But the biggest risk is to your reputation. Not only are you vulnerable to the whims of the game players, you also risk being associated with the more adult-themed activities in Second Life. Before taking the plunge, you should have a staffer join the metaverse and consult with seasoned players for advice on proper "game etiquette" (remember "netiquette" ten years ago?). You want to make sure you position yourself as "less lame" than the average financial institution.

But those risks are manageable; in fact, they are similar to the problems you deal with in the real world. And given the potential buzz from a successful Second Life brand, it's worth your while to investigate the potential.

P.S. If you think this is all a fad, consider the source of the Ginko Financial article cited above. It was written by a new full-time reporter from Reuters who works IN Second Life (see NY Times story here).

Resources:

Wells Fargo Blog is Off to a Good Start

Wells_blog_homeAfter a slow start, with no new entries during its first week, the student loan blog from Wells Fargo is off and running. Since its Sep. 5 launch, the site has averaged about two posts per week, each running 300 to 400 words, a good length. (See inset for jump page to the bank's two blogs, <blogs.wellsfargo.com>)

Furthermore, the writing is surprisingly good, with little corporate-speak, a trap that's so easy to fall into when every word has to be approved by a team of attorneys and compliance officers. Interestingly, the one off-topic post, written by the freelancing college-student mom, Caroline Hansen, was pulled from the site a day or two after it was posted. Either her step-daughter, or more likely, Wells Fargo management didn't like the story about her new tattoo.

The site is obviously aimed at parents, with warnings about credit card abuse and an instructive post about transferring money online to pay for a $573 book tab (ouch!).

While the bank does a good job of not blatantly pitching its products, it seems that most links within the posts lead to a wellsfargo.com page. The blog would have more credibility, and readership, if it linked to more outside resources.

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.

Pros:

  • 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

Cons:

  • 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

–JB

Best Internet Banks from Global Finance Magazine

Globalfinance_logoIn its seventh annual Internet-bank "beauty contest," Global Finance Magazine <gfmag.com> named Bank of America the best consumer Internet bank in the United States and Citigroup the best corporate Internet bank. Apparently, the magazine loves Citigroup's work, naming it the best corporate Internet bank in 46 countries and best consumer Internet bank in 11 countries including Germany, United Kingdom, and Indonesia (see list of complete winners, by country, by clicking on the link at the bottom of this article). 

The magazine also named winners in specific categories. In the United States, the winners were:

Consumer Internet Banks:

Best investment management services: Bank of America

Best bill payment and presentment: Bank of America

Best online consumer credit: Wells Fargo

Best website design: Wells Fargo

Best integrated consumer bank site: Bank of America

Best information security initiatives: Bank of America

Best online deposits acquisition: TD Bank Financial Group

Corporate/Institutional Internet Banks:

Best online cash management: Citigroup

Best trade finance services: Citigroup

Best website design: Wells Fargo

Best integrated corporate bank site: Wells Fargo

Best information security initiatives: JPMorgan Chase

Global Finance Magazine's Best Internet Banks for 2006

Country

Consumer

Corporate/Institutional

Argentina

Banco Rio de la Plata, S.A.

Citigroup

Australia

HSBC

Citigroup

Austria

RZB

RZB

Bahrain

Citigroup

Belgium

Citigroup

Bolivia

Citigroup

Brazil

Banco Bradesco

Banco Bradesco

Brunei

HSBC

Cameroon

Citigroup

Canada

TD Bank Financial Group

TD Bank Financial Group

Chile

Citigroup

BBVA

China

Ind. & Com’l Bank of China

Citigroup

Colombia

Citigroup

BBVA

Congo

Citigroup

Costa Rica

Citigroup

Cote D'Ivoire

Citigroup

Dominican Republic

Citigroup

Dubai

National Bank of Dubai

National Bank of Dubai

Ecuador

Citigroup

Egypt

Citigroup

Citigroup

El Salvador

Citigroup

Finland

Citigroup

France

Citigroup

Gabon

Citigroup

Germany

Citigroup

JPMorgan Chase

Greece

Citigroup

Piraeus Bank/Winbank

Guatemala

Citigroup

Haiti

Citigroup

Honduras

Citigroup

Hong Kong

HSBC

Citigroup

India

ICICI Bank Ltd.

ICICI Bank Ltd

Indonesia

Citigroup

Citigroup

Ireland

Citigroup

Israel

Citigroup

Italy

Citigroup

Jamaica

Citigroup

Kenya

Citigroup

Korea

Citigroup

Kyrgyzstan

AsiaUniversalBank (AUB)

AsiaUniversalBank (AUB)

Malaysia

HSBC

OCBC

Mexico

Banamex

Banamex

Netherlands

Citigroup

Nigeria

Citigroup

Oman

BankMuscat

Pakistan

Citigroup

Citigroup

Panama

Citigroup

Paraguay

Citigroup

Peru

BBVA

Citigroup

Philippines

Citigroup

Bank of the Philippines

Poland

Bank Millennium

Citigroup

Portugal

Millennium BCP

Millennium BCP

Puerto Rico

Banco Santander

Citigroup

Qatar

Qatar National Bank

Qatar National Bank

Russia

ZAO Raiffeisenbank

Citigroup

Saudi Arabia

Samba

Samba

Senegal

Citigroup

Singapore

Citigroup

Spain

BBVA

Citigroup

South Africa

Citigroup

Sri Lanka

HSBC

Switzerland

Citigroup

Taiwan

Citigroup

Chinatrust Com’l Bank

Tanzania

Citigroup

Thailand

Citigroup

Citigroup

Trinidad & Tobago

Citigroup

Turkey

Garanti Bank

Akbank

Uganda

Citigroup

United Arab Emirates

HSBC

HSBC

United Kingdom

Citigroup

HSBC

United States

Bank of America

Citigroup

Uruguay

Citigroup

Venezuela

Banco de Venezuela

BBVA Banco Provincial

Zambia

Citigroup

Source: Global Finance Magazine <gfmag.com>, July 8, 2006

Bank Branch Website Pages

Firstnorthern_thatsmybankIt's no secret that a vast population researches online and buys offline, as much as 50% of your customer base according to recent research by Yahoo Search Marketing (NetBanker April 24). Whether the practice has evolved from habit, security reasons, or a need for face-to-face interaction, it's an important dynamic for financial institutions that have billions invested in retail branch networks.

Until consumers are ready to give up the branch experience, an important function of financial institution websites is to funnel prospects into the branch. Most banks now have prominent branch/ATM search functions.

These tools, often outsourced, usually provide good utilitarian results: name, location, hours, phone, and directions. This is enough information for current customers just looking for the closest place to pick up $100 with no ATM fee or deposit the rebate check from Procter & Gamble.

But as a sales tool for prospects considering a major purchase such as a new checking account or mortgage, the typical "branch finder" leaves a lot to be desired.

Analysis
Considering how inexpensive it is to post content online, why is it that banks do so little to help their branches create a unique presence online? After all, bank "stores" are usually multi-million dollar operations with aggressive sales and profitability goals. Even our tiny US Bank branch, staffed with two or three employees, plus a security guard, is surrounded by $500,000+ homes where the largely middle-class owners often have equity of $300,000 or more.

Why doesn't my branch use every tool in the book to tap into this market? Just one or two additional home equity loans per year would pay for a killer website. 

We know the reasons banks keep branches from attempting their own creative marketing efforts: low-budget fliers may not align with company graphic standards; complicated disclosure rules must be followed; branch efforts might conflict with larger "branding efforts," and so on.

Those arguments don't hold as much weight online. Banks could employ a content-management system that allowed branches to customize their personal webpage for use in neighborhood marketing efforts, and that would be more likely to pull a website visitor into their branch.

While we've reported on several of these efforts over the years, it's still difficult to find a comprehensive "bricks-and-clicks" effort. We recently came across Thatsmybank.com from Sacramento-based First Northern Bank (click on screenshot upper left). While the bank does better than most with a branch page that includes a picture of the branch and branch manager along with the names of lending officers, it is still very basic. It doesn't even include the email address of the branch or any of the key contacts.

Huntington_mtg_loanofficerpagesMortgage banks have done a better job. Wells Fargo Home Loans has had individual Web pages for its lending offices for several years. Huntington Bank also provides each mortgage loan officer their own Web page (click on inset for closeup). The page is tightly controlled. The mortgage officer uploads a picture, fills in basic contact info, then adds a paragraph about themselves and their lending specialty.

The template is completed with a list of local links provided. The only interactive element is the mail-to link that allows visitors to send an email to the loan officer via the user's email client.

Action Items
We believe branches should have a larger Web presence than just name, address, and phone number. Consider installing a content manager that allows branches to input custom localized content. It's a cost effective way to help branches and loan officers leverage their community connections and unique expertise.

JB

Money Laundering Creates Problems for Stored-value Cards

 

The U.S. Treasury’s U.S. Money Laundering Threat Assessment, published last December, says that many types of stored-value cards have the potential to become major avenues for money laundering, suggesting—although not saying explicitly—that stringent anti-money laundering regulations are in the offing for the card products.

Industry groups are preparing what amount to pre-emptive negotiations to keep the issue off the floor of Congress, hopefully minimizing potential regulations that could, in the view of many in the industry, cripple the business case for what bankers and other payments executives consider several promising new revenue streams. But prepaid-card executives are declining to speak publicly about the issue, hoping to keep public discussion about stored-valued cards “positive.”

Continue reading “Money Laundering Creates Problems for Stored-value Cards”

Manhattan District Attorney and Money Laundering Regulations

Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, together with federal and New York state banking officials, is on the verge of settling serious money laundering charges against the Bank of America Corp. with a reported $25 million fine, making this the second largest money laundering case the long-time DA has settled in three months. In December, the Manhattan DA, the New York State Banking Department, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. settled a similar case with Israel Discount Bank of New York, also for a fine totaling $25 million, including the costs of the investigation.

Continue reading “Manhattan District Attorney and Money Laundering Regulations”