Wells Fargo Launches CenterStage, a User-Generated Video Promotion

Tomorrow, Wells Fargo is expected to launch a user-generated video contest that will place the winning entry into a 30-sec commercial that plays during January's Rose Bowl, with an audience of 35 million or more. The winner will be chosen by public voting on the contest website. Entries are due by Nov. 26.

Although, this type of contest has been done before including last year's Super Bowl (see previous coverage of Intuit's TaxRap here and Lending Club here), it's the first time a major U.S. bank has launched such a high-profile effort. It should provide Wells with excellent publicity while supporting its social media and branding efforts.

The whole effort is first class, from the Center Stage website, to the pre-taped audio tracks in various genres, and the contest rules and prizes. And while the sample video's are cute, don't listen to them at bedtime. Trust me, you don't want "The Wells Fargo Wagon" running through your head as you try to get to sleep. 

Wells Fargo Pushes Mobile Banking on Logout Page

Just two days after announcing its browser-based (WAP) mobile banking service (press release here), it's already showing up in the bank's cross-marketing efforts. When I logged out of my Wells Fargo account this afternoon, I was greeted with this message:

Clicking on Sign Up Now takes you to this topnotch landing page (here). The Take a Tour button in the lower right triggers a short animated demo of the mobile service right on the landing page:

Wells Fargo landing page for mobile banking


Wells Fargo mobile banking login as displayed on Nokia N70Features

The bank is using a new, shortened URL, <wf.com> for mobile access, a huge keystroke advantage over <wellsfargo.com>. Both <wf.com> and <mobile.wellsfargo.com> go directly to a mobile phone-optimized secure sign-in page (see inset). The mobile service offers:

  • account balances for checking, savings, mortgage, home equity, brokerage, auto loan, student loan, and credit cards
  • transaction history
  • funds transfer between Wells Fargo accounts

 

Note:

1. An interesting side note to the announcement: The first result in a Google search for "wells fargo mobile" still leads to an August 2002 CNet story on Wells Fargo's decision to shutter its original mobile banking platform launched in 2001 (see inset).

Wells Fargo Confirms Tests of ClairMail’s SMS Banking System

CIO Insight recently published a long article called, Will Mobile Banking Take Off? Reporter Dan Briody discusses Wells Fargo's mobile efforts and how their implementation parallels the early days of online banking. Wells EVP Steve Smith is quoted at length.

There's not much new for anyone closely following the space; however, about two-thirds into the article, we discover Wells Fargo is testing SMS banking, using ClairMail as its service provider. Not a huge surprise, but it lays to rest the rumors.

With Bank of America, Citi, and Wachovia grabbing the headlines this year with mobile initiatives, Wells Fargo could create a buzz with an SMS offering by being the first major U.S. bank to go that route. Several weeks ago, Bank of Stockton became the first U.S. bank to align with ClairMail (link here).

On a personal note, I can't wait. The ever-diligent Wells Fargo fraud department, which must have my home phone number on speed dial, will hopefully start texting me when I use their card outside of Seattle, saving us both a lot of time and expense.

For more info see our Mobile Money and Payments report here.

Wells Fargo Continues its Social Media Innovation with a MySpace Page

Wells Fargo avatar on MySpace Wells Fargo marked the one-year anniversary of its first blog, Guided by History, with a Q&A today with the bank's Social Media VP, Ed Terpening. The post appeared in the the bank's Student LoanDown blog (post here), which just made it past the six-month mark. I've already weighed in on its blogging strategy (see previous coverage here), so I won't repeat myself.

The bank is experimenting with a number of social media outlets to extend its brand and see what works and what doesn't. Not all of these will pan out. The MySpace presence seems like a long shot, but then again, the cost is negligible so it’s worth a try. Wells Fargo has wisely not posted a pure "banking" presence, but instead used one a character from its StageCoach Island game (see screenshot below). 

Bottom line: The bank's willingness to try new things has created an impressive lists of "firsts:"   

  • First U.S. bank with a blog (though Verity Credit Union beat them to it by more than a year)
  • First bank with a student loan blog
  • First bank with a business banking blog
  • First bank in the world with a Second Life presence
  • First bank on MySpace at <www.myspace.com/stagecoachisland>, really more an extension of its StageCoach Island game which also has its own blog here (see below; though several credit unions beat them to it)
  • First bank with 2, 3, and 4 blogs
  • First bank with an avatar persona on MySpace
  • First bank with a VP Social Media (who appears to be proactively reaching out to the blogging community)

Wells Fargo MySpace page

Wells Fargo Adds Value to Mobile Bill Payments, But Not in the Way You Are Thinking

If you've been reading this blog for long, you know I'm going through a "mobile" phase. There's two reasons for that:

1. It's an interesting and important extension to online banking, our core area of expertise.

2. I am in the process of writing two extensive reports on the subject, the first was published a few weeks ago on mobile banking (link here) and the second is due out by the end of the month on mobile payments.

FRONT: Wells Fargo credit card insert touting cellphone protection So I had to laugh when I opened by Wells Fargo credit card bill today, not at the size of the bill which was not at all funny, but at the insert that fell out pitching, "cellular phone protection at no cost" (see front of insert right, back of insert below).  

This is a different type of "mobile payment" than what I've been thinking about lately. But, this Wells Fargo program is brilliant, and has a much better business case, at least in the short term.

Here's what Wells Fargo is proposing:

1. Put your mobile phone bill on automatic payment via your Wells credit card.

2. In the event your phone is damaged or stolen, you will be reimbursed for up to $100 in damages, after a $50 deductible (see note 1).

Analysis
The business case for this program looks fabulous. Assuming an average mobile phone bill of $60/mo x 12 months x 1.5% ROA = about $10 per year in revenue. While the cost should be just a few pennies per year in insurance payouts, given the difficulty in filing a claim. 

Even though the bank will pay out benefits to cardholders who had their cellphone charged to Wells even without the incentive, the bank should earn 10x to 20x the cost of the program each year. BACK: Wells Fargo credit card insert on cellphone protection Maybe Wells can put some of that windfall into a new mobile access to online banking and credit card info. 

Note:

1. To keep costs down, the maximum number of claims is two per 12-month period, $200 in total. And the claim procedure is  cumbersome, especially for a maximum payout of $100. You'll need copy of receipts, statements, other insurance coverage, police reports, and so on. The full details of the fine print are online here.   

Back Story: Wall Street Journal’s Article on Online Financial Planning Tools from Banks

The Wall Street Journal published an extra section yesterday on personal finance entitled, Your Money Matters. Online financial tools were highlighted in Jane Kim's, "Check it Out: New online tools from financial institutions can help consumers manage their money." 

Here's the back story on several of the items mentioned in the article:

  • Our sister publication, Online Banking Report, was cited as the source of the following statistic: "About 16% of U.S. households used some personal-finance feature at least once in 2006. That percentage is expected to climb to an estimated 33% by 2016, with nearly three-quarters of those households using personal-finance tools offered by their financial institution online."

    The information cited in the WSJ story was contained in the report we published last fall in Personal Finance Features for Online Banking (OBR 131/132see Table 3, p. 3, lines 4 and 10). Current usage estimates were based in part from data provided by Javelin Strategy as shown in Table 2 on the same page. 

  • Wells Fargo My Spending Report CLICK TO ENLARGE In the article, Bank of America's My Portfolio was the first of two existing personal finance tools mentioned. The service, powered by Yodlee, was quietly launched in December and was covered in NetBanker at the time (link here) and received an OBR Best of the Web award in our final report of 2006 (OBR 137) where it was rated the third most important development of 2006.   
  • The second example cited was Wells Fargo's MySpendingReport (see inset and previous coverage here). The service, which is basically just a consolidated view statement data across the bank's transaction accounts, is a great example of positioning online banking features in a way that resonates with users. It was awarded an OBR Best of the Web in 2005, finishing the year as the tenth most important new development of the year (report here).

The story finished with hints of new services planned for later this year at Everbank, Bremer Financial (powered by Corillian), and a Digital Insight tool that allows users to hand enter additional bill payments in order to their entire payments picture in one place.

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