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):
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.