First Union Plans Targeted E-Mail Bulletins for Online Customers

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First Union Corp., Charlotte, NC, is preparing to launch a daily financial bulletin via e-mail that could evolve into a highly customized marketing vehicle for the nation's sixth-largest bank holding company.


The Closing Bell, which will be transmitted in bulk each evening, will contain information about the stock market and investments tailored to customers' interests. Customers of First Union's online banking services will be able to select from a variety of types of information, including market summaries, news, price indices, and information on specific mutual funds and stocks.


The bulletin is scheduled to launch in about a month and is one of several customized electronic communications media First Union is developing for its customers.


Although the company is launching Closing Bell as a free, value-added service for its online customers, it eventually expects to begin using the daily electronic broadcast as a marketing vehicle.


"There is an opportunity with this vehicle to maybe embed certain information that they have indicated that they are interested in," said Parrish Arturi, vice president of channel development at First Union.


In addition to marketing its own products and services, which include basic banking services such as checking and savings accounts and other lending and investment products, the e-mail bulletins also could be used for marketing products and services offered by affiliate companies.


"It could be that there are certain of our affinity partners that would offer products and services of value to our customers, but that won't happen right away," said Arturi.


The bank already has a warehouse full of data about its customers' transactional histories, but the e-mail bulletins would give it a means to use that information for marketing purposes without simply sending an unsolicited e-mail advertisement. Although Arturi said that information won't be used to create targeted e-mail marketing messages at first, the possibility exists for it to do so eventually.


The bank is partnering with Exactis.com, Denver, to compile and deliver the e-mail bulletins.


Arturi said the bank expects anywhere from 10 percent to 30 percent of its 1 million online service users to subscribe to the Closing Bell.


"After that we're really waiting to see what the response is," he said. "What we really want to do is make it available to customers and assess the value that they are getting out of it through customer feedback, and then based on that we're going to try to integrate more marketing messages or different messages through the different means that we have to communicate with them."


In addition to the regular e-mail bulletins, the company also is planning to issue "event notifications" via e-mail, indicating to customers when their balance falls above or below a certain level, for example. Other communications might also be added based on customer feedback, Arturi said.


He declined to disclose the cost of the service, but he did say it was "part of the development expense for what we're building."


"First Union has a personalization strategy wrapped around proactive communications that includes e-mail," he said.


The company also is developing customized communications tools for its small business and wholesale customers, which are expected to launch sometime next year.


"We have a range of wholesale and small business customers that we're creating targeted services for as well," he said. "That doesn't mean we necessarily take the Closing Bell product and offer it to our wholesale and small business customers. They might want specific industry information. For a wholesale customer that might be in a specific industry like airlines, we might want to create customized publications that might be just for them."


Arturi said some of those types of communications vehicles are being tested.

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