NetBank Lures Customers With $1 Million Contest

NetBank Inc., one of the oldest players in the Internet banking arena, is using an old-fashioned radio promotion to drive traffic to its Web site as part of an expanded marketing effort. The contest with Atlanta radio station WSTR-FM, which began yesterday, asks listeners to go to the NetBank site to register for the chance to win $1 million.

“We're trying to build some hometown awareness,” said Eve McDowell, director of marketing at NetBank. “Hopefully, people will come to the site and learn about NetBank.”

Listeners who register at the site can win $94 immediately for answering a trivia question if their name is drawn on the air, and then they can be entered into a drawing for the chance to win $9,400 or $94,000 or the $1 million grand prize. At least one name from NetBank registrants will be drawn each day for the “NetBank Star-94 I Want to Be a Millionaire” promotion.

“This contest is going to give NetBank so much publicity, it's not even funny,” said Alan Hennes, operations director at WSTR.

The station, which plays top 40 music, attracts 750,000 listeners per week. The station has had success in the past in driving contestants to Web sites, he said, citing a previous promotion with Internet service provider MindSpring.

The bank also is no stranger to offering cash as a way to acquire new customers. An online banner campaign launched earlier this month with Internet portal Yahoo is offering $50 cash to anyone who opens a NetBank checking or money market account. That promotion is running only in California, part of an effort to lure customers away from Wells Fargo, the San Francisco-based banking giant that has established a firm foothold in online financial services.

“That's the wonderful thing about the Internet,” McDowell said. “You can totally segment your targeting by geography or by demographics. For example, I can't afford to buy all of AOL, so I just buy my top markets.”

The bank, which has 77,000 deposit accounts, will triple its marketing budget for the year compared with what it spent in 1999. McDowell declined to reveal what the spending would be, but she said NetBank spends about $75 to $100 per customer in acquisition costs.

The increased spending on marketing coincides with several service enhancements at the bank's Web site, including faster response times for e-mail and phone inquiries. Through an outsourcing agreement with customer service provider TeleTech Holdings, Denver, NetBank is seeking to answer all phone inquiries in 15 seconds or less and to answer all e-mail requests within a day. NetBank maintains its own contact center for banking services that cannot be handled by TeleTech.

The company said it also plans to implement more interactive customer-care capabilities at the site and self-service banking tools.

The bank also is preparing to begin the controversial practice of “screen scraping.” This involves capturing personal financial information from several other financial sites and making it available to NetBank's customers, a practice that is increasingly prevalent in the online financial world but has also drawn some objections. Some banks, including First Union Corp., Charlotte, NC, have filed lawsuits against companies that aggregate financial information, alleging potential privacy and security violations.

NetBank recently signed an agreement to use technology from Teknowledge Corp., Palo Alto, CA, to aggregate its customers' online business and personal financial information into a single site. The Teknowledge service also will create more personalized marketing opportunities for NetBank to offer products to its customers, the bank said.

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