Cyberspace Bank Opens 3-D Office


Monday, October 16th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


BOSTON (AP) — It's the newest thing to hit online banking: people.

A week ago, Directbanking.com didn't even have a branch office. Now the bank has moved from clicks to bricks, from cyberspace to a three-dimensional storefront in Boston's Financial District.

Among the gee-whiz high technology, patrons will find loan officers, branch managers and even a relic of 20th century banking: a teller.

Officials at Directbanking.com of Salem, one of the first online banks in New England, say they want to offer customers the flexibility and convenience of Internet banking with personalized customer service.

``We're really offering choice,'' bank vice president Janice Dodge said. ``While you see a lot of technology, we're letting the customer decide how to bank.''

At the new bank branch, a customer can check an account balance using an Internet connection in a lobby kiosk or at an automatic teller machine. Or, a customer can sit down with a real live loan officer for a new mortgage.

Directbanking.com says it has 6,000 depositors and $100 million in assets. Branch manager Edward W. Nunes said the goal of opening a walk-in office is to attract another $28 million in deposits and $2.5 million in loans in 2001.

The storefront offers a number of terminals connected to the Directbanking.com Web site. They are equipped for video conferencing, allowing customers to dial up a customer representative in the bank's Salem office for assistance.

The technology also allows users to sign up for an account. It will even scan driver's licenses and issue starter checks.

But the bank also offers one teller window and a handful of loan officers and investment specialists.

The opening of a physical location for the online bank comes as two high-profile online banks run by major financial services companies face uncertain futures.

Citibank has decided to close Citi f/i, its online-only bank. Bank One Corp., which invested $100 million in Wingspan Bank, says it is exploring ``all options,'' including a sale or spin-off of its online bank.

Meanwhile, E-Trade Bank, an online division of Internet brokerage firm E-Trade, has opened a storefront in a Target store in an Atlanta suburb.

George Garto of the Gartner Group, a business technology consulting firm, says online banks are learning the same lesson retailers did a year ago: a physical presence can be a great asset.

``Several online banks and brokerages are starting to learn that to capture a huge amount of business, they need some bricks and mortar,'' Garto said. ``A lot of people don't want to do business on the Internet only.''

That physical presence also helps online banks sell products, such as loans and mortgages, he said.

But in the long term, Garto predicted, as more people become comfortable with online banking, traditional banks will become obsolete.

A survey last month by Forrester Research of Cambridge of 5,500 Internet bank users suggested online banks are meeting consumers' expectations, and outperforming traditional banks, in every category.

However, the study also found consumers remain most confident in the accuracy and safety of transactions at brick and mortar banks.

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On the Net:

http://directbanking.com/welcome.htm